The Seven Year Itch and how England can’t scratch it


After the short hop across the Channel to Lens on Tuesday I was heading back again a few days later to visit Lille for the fifth Second Round game of Euro16. I was thankful to Dan for this one, not only sorting the ticket for the game but also arranging a lift there and back. Can’t grumble at that I thought.

Whilst we left these green and pleasant lands at a time where most sensible people would be just getting in from a decent night out. The warm glow of a beautiful sunrise was replaced with rain as we parked up near the stadium. We had seven hours to kill before the game. My last trip to this fantastic city was on a fact-finding visit back in November 2014. Along with my brother we “researched” more than a dozen bars, a couple of restaurants and a souvenir shop – well at some point I’d bought a number of gifts for the family anyway. It’s fair to say that Lille has some decent bars.

27822919522_3852582bfd_kAlas, with Dan and Neil on driving duty and Brian not a drinker, revisiting the best bars wasn’t going to be an option so we went with the eat ourselves silly option, swiftly following breakfast with lunch, sticking our fingers up to those who insist on mixing the two as “brunch”. One bowl of “meat”, with a couple of token potatoes thrown in later we headed to the Fanzone to watch the France v Ireland game just as the rain started falling. Whilst unsurprisingly the French outnumbered the Irish fans significantly, the presence of hundreds of Belgians gave some voice to the underdogs as they took a second minute lead.

We departed at half time for the tram ride to the stadium, thankfully missing the insufferable moments when France scored two quick goals to seal their place in the Quarter-Final in six days time in Paris against England. I mean, we were hardly likely not to beat Iceland were we?

I’d been to the Stade Pierre Mauroy once before, where I’d seen one of the worst games of football in my life. A Champions League game against Valencia on a freezing cold December night, where the Lille Fans either stayed away under protest or sat in complete silence. 9/10 for the impressive stadium, 1/10 for the atmosphere.

27646072240_495dcef5b9_kThis was going to be different. The stadium was of course officially full, but tickets could be bought all along the walk from 4 Cantons metro stop, whilst inside the ground hundreds of empty seats shouted loudly. Not that they needed to. The upbeat opening ceremony gave way to a huge flag covering the lower tier of the German fans, reminding us as if we’d forgotten that they were world champions. Could they add a long-overdue European Championship to their list of international honours? They’d have to be in their best form to beat a hard-working Slovakian side that’s for sure….well, that’s what we thought as the game kicked off anyway.

Germany 3 Slovakia 0 – Stade Pierre Mauroy – Sunday 26th June 2016
Seven years ago this week England were stuffed 4-0 by Germany in the final of the UEFA Under21s championship in Malmö. The team under Stuart Peace’s guidance were strongly tipped for the tournament and won the group which featured Germany, Spain and Finland. After a dramatic 3-3 draw with the hosts Sweden in Malmö, England did something rare – they won a penalty shoot out but it came at a cost. Joe Hart picked up a second booking of the competition for “sledging” the Swedish penalty takers and missed the final. Despite his absence, England were strong favourites to lift the trophy for the first time in twenty-five years.

Alas the final turned out to be a nightmare for the Englishmen. I sat in the press area on that night in Malmö and saw the technical brilliance from the Germans. Their strength came from the core of the starting XI supplemented by a play maker who looked head and shoulders above every other player on the pitch despite his diminutive stature.
Our side that night includes names that today have long since drifted down the leagues. Loach, Cranie, Onuoha and a certain Adam Johnson. The one player in the starting XI who played in EURO16 was James Milner, although captain Mark Noble undoubtedly had his best ever Premier League season last year but was not even considered.

Perhaps the fact that Germany still has nearly five times as many qualified UEFA A coaches is part of the reason (or that our FA charge ten times as much for the course as the German FA do) or the availability of training facilities?  Whatever the reason it seems that in ten years time we will still be posing the same questions though.

27687060060_c31dbcf098_kGermany simply took apart a Slovakian team that had been a match for England just a few days previous and had actually beaten Germany 3-1 in Augsburg just four weeks previous. Over half of that side that played in Malmö in June 2009 graced the pitch in Lille seven years later. Goalkeeper Neuer is recognised as one of the best in the world today, the strong centre-back pairing of Hummels and Boetang (replaced towards the end of the game by Höwedes) and a central midfield duo of Khedira and that play maker, Mesut Özil. Those six took home winners medals that night in Malmö as well as the ultimate prize in world football, a FIFA World Cup winners medal in 2014 where only Khedira didn’t start in the final against Argentina after picking up an injury in the warm-up.

