#TogetherStronger

Cyd Chwarae
11th June 2016

Somehow we mustered enough energy to get up for some breakfast. It wasn't early but after last night's frivolity I was very surprised to see this side of 10:00am. Beatrix was still in the kitchen so she made us coffee and squeezed some fresh orange juice.

Julie didn't fancy the croissant this morning so I ended up eating both of them.

"Waste not, want not" I said in an attempt to justify stuffing my face.

There was another guest at the table. She had spent the last 10 days in Bordeaux on a language course and was going home today. She was worried that her journey to the airport was going to be a problem because of all the strikes.

She thoroughly recommended the language company and said that they did courses all over Europe. Julie and I quite liked the idea of doing that in Italy. Unfortunately neither of us remembered the name.

With our tummies full of breakfast we returned to our room and fell asleep for a few more hours. It felt so good to be able to do that. We had no rush to leave the hotel this morning.

Today was all about the game.

Our second awakening happened shortly after midday. We got dressed for the occasion. I had my new Wales Euro 2016 football shirt with the number 11 and BALE on the back whilst Julie had a red cardigan and was wearing "Lucky Red" nail varnish especially for today.

There was a no bags policy to get into the stadium so we travelled light. I didn't even bring my proper camera only my phone to take the photos.

We caught the tram down to Hôtel de Ville stop and then walked into the middle in search of somewhere to have a quick lunch.

In a small square called Place Saint-Projet we saw a restaurant filled with Welsh supporters having lunch. A combination of thick heads and pre-match nerves made us all far more subdued than we were last night.

It was called Cafe de la Poste. (It was next door to the actual post office.) Julie checked out the menu, not for herself but for me. (She always does that.) On the menu there was the classic French vegetarian dish of omelette and french fries so we decided to stay.

My lunch arrived and it was wonderful. The omelette was cooked to perfection, just the way I like it, on the verge of being undercooked, the way only the French seem to know how. On the side I had a mound of delicious fries.

Julie had ordered herself the roast chicken which she was equally purring about. Don't get me wrong, last night's supper was a superb experience but this simple plate of omelette and chips was my favourite of the whole trip.

We left the restaurant around 14:00 walking across to the tram stop at Place de Quinconces and hopped on board the C line.

It was full of red shirted football fans wanting to get to the stadium early. There was still no sign of any Slovakians.

It took us near enough half an hour to reach the end of the line which brought us to the Parc des Expositions where the football stadium was based.

We had a short walk towards the Stade de Bourdeaux which was also known as the Stade Matmut Atlantique after a sponsorship deal with an insurance company. By whichever name it was known the stadium was stunning.

It had an incredible minimalistic design. There was also a look of a temple about it with hundreds of columns supporting the bowl of the auditorium which was clearly visible from the outside. It didn't come as a surprise to learn that the same architecture firm also designed the Allianz Arena in Munich.

We couldn't wait to get inside. The gates had been scheduled to open three hours before kick-off but 15:00 came and went.

We were the first in the line, patiently waiting outside the security fences. On the other side of the blue line staff were also waiting patiently.

Everyone got excited when this official looking really tall guy came up to the gate, inspected the cable ties but then walked away. We all groaned on both sides of the fence.

The coordinated opening however was only moments away. Without any fanfare a red shirted handyman with a sharp knife cut the ties. I pushed the gates opened and we all walked in.

With our tickets and pockets checked we headed for Block A picking up a €10 Euro 2016 programme on the way.

It was just so exciting.

We skipped up the stairs to the central corridor. We could also see the pitch from almost every area and with no exterior wall it felt so open plan.

The 42,115 capacity stadium looked compact, perfect for generating an electrifying atmosphere, not that this game would needed any extra stimulus.

The first thing we did was to find our seats in block 60, row 39, seats 28 and 29. They were great seats, one row from the front of the upper tier, right above the goal.

Next we went for a walk around the inner corridor, stopping at several places to just stare out over the pitch. I was already getting goosebumps and we still had two hours wait. I was about to explode with excitement.

We had a look at the Euros gift shop wondering if we could pick up something for the grandkids. The new Euro football looked fabulous but at €120 it stayed on the shelf. That was clearly aimed at collectors rather than kids to play with in the park.

We did buy a diet coke which came in a hard plastic commemorative match day cup.

"That'll do for one of them" I suggested. Julie looked almost disappointingly at me.

The stadium was now starting to fill as the kick-off drew nearer so we returned to our seats.

As we had our bought our tickets directly from UEFA we were in a neutral block of spectators but with some luck the majority of the Welsh supporters were concentrated below us and to our right.

Having said that the red shirt of Wales was the predominant colour throughout most of the stadium with the exception of the Slovakian end behind the other goal.

Before the game started there was some pre-match entertainment of sorts as two enormous replica shirts were carried onto the pitch and Super Victor the tournament's mascot danced around waving to the kids.

Whilst all this was going on there was a little bit of trouble happening in the row in front of us. These two French guys had earlier clambered over several seats to get to the front. They clearly weren't in their own seats but they did at least have tickets. They made a point of waving them around before throwing them on the floor rather arrogantly. They then tied a small Brittany flag over one corner of a larger Welsh flag.

