Well its been an eventful 24 hours in Marseille to say the least – Billy Grant and I arrived around half-ten on Thursday night and headed to the National area – North of the City centre – where we had booked a low-budget hotel for one night before being able to check into our AirB&B digs.
Every French person we have spoken to since has raised their eyebrows and given us that ‘really?’ look about National, which, to be fair, perhaps isn’t the most picturesque spot on the French Mediterranean coast. But I’m glad I experienced it. Almost totally Muslim and during Ramadan, housing two unsuspecting West London lads who were unable to unearth a beer-selling bar to celebrate my birthday. However, if you want to see first hand the North African legacy of French colonialism, this is the place.
Back at the hotel with wi-fi code activated, we saw Twitter was alive with news about early trouble down at Vieux Port where ‘The Queen Victoria’ pub had come under attack. Everyone seemed to be suggesting that England fans were on the radar of Marseille Ultras keen to let it be know that this part of town was their patch.
Personally, I really don’t think the early-bird England fans gave a monkeys to be honest. But it was a sign of things to come.
Friday morning, and its my proper birthday… When you get to my age the last thing you want to be reminded of is being another year older, so a low key brekkie and a cross-town trip was as close as I got to blowing out any candles. Some more of our mates arrived about lunch time and we enjoyed a few cold beers on a back-street square accompanied with some unidentified ‘artisan’ bread… all very cosmopolitan… all very tranquil.
We then went for a more expensive beer by the fancy boats. You could hear the England fans’ songs wafting across the azure water… predictable and repetitive perhaps, but all good humoured and it added an awakening to the football tournament that was about to start.
Without England fans being here I’m not sure you’d even know the Euros were happening such was the French public’s ambivalence to the tournament.
After a quick chat with the guys and gals at the Football Supporters Federation stand, we headed to a picturesque square on the Cours Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves. There were small groups of fans everywhere and the mood was good… so we ordered some Pizza and sat in the sunshine. That was when we got our first whiff of tear gas.
We were two, if not three blocks away from whatever reason the French police feel they had to let the tear gas off. But the sight of small children and their parents rubbing their eyes, running, and weekend-away couples and locals in distress after a chemical weapon attack on the French mainland was disturbing. Gas seems the weapon of choice for Le Plod. We’re not used to it, and nor should we be.
And then it happened… a mob of 20-plus Marseille lads marched into the square and, totally unprovoked, started a bottle attack on a group of Nottingham Forest and Derby fans sitting outside a bar not 20 yards from where we were drinking. They had done nothing more, from what we had seen, than enthusiastically joined in with a rendition of ‘Wonderwall’ 15 minutes earlier that they had got a local busker to play through his portable speaker.
This video (above), I fear, will set the tone for the rest of he weekend. Tensions and alcohol levels are high all over the city – Saturday will no doubt be a long, edgy day.
You don’t need to be a genius to work out that, in all probability, things are set to get a lot worse rather than calm being brought to the situation.
By the way, there’s a football game on later apparently.
We met Marseille Ultras earlier this year and got their thoughts on England returning to their city for the first time since 1998 in the documentary below. The gave a number of very stark warnings.
We will be doing the usual blogging, blogging and podcasting – all on the Beesotted channel as Beesotted travels around France.
With tickets all the way through to the final – assuming England qualify – plus other random games here and there, it’s going to be an action packed month.
You can check our blogs on the Beesotted website.