Having spent our honeymoon in Rio for the first week of the World Cup in 2014, my wife and I instantly became converts to attending international football tournaments and committed to coming to the Euros even as we boarded our flight back. Having spent a year living in Marseille as a student, we initially planned to base ourselves there, but expensive flights and the potential for trouble meant that we opted for a week in Nice instead. What a wise decision that turned out to be!
We landed in Nice on Friday evening, checked into our apartment and headed into town to meet up with my Dad and Our Kid, who had gladly taken up our spare tickets for Northern Ireland v Poland, about half an hour into the France match. We settled into a table outside a bar to watch the rest of the match, just in time to watch Giroud waste two good chances; I re-assured my wife, who is not exactly the Arsenal striker’s biggest fan, that this was par for the course and my money was on him to score at least once. Sure enough just before the hour mark, our man headed home a cross from Payet and I wasted no time in reminding our table that I had predicted this.
Romania drew level when Evra fouled Stanciu in the box and Stancu converted from the spot. In the end though a brilliant strike from Payet (quelle frappe, quel but! – what a strike and what a goal, as the French commentator noted) in the last minute sealed the victory for the hosts. The general feeling amongst the French media was that they had ‘rescued’ the victory but at least they were off to a winning start.
To round off the evening we headed into the old town to join the party that the Northern Irish and Polish had got going in good time for their game on the Sunday. The atmosphere was brilliant; a football carnival with both sets of supporters in a boisterous but friendly mood, the only danger seemed to be that the bars might run out of beer!
We spent Saturday exploring the beautiful medieval town of Eze, so only caught the very end of Switzerland’s victory over Albania and the second half of Wales against Slovakia. However we did see the horrifying and appalling scenes from Marseille; while we were thankful that we were in Nice, as football fans we couldn’t help but feel ashamed of the behaviour of the minority of so-called England fans who ran riot around the Vieux-Port.
With the Nice Fanzone being closed for Saturday we ended up watching England v Russia in a bar in the old town with a good mix of Northern Irish and Polish fans and most bizarrely a Stag Night of Scottish lads, who were described by one Northern Ireland fan as being more like a Hen Night!
Having seen England make a mess of tournament games all too often in the past, none of us were surprised when instead of closing the game out after Dier’s rocket of a free kick, we managed to conspire to concede a soft equalizer and throw away two points in added time. The result means that England now need to sort themselves out and quickly as the game against Wales on Thursday will not be straightforward, with Wales able to defend deep and look to use Bale on the counter.
Sunday was matchday in Nice and even from breakfast time the Northern Irish and Polish fans were massing round the town. After a nice lunch in a somewhat surreally merry-go-round themed restaurant, we joined the queue for buses to the stadium; the queue stretched a long way along the Promenade-Anglais, but with the sun shining and the blue sea as a backdrop, there are far worse places to wait for a bus!
The bus was literally bouncing thanks to the enthusiastic chanting of both the Northern Irish and Polish fans but it only served to get us in the party mood. Upon arriving at the approach to the stadium, it was a half-hour walk up to the Stade Allianz-Riviera which looked very much like someone had plonked a space ship at the foot of the mountains in the middle of the countryside. Once inside the ground the atmosphere reached even more excited levels, despite the strongest beer available being 0.5%, which may have explained why some of the fans were opting to buy eight at once!
The match was played at a decent tempo right from the start but it seemed like Poland were always in control. Lewandowski drew the attention of two and three Northern Irish defenders throughout the match and while he struggled to have a major impact himself this created room for Milik operating in the space behind him. Ultimately it was the young Ajax number 10 that sealed the game, after a couple of good chances in the first half, he fired low past McGovern six minutes into the second half. The massed Northern Irish ranks tried desperately to lift their team but in the end they didn’t quite have enough.
We met up back at our ‘local’ bar which had actually run out of beer after a three day party by the Northern Irish and Polish fans, so we watched the second half of Germany vs Ukraine in the Fanzone. The Germans looked highly impressive going forward and rightly won, the cross by Ozil for their second goal was sumptuous.
So far the tournament has been shaping up very well; the matches have all been played at a good tempo with an emphasis on attack, we can only hope that it carries on like this.
The atmosphere here in Nice has been brilliant, although the majority of Northern Irish and Polish fans have headed off today, we are left with their songs and chants ringing in our ears, we will miss them over the next few days but are looking forward to the arrival of the Spanish and the Turks for their game on Friday.