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Early start from London – leaving home at 5am.

First bus of the day to Victoria station – myself and Geordie John we off to Gatwick for the next part of the journey.

Next stop Nice. But the route to get there summed up everything bout England away.

The main objective is to just get there. By any means necessary.

This route involved a plane journey to Genoa in Italy. Picking up a bla bla car ride (bla bla car is the air b&b for car-sharing) to Ventimiglia on the border of France. Then a train into Nice.

Sounds convoluted?

It was actually one of the most relaxing and picturesque football journeys I’ve taken since our drive from Cape Town to St Elizabeth in the 2010 South Africa World Cup.

Our driver Xin met us at the airport. We underestimated the time to get out the airport. Exactly 9 mins from getting off the plane to the arrivals lounge. On top of our hour wait, Xin was 1/2 hour late. Quite frustrating.

We had a date with Italian Sky Sports in Ventimiglia to watch the Ireland v France match .. somewhere.

Xin was on a mission. He was looking for McDonalds. His sat Nav took us into the queue to board the ferry to Sardinia which was very bizzarre.

We were getting worried. We thought we had been kidnapped. Was Xin a Russian spy looking for pay-back after our videos exposed Russian fans as cowards back in Marseilles?

Another half an hour of faffing and we were on the way.

We got to Ventimiglia for kick off. We were in Italy. A country that loves football apparently.

Ventimiglia, Italy

Ventimiglia, Italy

 

Except we were struggling to find a bar with a TV anywhere.

No interest.

15 minutes later, we found ourselves on the beach. Still no sign of a TV.

Word on the street was Ireland had taken an early lead.

Finally we found a TV in a bar in the beach. There must’ve been a dozen or so lads hunched around it.

RESULT !!!!!

Geordie John and Billy Grant - Beach Side, Italy

Geordie John and Billy Grant – Beach Side, Italy.

 

To our dismay, they were actually watching the MotoGP. We were told they would switch over to the football when the race was over.

Cheers !!

Finally race over, we got to watch the Ireland match. Blazing sun. On the beach. A few beers.

Bliss.

Despite going 1-0 up with a penalty, Ireland were unable to hold their lead and ended up losing 2-1 (soon to become a familiar tale).

We got the call that some other guys from our crew were popping over to Monaco – as you do – to go watch the Germany match. We thought it would be rude if we didn’t join them.

An hour later we were sitting in Monaco on the harbour drinking happy hour bees at €3.50 a pop. Not nearly as bad as I thought.

Monaco - England Away

Monaco – England Away

 

After a relaxing few hours, next stop. Nikki Beach rooftop bar – via the underpass made famous from the Daytona arcade game and past million dollar yachts.

Nikki beach.
Beautiful views across the harbour.
Beautiful bar.
Beautiful beer prices – €10 euro a pop for a bottle of Heineken.

Nikki Beach, Monaco

Nikki Beach, Monaco

 

Bumped into Keme from Channel 4 News who went to great lengths to explain how his plush hotel in Monaco was no more expensive than a hotel in Nice.

Who says it’s not an easy life ??

Keme, Channel 4 News & Billy Grant

Keme, Channel 4 News & Billy Grant

 

After a few beers and a quick chat with Mr Boombastic – Shaggy – it was sharp jog back to the station past the beautifully lit casino to get the last train back to Nice which somewhat resembled the 3am night bus from Trafalgar Square.

Shaggy & England Crew, Nikki Beach, Monaco

Shaggy & England Crew, Nikki Beach, Monaco

 

Nice was still buzzing when we got back so a quick bit of tucker in the old town before heading to bed was the order of the day.

Match day. A well needed lie-in.

Heading down to the lively old town, bumped into Stan Collymore. England fans were in fine form. One street – Cours Saleya near the flower market- was boisterous singing. All the streets adjoining were full of fans in cafes and bars – a more gentile atmosphere – keeping the French economy afloat.

