Saturday, 9 July 2016

Euro 2016 - NI V Ukraine

We were in Lyon again running around, frantic amidst the clan of bright green.

Ron: I'm positive there is a bar next to the tram stop
Scarlet: Remember the last time Ron was positive? It took plenty of penicillin to sort that out

No one laughed at Scarlet's joke.

The plan was simple, watch the England V Wales game and then after head over to the stadium to catch the Northern Ireland v Ukraine match in the ground, the gap between the games was an hour and no red blooded England fan was going to miss the England game that day.

10 minutes later we had ascertained 2 things:

1. There is no bar near the tram stop in that part of Lyon
2. Ron is a complete berk.

After a typically dynamic rant from Scarlet as to 'why I listen to any of you morons' a frantic search around the city was done for a bar showing the England game, aside from Glyn who was determined to sample the pre match over at the stadium.  I don't know what he was on about, how much noise could 8,000 Irishmen make?

Back in the city the rest of us had nestled into a small bar about a 10 minute walk from the train station next to a shopping centre that resembled a Custard Cream.  The clientèle in the bar seemed to be bent strongly towards the English, with a solitary mouthy Welsh fellow who regretted his reaction to the Wales goal by the time the final whistle went.  This tournament is not one that England will look back on with too much joy, so let us enjoy this which is sadly the only real highlight for the English:

Any Englander who watched that game will remember that day forever and it left us in a rather good mood for the game ahead, particularly given the nature of it, the atmosphere was considerably more relaxed than the earlier games and to Scarlet it was abundantly clear why.  You see the Northern Ireland fans were just happy to be at the party, however the game went they were already winners!  Perhaps this is the sort of thing that the English mentality with its lofty ambitions has lost over the years, if we turned up proud of our nation and decided that just by being there we had won the battle then shouldn't that be enough?

We got on the tram and up to the ground, as God Save the Queen rang out around  the passion ran high and the 'Gree-White (one syllable somehow) army' taught us how to sing Ulster style, the game was electric with a fantastic result, and the Green wall of Northern Ireland sang as passionately as anyone, with a well earned win under their belt the Irish marched on.

First England and now the Irish?  It felt like everything was going terribly well, we only got caught up waiting for a tram for 30 minutes and were back to the Villa for midnight.

Whilst in bed that night I remember the stirrings from such an emotional day, and that feeling that our United Kingdom was having its finest hour in international football ever.  It seemed inevitable that one of our teams would go far, my only doubt was Wales.  They had been beaten and looked broken at the end, surely that was their chance to shine? And they blew it.

Tail between my legs, sulking in my bedroom this is Scarlet signing off for now...

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Euro 2016 - Belgium Vs Italy and a Sardine Tin

It is fair to say that all five members of our suntanned clan of Brits were raring to go on Monday morning as we popped into the Touran and revved up North to Lyon.  From what Scarlet could make out Lyon is a city of culture which is much more firmly rooted in the 'Franco-Roman' tradition typical of France than the balmy glitz of Marseille 200 miles or so to the south.  The central town square sits aside coffee bars and the kind of architecture one would expect to see in any large city in Western Europe, not boring per se; but not particularly distinctive either.

As in the likes of Prague & Budapest this giant city also has a furnicular railway which connects the old fortress that towers over the city to the sprawling metropolis which opens up underneath.  Regrettably a climb to these heights was never going to be on the cards as the sun lost her battle with the rain by technical knockout at about 3 o clock, so we settled down and watched the earlier games.

We took in the early kick off in the fan zone before snaking our way down to the Part Dieu station where we were reliably informed that the tram to the stadium would be free.   Betwixt the smiles on our faces we looked around the tram and noticed the huge amount of Belgians in our surrounds, it was clear that for possibly the first generation in history 'Belgium expects', not a phrase that comes to mind terribly often.  Indeed when we got to the ground it was Belgium that was out in full swing, easily outnumbering the legendary Azzuri by at least 3 to one the Belgians were as good a group of fans that this commentator has ever seen.

The large wigs and shirts of red, yellow and black are not a familiar sight to many on the international stage, unlike the Azzuri who strangely seemed to be restrained outside the ground. Could it be that the Belgians (late to the international football party) could provide the most lasting memories?  Surely the Azzuri would be tucked away somewhere amongst the neutrals?

Ron has a video clip of when the Azzuri awoke, and it is posted below:  (The hoarse voice is in fact Scarlet's, who regrettably had only half his voice after vociferous singing at the England game and a rant at Ron for selfishly eating too much of the communal bread rendered his larynx a little tense.)

The new Stade Des Lumieres is a fine arena, she has several tiers all round but the real touch that occurred to me is the roof, which extends out and gives plenty of cover when it is raining outside,  which it was... a lot....

Scarlet was backing Italy and the Italian's didn't disappoint, the match was an absolute cracker with Belgium reminiscent of England teams of the past, brimming with talent but with no end product.  It was difficult not to be sad for the Belgians as their night faded to disappointment and they were inevitably finished by a great crescendo from the Italians but truth be told the Belgian crop have disappointed at two tournaments, they have some way to catch up with the Three lions.

