Wales 3 Russia 0 (Toulouse, 20th June 2016)
If there’s a game I saw that would stand out as a highlight of the six I’d see, it’d be Wales v Belgium, not just for the game itself, but for the whole day. It was certainly eventful. I’d nipped along on the train to see the medieval walled city of Carcassonne in the morning, and got stuck in a train station for two and half hours in a barnacle of a town on the route back. I’d planned for a quiet drink in a pub near my hotel, but it turned out that The Melting Pot pub, rather than being somewhere that’d be less busy, turned out to be a Welshman magnet, with crowds forming on both sides of the road.
After the game it’d be shut, presumably by the police, and I’d end up in a much smaller bar directly opposite my hotel. Thankfully it’d be far less crowded, but there were still enough celebrating Welshmen to drink it dry of draught beer, and most of the bottled beer as well. In fact by 2 am they were down to bottles of white beer, which the owners felt the need to apologise for when serving. At some time around midnight Ian Rush turned up. If he’d hoped for a quiet nightcap, he picked the wrong place. And contrary to what the milk marketing board told us, milk is not what Ian Rush drinks. Maybe he’s hoping for a late career move to Accrington Stanley.
Perhaps my favorite post match moment was seeing a group of Welsh lads a 2 am pleading for a beer, only to be told that all the bar could serve now was champagne. They thought about it for a second, before buying a bottle of that instead, sipping away in their red polyester replica shirts.
The game itself was great. There’d been worries about violence from Russian fans, but the only Russian fans to draw attention to themselves were three women who turned up dressed in outfits that were a strange blend of skimpy and traditional. Even the police wanted a photo.
They turned up at the stadium in Toulouse, the smallest stadium in use for Euro 2016, which looked even smaller inside. Quite how it squeezes in 32000 seats is a mystery to me. It’s not a bad stadium though, being one of those that looks much better when you are there, very light and airy, although going the on a nice summer evening probably helped. It’s also very nice when you are in the back row, just on front of the executive boxes, and a guy in one of them doesn’t mine bringing out the odd free beer and passing it across.
Despite the result dumping England down to 2nd in the group, and setting them up for an infamous fixture v Iceland, I wasn’t bothered. I knew England would be stupid and draw 0-0 as it suited both teams, and it was hard not to be swept up in the enthusiasm of the Welsh fans and team, who turned up just to enjoy it, and hopefully get out of their group, and achieve much more. Such a contrast to England, who take the field looking like they hope they won’t be splashed across the back pages in shame after failing yet again to clear the bar of expectation, even when it’s set so low that limbo-dancers would struggle to get beneath it.
Bale aside, the Welsh team has few stars or big names, but it has belief and organisation. Again, this is in contrast to England, packed full on “names”, who take the field with all the composure of Shaggy and Scooby going for a ride on the ghost train, and whose relentless managerial pandering to those big names who can’t be dropped, results in a tactical plan akin to a man trying to tile the roof of his house with blancmange.
They were helped by a Russian team who showed so little life that the ref must have considered stopping the game and checking if any of them had a pulse at some stages, but Wales were brilliant, and 3-0 was the least they deserved. Perhaps most deserving all were the Welsh fans who braved buying tickets in the Russian section, even if the Welsh flag one of them pinned up on the wall didn’t last long. The celebrations, however, would last a long time, and in was probably a good thing I didn’t have an early start the following morning.