This was much more of a chilled affair. Twas like Marseilles but nicer … and without the marauding idiots giving it the edge.

Nice so much reminded me of a typical ‘England away’ trip. Sitting in a cafe relaxing. Al fresco. England fans stroll by. Peruse the menu. Then either entre the café and join us or walk on.

It’s like being on holiday – but with a football game wedged in-between.

Loads of England and Iceland fans were mingling pre-match. Good vibes. Good banter.

As you can see from the match-day video above, Iceland fans were incredibly confident pre-match of getting a result from England.

Confidence goes a long way in creating success.

England and Iceland Fans, Nice

England and Iceland Fans, Nice

 

Most fans choose to avoid the lively singing zone – opting for a more relaxed pre-match football experience. It’s always the way. But that doesn’t make good pictures to beam-back home.

This was where the chant “Broomstick’s on fire. You’re defence is terrified” was born – a spin-off of the infamous Will Grigg’s on Fire chant that had taken the Euros by storm. Unfortunately, the chant is resigned to remain on the shores of France – very similar to the “Rooney drinks Super Bock” chant of Euro 2004 and the “Don’t cry for me Argentina” chant of World Cup 2002 which never made it back home after England were eliminated.

Broomstick's On Fire. Your Defence is Terrified

Broomstick’s On Fire. Your Defence is Terrified

 

We were joined by the Brentford crew. Jimmy. Cat in the hat Toby. Dom the Printer. After a few beers in the sun, we decided to make our way down to the stadium as word on the street was .. the journey to the stadium was an arduous one.

So this is what I don’t get. France get a major tournament (awarded to them by Michel Platini – great player who turned into everything that is bad about our beautiful game once he became an official) and get away with:

• Terrible organisation in and around the stadium
• Awful heavy-handed policing
• Country folk not getting into the spirit of the tournament. You would be hard pressed to know a competition was taking place in some parts of the city
• Laughable logistics getting to and from the stadium
• An accusation of being party-poopers – often closing the city centre down post-match leaving fans with nothing to do but return to their hotels
• Having a complete lack of understanding of football fan culture

We didn’t see any of this in nearby Germany
Or South Africa – which was infinitely better organised than this competition
Or Japan which – despite lots and lots of travelling – made every attempt to ensure that attending the tournament was a pleasure for fans – not a chore
Even the Ukraine and Poland put France to shame.

Watching the Euros in France seemed like a chore at times. Naturally you did your best to make the most of it. But only a few times (mainly bars when France were playing) did I – Unlike in Japan. Or Germany. Or Ukraine. Or Portugal – feel like France, as a country, was embracing the party.

It seemed like it was as much as a chore for them as it was for the travelling fans.

We were warned that the last bus to the stadium was at 7pm.

Bus. To the stadium. Why?

No train? No tram?

So we had the laughable scenes of a officer in a police car – sirens blaring – trying to convey the message to the singing masses on the Cours Saleya that the last bus leaves for the stadium in an hour.

We boarded the bus. Tickets weren’t included in your match ticket price so you had the added hassle of buying extra tickets from a kiosk nowhere near the bus stop.

Surely the authorities should be looking at getting fans to the stadium as quickly and easily as possible?

That would be too simple.

The bus took us to the stadium.

Actually …. no it didn’t.

It dropped us off a good mile and a half from the stadium. We had to walk the rest of the journey in.

Amazing.

We could have bussed it closer apparently but there was ‘nowhere for them to turn’. I was flabbergasted. Surely a construction of a wee roundabout system a mile or so down the road would have solved this problem?

We eventually got into the stadium.

Nice Stadium

Nice Stadium

 

Plotted up right behind the goal – I got myself on TV for the first time since my face was shown in the box from Munich when England beat Germany 5-1 in 2001.

Christ that era seems like a lifetime ago. It’s been all downhill for England since then.

IMG_1140watermarked

 

That was an era when we consistently got through to quarter-finals. And thought it wasn’t good enough.