An early goal, drilled home from the edge of the box by Jérôme Boetang, settled their nerves. Özil missed a penalty ten minutes later after Šrktel had committed one of those fouls we see go unpunished every week in regular football but Mario Gomez gave the Germans a two-goal half time advantage after a superb run by the impressive Draxler (player of the tournament so far according to Lolly although I don’t think that’s anything to do with his incisive passing abilities).

27312500164_518770b9e5_kDraxler completed the scoring with a smart finish from a knock-down just after the hour mark, confirming the Germans as the favourites to win the tournament although a tricky tie against the winner of Spain and Italy lay ahead.

I’d like to say our journey home was as smooth as that on the way out. For the second time in a week, a “technical problem” and “enhanced security checks” at the Channel Tunnel resulted in a five-hour wait at Calais. It’s fair to say that a few thousand people are unlikely to use the Chunnel every again based on that experience. At 4.30am I finally got home. I had an hour turn around before heading to the airport for Helsinki. What could possibly go wrong watching our game v Iceland in a bar full of Scandinavians??

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A Lille bit of Leuven


Two games, one day, two countries?  No problems at all for the Daggers Diary team.

In each of the last two years, Dagenham Dan, Neil and I have ventured into Northern Europe for a weekend of football. Over the last two years, we have managed to attend games in four different countries, or like last year, we attended four top flight games in Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

This year though, we weren’t sure if we would be able to do the trip. Neil had taken a new job, which meant that holidays might be difficult. Added to that was a lot going on at our respective workplaces (as well as cost) and our February trip was eventually, and reluctantly cancelled.

Well it was until a couple of weeks ago. Dan sent round an email about resurrecting the trip over the regulation three days, and had managed to get five games into the time allowed. While none of us really had the cash to spend, we each reckoned that we could do it, but at a push. Eventually, sense prevailed and once again we had to abandon the idea of three days away. But a one day trip? Well, that might work, and so it is how we find ourselves on the Eurostar from Folkestone bound for Calais at 8am on a Sunday morning, before a couple of hours drive to Leuven in Belgium for our first game on our european day out.

With our normal three day trip postponed until later in the year, it meant that we could attend our own clubs games on Saturday. Dan and I suffered as Plymouth won 2-1 at Victoria Road, while Neil was at Brentford to watch Wolves win 3-0.

Of course, no trip can be truly incident free, but those that we have been on before have generally gone well, with maybe one minor mishap. This time, we had a real winner. Having arrived at Folkestone, we were waiting for Neil to arrive at the arranged time of 7am. We all stocked up on drinks and chocolate from the shop, Neil filled up the fuel tank of his car upon arrival and we moved back to the main car park in preparation of our journey. Then the bomb dropped; Neil had forgotten his passport. With our train crossing at 8.20, and with Neil living at least an hour away, it looked as though we were scuppered before we had even left the country. Dan was on the phone to Eurotunnel trying to rearrange our crossing, but the offices didn’t open until 8am, so out came the iPad. Neil was apologetic, and reckoned we should press on without him, but we do these things as a group, and we weren’t about to go without him. So Neil went back home to retrieve e errant document while Dan (having successfully sorted out our train to France) and I stayed in the service station.

It’s a strange feeling, being in a service station ridiculously early on a Sunday morning. It’s almost like a portal between the sleeping world and the awake one, with neither quite sure how to behave until one takes the lead. As we reach our intended (but now delayed) departure time, the services are starting to come alive.

Sunday 23rd February 2014, O.H. Leuven v Club Brugge

Once Neil had returned, we immediately headed toward the train terminal. Having rearranged our train for a later time, we were fortunate enough to basically just drive straight on to a train and after thinking that we might have troubles, we were on our way to Leuven. The two hour drive to Leuven is passed quite quickly, through the fields and towns of Northern France. Continue reading

A Lille bit of red in Valenciennes


“You are going where?” That is the usual response I get from The Current Mrs Fuller when I float the idea of a weekend watching football somewhere. Of course I always offer that she can come with me but surprisingly she always declines. Normally I blame the trips on Danny but this one was all down to French Television. F’ing Pay TV.

