Sunday, 4 September 2016

Slovakia v England. 04/09/16

"I probably should have warned you before we booked a boat down the Danube that I was once seasick when totally sober on the Isle of Wight ferry."

Slovakia 0-0 England. City Arena.
Sunday 04/09/16
Of all the great philosophical questions throughout human history, one has never been truly answered - what happens if a man who suffers from notorious seasickness visits 27 pubs over 72 hours in two Eastern European countries and then takes a boat up the Danube?

England playing away in Slovakia finally gave us the chance to answer it once and for all. The plan was simple. Fly to Budapest on Friday for a night out; bus to Bratislava for a Saturday evening of more beer; train on Sunday to Trnava to witness the first game of the Big Sam revolution and then the ultimate test - a boat from Bratislava to Vienna along the Danube.

The Danube is a bloody fantastic river so whatever sickness might occur would be a price worth paying. From its source in Germany, it passes through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria. Moldova and Ukraine before emptying into the Black Sea. Sailing the length of it with a football game in each country would be quite the European Football Tour (makes mental note for next years 30th birthday).

Beautiful Budapest
But first things first. Destination one – Budapest. It wasn’t hard to see why this has become an extremely popular city with stag and hen parties alike. At around £1 a pint if you headed off the beaten track – which proves a vital tactic if you want to avoid the aforementioned stag and hen do’s – it is very cheap. There are also a plethora of pubs. I hardly scratched the surface having spent the morning and afternoon sightseeing yet still managed to visit 13 in less than 36 hours.

Budapest Castle
Houses of Parliament
Europe's largest Synagogue
Heroes Square
All of those pubs were in Pest on the eastern side of the Danube. Buda sits on the west and they were separate cities until 1873 when unification occurred. Buda is home to the cities castle and provides a stunning view of the Parliament building situated the other side of the river so technically I can say I did two cities in Hungary as well as visiting the biggest Synagogue in Europe, the site of the Ferenc Puskas Stadium which is currently being completely rebuilt except for the fantastic old school ticket booths and the iconic statues of Heroes Square. And there you were thinking this was a trip dedicated purely to drinking.

Great visiting supporters ticket office at the site of the Puskas Stadium
Love an old school set of ticket booths
Not much left of the Puskas Stadium
The Hungarians are a laidback and friendly people which you would expect when you can have J├Ągermeister for 80p. The only time they became anywhere near angered was in a karaoke bar in the early hours of Saturday morning. By this point I’d met up with the rest of the scientists aiding the sea sickness experiment – Mark, Fiona and Kevin – and the former two had performed a wonderful version of Nightboat to Cairo. My version of Delilah was not quite received in the same way, not helped in part by the fact I was unable to read by this point and this resulted in being removed from the stage area. It turned out that we had wandered into some sort of X Factor Finals night style levels of ability competition that the locals were taking very seriously. And I thought butchering one of Wales’ favourite sons most iconic anthems in Cardiff once had bought a bad reaction.

A karaoke display the locals didn't seem to appreciate
After a night asleep on a table in a corridor in my hostel due to being unable to find the correct room, Bratislava was next up which entailed a three hour bus journey. Bratislava is, I am reliably informed, a beautiful city with its own castle situated high above the Danube. And being reliably informed is all I have to go on in this instance as the one photo I took of Slovakia’s capital city was a blurred effort at night of the castle such on the mission to visit a number of bars on stationary boats along the river.

"Sightseeing" in Bratislava complete
One rule of McCarthy’s Football Travels is that, where possible, you must always imbibe the local brew. Bratislava proved troublesome when it came to this, as nowhere seemed to sell Slovak beer – it was all from the near neighbours the Czech Republic. One barman explained why this was in brutally honest terms. “Slovak beer is shit, Czech is better.” Cheers mate.

There was still hope of finding some local stuff – the game itself would not be played in Bratislava but in Trvana, an hour journey away by train. With a population of 65,000 and so many churches it has been named the Slovak Rome, perhaps this would be the place to try beer from the country we were actually in. Or if worse came to worse, some communion wine.