England got an early penalty. Tired Stirling showed an early burst of energy and got taken out. Rooney stepped up to send the 20k England fans wild.

It didn’t take long though. Iceland equalised much to the surprise of their fans. An ours. Then they scored what turned out to be the winner. Right in front of our very eyes.

It was time for the Iceland fans to take up the singing mantle. This was their moment. Non stop singing way beyond the final whistle.

IMG_1148watermarked

England Fans, Nice

 

 

England huffed and puffed but were unable to blow Iceland’s house down.

The final whistle produced scenes I’ve not seen before at an England match. Tirades of boos followed by chants of “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” aimed at the England team.

england players down and out

England Players Down & Out after Iceland Match

 

England fans stayed behind to applaud the Iceland team. And their fans.

They had been magnificent.

There was an underlying feeling that England fans wanted their team to show even half the passion and gumption of their Scandinavian rivals.

And why didn’t they? Personally I think it’s English arrogance.

Until we become more accepting and realise that Brittania doesn’t really rule the waves any more, we will continue to fail.

And that’s not being un-patriotic. I’ve been to 12 tournaments now all over the world and am yet still to see England compete in a final.

It’s being realistic.

Whereas other countries have come to grips with their shortfalls and come to deal with it, we consistently think we’re better than we actually are.

And think because we are England. there seems to be an automatic assumption that everything will be OK.

But the fact is no-one is afraid of playing us any more.

Arrogance. Described in the dictionary as “An insulting way of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better than others”

But the fact is, until we lose the arrogance and embrace a bit of humility – like the Icelandics have done – we’re going nowhere.

Arrogance without substance.

Post-match in a bar by the stadium, the post mortem started. With our crew. Keme from Channel 4 news. A few folk from the FA. And a load of England fans who travel home and away and have been to tournament upon tournament.

There was talk of the lack of passion.
There was talk of the pre-match mindset the manager – who had just resigned.
There was talk of the fact that so called ‘smaller’ teams like Iceland and Wales – with players playing in the Football League – were out-preforming us on the pitch.

Many fans were seriously talking of throwing in the touring towel. They’ve had enough.

I have to admit, with a Russian tournament on the horizon … I thought about doing the same.

But I’m going to hold my horses for now. See how the next year or so pans out.

So what’s next for England?

A new manager.

Qualification for the next World Cup?

More disappointment?

Or maybe …. England will take a different approach.

Employ a coach with a completely mindset.

Employ a coach who is able to manage and motivate the team And tactically, get the team to play to a series of systems that ALL the players understand.

And have a plan for how we can instil the same spirit and unity and believe in our team that we are seeing in the other teams who are having a half-successful tournament out there.

Because once we do that, the job is half done.

The fact is … Roy Hodgson was arrogant. He never thought England would be knocked out by Iceland – despite playing out of form players and square pegs in round holes.

If the manager is arrogant, that arrogance will rub off on the team.

The problem I fear though is – we have deep rooted issues in English football.

We have the most successful Football League in the world – the Premier League – which unfortunately, by it’s very nature, does nothing to help the progress of the national team as it is not in it’s interest.

Plus we have a Football Association seen as olde skool. Un-progressive. And unable (or unwilling?) to make the right moves to better the game.

So maybe we will have to get used to many more tournaments of failure.

Or maybe we throw in one final idea – which isn’t actually as dumbs it sounds.

Throw in a load of the best players from less established less-established Premier League and top-of-the Championship clubs.

I would love it if the new manager would look to sign up players from up and down the leagues – as opposed to favouring players from the top six clubs in the Premier League DESPITE their form, injury status and suitability for the system we are trying to play.

At least that way, we can truly buy ourselves ‘underdog’ status and enter the competition with the same mindset as the likes of Wales … and Iceland … and Romania … and Poland.

Coz you know what.

Looking at the way we’ve performed over the past 20 years in tournaments ….

… we couldn’t do much worse.

Billy Grant
@BillyTheBee99