So what’s next?


After a month off I am back on my quest to bring football stories and tribulations from the four corners of Europe.  Some of you may have seen an interview I did in the Daily Express on Saturday 12th July, complete with my best “hoodie” pose with Big Bad Brondby Ben.  I also appeared on Tom “Lofty” Watt’s BBC Radio London Show in late June answering calls on European football.

So what is coming up?  Malmo in July, followed by a few pre-season friendlies will wet the appetite for the new season, coupled with some more Swedish football in early August before the season starts in earnest mid August.

This season I will also be reporting on the sad demise of my beloved West Ham under the idiot Curbishley and pray for his removal early in the season before too much damage has been done. 

I will also try and upload some more of my podcasts and videos – thanks to Animoto.com for their fantastic video engine that has had me busy for the past few weeks.

Just Out – The whole goddam shooting match


A Fan’s Guide: European Football Grounds: Stuart Fuller: BooksISBN: 0711032866
ISBN-13: 9780711032866

 

We are also pleased to announce that our three other publications (Fullers Fans Guide to German Stadiums, The Budget Airline Guide to European Football and Fullers Fans Guide to Austria and Switzerland) are all now available for FREE.  Simply visit http://en.calameo.com/browse/categories/sports/?o=&w= and you will see all three publications available to view online or download for free.

Can you get any more depressing than this!


Having watched football across Europe for the past decade one country that had escaped my attentions was Poland. I had planned to go earlier in the year on a Warsaw/Lodz (pronounced Woodge – because that is logical!) but a combination of flight delays, poor weather and a better offer from CMF meant that the trip was abandoned at the last minute. However, with West Ham playing one of the most pointless games in the history of football away at Premiership chasing Manchester United (not helped by our fckwit manager Alan Curbishley stating publically that Man Utd deserved to be champions in the run up to the game), there was an opportunity to organise a trip to Poland, especially as I managed to park the little Fuller’s with the inlaws in Newark (the only place in the UK that is an anagram of the word Wa*ker if you didn’t know).

What made it even better was that I was to be joined by not one, but two beautiful angels. Unfortunately at the last minute Charlotte Church pulled out and so Football Jo agreed to accompany CMF and myself. We plumped for Krakow as our location as it would give us the opportunity to see a game, have some decent food and see some of the country and history. Ok, ok I admit it was the chance to get some decent Vodka down my throat and experience some Danny Dyer inspired Polish hooligan-fuelled football. Flights were sorted to Katowice, one of Poland’s most polluted cities and home to the huge steelworks of Chorzow, and a hire car awaited us as we alighted from Wizzair – again another first in the Fuller list of Airplanes we experienced true Polish hospitality. As we would come to see from the next few days the Poles hadn’t yet grasped the concept of Customer Service. Queuing up for passport control, waiting for baggage, exiting customs was all the same. Every passenger was viewed with the same suspicion, fear and loathing.

The plan was to drive down to our hotel, located around 15 miles south west of Krakow, dump the bags and then head into Krakow for some Polish hospitality. We had landed on Constitution Day, one of Poland’s national holidays and we saw how proud the Poles were of their country, with every lamp post displaying a flag and everyone in their Sunday best on their way to church. The drive took longer than we thought, primarily due to Football Jo’s navigating skills. I am sure we all want to know where the battle of Zagbre took place, and where Javok Milojka lived but at the expense of unimportant issues such as “take next left, or head onto the A44” was probably not the best. So our 70km drive became a 90 minute laugh a minute festival – after all we know how easy it to get used to driving an unfamiliar car, on unfamiliar roads, with unreadable roadsigns with two women talking about whether “Angelina Jolie or Madonna is a better mother”. I had promised a real special treat for the hotel – although I had told a lie or two to Jo that it was the same hotel used in the films Hostel and Hostel 2. The Paszowska Palace was a former hunting lodge in the middle of the countryside, and was as impressive in real life as it was from the pictures on the t’internet. With our rooms not quite ready, the very pleasant looking receptionist asked if I would like a drink – assuming she meant with me in her private room once she finished her shift I willingly accepted. Customer service was starting to look up I thought until she shouted to a colleague to show us the bar. If anyone of you have every been to Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania you will know that almost every women could moonlight as a model for Vogue, Loaded or Penthouse..this theory has not made its way south unfortunately and our lovely receptionists colleague turned out to be the spitting image of that fat one who used to be in Emmerdale and You’ve been Framed.

