So it’s taken me slightly longer than I’d have hoped to get my third blog post on paper (well, online) but it’s been an incredibly busy week for me since I returned from France.
Considering I’m usually reluctant to leave Wales let alone the UK, myself and the lads planned this trip well in advance of the Euro 2016 fixtures being released. Whereas most Wales fans pitched up at the likes of Bordeaux, Lens, Lille and Toulouse, we thought we’d take a risk and book a Monday-Friday stay in Nice, mainly expecting there to be numerous games hosted in the south of France.
Incredibly, there were two fixtures in Nice – one the night before we arrived, Poland v Northern Ireland and the Friday we’d be leaving, Spain v Turkey. Not the best of starts but our blushes were spared when it was announced that Wales would be playing England on the 16th June in Lens! You couldn’t make it up, we were going to be in France the same time as arguably the biggest fixture in European International football history.. although I’ve since been told that Lens is about a four and a half hour train journey from Nice!
Regardless of the distance though, we’d been buzzing for months ahead of travelling and it was also that week where I made my debut on an aeroplane. Yes, in 25 years it was only this month I’d actually travelled abroad by air. To celebrate my first appearance as well as the occasion, myself and the lads also rocked up at Bristol Airport all wearing customised Wales t-shirts with a current/former Wales players’ face on the front. This was probably the first time EasyJet customers would have seen Ashley Williams, Gareth Bale, Gary Speed, Ian Rush, Joe Allen, Joe Ledley, Jonny Williams and Robert Earnshaw on the same carriage!
Upon arriving in Nice, my first comments were pretty standard “it’s a bit hot here, lads!” -a sentence which would be used constantly throughout the following days. However, the view from the beach just a corner away from our hotel was outstanding, much more appealing than the €8 per pint it cost at the first and only beach bar we visited!
Our first night out was also a perfect example of what was to come throughout the course of the week, too! Fresh from their defeat to Poland on the previous day, we bumped into a huge group of Northern Ireland fans still in massively high spirits at the bar we’d eventually adopt as our new home. Myself and the 7 lads I travelled to France with were enticed to join in with the chants of “He’s 7 foot and he plays the flute, Kyle Lafferty” and of course now world-famous “Will Grigg’s on fire, your defence is terrified!” – a chant which has now quickly become the Vuvuzela of Euro 2016! Being big fans of football chants ourselves, we decided to get the bar involved in some Welsh chants with our renditions of “Ain’t Nobody like Joe Ledley”, “Gimme Hope, Joe Allen”, “Hal Robson! Hal Robson Kanu!”, “Viva Gareth Bale” and “Aaron Ramsey baby”, I’m sure the anthem and “Men of Harlech” also made appearances, too!
The beauty about France is although you do pay over the odds for a pint throughout the day, you’ve usually got at least 2 hours of happy hour in most bars which results in purchasing treble the amount of pints you’d usually buy in that period. Now I’m not the best drinker in the CF81 post code and I’m not called “Spewie Louie” by the boys for no reason so it was inevitable that I would end up getting lost and crying down the phone to my other half, telling her I wanted to come home – cracking start! Luckily though the lads found me, arms hanging over the side of a fence and took me back to the hotel.
Our second day and first morning in France also gave us some clarification on one thing in particular – THE FRENCH CANNOT COOK A DECENT BREAKFAST!
After breakfast.. or lack of it we headed to the beach, myself factor 30’d right up to avoid a t-shirt tan and looking like a Welsh Kevin De Bruyne! Sunburn though was the least of our worries, even at 26 degrees as not one, not two but all eight of us nearly drowned in the sea.. in the shallow end too!
With life-threatening pebble beaches ticked off our to-do list, we went back to our hotel ready for our second night out in the centre of Nice and back to our bar – I seem to remember this night being a much quieter affair in comparison to our first night, which was actually very welcome – drank like a fish again and vaguely remember watching Portugal v Iceland. Nothing to report.
Wednesday brought a yet another below-par breakfast with the cafe/bar owner somehow guilt-tripping us for ordering bacon. This was also the day we made the decision to visit Monte Carlo on probably the rainiest day of the week. Whilst I imagine Monaco probably looks glorious in the weather we had on the previous day, I can honestly tell you it looks a lot more depressing after losing €50 in a casino!
