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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Bailing out the Eurozone – Oktoberfest Day one


Life sometimes just isn’t fair. Like the fact that I missed out on the lottery jackpot once because the winning numbers were exactly the same as I had picked in my head but couldn’t find a lottery machine nearby, or when you just go past an exit on the motorway to be hit with the traffic jam from hell around the next corner. Alanis Morrissette called it “Ironic” but to me being in a plane crash is not ironic, it is just bad luck. Oh, and Ms Morrissette, when you do “meet the man of your dreams” you could just offer him a threesome with his “beautiful wife”. Just saying.

No, for me life wasn’t fair because I had to spend 10 days travelling. From one side of Europe to the next and I would only get to see ten football matches in that period. Just ten. I can see you crying on my behalf now.

I would be taking in five countries on my travels, meeting up with numerous old friends and drinking pints(and litres) of beer ranking from €1 Pilsen’s in Prague to €8 Amstel’s in Zurich.

The reason for such gallivanting? Well it was the start of the Ocktoberfest season. Now in its third year you can read all about it here. After our successful jaunts in Holland, Germany, Hungary (well apart from the dysentery I picked up last year) and Slovakia in our previous trips, it was the turn of the Czech Republic this year. That was until fate dealt us a lucky card, an Ace in the hole. Europa League football just over the border in Slovakia. Our EFW/TBIR charter says in paragraph 3, section 2:-

“If a game in a city/stadium is being played whereby transport is freely available and journey time is less than 4 hours and there are no alternative destinations, you have to at least spend an hour finding mitigating reasons not to go”.

So that is why at 6.30am I was on board Ryanair 385 to Bratislava. Or actually, to Vienna (Bratislava). Why let hundreds of years of diplomacy get in the way of border agreements eh Ryanair?

Known as Pressburg until 1919, Bratislava today is home to hundreds of stag/hen weekends every week. As I decamped from the plane and waited for the bus into town I was handed a leaflet offering me “Pussy Galore” at a club in town, that was apparently open at 10am. I asked the spotty youth whether it was the name of a person, since the capitalisation of the words suggested otherwise, but he simply said “girls, boobs, fanny, sexy time”. He failed as a sales person trying to win me as a customer so I declined to visit, although I kept the leaflet for “research purposes”. Continue reading

My first match – Little Britski


We all remember our first game don’t we?  Well not unless you are a few months old and then it the job of your Dad to record it for you.  So here is Daniel Richardson’s account of his daughter’s first game….bless.

The lowest league of the pyramid in the 25th ranked domestic league of European football. What better place to kick-off a childhood if not a lifetime of watching football? Or so my Dad would like to think; the truth is I was just 6 months old and had no choice in the matter. My family who took me to the match didn’t even know who was playing. Dad found out the next day by scouring the depths of the Slovak Sports Daily Dennik Sport that it was Okoc / Sokolec v Pol’. Mocenok in the Slovak 5. Div West South.

Okoc, or Ekecs, as the locals call it [they speak Hungarian, see] is a village in the South of Slovakia. You can’t even find it on Wikipedia. Officially it must be the South of the West I guess, but anyway, it’s down there and not much goes on. Therefore the football is quite a draw because a home game provides the highlight of the fortnight to families in these sleepy villages. Kick-offs are always Sunday afternoon at 17:00 by which time people will have already spent a good 7 hours eating, drinking and generally being merry, together. Forget your I-pads and designer clothes, deadlines, twitter and ‘better things to do’; this is real family stuff, and that’s why I went to the footy and everyone, including the dog, came along too.

Free entry for ladies, babies and dogs. €1 each for the men, who can begrudge paying that when the sun is shining, the atmosphere is jovial, the bar is open and there’s a game on? Even the pitch was in good nick and the football wasn’t as bad as they said it would be. There was also a “10ft football in a magic hat” to quote Danny Last. I was asleep in the buggy, Dad was drinking too much with Granddad and the girls were talking about me, so no one really knows what happened in the match. We just know Okoc won 1-0, because Dad checked the paper the next day. Despite the win, they remained bottom of the league pyramid but no worries; there is no relegation from this league.

Crowds for village football, especially in this region of Slovakia, often better those in the 2nd or even the 1st Division, in some cases. There was no official attendance published but Dad estimates between 200-300 were in for this match, which, when compared to 347 at Senec v Petrzalka the previous day, is not half bad. It’s a meeting place, an open air bar, a Sunday afternoon party and a chance to support the local lads. Everything you need, what more could I ask for from my first match?

Little Britski

Follow Britski’s Dad on Twitter – Britskibelasi

Ockoberfest 2010


Take 30 blokes, put them in a foreign country where the beer is cheap and the women are plentiful and what do you get?  Well a bloody good weekend of football, laughs and goodwill across Europe.  And is down to one man.  Danny Last, the man behind European Football Weekend website.  After years of going here and there across Europe, meeting locals and spreading the word that us English are actually quite like the Belgiums/Germans/Swedes/Danes and Poles when it comes to wanting to watch some football in a cracking atmospheric environment with a few beers.  Such nuggets as “Waking up in Rostock wearing nothing but a Hansa scarf around my neck meant it must have been a good night” can be seen scattered across his site. Continue reading