The smell of food was wonderful, and after a long trip from Luton we decided to delay our trip into Krakow until we had eaten. With the “when in Rome eat like a Roman” theory being strictly enforced we opted for a range of soups – Asparagus, Chicken and Beetroot, a selection of local meat, washed down with Vodka. With West Ham already 3-0 down after 20 minutes there seemed little point in following the original plan of finding somewhere to watch the humiliation so we settled down for a few hours of chat (well, the girls continued their thought provoking conversations such as “Gordon Brown should be Prime Minister because he looks like a lost puppy”, “Why there isn’t enough magazines for women” and “Why the News of the World is the only place where the truth is written” – intelligent girls!

We eventually got into our rooms an hour and another Man Utd goal later, and found the swimming pool, fitness suite and Spa…hmmm..The Swimming Pool was being filled from the fire hose and was due to be ready “sometime Tuesday”…the Fitness suite was two bicycles fixed to the floor and some dumb bells and the Spa was no more than a jacuzzi – well a garden pond with a soda stream! Still it would do us fine for a night.

So we headed into Krakow, and amazingly through Jo’s directing – “Oh look there is an Ikea – do you think they do meat balls?” and “Is the No Entry sign the same in Polish?” – we found the Reyna Park which seperates the two football grounds in the west of the city centre. We had a walk around the Wisla stadium, where we would be returning the following day. The stadium is what you would expect from the country. Huge barbed wire fences, crumbling terraces and Stalinist architecture. Grafetti covered all of the walls and every accessible window had been smashed at some point. We then crossed the park and within 5 minutes we were outside the home of Cracovia with its smart red and white seats. As with all of the stadiums in eastern Europe, three of the stands were open air and behind each goal the basic terraces had become overcome with weeds. We are now used to modern all seater stadiums in England, and although there is a growing call for a move back to some sort of terracing, having seen the state of the grounds in Poland, and the issues they have with hooliganism it is enough to push our thinking back to 100% seating.

We headed into the city centre, past the wonderful Astro hotel which sat squarely next to Cracovia’s stadium. The hotel is one of the relics of the Communist ages – a huge concrete block with an interior that was a slate shade of dull grey, and I would imagine customer service to match. What made it all the better was that it was located opposite the Radisson SAS, with its impressive glass exterior and Mercedes lined up outside. Hmmm – in the age of customer choice what would you go for??

We wandered around the old town for a while, with its huge square similar in design (and crowds) to St Marks or Grand Place in Brussels. With only a couple of hours to spend in the city we needed to get the most out of our visit so we chose to take one of the Golf Cart tours of the city. Chosing one who spoke absolutely no English we set off at a pace, with the two girls sitting behind our driver and me sitting right at the back of the vehicle facing backwards – which initially was great as I got the views as we wizzed through the crowded back streets. Every so often we would stop, the speaker above our head would crackle into live and an American voice would give us a line of commentary about a particular building, punctuated by our driver pointing at something in the distance. All of this was fine until we headed onto the ring road and started driving at top speed (around 25mph in a cart). Hanging on the back of a golf cart with no protection was bad enough, but having Polish lorry drivers accelerating towards you was enough to scare anyone. We spent 90 minutes driving around the sites of the city, including a visit to Oskar Schindler’s factory. Well, we assume it was his – after driving through some of the most unattractive industrial estates in Europe, with factories boarded up left, right and centre we arrived at a derelict building with a temporary sign saying that this factory belonged to Oskar Schindler and it was currently closed for refurbishment. I can only assume that based on the state of repair it will be 2050 before it sees light of day. After driving around for over an hour, seeing some lovely buildings, some strange commentary and some near misses with pedestrians we were all feeling a little bit tired, but passing down the outer ring road Jo sprang to life – “Look – porn shops”..For those of you not familiar with Football Jo see the entry for Fuerth in September 2007.