Welcome to Trnava - another Slovak city with no Slovak beer
Sightseeing in Trnava complete
Ah, but this was England away and the first England away game since our reputation had been done the world of good since visiting Marseille in the Euros. That meant that in a mysterious coincidence quite a few bars on the main street had “run out” of beer. And the first two pints we were able to find in backstreets? Pilsner Urquell and Bernard, two of the Czech Republic’s finest. We even had to resort to pre-game cocktails as the thousands of riot police and their dogs lay on the ground in the searing heat – one officer felt so threatened he’d dozed off while his colleague devoured a kebab – such was the trouble they faced in policing the rowdy English hooligans.

City Arena was handily placed slap bang in the middle of the city which meant a nice leisurely stroll. It is the home of Spartak Trnava and was completely rebuilt between 2013-15, during which time Spartak continued to play there in front of just one stand. As a result, the new stadium has the highest UEFA ranking of any in Slovakia and has become home to the national team.

City Arena
Thanks to a quite spectacular cock up from the FA, it was the local supporters who I would be joining for the evening. Despite having been given a ticket in the England fans ballot and carrying out a transaction to purchase one, somewhere down the line something went wrong which left me ticketless. Thankfully, England are not the draw they once were and for €35 – which ironically worked out at less than I would’ve paid to get in the away end – I was in the home end.

There was a new experience on entering City Arena which involved having a photo taken before entry. Each turnstile featured a small camera you had to stare into, presumably so if you caused any trouble inside you were easily identifiable by the name on your ticket. No need to worry Slovak man whose name I was using – I behaved like an angel, even if it was far from ideal being among irate home supporters when Adam Lallana banged in a 93rd minute winner.

In with the home supporters
The wonderful City Arena
City Arena was a tiny but smart ground, two tiered all the way around except for one small single tiered stand along one side. It was reminiscent of stadium:mk in that that concourse occupied the gap between the two tiers and as such you could walk around it, buy food and drink beer all in view of the pitch. The pitch itself began cutting up almost immediately, although that couldn’t be used as an excuse for the dirge that followed.

Great pitch this one...
The Slovak fans were a passionate lot for the first 20 minutes until 18,110 people in the ground fell asleep through sheer boredom. The one person who managed to keep up a level of excitement throughout the 90 minutes was a rather rotund chap in a blue t-shirt who had an irrational hatred of Theo Walcott. Every time Walcott would warm up in front of him, this man would bellow “THEO WALCOTT HOMOSEXUAL”. This was clearly factually incorrect as Walcott has been with the lovely Melanie for as long as he has been famous. It was also extremely bizarre as, if as suspected this was just abuse of a player, there are surely more high profile members of the England squad to target such as Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart? Anyway, the homophobic abuse couldn’t last and he was eventually tackled to the ground by no less than five stewards and bundled out with beer flying everywhere.

"THEO WALCOTT HOMOSEXUAL" man before his ejection
That forced removal was the highlight of the game as the Big Sam era continued where the Woy Hodgson one had left off in being uninspiringly dull to the point where it really didn’t matter that I was in the home end. Martin Skrtel finally seeing red for trying to steal the leg of Harry Kane after he’d earlier failed in an attempt to behead him raised a little interest, but even with a man advantage England looked on course for a repeat of the 0-0 draw in the Euros. That was until the last minute when Lallana struck, after which a loud cheer escaped me. This was followed by a hasty retreat out of the Slovak end and back to a pub on the square to await the rest of the traveling party with a beer – Rebel, which I’m sure you can already guess was Czech. On arrival back in Bratislava we finally found something homemade thanks to Fabrika, a lovely bar which brewed its own beer on site.

Boat time...
On the boat, no sickness to report so far
Monday morning arrived with a sense of nervousness as the boat trip to Vienna loomed. To settle the nerves, it was a pint for breakfast (another Bernard, Czech). The trip itself was an absolute delight, passing past old towns, forests and finally into historic Vienna where we were able to eat a schnitzel which contained at least six whole pigs, have a few more pints and then fly home.