I had planned the journey back to the city in minute detail, simply take the free tram back to the city and get a connecting one back to the car, it sounds simple doesn't it?

It was a little before 23:00 when we joined the queue giving us a generous 90 minutes or so to get back to Part Dieu for our connection, unfortunately it took us longer than this to return to Part Dieu.  It would appear that the French authorities were surprised by the fact that so many people wished to get back to the city after the game, the fact that they had 6 years to sort this all out in preparation seemed to Scarlet to be a relevant point, however it was probably not helpful to repeat this loudly 30 times during the wait.

The queue was cold, wet and quite frankly dangerous, being from a land where nearly 100 people were killed by crowd mismanagement not many years ago I was very worried, particularly as the tram was absolutely rammed with people and the poor fellow next to me seemed to be having some issues mentally with the experience.  Scarlet and co were left with a horrifying epiphany, the organisation was so bad, overcrowded and poorly designed that even the British Government would have done it better...

City 7/10

Weather 2/10

Match 9/10

Organisation of the trams after the game and the resultant requirement to walk across half of the city at One o' clock in the morning 0/10

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Euro 2016 - From Russia without Love

It was a dark morning in June and the clocks had just struck 3.  Scarlet arose from his bed and looked with extreme fatigue toward the display on the vibrating alarm dancing out of his Mobile telephone.  Normally this interruption was a device that Scarlet associated with the agony of an early morning beam down the M3 toward work, but today was different, Scarlet was going to the European Championships.

Five years of incredibly banal planning had broken down to this and the car picked up her load as father navigated the early roads down to London Heathrow, in the terminal building all 5 members of our crew were there, the excitement still palpable despite the internal exhaustion of our body clocks.

We few, we happy few were together again at last, having made sure I wasn't sat next to Ed and Andre on the plane we embarked on the journey we had dreamed of for years and finally had come to pass.

England Vs Russia

The stories had been flying in from Marseille before we descended on the big city on match day, she is a melting pot of Mediterranean culture, old buildings decaying and a strong vibrant sun, add in tens of thousands of England and Russia fans and you have the potential for ugliness one associates with the seedy underbelly of the game.

We walked down to the UEFA Fan Zone and watched an earlier game, with the two sets of fans separated out at this point it seemed to Scarlet that perhaps the 'trouble' we had been expecting may have been a storm in a teacup, a little vociferous singing never hurt anyone after all?  With Russia and England fans around us and national pride at stake we made our way to the ground and everyone was in high spirits, we now prepared ourselves for the surely intense levels of security in the ground, after all the security would be intense right?

I don't write the following to scare/upset/undermine anyone, but this was the situation at the ground:

- ID Check - First up, are you the person whose name is on the ticket?  It would appear that UEFA simply couldn't give a toss, someone ticked the back of my ticket, so I could have been anyone? Good start UEFA

- Bag Drop - Andre had a bag (he would have wouldn't he?) and at this point he deposited it at the handy bag drop location behind the farcical ID check in exchange for a token, so that he could handily pick up his bag later.  Unfortunately the system broke down somehow after the game, and young Andre was queueing for at least half an hour.

-  What do you have on you? - Now we have had the chance to drop off all of our stuff now we just need to clear security.  I was given the typical body search and asked to empty my pockets, the fellow didn't seem terribly interested and it occurred to me that perhaps they should be paying a bit more attention.  This certainly occurred to me again a couple of hours later when it came to pass that some Russian fans had managed to smuggle explosives into the stadium.

Into the ground and what an atmosphere and what a game!  The Three Lions turned up and deserved a win, regrettably the situation turned south very quickly after the Russians got their equaliser, this has been commented on by many so Scarlet will say simply this:

I was there in the adjacent stand when they broke ranks and ran at the English, it looked to me much like a stampede.  The innocent people ran from the thuggery in vain as not a single official stood to help them out, it was a sick and mad act of butchery from people who had not been screened, by their own FA or by UEFA.

The true return of the disease of hooliganism unfolded in front of our very eyes, the actions of the few inciting fear in the hearts of all honest men in the ground that night who simply wanted to watch a game of football.

When we braved it out of the ground we saw bloodied faces and the occasional bottle thrown as full scale war threatened to break out (or so it seemed at the time), we went to the bag drop and watched the chaos as Andre waited 40 minutes or so to pick up his bag.  We walked on and on back to the car park, each step in the humid night feeling an eternity as each of us looked round fearing for our safety.  We got back and in the car, a night we will never forget, for all the right reasons, and all the wrong ones.