Back at the Palace in the country we ate a full Polish banquet featuring at least four different types of dead animals, we hit the sauce….The girls had decided to try some local wine, but any attempts at ordering any resulted in either Vodka or water – very impressive girls – and if you have never heard of someone trying to describe Chateaux Neuf de Pap to a non-English and French speaker then get yourself over to Poland sharpish – almost Sid Jameseque!

Sunday morning was initially going to be a leisurely visit to the spa before heading off to Auschwitz. However, as the swimming pool was still being filled from the cold tap, and someone was already in the garden pond one was company and two let alone three would have been a crowd so we headed west to the scene of the biggest crime ever committed against humanity.

I am not going to dwell on the visit there in much detail. I had expected a peaceful place full of reflection but what we found was dozens of tour buses, full of snap happy tourists taking pictures of every element of the camp. The site is divided in two – Auschwitz was the original camp, and is very much still in tact as it was when liberated in 1945. All of the buildings were still in place and exhibits had been set up in most buildings. However, with the sun shining, people wandering around in shorts, children laughing and playing the mood was completely different to what I expected. What you cannot be prepared for though is the immense size of the second camp – Auschwitz Birkenau which is located around a mile away. Whilst most of the buildings were destroyed after the way it was here that you could still see the sheer size of the camp, and what horrors went on here.

Whilst I did not particularly enjoy the visit due to the atmosphere, I was glad that I had been there and coming in a week where there had been speculation around the removal of the Haulocast from the schools curriculum I fail to see what benefit this would give anyone. There is no denying the horror that went on there and whilst we can try and forgive we can never forget and this should be the same for all generations. However, my overwhelming memory of the day wasn’t the conditions, the sad stories but a lonely man sitting on the steps of one of the detention blocks with his head in his hands. Now I could have read the situation completely wrong and that he was overwhelmed with the camp but bearing in mind he had a Leicester City shirt on, and 10 minutes previously their relegation from the Championship had been confirmed I would suggest it was due to this. But why on earth would you chose 1) To come to a place like Auschwitz on such a day and 2) To wear a Leicester City shirt in the first place. Poor man – I assume he is now in councilling.

We left the camp, heading across the road for some more classic Polish customer service in a restaurant. This time you ordered at the till and then waited around until someone held up a place and shouted something completely different, whereby there would be a scrum to get to the dish. The waitress would then shout No a few times and give it to the meakest person in the crowd. I gave up being forward and left it to the girls to get our food by smiling sweetly – and sure enough within minutes we were tucking into our strange grey looking meat – mmm lovely. Whilst my macabre side is never far from the surface I did wonder what sort of cruel punishment it was to set up a fast food restaurant across the barb wire fence from a concentration camp.

We headed back east to Krakow in time for the Wisla game. Whilst I am a seasoned traveller, I am sometimes suprised at the location of some places. Before I visited Slovakia I had an impression it was further east. Macedonia further south and Luxembourg interesting! However, less than 2 hours drive eastwards from Poland is Lviv – one of the biggest cities in Ukraine…Ukraine is almost in a different continent and here it was on a roadsign in front of me. I almost had a Thelma and Louise moment and considered driving on past Krakow and heading for the land of Chernobyl, Dynamo Kiev and tall stroppy blondes, but being the responsible Father I felt for the little Fullers who would have probably been fed of up “You would have laughed” stories from my sister in law.