Most importantly, we finally had the answer to that great philosophical question – it turns out that if a man who suffers from notorious seasickness visits 27 pubs over 72 hours in two Eastern European countries and then takes a boat up the Danube, he can be absolutely fine. Good news for that 30th birthday plan.







Slovakia: Matus Kozacik, Peter Pekarik, Martin Skrtel, Jan Durica, Tomas Hubocan, Viktor Pecovsky (Norbert Gyomber), Robert Mak (Frantisek Kubik), Jan Gregus, Marek Hamsik, Dusan Svento (Filip Kiss), Michal Duris.

England: Joe Hart, Kyle Walker, Gary Cahill, John Stones, Danny Rose, Jordan Henderson (Dele Alli), Eric Dier, Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling (Theo Walcott), Neil Kane (Daniel Sturridge), Adam Lallana 1.

Attendance; 18,111

Monday, 20 June 2016

Slovakia v England. 20/06/16

"I don't mean to worry you about the flat we are staying in, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out Jihadi John was our next door neighbour."

Slovakia 0-0 England. Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
Monday 20/06/16
There have been many inventions that have changed the world down the years. The wheel, sliced bread, the internet, fried chicken. But could Airbnb go onto become the greatest of them all? Even better than Colonel Sanders secret recipe of 11 different herbs and spices coated over a bit of poultry? If the latest instalment of my Euro 2016 travels are anything to go by, yes it could.

One of the problems with following England away, particularly in tournaments with the number of fans who travel, is the cost of finding a bed for the night. The Slovakia game was a particular nightmare. Saint-Etienne where the game was to be played isn’t exactly known for its booming tourism industry and so available rooms were rarer than a good Jordan Henderson set piece. The hoteliers of neighbouring Lyon showed the capitalist traits you simply wouldn’t think existed in a country where everybody goes on strike at the thought of having to work more than six hours a week by whacking all their prices up for the influx of up to 30,000 English supporters.

And this is where Airbnb comes in. For as cheap as just £24 a night in this case, you can rent a room in somebodies house or indeed their entire abode if they are away. For Joe and myself, this was an absolute God send as we decamped to a small flat a few tram stops from Lyon’s main station.

Our Airbnb accomodation - no French SWAT teams
on site as yet
There is of course an element of risk with this arrangement as, although you can view photos of the accommodation before arriving, you never know exactly what you are going to get. Take our first impressions here. We were renting off a young female student who had gone away for a couple of days to visit a friend in Auxerre. On arrival at the location, it appeared as though the flat was on the sort of estate that you traditionally see being raided by police for suspects in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. Now I’m all for trying new things and experiences, but staying in a potential ISIS stronghold might have been a step too far.

But first impressions are a funny thing. Take my first impressions of Les Dennis joining Coronation Street. What a bloody terrible decision, you can’t have a bloke who presented Family Fortunes on the Street. But Michael has been a revelation and, once you got past the fact that French riot police could burst onto the scene at any minute, so was this flat. Sure, there were a few problems like not being able to work out how the window opened when it was 27 degrees outside and my sofa bed being riddled with creatures that bit when you were asleep but for £12 each, there could be few complaints.

A comfortable "bed" for Sunday night in Gatwick's North Terminal
And at least there was a bed, which was a far cry from the previous evening when a bed consisted of a seat in Gatwick’s North Terminal that afforded about two hours of sleep before the 6am flight to Geneva. Having three hours to kill in Geneva struck the sort of fear into my wallet that seeing John Leslie wandering down a corridor strikes into a young lady but in a blog that is fast becoming a gushing piece handing out praise left, right and centre (don't worry, it won't last) then Geneva is another that needs to take a bow for providing the first ever sub £8 pint I’ve had in Switzerland. The last time I visited everyone’s favourite home of Nazi gold was a trip to Basel in 2014 where it was £12 a pint yet here in Geneva a delightful Feldschlosschen weighed in at £5.70. Keep them flowing please barkeep.

