A beautiful sunny day in South France.
We spent the remainder of the night before at a Italian restaurant which was a five minute walk from the hotel. Coatesy ordered this meaty pizza which the rest of us were jealous of. Each pizza was named after each of the 1998 World Cup winning French side, and I’m afraid that Christoph Duggary’s one just didn’t cut it for me.
The plan for today was simple, we checked out the harbour (where all the trouble was alleged to be occurring) early so we don’t get caught up in any problems, we strolled around Marseille, grabbed a few beers and headed for the game later that evening. We achieved it without any fuss.
There were lots of nice squares in the centre of Marseille, full of bars and restaurants, even the port/harbour was a lovely walk this morning. Despite what people may say about the events surrounding the match, Marseille certain had some great spots and we had a great time.
The thing that I found people didn’t realise about the violence from the two previous nights was that we wasn’t going into a tinpot town, we were going to a city to play our opening game. Let me put it this way, if something kicked off at Wembley tube station, would anyone be directly affected if they were in Upminster? No, of course not. So we were aware of the “troubled” areas. So we just stayed away. It’s that easy.
I don’t want to pass blame onto anyone for whatever happened, I couldn’t comment, I wasn’t there and did not witnessed any violence. From an outsiders perspective, I wouldn’t be surprised if the French police weren’t partly to blame, along with the locals of Marseille and some sections of the fans. Our trek to the stadium is where I formed this opinion.
After a good day of eating and drinking we ended up on the long road to the stadium where we met one of Trigg’s friends for a quick beer before we walked in. The atmosphere was great walking up the long road, lots of singing “Don’t take me home” amongst other chants and it seemed the mood was positive. We reached the outside of the Velodrome (which by the way – is a fantastic stadium, a thing of modern beauty in football), and it wasn’t clear where to go. We approached to go in the left side and found that there was no entrance – but did witness a small number of fans jumping the fences but to no avail.
There was only one entrance into the Velodrome, which I guess if you were a Marseille regular or had been to the ground before – you would know this. Once we found it and made our way in – the checks were not what I would regard as sufficient. I was searched, and asked about my glasses case but let through easily enough, but it was carnage, I was not surprised when explosives and flares got into the ground in the Russian end, more on that later.
Don’t get me wrong at no point in the time or at any stage of the tournament up to the point in writing was there a time where I felt unsafe, but given the high intensity of terrorist alerts from different sources regarding the tournament – I’d like to of thought there could’ve been more to prevent something as simple as a flare or explosives getting into the ground.
There was a realisation of “Oh my gosh we’re actually here” when we were walking up the steps to our seat. Perfect timing when we got our first glimpse of the turf we heard the song “Three Lions” was blaring out in the speakers. A tingle went through me and the buzz of exciting I’ve had since arriving in Marseille came and I sang “It’s coming home” at the top of my lungs. Even Trigg who announced “I refuse to sing Three Lions until the semi finals if we get that far” – went totally against his word and got his voice working.
The game itself was a little – meh. A pattern which continued to the next two group games, where England had lots of possession of the ball but found no cutting edge.
Half time was brilliant, the DJ who was playing the music obviously was keeping up to date with British football, as they played “Free From desire”, to which 85% of the ground were singing the Will Griggs version. It was really good fun.
The best part however was the goal itself.
Not in a million years would I ever expect Eric Jeremy Edgar Dier to score a free kick. It was a little unexpected. Still, the place went potty. The four of us hugged each other, pandemonium ensued. Even the random guy in the next seat along and I embraced. It was a great moment and something I will never forget.
Like all England fans however, I am used to disappointments. The last minute goal was against the run of play and shamefully conceded by the England defence. We should’ve seen that game out, and we didn’t.
Seconds earlier we did hear a bang in the ground (which I believe some people mistook it as a terrorist attack in the ground when hearing it on the telly), after looking around nothing was to be seen. We were led to believe that this was the signal for the Russian fans to attack, questionable whether that is true or not, we did see a bunch of England supporters run away from the opposition faithful soon after the goal. The pictures of the attack can be seen all over the internet, one image that stuck with me was the one with the gentleman holding his son protecting him the from the violence – asking to be left alone.
We left the ground without any problems – walked out, turned left and headed back to our hotel which was 5 kilometres away. On the way back, Coatesy and myself were bombarded by messages of asking reassurance from girlfriends, family members and mates who wanted to know were we okay due to the issues outside the ground. There were reports of clashes between English and Russian supporters outside the Velodrome. I’m pleased to say that we saw none of this. We got home and went straight to bed.
Despite the reported trouble and the result of the game, I had a great day. The Dier goal was something to treasure, and we were to leave Marseille in the morning unscathed.