We parked in the same spot – quite literally – on the north of the park and with the sun still shining headed to the centre of the grass to have a sit, a beer and enjoy the weather. So this was where Danny Dyer thought it was “gonna get a bit naughty”. Wisla fans, families and couples sat around enjoying the weather not running amock as Greenwich’s finest had described. However, one fact did ring true – we had not seen a single non-white face (apart from the tourists at Auschwitz) in the city. Racism in Polish football is a real problem, and with so little integration of non-Whites you can see why.
This became evident when we entered the stadium. We headed off to the stadium with a few minutes of sunshine left in the day. The queues from the ticket windows were non-existent, as if the fans had simply decided to boycott the game in favour of a BBQ (well we would do this in England!). With my Polish now coming along in bounds (well I had printed a map of the stadium, written the number 3 on it and an arrow to where we wanted to sit) I acquired the tickets for less than £10 in the main stand, although with the redevelopment of the stadium 50% completed, the main stand is nowhere near as luxurious as it sounds.

The stadium is hoping to become one of the venues to be used in Euro2012. At the moment the organising committee have selected Poznan, Gdansk, Warsaw and Chorzow as their four venues, but with only Poznan having a stadium even remotely started, the Poles have applied for permission to use a 5th venue, which will be the Wisla Stadium. It will be a modern fully functional stadium when complete, but for now you have to make do with two modern single tier stands that run down the side of the pitch, the old main stand (the pitch was rotated 90 degrees when building work commenced) is an open air affair which for our visit was more than adequate in the early evening sunshine with cramped seating. At the far end the away terrace had seen better days to say the least and actually was one of the most inhospitable sections I have seen for many a year – crumbling terrace steps, barbed wire and high fences. That in itself was not an issue as LKS Lodz had only brought 17 fans!

The game itself was a cracker – 7 goals, 5 of which went to the home team but what was the overwhelming memory wasn’t the comical defending on both sides, or the unbelievable decision by the linesman to award a penalty to Wisla for a handball that a) hit the defender in the chest, b) was from a forward in an offside position and c) was at least 2 yards outside the penalty area, but was the racial abuse dished out to one of the away team’s substitutes as he warmed up. My colleague to my left said it was the same for every team – even Wisla had booed and chanted at their own players who were mixed race. With four years until they host a major tournament you have to wonder how these same fans would re-act at seeing the likes of Micah Richards, Thierry Henry or Ryan Babel playing in these stadiums. Recently the BBC did a report from Legia Warsaw concerning this issue, and the so-called “experts” from our media said that seeing such players as Henry and Drogba (does he actually realise that he plays for Ivory Coast, who as far as I am aware are not part of UEFA!) would turn them immediately into non-racists! Oh how live must be rosey in the offices of the Independent!

I had expected something a bit more lively from the home crowd. There was no flares, co-ordinated chanting or banners. Perhaps it was the weather or the end of season meaningless of the game but the fans acted like they were on medication! Perhaps I had come on the wrong day, but my impression of Polish football was more like that from the League of Wales!

So, after an eventless drive back to Katowice (both girls asleep and thus no talking bollocks about Kerry Katona) we came to the end of another cracking weekend away. Marks out of ten for Krakow as a weekend venue – 8. Marks out of ten for Polish football – 2. To coin a phrase from Bob Hoskins in the Long Good Friday – “Polish Hooligans – I’ve shit ’em!”…and Mr Dyer – in future trying visiting some of these games in the summer when people are a tad more relaxed and not worried about losing their fingers due to frost bite! And finally, for my depressed Leicester fan from Auschwitz, don’t worry – next season when Nottingham Forest play their local derbies against Derby County, you can start new rivalries with local teams such as Northampton Town and MK Dons.

About the Stadion Wisly
The Wisla stadium has been home to Wisla Krakow since May 1953 when a 35,000 capacity stadium opened its doors, replacing the smaller Oleandy arena was finally closed. The new stadium was a converted speedway track, with simple mud mounds placed behind the goals and two simple stands along the side of the pitch.

