The Illuminati in the City of Lights

Paris. The City of Love, home to Pepé le Pew, dancing polar bears (well, every fridge magnet I saw had them on), the birthplace of pole dancing and once home of the object of Oblix’s affections Falbala.   The most visited city in the world, where traffic jams stretch from La Défense in the west to Disneyland in the east. Where a small hotel room, no bigger than a six yard box can set you back €550 just because you can see the top of the Eiffel Tower on a clear day (which there rarely are) by hanging off the roof-top TV antenna. Paris, home of dreams, nightmares and everything in between.

So why am I here? Good question as my normal cheery outlook seems to be slightly clouded by the comments above. Let me set the record straight. I’ve spent more time in Paris than any other city on this planet bar London and Copenhagen thanks to a year-long work assignment that saw me hiring and firing all manner of people. With some of the most bizarre employment laws known to man I was sent to the Cite l’amore to “cut through the red tape”, which was American speak for let’s take a chance we won’t be sued for doing “that”. Since the heady days of 2001 I’ve been a regular visitor, and perhaps Paris and I got off on the wrong foot as I’ve always had a mild dread of trying to do anything that involves negotiation, contracts or due process. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Parisians to death, but sometimes cannot understand the quirks of life in the city. The city is simply an enigma to me.

8247825255_7bc1cb100b_bIf ever one establishment summed up this enigma more than most it had to be Paris Saint-Germain football club. The premier team in one of the premier cities in the world. Alas, their standing has never been of premier quality. For a club that are actually younger than me (that makes me feel old) their dominance of the media would lead you to believe that they are the most successful team in the country. They aren’t. Historically that title could be said to belong to Saint-Étienne or more recently Olympique Lyonnaise. Olympique Marseille would have a thing or two to say about who was the biggest club in the country, and even regional sides such as Nantes, Lens and Lille would say they were more successful. But that is all about to change if you believe the hype. Continue reading

My summer of love for the beautiful game

In last month’s excellent When Saturday Comes, Phil Town writes about the legacy of Euro2004 in Portugal.  In the article he explores in brief what has happened to the stadiums used for the competition and how today 40% are basically white elephants or millstones around the respective club’s necks.

In our eyes 2004 was the finest tournament we have ever attended.  We had fond memories of South Korea in 2002, and Germany in 2006 was everything you expected from the Germans, but 2004 beat all of them hands down for various reasons.  During the course of the tournament we managed to squeeze in twelve games in nine of the venues, met Anders Frisk (the Swedish referee), played a 100 v 3 football match with Portuguese fans, shared a sun bed with Sepp Blatter’s number two (a person not something left in a toilet), gatecrashed the biggest meat-fest known to man, and hit a ball harder than Roberto Carlos.  There wasn’t one day where something extraordinary didn’t happen.

But it was very clear back in 2004 at the tournament that some of the stadiums, whilst looking absolutely out of this world, would sit almost empty after the tournament.  Prior to the final group game in Leiria I climbed to the top of the Castle Hill overlooking the ground to get a view of the town.  In the middle of my eyeline was the stadium, the Stadium Dr Magalhães Pessoa.  We saw Croatia v France in the stadium, thanks to a free complimentary corporate ticket given to us by a suntanned young lady at our 5 star hotel.  “I really cannot be bothered with all this football” She told us as she sipped another cocktail.  The ticket bore the name of her “boyfriend’s” company on (no names but it was “Priceless”), and you got the distinct impression she was looking forward to the attention of one of the waiters for the afternoon whilst her beau was at the game. With the money we saved on not buying it from an official source we went straight and put our cash on a Croatia. The 30,000 all seater stadium cost the town over €50m and is one of the best looking you will see in Europe.  But with only 50,000 people living in the town, and a club who averaged just 2,500 surely this was just a folly? Continue reading

In Dublin’s fair city, where girls are so pretty

After UEFA gave me just 5 days notice that I could attend the Europa League final (thanks for that), I decided it made no financial sense in paying nearly £500 for flights for a game that to the neutral had very little interest.  And with the added burden of the Queen in town it seemed a security nightmare.  So instead I sent Brian Parish and Dagenham Dan Campbell on my behalf.

Now that most of our league seasons have finished, attention turns to the major finals that happen this time every year. Most of the European club attention is focused on the Champions League Final next weekend at Wembley. However, in case any of you didn’t know, the second UEFA competition, the Europa League, had it’s final in Dublin on May 18th. Continue reading