Lake Geneva
It had to be photographed - a £5.70 pint in
Switzerland!!!!!!
From Geneva, it was a two hour train journey to Lyon through the rolling hills that represent the Swiss-French border and from Lyon, another 45 minutes onwards to Saint-Etienne. I’ve always had a soft spot for AS Saint-Etienne, ever since a trip to Bordeaux seven years ago when in a rash decision that had nothing to do with a lot of French beer, I went into a sports shop and forked out €80 for a full ASSE kit – shirt, shorts and socks – based purely on the fact that it’s combination of three shades of green was one of the best things I had ever seen. So to visit Stade Geoffroy-Guichard was going to be a real treat, even if it was to watch England rather than Les Verts.

Fun and game in Saint-Etienne's main square
But before heading off to the Green Hell as the locals refer to it, there was plenty of fun to be had in the city centre. A right party was underway on in the main square where people were flocking from many of the bars around. The traditional boot a football as high as possible into the air game was going on as one of the local cafes blared out a playlist that included Three Lions, Vindaloo, The Beatles, Oasis and of course Will Grigg on fire – or in this case, Vardy on fire - the teaching of whose lyrics to a group of a young local ladies who had come to join in the fun proved to be no easy task. England fans danced around throwing beer, pot plants and in the case of one particularly cultured individual, red wine into the air. One bloke came onto his balcony above the square to watch events. He was greeted with a huge cheer when he headed the ball that was booted up to him back down into the crowd. An even bigger cheer went up when he introduced his wife to the crowd. And then an even bigger one for his daughter, no more than five years old, who waved and led the crowd in a Mexican wave. Bloody English hooligans eh?

Stade Geoffroy-Guichard was a 10 minute tram ride from party central and on arrival we were met with huge queues to get into the stadium. Could there be thorough security checks here for the first time at an England game in the tournament? Perhaps they had heard a couple of England fans were staying on an ISIS estate in Lyon and might have been radicalised? No. The queues were actually being caused by the genius decision to have just four entrances to the stadium on each of the four corners. Each entrance was manned by no man than five security staff responsible for patting down every person entering. So a 42,000 seater stadium, four entrances, an average of over 10,000 people per entrance and five staff. Now I’m no mathematician but that was never going to add up without complete chaos which needless to say ensued.

 Stade Geoffrey-Goichard. Another very English stadium
Fantastic floodlights behind the goals

But what about when inside the stadium? Well it isn’t hard to see why ASSE are famed for having one of the best atmospheres in France. The acoustics of Stade Geoffroy-Guichard are superb and despite the lack of inspiration on the pitch from England in a turgid 0-0 draw, the Three Lions support was loud and proud throughout. Around 80% of the ground was England and it really did feel like a home game – if a home game at the corporate bowl that is Wembley had any atmosphere at all, of course.

Just like the venue for the Bales game in Lens four days previously, this was another stadium with an English feel to it. Four separate stands, all two tiered raising into the sky with some fantastic floodlights perched under the roof behind each goal. Thank Christ the stadium and the atmosphere was something to marvel at as there was bugger all on the pitch to. Roy Hodgson made six changes and while that garnered a lot of criticism, the fact is England had 29 shots and 61% possession. England didn’t play terribly, they just couldn’t get past a stubborn Slovakian defence. Whereas in the Bales game on Thursday you just knew at the 60 minute mark that England would eventually go onto win, here the clock ticked past an hour and everyone could sense that even with the introduction of Wayne Rooney, it was finishing as a stalemate. Better to concentrate on relentlessly singing The Great Escape and having the news filter through that Wales’ hammering of Russia would relegate England to second place in the group, putting them in the same half of the draw as the likes of Italy, France and German. At least there shouldn't be the need to break through an 11 man blockade to score against any of those three.