After a mad rush back to Nice via train, we managed to get back to our hotel with time to spare to catch the last 15 minutes of the France v Albania game. Walking past the Fan Zone was a huge eye-opener for me especially with so many Armed Police surrounding the area. It’s not something you expect to see at football, you barely see any Police Officers at Cardiff or Wales games anymore so to see such high levels of security really was something I hadn’t experienced before and honestly, it was quite frightening!
We got back to the bar though as Antoine Griezmann scored for France and the town centre erupted, naturally I joined in as he was in my Dream Team! Minutes later, the bar was celebrating again as Dimitri Payet curled in his second goal of the tournament and France’s second of the game – another one who made the Dream Team.
After spending our first three nights at the same bar, we discovered an Irish bar around the corner which would prove to be the venue for us to watch Wales v England the next day so it was only fitting we’d meet a few Geordie lads there.
On our way back to the hotel, we found about 20 people (the majority Swedish) chanting in the middle of the street. Now I don’t know whether it’s the hair colour but the Swedes adopted me as one of their own as we sang the name of Zlatan Ibrahimovic for about an hour on top of a bin (which you can actually view on my Instagram page). Once the Zlatan chants had ended, all sets of fans (Welsh, English, Icelandic, Spanish and Swedish) came together to sing “Don’t take me home” – another song that seems to have taken over France since the start of the Euros. After around two and a half hours of chanting, we agreed it was time to call it a night, ready for the big one!
So it was the day, Thursday 16th of June 2016.. a day we’d been waiting for since the fixture was announced and for us Welsh fans, an opportunity to avenge the past results where we’d failed to make much of an impact. We made our way to the Irish bar to watch the game, about an hour or so before kick-off – bucket hat and home shirt with “Joe Allen 7” shirt with me and our “Ain’t Nobody like Joe Ledley” flag hung up under the TV. The bar was divided 60-40 in favour of England fans so it was all the more sweeter when Gareth Bale’s free-kick hit the back of the net. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be in the stadium in Lens that day but the atmosphere in that pub when that goal went in was unbelievable from a Wales fan’s point of view – we were 1-0 up against the old enemy and we were top of the group and sailing through to the last 16!
If truth be told all I remember of the second half was watching through my hands, getting absolutely drenched in beer after Vardy equalised and almost being reduced to tears when Sturridge scored the winner in injury time. I do also remember seeing England fans celebrating in the street as if they’d won the Euros! A slight touch of sour grapes from me whilst typing this. I do remember spending much of the night advising people on how good a player Joe Allen was though.
As Friday hosted Spain v Turkey, the one half of our group had opted to stay in France the extra day to experience what it would’ve been like in Nice on a match day. Little did I know that the Allianz Riviera stadium was about 90 minutes away from the city centre. As the other lads got their stuff ready to depart and go home, we also had to pack up as we were moving to a villa about 15 minutes away. As we got out things sorted, my best man for my wedding gave me an envelope which revealed four tickets to the evening game. What a gesture! I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a “Best man’s present” but I’m not one to complain.
After spending an hour trying to find a bus, taxi or any form of transport to the stadium it became quite clear that we’d have to walk. It took us another hour but as our legs started to give way luckily we came across the best Algerian since Riyad Mahrez as he gave us a lift to the stadium on his way home – WHAT A RESULT!
As we got into the stadium, the atmosphere between the two sets of fans was amazing and if one thing is certain, it’s that Turkish fans are absolute mental! Although sadly their players massively let them down on the night, especially Arda Turan whose every touch in the second-half was booed and jeered.
The game ended 3-0 with two goals from Morata and one from Nolito and as the final whistle blew, the Turkish fans decided to let off their flares and fireworks which understandably played havoc with my nerves.
Unfortunately, our Algerian friend wasn’t present to give us a lift back after the game so we spent almost two hours walking back to the villa – my feet have never looked so bad!
The morning after was our last in France and as we departed for the airport I felt a little sadness as our Euro trip came to an end.
Looking back I have to say though, I loved every minute of my trip to Nice..
except for the 93rd of course!
Thanks for reading,