Very few changes took place with the stadium until the arrival of Polish millionaire Boguslaw Cupial in the late 1990’s. He started a slow but thorough redevelopment of the stadium that saw each side being rebuilt to form the smart stadium we see today. However, plans have been drawn up for a more ambitious redevelopment that will see a new 35,500 seater stadium rise from the ashes of the current stadium. It was first thought that the new stadium could be built to hold 40,000 and host both clubs from Krakow but opposition from both sets of fans saw this idea soon dropped. Today the stadium has gone through a 50% development with the pitched turned through 90 degrees and new side stands complete with roofs added. The traditional main stand is still being used but the crumbling open air terrace has now been condemned. Work will only progress when funding (see below) has been secured.

Currently the stadium is on the reserve list for 2012 – at the moment only 8 cities have been included in this list, with Gdansk, Warsaw, Poznan and Chorzaw being chosen for Poland. However, the Polish FA have petitioned UEFA to increase the venues to 5 each for Ukraine and Poland, and if accepted (as it was in Euro2004 in Portugal) Krakow would become the final venue.

Who plays there?
The Wisly is home to one of Poland’s greatest ever teams, and certainly one of the most famous – Wisla Krakow. However, for long periods of their history they were known as Wisla Towarzystwo Sportowe, only changing their name back to the much more pronounceable Wisla in 1997. The “White Stars” joined the first ever Polish Championships in the 1920’s, winning the title in 1927 and 1928. During the next decade they could not add to this title count but did finish runners up on three occasions as well as winning the Polish Cup for the first time.

It took until after the end of the Second World War for the team to start to dominate again, winning the league in 1949 and 1950 before they went into a period of decline that even saw them relegated on a number of occasions. They reached the top division again in the mid 1970’s and captured a single title in 1978 which allowed them to enter the European Cup for the first time. In a remarkable run they reached the quarter finals where they lost surprisingly to eventual finalists Malmo. The turning point in the clubs history came in 2000 when they were runners up in the league and the cup. The club hurt from this double defeat and increased their level of effort the following season, winning the league at a canter. Since 2001 they have not finished out of the top two, winning the title for three consecutive years in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Unfortunately they have not yet been able to translate domestic honours into European success. On four occasions the club have been knocked out of the qualifying rounds of the Champions league – although in 2005 they took Panathinaikos to extra time in the final round before losing 5-4.

How to get there
The Wisly Stadion is located on the north side of the Blonia open grounds, and about a kilometre away from rivals Cracovia which is visible from the south side of the stadium. It is no more than a 15 minute walk from the old town – simply head westwards down Szewska from Rynek and then turn left into Krupnicza. This road will then become ul Reymonta and the stadium is on the left hand side immediately after the park. Tram lines 15 and 18 terminate just to the south of the stadium.

Getting a ticket
Tickets can be purchased in advanced but only from the ticket windows on the north or south sides of the stadium. On match day the queues for tickets can be long and so unless you arrive an hour or so before hand it is prudent to get your pre match day. Tickets start from 30Zloty in the open stands to 120Zloty in the covered main stand.

About the Stadion Cracovia
Stadion Cracovia is nowadays more commonly known as the Jana Pawla II stadium – the John Paul II stadium after the previous Pope who was born in the city (and rumoured to be a Cracovia fan. It is very similar to a number of stadiums in Poland with one single semi-covered stand, and three sides of open air seating. Since the stadium originally opened in 1912 there have been few changes, apart from the conversion to all seater. With the redevelopment of the Wisla Stadion across the park still not finalised, the club have submitted ambitious plans for their own redeveloped arena – as you can see below.

