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It’s match day.

 And after an absolutely glorious lie in (well 9am … with a lot of social catch up .. but that was luxury as every night so far I must have had at the most 3 hrs sleep .. if that), myself and the lads Geordie John and Ali hooked up with Spanish Dave in town.

The place was buzzing.

It was weird because on one hand, St Etienne had stuck to its traditions and many establishments were not open.

However, more clued-up establishment owners really tapped into the spirit of the tournament and welcomed the English with open arms – obviously against the advice of the local authorities.

We saw this the night before in the square. Somewhere we thought was a fanzone – but was in fact just a square with some small screens and a load of bars playing music – had English and Slovakians enjoying theselves drinking and chatting and singing deep into the night.  

We came to find ourselves outside a bar that was dubbed “Chico’s bar”.

So called because of the DJ they employed was meant to, but didn’t look anything like, Chico Flores – the ex Swansea City Spanish centre back.

Outside were hundreds of England fans .. drinking .. singing .. and partying.

No problems. No animosity. No anger. Just partying.

They were doing a tremendous business selling beer at €5 a pop (that €5 beer is gonna cost England fans 50p more after the election result last Thursday). However, they did not scorn the fact that many of the people at the bar had bought their beer supplies from the local supermarket (before it ran out of booze of course …. another example of how ill prepared St Etienne was for the arrival of the English) and were supping their cans while dancing to ‘chico’. 

That didn’t matter to them as they were selling thousands of pints anyway and the more people at chico’s bar – whether they bought beer from them or not – the more of a party it was … and the more beer they sold.

It’s called upscaling. UK football clubs look and learn. Don’t try and kill the customer by trying to extract loads of cash up-front. Get them in the doors cheap then work hard on creating an environment that will make folk happy to spend more.

So good luck to Chico. 

 The spirit of Chico’s bar represented everything that I LOVE about England away. 

Togetherness. No animosity. No anger. Just a load of people who love football enjoying themselves. 

I have seen Chico’s bars all over the world.

In Sapporo, Japan I witnessed the BIGGEST football post-match street party where pretty much every bar in Sapporo was a Chico’s bar. Playing music with England fans AND LOCALS partying till very early in the morning. You could hop from one Chico’s bar to the next and continue joining in their party.

I also remember chico’s bar in Cape Town.

And chico’s bar in Lisbon.

And they embraced Chico’s bar mentality in Eindhoven at Euro 2000  where the police were relaxed, music was blaring and footballs were given to the crowd to amuse themselves.

Chico’s bar represents a certain way of thinking around football supporters.

You can either embrace them, treat them like human beings, have fun with them ..  and everyone has a good time.Seese

Or you can block them off. Give them nothing to do. Treat them like 3rd class citizens from the get-go. And get everyone’s backs up. But still take their money

Which approach will result in more begrudged punters do you think????

We left Chico’s bar to have a bite to eat. The word had gone around that La Glasgow (no joke) restaurant was serving up some decent fare. The main reason why this place was the place to be was it was in the centre of town. And one of the few restaurants that seems to have bothered to have opened.

If the St Etienne restaurants had half the nous of ‘chico’ and crew, they could have probably closed for business for the rest of the summer.

Needless to say, La Glasgow ran out of food mid-afternoon. Too many england fans eating steak or chicken et chirizo and quaffing red win. How very un-football of them!?!

 More action at chico’s bar before heading down to the ground.

As per usual, the trams were chocca. But fans were in fine form. 

The police forming a security cordon to the inner sanctum were looking un-necessarily nervous. Many of them looked very young. And very serious.

“ Relax .. and try smiling. Everyone is in a good mood here” I said to on policeman who could have been no more than about 20.

“I can’t” he said “I’m just doing my job” 

And there you have it.

The game itself was pretty frustrating. Roy made a load of changes – obviously looking to keep players fresh for the next match (which was … er .. one week away).

England ground out an unsatisfactory 0-0 draw … much to the discontent of the away support who had been magnificent – belting out “The Great Escape” for most of the 2nd half .

But the reality is England are through .. and I said it before and I will say it again …. there is nothing worse than that feeling of emptiness when, after your second game, you find yourself booking your passage back home – as we did in Brazil.

This time, we played it safe and got through the group. It’s knock-outs now. Anything can happen.

So off to Nice at the weekend. Fun in the sun. 

Game on.

And with the Icelandics being the absolute and total party animals that I know them to be, this weekend could be an absolute scream.

Billy Grant