Half a step, half a step, Half a step onward,
To make a valley of death
  Came, the one fifty
"Forward, All cowards go!
"Charge for the kids!" they cried:
To destroy the perfect night
    Rode the one fifty

Hundreds of years ago we stood opposed on a battlefield, some of us have moved on.  Some of us have moved back.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Fantasy England Teams

There was a fun programme a couple of years ago about terrible players who played for England, in this vein I thought it might be fun to put some phantom England sides together, lets start with the best 11 we could ever have had:

Dream XI

You probably won't be too surprised with the names up there but naturally with only XI some great players have to be left out, no room for Gordon Banks, Alan Shearer or Jimmy Greaves?  Well i'm not going to do a bench aswell...

Now we move on to the players who loved to play for England, these days that may seem a slightly strange concept but these XI lived and breathed for the Three Lions:

Passionate XI

Three Lions, a Thistle, some Clover and a Daffodil: The First XI for the UK

Now this one will certainly never play, but these men would make up the UK first XI.  Every last one of them is a sure thing.

I may have let my concentration slide a little bit on that last one which is why there are one or two picks that might not necessarily add up for all of you...

God Save The Queen

Monday, 17 August 2015

Great Last minute goals and the English Game

We have all been on both ends of a last minute goal.  From the moments of pure disgust to the highs of last second glory; when it all comes together at the death everyone leaves with their heart on their sleeve.  See below a selection of what Scarlet thinks are the most heat wrenching moments involving England and English clubs:


Well really where else could I start?  The title race turned on its head with 2 goals at the death.  This coupled with the fact that Joey Barton made a complete prat of himself again made it a special day and an excellent conclusion to a thrilling season.  QPR survived that day too, and every one of them must have gone home knowing they had seen something special.

Deeney sends Watford to Wembley

It was all tied up in the final moments and they were all tied up.  Incredibly Leicester City were given a penalty.  Then the fun started...

UEFA Champions League - The Reading Version

Well I couldn't leave the royals out could I? Reading needed 2 goals, Reading got them

The Redemption of the man who would be king

We all know the story.  England had somehow gone to Germany and turned the group on its head.  One final performance against Greece at Old Trafford was all we needed.  England didn't deliver that day, the performance was second rate and a poor Greece side took their chances well.  The Dunkirk spirit kicked in, and England's greatest last minute goal since 1966 was an instant classic.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Things I learnt today

Observations from Royals Vs Leeds (AKA Dirty Leeds, the scum, The team who call themselves Champions of Europe who have never won the trophy etc)

- There are worse things than a free sample of Energy drink before the match
- There are much better things than a freee sample of Energy drink before the match
- Sunday Kick offs are particularly irking when the game is a devastingly boring 0-0
-  If you are going to sing along to 'Freedom' by Wham! in the car, make sure other people are ok with it first
- No amount of Caffeine can make you enjoy a Reading match at the moment.
-  Dick isn't a big fan of the new Goalkeeper
-  Dick isn't a big fan of the new Defenders
-  Dick isn't a big fan of the new Midfielders
- Dick isn't a big fan of the new Striker
- Andre would rather League Cup games (designed for midweek) to be played on the weekend
-  Glyn doesn't like any of the existing players
- Scarlet enjoys his Sunday Roast more than he would care to admit, and find its absence disturbing

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

UUUUURRRRRRRZZZZZ - Days we went mental #1

Hi all, I've only covered a couple of games below, I think this one might be a series if I get a good reception so the 2 examples below are really a taster:

So it is all ups and downs.  If you haven't got that by now I have either not been writing this well (seems unlikely) or you haven't been reading properly.  If you decide you haven't read it through properly go back and read each post in detail one at a time and then get everyone you know to read it as well.  They will thank you for it.

There is nothing like the high of that moment where all the inhibitions go and you stand up and cheer like a moron with your fellow fans.  Generally speaking these moments are big goals in the context of the day and the season, and they are awesome.

Brian Howard - FA Cup 5th Round Replay - 24/02/2010

The Context: A terrible season in the league had turned on its head with a surprise FA Cup 3rd round win at Liverpool.  A win at home to Burnley had led to a 5th round tie against high flying Albion.  An incredible game at the Mad Stad had ended 2-2 with both sides a man down.  

The Game: Albion had dominated the first half and taken the lead, Kebe responded against the run of play to level things up.  As the game went on Reading grew into it but a Federici howler put Albion in front again.  Albion clung on until near enough the last kick of the 90 until Brian Howard tied it up.... (Absolute Scenes)

How it ended: The Royals went onto win in extra time and play out a classic 1/4 final against the Villa a few weeks later.  The night went from brilliant to perfect when we found out after Glyn had got soaking wet changing a puncture on the side of the road on the way home from work.  #Brotherhood

Shane Long - Playoff Semi Final - 17/05/11

The Context: A great run of results had put Reading in the Playoffs.  A very ordinary first leg had left the game on a knife edge at 0-0.  A win would mean a trip to Wembley and a shot at the Premier League.

The Game: As the home team Cardiff controlled the game from the start, indeed Reading's first chance came when Longy had a punt....

How it ended: The march went on to Wembley where the Royals managed to throw it away in the most amazing style.  The following season we picked ourselves up and stunned the league (and definitely Dick).