Who plays there?
The Cracovia is home to the team of the same name – the oldest club side in Poland. They can trace their roots back to 1894 although the current club were officially formed in June 1906. The club were one of the few travelling ambassadors for the club, travelling far and wide to play friendlies against clubs in Budapest, Vienna, Paris and even London.

In the early 1920’s Polish football began in earnest with the first ever national championship. Cracovia won this in 1921 to gain another “first”. In 1928 they won the title again, by this time known as the Polish National Championship. They won it again in 1932 but less than two years later they managed to get themselves relegated.

After the end of the war, the two teams fro Krakow surprisingly led the war in post war Polish football. In 1948 the club won the championship for the last time after holding off a strong challenge from Wisla Krakow. Since then they have floated between the top two divisions, falling further behind city rivals Wisla. In fact they have even fallen as low as the fourth division at some points during the past 20 years. It does seem today that some consistency has returned to the club after successive top half table finishes, the last one in 2007 being in 4th place.

How to get there
The stadium is located on the western fringes of the old town, alongside the busy Al Focha road. From Rynek it should take no more than 10 minutes to walk to the stadium. Alternatively catch buses 109, 134 or152 which terminate at the stadium. The stadium is located across the park from bitter local rivals Wisla Krakow, which does lead to problems on occasions when both teams are at home on the same day.

Getting a ticket
Tickets can be purchased from the ticket windows around the ground on a matchday. The most expensive seats in the covered main stand cost 200Zloty. For a seat in the uncovered part of the stand you will pay between 100 and 125Zloty. For a place in the uncovered stand opposite then a ticket here will cost 90Zloty. See the stadium map below for more details.

Tickets can be purchased in advanced from Sklep Kibica in ul Wielicka 101 from 9am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday. With an average attendance of less than 4,000 you should have no difficulty getting a ticket for most games.

Getting around
The centre of Krakow is compact – full of narrow cobbled streets and wide open squares and plazas where walking is definitely the best option. Trams and buses run outwards from the edges of the old town daily from 5am to 11pm. Tickets can be purchased from newsstands and some stops with automatic ticket machines. A single ticket for either bus or tram is 2.50Zloty, a day travel pass is 10.40Zloty.

Paris, Bloody Paris, why is it always in Paris!


Paris – Wednesday March 26th March 2008

Late in 2007 the FA announced that England would play a friendly against one of the qualifiers of Euro2008. They had announced a game already in November against the old enemy, Germany, and having played Netherlands just a year previously it was a toss up as to whether it would be the Czech Republic in Prague, Italy in Rome or perhaps Sweden in Gothenburg. A couple of options it wasn’t gonna be was Russia, Croatia, Turkey or Romania..which of course basically left France. And so with a great fanfare they announced a friendly against them…typical! Well at least they could play somewhere different. Toulouse maybe, Lyon would be nice and of course there was always the Velodrome in Marseille. But no, it had to be Paris, bloody Paris.

In the past six months I had been to the Stade de France on four occasions. Granted they were to see rugby matches, and granted I had only seen one football match in stadium before (France v Romania in March 2002), but Paris again? But in my quest to get as many caps under my bet as possible it was never going to be a game I was going to miss. I have always publically stated how I hate Paris. A year of working in the city is enough to show the real Paris behind the tourist facade, and it not beautiful, its not chic and its not cultured. It is full of rude people who have no idea of fashion or work ethics. So the temptation to spend more than an hour in the city was not appealing to me so I planned a very quick trip. I managed to get a crossing via Eurotunnel for 2pm, returning at 2am meaning I could take a half day off work. I then started filling the car with willing passengers. Surprisingly I had no problems filling the car for this short journey. The original plan was for Red Rob, his mate Jonno, Knighty from work, Karl the Yid and CMF. With six in the car the cost of the trip including the ticket would be less than £50 which was acceptable even for such a shit place.

