By Scott Mills
Two weeks ago, like a lot of other English football fans, I left England full of expectation, hope and optimism that this could be our year, as I headed to the 2016 European Championships in France.
More excited than when a morbidly obese child sees chocolate cake, I didn’t quite know what to expect during my trip to my first ever international tournament, especially to watch my country play their opening match.
As I reflect upon what has been a thoroughly enjoyable two weeks spent in both the sun-kissed South of France and drinking beers in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, I would honestly recommend going to support your country at an international tournament because it is simply amazing.
Now, I know a lot has been made of the horrific scenes of hooliganism that has plagued the country that has brought us cheese, edible snails and Fabian Barthez in recent weeks, but having been there I can say that some of what the media has reported was completely different from what I witnessed.
With English football fans tarnished with the reputation of their past, whenever there is any trouble abroad fingers have been very quick to be pointed at Paul and the lads from Hull, simply on the fact that they’re rocking the Hull City tattoo on their arm alongside a shaved head.
From the moment I arrived in Marseille for England’s match against Russia, I of course spent the majority of my time drinking with friends and fellow England supporters who like me were singing songs and generally having a good time in the Old Port which was the place where the sport of ‘chair throwing’ was supposed to be taking place.
From the Old Port to the Fanzone and several bars on the way to the Stade De Velodrome, I didn’t witness any conflict or aggressive behaviour involving English supporters.
In fact the only violence I did witness was in the stadium itself, where the Russian supporters charged at a small section of England fans that included women and children.
These disgraceful scenes led to the families throwing themselves onto the pitch to avoid the fighting whilst the French police did next to nothing to stop the carnage, instead leaving it to the stewards.
In fact I was very unimpressed with how the French police went about their jobs, with them often morphing into the Paul Scholes’ of tear gas canisters, spreading them all over the place without a care in the world.
I do believe that if they focused on being pro-active rather than re-active to situations you wouldn’t see half as much trouble as you have.
Now I am not saying that us English fans are innocent because like every country you get a few idiots, but before people sit and judge English football fans from their sofa whilst they anxiously wait to see who Phil Mitchell’s latest piece is in EastEnders, I ask them how they’d react if they had a crazy MMA-trained Russian geezer charging at them with a metal crowbar.
When I look back on it, I find it quite hilarious that I wasn’t allowed a souvenir plastic beer cup into the stadium, yet the Russians were allowed a flare gun in so they could fire it across the stadium at our fans.
In fact, the stadium was sensational and it was made even better by the thousands of England supporters that filled at least three stands of the Stade De Velodrome.
The support throughout the day was fantastic.
From the Old Port right the way through to the match, the England fans were exceptional and the whole day had a real carnival, friendly feel about it.
Songs such as ‘Three Lions’, ‘Vardy’s on Fire’, ‘Don’t take me home’ and many more were in fine voice whilst the beers flowed quicker than the River Thames.
Even the journey was amazing, meeting some fantastic people from up and down the country as well as a few from Ireland, Wales, Germany and Switzerland.
I even managed to get an insight into Russian culture when at about 6pm in the evening, a elderly Eastern European lad (who we soon named Vlad) strolled onto our coach absolutely off his nut.
Now, I am not sure if this is the culture in Russia, but this guy must have been drinking for a good few hours because he was falling over more than gracefully than Natalie Portman in the film ‘Black Swan’.
Not to mention the Niagara Falls that soon appeared to be coming out of his mouth into a plastic bag, which made for a rather uncomfortable journey.
Being able to experience the atmosphere in Paris when I attended the Romania v Switzerland match at the Parc Des Princes was also thoroughly enjoyable.
Unlike the fan zone in Marseille, the Paris fan zone seemed much more organised with security being much tighter.
But the fan zone itself was simply incredible.
With the Eiffel Tower in the back drop, there was a real carnival atmosphere with fans from all countries having fun listing to live music from one of the three stages, beer being drunk in the Parisian sunshine, 5 a-side football, shops and of course all of this surrounded by bars and food outlets.
Hopefully, if England progress to the latter rounds of the tournament I will be able to go back to savour some more of this brilliant tournament.
Until then, my attention now focuses to being able to follow the three lions in their World Cup qualifiers.