The EUROs are done and dusted and (spoiler alert) Portugal won. Thirty two teams played in ten stadia and a gazillion fans invaded France. I was completely unprepared for the level of intensity and passion that the games would ignite in my small adopted City of Saint Etienne, which as luck would have it has an international standard football stadium.
Managing sporting and other events is my job and I knew about the EUROs and even applied half heartedly and unsuccessfully for a job. Those in the know will have expected the mass invasion of fans and the media coverage, those who havn’t been in Europe for a European Championship or a World Cup before (me), might have been taken by surprise.
There were some Croatian football fans on my tram on the day of the Croatia vs Czeck Republic game. Ostensibly I was grocery shopping – that’s what I told myself but really I wanted an excuse to get out and see what was happening. So there I was, squeezed into a corner while the fans were drinking, chanting, thumping the roof and the windows. They were so happy, and I felt like I was a part of the big party. An older English fan asked them what they were chanting. The Croatian stopped, tried to stabilize himself without spilling his beer. Very courteously, he bent over and happily whispered ‘its not very nice’.
For motorsport purposes I once visited a remote Aboriginal community in Western Australia. I hesitantly took out my camera because the scene was so photogenic and culturally different, unsure of the cultural nuances (in my own country!). Then about the same time the ladies from the community whipped out their cameras to take pictures of us, probably for the same reason. It was a bit the same in Saint Etienne. The fans were being boisterous and the local people (including me) were laughing and taking photos.
It was well reported that one in ten Icelanders were in France for the Tournament. By the number of fans who were here for the Iceland game, there certainly can’t have been many people left in Iceland which has a population of roughly 300,000 according to reports. Whole families were decked out in the team kit as they peacefully made their way from the Gare Chateaucreux up the road to the centre of the city and from there to the stadium.
The English were noisy, boisterous, quite often shirtless and had a scary reputation. I slightly nervously went to the Place Jean Juares to see … THOUSANDS of them happily soaking up some rays, drinking, dancing and singing. Not many of the female variety however. The only interaction I had with the English fans other than to catch the vibe was to offer advice to the pasty faced people on street corners staring intently at their Google maps. I felt like I was being helpful, but probably the instructions may have been slightly more complex than I’d thought.
‘… go back the way you came to the Tram stop and get on the tram. Don’t worry about the ticket because I don’t think anyone else is today. But make sure you get on the tram to Terrasse, not to Bellevue. The Bellevue one will take you in the opposite direction. And when you get to the party on the corner, with lots of people singing don’t get off. There is a MUCH BIGGER PARTY further on. You can’t miss it’.
Beaming smile, what could possibly go wrong.
EURO 2008 and 2012 winners Spain were knocked out in the Round of 16 by Italy. Then Iceland beat England in the Round of 16. Excruciating timing, coming a few days after the Brexit vote. France then defeated Iceland, who’s fans remained upbeat. France unexpectedly defeated Germany and then everyone suddenly thought that France would win – by defeating Portugal in the Final. But the fairytale didn’t happen, and Portugal won. (May the best team ….).
There were signs of support for the Tournament throughout the city – from the little football men made from what looked like old drums, to the welcome signs on shop windows, the special red ‘Saint Etienne welcomes the EUROs’ tram, urban art, and of course the Fan Zones.
Sadly I didn’t get tickets to the games in Saint Etienne because I was working away, but I have so much enjoyed being a part of the experience, and thanks to the City of Saint Etienne for their support of the event.
Am I hard core? A little, I guess (smiley face).
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