The talk leading up to the game was whether Fabio Capello in only his 2nd game in charge would grant Beckham his 100th cap. The big surprise though was that somehow Robert Green had been called into the squad for the first time in 9 months. Green is recognised by most who watch the Premier League on a regular basis as the most consistent English goalkeeper, yet in that 9 month period he has been overlooked in favour of 37year old David James, Paul Robinson, Ben Foster (still to play a game in the Premier League) and Scott Carson (He would be overlooked later in the year by Joe Hart and Peterborough’s 19year old keeper Joe Lewis).

Due to childcare issues CMF was unable to attend, and so the five of us left SE9 at lunchtime. The forum was already full of stories about ridiculously priced beer in Paris, people being mugged and absolutely no atmosphere. There had been a big fan party arranged, in an Irish Bar of course and it seemed that people were complaining that it could have been anywhere in the world – doh you think so? I find it so ironic that when these groups of mindless fans get together abroad they always head for an Irish Bar, drink Guinness and sing “No Surrender to the IRA”.

The journey was textbook. With little traffic on the motorway down to Paris we covered the 200 or so miles in less than 3 hours and arrived at the stadium 3 hours before kick off. I had pre-booked parking at the stadium via Francebillet.com. However, it appeared that I needed to pick up my ticket from the “shop”. What shop,where did it say that ? Nothing in this crap country is straight forward. Why couldn’t I print out the ticket online? Too simple and straightforward. A kindly man (must have been a Belgian) took pity on us and gave us a spare ticket and we parked underneath the stadium. The area around the stadium is filled with temporary bars on a match day, and whilst many England fans had booked up the hotel chains around this area, it still wasn’t too busy as the majority of fans had not yet left the city centre.

We headed into a restaurant to have some food and a couple of beers. With an hour to kick off we headed inside. I had only seen the stadium from the upper tiers and the press area and could not believe how much of a dump the lower tiers were. Toilets overflowed with urine, rubbish was piled up everywhere and there was virtually nowhere to eat or drink.

The teams were announced and Beckham was in. Ferdinand was named captain in the latest idea of the Italian to rotate the armband, and the rest of the team almost picked itself. David James was in goal, and I had bad memories from the last time he kept goal against France, in Euro2004 in Lisbon when he brought down Henry in the last minute to hand victory to the French. And sure enough, history repeated itself in this game as James brought down Anelka and Frank Ribery slotted away the spot kick.

Despite the likes of Rooney, Gerrard, Barry and Joe Cole occupying the midfield England did not create one change in the first hour, and it took the introduction of Bentley, Crouch and Owen to spark them into life. However,with the 4,500 England fans counting down the minutes until they could get back into the bars it was no surprise that the players were as lethargic as the supporters. It appeared that no one wanted to really be there, but some of the behaviour of the England fans was appalling. Some felt it acceptable to abuse fellow fans who wanted to sit down, or those who didn’t want to sing or chant. So what is the issue with this? Some of these moronic fans would be the ones who feel that “No Surrender” is still the anthem of the England team, and that abusing foreign players because they are not English is acceptable. And of course our FA, who are completely blameless in this all. They can see from some of the posts on the forum the racist and xenophobic nature of certain individuals yet they decide to ignore these individuals but instead warn those who offer to swap tickets for the likes of Euro2008. Of course they are not only interested in the money the “idiot” element provide – they have the interests of the game at heart really.

