Iceland I Hungary 1 (Marseille, Euro 2016, 18th June)
Marseille doesn’t have a great reputation. I’d heard tales of it being a dirty and dangerous city, a real gritty and edgy kind of place. News footage of drunken English idiots throwing chairs, and tear-gassings hardly helped.
I saw nothing like that. I thought it was a great city, located around an attractive harbour lined with bars and restaurants, with enough else there to see and do to make it a perfect place to stay for a few days.
I didn’t see any hint of trouble either – something which goes for the entire 12 days I was there – even if some of the thousands of Hungarians in town did have a slight whiff of menace about them. In truth, they did little more than drink a lot and sing “allez Magyarország”, but the police were worried enough to put a double line of stewards and riot cops in front of the black t-shirt wearing ultras who stood at the front of the Hungarian section in the Stade Velodrome.
Contrary to reports about cities being declared alcohol-free on match days, I don’t think I saw any bars shut before or during a game, and only Lille had (some) bars shut after. In fact the only problem I had was the otherwise glorious Marseille weather deciding to dump June’s quota of rain in the city in a half-hour spell, just as I was about to set off for the game. There are worse places to be stuck than a pub though.
One of those places would definitely have been in the queues to get into the stadium. I’m fully appreciate the need the need for security searches, but sadly UEFA’s organisers don’t appreciate that if you are going to do a thorough search of everyone, you need to have enough people doing that search to stop chaotic half-hour queues forming to get in.
Once in though…oh my. The stadium is huge. In reality a really big stadium such a Wembley probably is higher, but the way the ground curves, and especially the upturning curved roof, just make the place seem incredibly tall, not to mention steep. Standing at the back, the very back, of the upper tier of the highest stand, is enough to make you seek something to hang onto. My own seat was 19 rows further down, but still felt quite high enough thank you. I actually wouldn’t have minded being a couple of rows further back. There was a Hungarian fan in the row in front who was bouncing about at every twist and turn of the game. I admire the enthusiasm, but given the chance, I’d have gaffer-taped him to his chair.
Although I wouldn’t say they were the best fans I saw due to a limited range of songs, they probably were the loudest, aided by the great acoustics of the Stade Velodrome roof, and the vast number there for the game. That meant that despite favouring Iceland, due to the novelty value as well as the presence of ex-Reading midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, I wasn’t adverse to Hungary scoring.
Gylfi, no doubt, wouldn’t have been pleased with such disloyalty, especially as his goal from the spot looked to be giving Iceland a first major finals victory. With a minute left through, a cross was turned into his own net by an Icelandic defender, and the 20000 or so Magyars in the stadium went wild. With the fireworks being lit in the Hungarian end, plus a few thrown on the pitch, perhaps a little too wild for some.