Everyone under the England flags to keep out the rain in the queue
for the station
If the queuing system to get into the ground was bad then back at Saint-Etienne Station afterwards it was farcical. Even Paul and Barry Chuckle would have blushed as it took three hours to get onto the station platform for a train back to Lyon. We’d booked on the 00.45 but one of the police guarding the line said rather helpfully “Don’t worry about tickets, just get on the train. They will run until this queue is cleared." £10 well spent on a worthless bit of paper then. Things got even worse when it began hacking down with rain until England supporters began unfurling their flags and passing them over heads to use as makeshift marquees.

Upon finally reaching the station entrance it became apparent as to why we had been kept out in the rain for twice as long as the game we’d come to see had lasted. The station staff were taking the Noah’s Ark approach to loading up the trains and counting people in two at a time to ensure that there was not so much no overcrowding as a lack of crowd at all. While it was pleasant for everyone to have a seat for the journey back to Lyon, I’m certain most people would have traded having to stand for the journey for an hour and a half less spent in a queue. We finally boarded a train at around 2.45am, arriving back at ISIS HQ at 4am for some well deserved sleep that was thankfully not interrupted by anti-terrorist police raiding the building.

The French-Swiss border. It is goodbye to the EU here...
The following morning Joe and myself went our separate ways – he to spend 20 hours and a night in Lyon airport before a flight home on Wednesday, me to the French border town of Saint-Louis. After walking into Switzerland where the beer was more expensive – see, it’s not always brighter out of the EU – I returned to France and what must rank as the best pub of Euro 2016 so far. Tabac Altay was its name and confined within was a stunning piece of technology. The television in the bar was showing horse racing and this contraption allowed you to place a bet direct with a bookmaker via an ATM style machine. You could pay with cash or card and pick up your winnings as soon as the race was over. Why do we not have these in England? If this hadn’t have been the trip I discovered Airbnb, then the gambling machine would easily have won best invention of the trip.

Bet direct with a bookies with this fantastic machine inside a
pub. A genius idea
After dragging myself away from Tabac Altay it was onwards to the continents most confusing airport, Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg. Straddling the border between France, Switzerland and Germany, it has one big terminal that is split into a two – a Swiss side and a French side. The Swiss side deals in Swiss Francs, the French side in Euros. This resulted in a steak dinner (not horse this time) in France and seeing as I was flying from the Swiss area, a few beers in Switzerland.

Managed to get a steak that wasn't horse this time
Stunning sunset at Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg
There was a beautiful sunset to send us off from Switzerland and after 48 hours in which sleep had been confined to two hours in Gatwick and five hours on a bug ridden sofa, it was a relief to finally get home and climb into bed in a building were there was little worry of being dragged out handcuffed by some balaclava clad SWAT team. We'll save that one for the next Airbnb experience.





Slovakia: Matus Kozacik, Peter Pekarik, Martin Skrtel, Jan Durica, Tomas Hubocan, Robert Mak, Juraj Kucka, Viktor Pecovsky (Norbert Gyomber), Marek Hamsik, Vladimir Weiss (Milan Skriniar), Ondrej Duda (Dusan Svento).

England: Joe Hart, Nathaniel Clyne, Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling, Ryan Bertrand, Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Jack Wilshere (Wayne Rooney), Daniel Sturridge (Harry Kane), Jamie Vardy, Adam Lallana (Dele Alli).

Attendance: 39,051

Thursday, 16 June 2016

England v Wales. 16/06/16

"If I had to take an educated guess at what we're eating, I'd say it probably ran in the 16.05 at Auteuil on Sunday."

England 2-1 Wales. Stade Bollaert-Delelis.
Thursday 16/06/16
I live in a reasonably sized Mid Sussex commuter town by the name of Burgess Hill, about 15 miles north of Brighton with a population of 30,635 according to the 2011 census. By comparison, Lens in 2012 had a population of 32,663. That meant that UEFA were basically holding England v Wales, set to be one of the most popular group games at Euro 2016, in a French version of Burgess Hill. Is it any wonder that people were kicking up a fuss about the venue?

