Czech Republic 0 Turkey 2 (Lens, 21st June 2016)
If the Wales v Russia game was the best overall game of my six, this game and overall day would sadly be the most disappointing. Lens isn’t really on anybody’s tourist itineraries, but after flying up from Toulouse earlier in the day, I had planned to make something of a day of it. I’d pencilled in a trip to a series of preserved WWI trenches just south of the city for starters, but even that was scuppered by EasyJet moving my flight back nearly three hours, leaving me with perhaps a couple of hours at best in the town.
Unfortunately Lille airport is something of a shambles when it comes to ground transportation, and it took nearly an hour to get a taxi, as Lille only seems to have about five of them. There was a bus, but that only departed about 10 minutes before I got the taxi. This meant that after checking into my Lille hotel and dumping my bags, I had the misfortune of the next train to Lens being a slow stopper service, which didn’t get into Lens until nearly twenty past seven.
Lens’ small centre would probably be fine if I’d had a decent amount of time to find somewhere and stop for a meal, but time pressures meant I’d be choosing an eatery based on speed rather than quality. Just off the main square, more of an elongated triangle, like a slice of cheese really, I found the venue for a food pit-stop. I’ve eaten in a few luxurious-looking places over the years, and this wasn’t one of them. In fact I think I was drawn in somehow, by how terrible it was.
Clearly someone had just taken over a recently vacated shop unit and knocked up a presumably makeshift cafe. Or I could be wrong, and this could be a whole new range in minimalist dining. The chipboard work-surfaces of the bar and serving areas were set off nicely by the old truck tyres they were resting on. Clearly the owners had thought having four starkly blank white walls would be too much, so at least one side had to be decorated along about half or its length. And what says “class” more than four widely spaced magazine posters of naked/topless women sellotaped to the wall? Other touches, included the other side of the room having a hyrdraulic pallet-loader against the wall, next to a couple of gaps in the parquet flooring. As for the food…well, lets just say they spent all the money and imagination on the decor. It filled a hole, but it would probably have been put to better using filling the holes in the floor instead.
Still, if there’s one very good thing about Lens it’s that the ground is only about half a mile from the centre. No being crammed onto shuttle buses or trains to a city’s edge. Here you could walk there, and see the steelwork of the ground as well for much of the journey.
Other than being at an end, I wasn’t exactly sure where I was in the ground. I was hoping it was the near end, and also in the Czech end of the ground, as I wanted them to win. I found I was in the far end, which involved another UEFA-inspired grand detour to get there, although not quite as bad as some of the others. I’d also be in the Turkish end, which was a disappointment.
I was in the lower tier behind the goal, and it turned out the Row 12 was a lot lower than I hoped. I could see over the crossbar, but not by much. What I couldn’t see over was the human pillar sat right in front of me, who must have been about 6’4″, and made me think of contacting UEFA to see if my ticket could be re-classified as “obstructed view”. I spent the who game peering round him. Even when I realised the seat behind me was empty, and moved back a row, I still couldn’t see over him.
If that wasn’t enough, the cameraman operating the boom camera behind goal thought it was fine to leave it up even when not in use, providing yet another obstruction.
Other than that, the ground was great, being a traditional looking ground, and looked vastly bigger than the Toulouse stadium I’d been in the previous night, despite it only holding 5000 more.
Further disappointment came with the game. I wanted the Czechs to win, and obviously they lost. In fact they were awful, and could probably have been beaten by more than two. Barely a peep out of their fans too, although they didn’t have a lot to sing about. Plenty of noise, plus the obligatory flare of two from the Turkish fans, chanting away in the curiously tuneless Turkish way, celebrating a victory which they clearly thought would take them to the next round, but if fact in the end didn’t.
At least I caught the earlier-than-advertised 11.36 back to Lille. I guess over the whole day I was at least owed something that would go right, but even allowing for the disappointments, I was still glad to have gone. Tournament games are an experience like no other in the game, and you take away from it far more than just a game.