The game ended on a whimper and we headed back to the car and the inevitable queues to get out of the stadium. Our timescales were tight. We had 3 hours to get back to Sandgatte and the traffic jams were not helping. Eventually we made it onto the motorway and put our fate into the hands of the TomTom satnav that took us in completely the wrong direction, then told us to turn around and lead us straight back into the traffic jam at the stadium. Time was ticking and it called for drastic action. Bribery……We needed to turn left, a policeman was directing all traffic right so we bribed him with a €5 note and he turned a blind eye and we were back where we started some 30 minutes previous. 205 miles in just under 2 hours proved quite a challenge. Not only was I a bit tired (after all it was now after midnight) but the French toll system meant that speeding was difficult as the toll booths work out your average speed and alert the authorities if this was excessive. So it was a balancing act in speeding on the non-toll areas. We made the crossing with 10 minutes to spare, and through a bit of luck actually boarded the Eurotunnel train first in the top row,meaning that when we disembarked some 35 minutes later we had officially become the first England fans back in England who had been to the game (probably), After a few drop off points on the way home I entered the bed of CMF at 4.35am. Was it worth it? No for the football, no for the travel and no for the time wasted but it had been an enjoyable afternoon and evening of football banter. One thing was certain though – England had missed out on Euro2008 on merit based on this performance. With almost a first team out from the 1st minute they had failed to create one single chance against one of the oldest defences to have qualified for the European Championships, and with no Plan B Capello will struggle to achieve anything with this group of players. Still, only 10 years to 2018!

About the Stade de France
In 1992 FIFA announced that France would host the 1998 World Cup Finals. One of the conditions of awarding them the finals was the provision of a stadium that could hold more than 70,000 fans. With only Marseille’s Stade Velodrome anywhere near this, and the fact that it was almost unheard of for a capital city not to host a World Cup Final (only Washington DC in modern times have not hosted the final after being awarded the competition), work started almost immediately on finding a site to build a state of the art venue. Once a site had been located in the north of the city, and funding put in place, construction started in 1995. What was unique about this project was the amount of resource allocated to the construction which meant that less than two years later, the stadium was ready and in use.

The stadium has a number of unique features such as the roof that appears to float above the stands – it is actually 42metres above the playing surface and gives complete cover from the elements to the 80,000 spectators. The lower tier is built in such as way that 25,000 seats can slide back into the middle tier allowing events such as speedway and athletics to take place without compromising the views for football and rugby. The stadium is one of the best in the world in terms of spectator facilities and the sightlines are excellent.

Paris Saint-Germain were given the opportunity to move here, but decided to stay in the south west of the city. For a few games Red Star Paris played here and actually attracted a crowd of over 45,000 for a league game versus St Etienne in 1999. The stadium also hosts the annual Rugby game between Stade Francais and Toulouse, which is normally sold out.

The stadium not only hosted the famous World Cup Final between France and Brazil in 1998, but has also hosted the majority of the French football and rugby national games since opening.

It has also hosted two Champions League finals – firstly in 2000 when Real Madrid beat Valencia, and in 2006 when Barcelona beat Arsenal. It will also host the final of the Rugby World Cup in October 2007. The stadium offers daily tours for €10 including two per day in English at 10.30am and 2.30pm.

Who plays there?
The Stade de France is home to the French National football and rugby teams, and is not used on a regular basis. It also plays host to the two French cup finals in April and May respectively.

How to get there
The stadium is located in the Saint Denis area just north of the inner ring road, and almost adjacent to the A1 motorway that runs up towards Calais. It is very well served by public transport with the authorities deciding to build access points at either end of the stadium – a fact that the planners of Wembley Stadium have overlooked. RER station Stade de France-St Denis is on the Green line that passes through city from Creteil in the south, whilst RER station Le Plaine-Stade de France links Paris CDG airport in the north with Orly airport in the south on the Blue Line B. Both stations are one stop from Gare du Nord and the journey time is about 7 minutes. Metro line 13 also serves the stadium through the stop at St Denis-Porte de Paris.

If you want to travel by bus to the stadium then use lines 139 from Porte de la Villette or 173 from Porte de Clichy. A taxi from the centre of the city will cost around €20.

Getting a ticket
Depending on what the event is will depend on the ease of getting a ticket for the stadium. Most French Rugby internationals are sold out and tickets never go on general sale. Tickets for the French League and Cup Finals go on sale around 4 weeks before the events via http://www.ticketclic.fr. They also sell tickets for the French Football team internationals and it can be possible to get these within a day or so of the game.