Well, yes actually and they really shouldn’t have been. There are some not-so-subtle differences between the town in northern France and the one in southern England. Take the respective communities football clubs. RC Lens' Stade Bollaert-Delelis is capable of holding around 38,000 people which is slightly more than Burgess Hill Town's Green Elephant Stadium with a capacity of 2,000. Lens is famed for its huge coal slag heaps which are a UNESCO world heritage site. It is unlikely that Burgess Hill's slags of a quite different sort that can be found of a Saturday night in the town’s one nightspot Pulse are likely to receive honours from the UN anytime soon.

Police horse in Lens - coming to a dinner table near you soon?
The French and British authorities were desperate to keep ticketless fans away from Lens. Their first tactic was to say there would be no alcohol on sale in the town. Then they told supporters to go to neighbouring Lille to watch in the fanzone and bars there. After people heeded that advice, altered their travel and booked accommodation in Lille accordingly, another problem belatedly dawned on the organisers – Russia were in Lille the night before. Forget everything we told you and go watch the game anywhere but Lens or Lille was the next piece of guidance. With all this hulaballo going on, you’d have been forgiven for expecting it to be absolute carnage in little old Lens, but the truth is that it actually proved to be an excellent host for the Battle of Britain. Although I nearly didn't make it there to find out.

Friday night you see was spent in Paris. Before Euro 2016, Paris was just about on a par with Baghdad, Tripoli and Caracas as places I was in no hurry to visit. On every previous visit I'd hated the place but something magical has happened during this tournament in that I've grown to actually quite like it. It's got to the point now that not even the fact that I ended up eating what can only be described as a former racehorse for dinner before getting locked for an hour and a half in a shopping centre that resembled a building site has put me off the place.

"Piece of meat, depending on the market" -
sounds promising
Big old slab of horse anyone?
Firstly, to the dinner. My good friend Joe and I had met up in the Rue Saint-Denis area to watch Les Bleus late victory over Albania with some beers and food. On the menu was the generically described "Piece of meat, depending on the market" that weighed in at around half the price of a standard issue steak. No need to worry the waiter explained, the “piece of meat”was also a steak. What he neglected to point out however, was that "the market" was obviously a faller from Sunday's racing at the nearby Auteuil track as a huge great piece of horse came out accompanied by some chips and a healthy serving of some much needed salad. Undeterred by the fact that Shergar’s cousin was winking up from the plate, Joe and I both ploughed through and weren't left disappointed. It is little wonder that nobody complained about Tesco's meat until they knew they were eating My Little Pony as horse tasted bloody good.

After that, we were joined by Coventry fan Sara for a pub crawl of Rue Saint-Denis, after which the sensible decision was taken to get the metro home. Sensible, that is, if the metro had have run all the way to its final destination which needless to say it didn't, instead inexplicably stopping at a station that exited into a closed shopping centre in which a lot of overnight building work was going on. It was hard to know what to be more surprised at, the fact that I was seemingly locked in a Paris shopping centre in the early hours of the morning or that there were builders in France actually carrying out work and not on strike.

Builders work through the night on this Paris shopping centre while
McCarthy wanders around locked inside for 90 minutes taking selfies
The shopping complex itself was an elaborate corridor of mazes with no unlocked doors that it took over an hour and a half to finally find an exit out of. Not that anybody inside the building seemed overly bothered about a lone, slightly drunk Englishman wandering aimlessly around. Again, for a country and city on the highest state of security alert it is just as well I did not have a bomb on me. Eventually, I was out of the building, from where it was another 45 minute walk back to the hostel, finally clambering gracefully onto the top bed of a triple bunk at around 5am. And then to round things off nicely, when I woke up perilously close to missing the train to Lens five hours later, I discovered my trousers were missing. Excellent.