11179596644_5234b2ac93_bDespite having been to well over two hundred different grounds in Europe between us (probably – we don’t actually keep a record), and well over half of the current La Liga grounds, there has been one large gap in the list. Olympique Marseille, the Great OM. But we had a cunning plan to put that right. Our annual pre-Christmas trip this year was to be to the Mediterranean to watch Olympique take on Montpellier in the battle of the Cote D’Azur. Logistics were straight forward with tickets procured in the perfect spot to see the Ultras. After all, we weren’t really going to watch the football, were we?

And then it went wrong. Horribly wrong. Those underpaid, overworked, stressed French footballers announced they were going on strike in protest about the amount of tax they had to pay. They would be barricading the golf course/luxury car show rooms and country clubs with their camouflage Lamborghini until their demands were met. Our trip looked as if it would constitute one CFA2 game (think county league but with less dogs wearing scarves), lots of beer and buckets full of Bouillabaisse. And I hate fish stew. Continue reading

On the fourth day of TBIR Christmas – The Best football tat


Football clubs are the best in the world at taking any item, sticking a badge on it and selling it at a premium, because they know that like lemmings jumping over a cliff, fans will buy anything.  Back in the day some of the big clubs dipped a toe into true commercialisation by producing curtains, wallpaper and duvet covers.  I even had a West Ham throw on my bed that potentially stopped some “action” when a young girl managed to be persuaded upstairs whilst my parents were at work one summer holiday and as a Spurs fan she said “for God yes; for my country, yes; for my Queen, yes but not bloody likely for Billy Bonds”.

So in the past year we have had our feelers out for this new category of award.  We have seen some belters that didn’t make the final cut.  The rule here was then we had to see the items for ourselves.  So without further ado I give you the top three items of football tat in 2012:-

3rd best football tat – VfL Bochum net curtains
8116079356_ff77f7319a_bImagine the scene.  You are in a bar close to your favourite team’s ground. but you cannot look out of the window because you will not be seen as a fanatical follower of your team.  So what do you do?  What about buying some small net curtains emblazoned with your club badge that both protects your privacy and shows your allegiance.  Well look no further than these beauties being modelled by none other than Kenny “Adventures in Tinpot” Legg on our recent beano to the Ruhr Valley.  Available in home “white” or away “whitish”.

2nd best football tat – The Sullivan and Gold bobbleheads
SugoWe all know that David Sullivan and David Gold have a “bit of an ego” but even by their standards the appearance of these beauties in the West Ham United Christmas catalogue takes some beating.  Why would anyone, outside of the SuGo families want these monstrosities on their desk?  What value do they add to anyone’s life?  Unless you want to take a sledgehammer to them, of course.  And the real impressive part, they cost a “mere” £12.99.

Best football tat 2012 – The Lille signing toaster
8248897452_7e445e92f7_bThe club toaster has been around for a few years now for those fans who cannot live without their cooked bread emblazoned with your club badge on.  These are really old hat but imagine my surprise when browsing the Megastore in Lille when I came across this beauty.  Not only a toaster that burns Lille LOSC on your breakfast but plays a little ditty when it’s ready..”Allez, Allez Lille OSC” goes the toaster until you flick the switch or smashed to smithereens by your partner.

An Englishman (or three) in Lille


Michael Miles takes us on a Champions league journey across the Channel.

LOSC v Inter Milan – October 2011
Lyon have, without doubt, been the most successful French team of the millennium, while Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille remain the country’s most high-profile clubs by a long chalk. And yet it’s a small provincial outfit from the unfashionable north, a club that only regained its top-flight status as recently as 2000 that is the current dominant French footballing force.

Lille – or Lille Olympique Sporting Club (LOSC) are that club, and the reason I was taking the Eurostar to watch them play Inter Milan in the Champions League. Continue reading

Vive La France…Vive Lille


Our marketing wizard, Francois Hotte runs operations from Lille and was on first hand to see the victory parade from the team after their win in the Coupe de France last night.  Over to you Francois.

After 56 years, the LOSC brings back the French Cup to Lille, “Place de Paris”, how ironic when you know that Lille beat the PSG last night at the Stade de France thanks to a superb free kick from Ludovic Obraniak. They are now en route for an exploit, with three games to go to win the French Championship, Lille is ahead of Marseille with only 4 points. A great victory not only for the city but for the whole Nord Pas De Calais region in France.

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