Lens beer ban in full flow
The only way to get over losing a pair of your favourite jeans is to have a beer to toast the happy times you spent together. Thankfully, the Lens alcohol ban proved to be the myth that most of us strongly suspected it would be. The entrepreneurial kebab shop opposite Lens station was doing a roaring trade in cans of Kronenbourg and when they ran out, out came some 8.6% Belgian beer. From fears of no beer to hallucinogenic beer being consumed on the streets, this was the most welcome of developments. Meeting up with fellow Brighton fan Mark and Man City Dave, we went to another bar that had ran out completely of draft beer and was very close to being drunk out of Sol as well. Despite the fact that Lens seemed to be on the verge of running dry, there was no trouble (no Russians = no trouble, who'd have thought that?) and England and Wales fans were soon meandering through the town on the short walk to Stade Bollaert-Delelis.

Plenty of trouble en route to the stadium as these gripping and
violent photos show
Stade Bollaert-Delelis was basically a traditional English ground - four separate stands, all two tiered and all rammed with supporters of both sides. Lots had been made of Wales - and in particular, Gareth Bale's - comments about the Welsh being far more passionate than the English in the build up to the game. If Bale and co truly believed that then they would have known by the final whistle that they were gravely mistaken, the atmosphere from the English end being as loud, if not louder, than the so-called more passionate Welsh. There was a sense of respect between the two sets of supporters as well, with the rousing rendition of Land Of My Fathers even getting a smattering of applause from the English support.

Stade Bollaert-Delelis
A very British feel to things
Wales went into half time 1-0 ahead thanks to a combination of a Bale free kick from 35 yards and Joe Hart developing chocolate wrists, which led to England being booed off by elements of the Three Lions support. Raheem Sterling was on the end of most of the flak. "England's going home" sang the Welsh. Roy Hodgson gambled in the second half, sending on Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge and his boldness at the break saw the supporters as well as the team galvanised. That second 45 minutes was one of the best in terms of support from the stands that I have witnessed and once Vardy equalised the general feeling on the terraces was that there was only going to be one winner of the game – and it wasn’t going to be Bale and co.

Wild scenes as Daniel Sturridge scores a 91st minute winner
for England
England left it late to prove that theory right, Sturridge scoring at the death to spark wild scenes as bodies went flying over seats and grown men who didn't know each other kissed and embraced. Football, bloody hell as somebody once said. "Footballs coming home" now the English fans sang back to their earlier tormentors. There was little sympathy for Wales' players given all their comments in the build-up about their passion and how no England player would get in their team, but it was hard not to feel just the smallest bit sorry for their fans. Hopefully, they can join England in the last 16 and knock Russia out along the way. 

As for the English support, that second half performance when fans and players were united as one (#TogetherForEngland as The FA marketing bods would put it) as well as Hodgson throwing caution to the wind and going on the attack to win the game felt like a genuine turning point. England aren't going to progress far in this tournament by being defensive, their back four isn’t good enough for that. But play on the front foot like they did in the second half, and who knows - maybe it won't be the traditional exit on penalties in the quarter finals.

That was certainly the feeling on the train back to Paris after the game, from where it was the Eurostar home. They say bad things come in three's and so after Shoppingcentregate and Losttrousersgate there was bound to be another cock up and that duly arrived when trespasses on the line outside Gare du Nord meant that the train was nearly two hours late leaving for St Pancras; a delay which meant missing the last connection back to Burgess Hill - the Lens of southern England, lest we forget - and a night sleeping rather uncomfortably on the platform of London’s international train terminal.

But when England win like that, it's hard to mind. Especially if football does come home.




England: Joe Hart, Kyle Walker, Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling, Danny Rose, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Wayne Rooney, Adam Lallana (Marcus Rashford), Harry Kane (Jamie Vardy 1), Raheem Sterling (Daniel Sturridge 1).

Wales: Wayne Hennessey, James Chester, Ashley Williams, Ben Davies, Chris Gunter, Joe Ledley (David Edwards), Joe Allen, Neil Taylor, Aaron Ramsey, Hal Robson-Kanu (George Williams), Gareth Bale 1.

Attendance: 34,033.