When the real ticket holders for those seats arrived they refused to move. There was a bit of a stand-off that threatened to turn ugly.

I went to get a steward to sort it out. The first one I saw wouldn't leave his post guarding the TV camera directly above the goal. I then went down the stairs where the next steward pretended not to understand me. Thankfully the next one gleamed a little of what I was trying to say and came up to sort it out. I only just made it back to my seat in time for the National anthems.

I have to say that it was one of the most emotional moments of my life. Singing along with 20,000 other proud Welsh voices , "Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi, Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri. Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mad. Dros ryddid collasant eu gwaed. GWLAD GWLAD pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad. Tra môr yn fur i'r bur hoff bau. O bydded i'r hen iaith barhau."

That was the moment I burst with happiness and literally filled up with tears of joy.

We settled down to the game. The Welsh team was a fine balance of international superstars who play for Real Madrid, Arsenal, Liverpool and other big Premier League sides to those lesser known players from less glamorous teams like Burnley, Reading, Wolves.

The starting eleven players today was Danny Ward, in goal, a reserve goalkeeper for Liverpool. Regular Wales keeper Wayne Hennesey was out with a back injury.

At the heart of the defence we had the rock of Ashley Williams (Swansea City) supported by James Chester (West Brom) and Ben Davies (Tottenham) . Good premier league experience although not always regular starters for their teams.

Providing the width in the 3-5-2 formation were Neil Taylor (Swansea) on the left and Chris Gunter (Reading) down the right in what they call the wing back role. In the middle of it all we had Joe Allen (Liverpool) who was affectionally known as the Welsh Xavi. In a more defensive midfield role we had David Edwards (Wolves) providing some protection to the back three. Completing the five man midfield was Aaron "Rambo" Ramsey (Arsenal) a bona fide world class player that had the talent and creativity to unlock stubborn defences.

Finally, up front we had Jonathon Williams (Fulham) who wasn't necessarily a striker but had bags of energy and he was supported by of course the current most expensive player in the world, Gareth Bale of Real Madrid, a true galacticos.

They counted down to the kick-off with a ten, nine, eight ... then the whistle blew and history began. The first Welsh team to play in a major football tournament in 58 years were on the ball.

The first attack of the game came from Slovakia after only three minutes. Hamsik ran at the Welsh defence with purpose causing confusion, he shot hard beating the keeper but Ben Davies was covering and heroically cleared the ball from going into the back of the net. Nerves were certainly jangling.

After the shaky start Wales regain some composure and start playing football, passing the ball around confidently. On 10 minutes we get a free-kick after little Jonathon Williams got bundled over. Up steps Gareth Bale to strike a blistering shot that fooled the Slovakian goalkeeper. GOAL The whole place erupted, I erupted, Julie erupted.

The match settled down to quite a physical but even contest that reflected their FIFA rankings (Slovakia 24th and Wales 26th ).

Just after the half an hour mark Jonathon Williams was bundled over in the penalty area by a very aggressive challenge. We couldn't see very well as it took place on the opposite side. The replay was almost immediately shown on the big screen which clearly showed Skrtel, the Slovakia captain catching the little Welshman with a nasty elbow to the head, right in front of the UEFA official (whose not a referee nor an assistant referee nor of any use whatsoever). Still no penalty.

Half time arrived and we were still one nil up. So far so good.

The second half started and Wales were gaining in confidence. They were attacking the goal below us, the massive Welsh crowd willing them on but it all turned sour on 61 minutes. Slovakian substitute Dudi who had only been on the pitch a minute received the ball on the edge of the penalty area and shoots low and hard past Danny Ward and into the back of the net. One - One - with half an hour to go.

All of a sudden Slovakia were seizing the moment and playing very well, creating chances. It was difficult to watch. I was literally on the edge of my seat kicking every ball. I felt so nervous. The Welsh manager, Chris Coleman, could see the game slipping away and brought on two substitutes, striker Hal Robson-Kanu and midfielder Ledley King who got the biggest cheer for his miraculous recovery having broken his leg only a month ago.

Their introduction lifted the team and the game swung back towards Wales as they marauded forward in search of the winner. They huffed and they puffed but couldn't quite get the break, then as another attack almost petered out when Ramsey drove towards the penalty box, He was so tired he almost fell over, but managed to nudge the ball forward to Robson-Kanu who completely scuffed his shot but it somehow miraculously rolled into the back of the net. GOAL.

We couldn't believe it. Julie and I were screaming and shouting, jumping up and down in our seats. The joy was spectacular. I'm not ashamed to say that I cried. It was so emotional. It was the 81st minute. We only had to hold out for another 9 minutes plus a few minutes of stoppage time.

Wales defender deeper now, protecting the lead and when they won possession of the ball they would hit Slovakia on the break. They created a few more chances before Slovakia created one of their own with a great header from Nemec which smacked the Welsh goal post. That was too close for comfort.

Four minutes later the 90 minutes were up and the 4th official indicated a further 4 minutes of added time.

It was all Slovakia as Wales defended the lead with their lives. It felt like a very long four minutes and then there it was, the referee's whistle was blown and it was all over. Wales had won 2-1.

History had just been made as Wales won their first ever game in a major tournament. And it felt great to be able to say "We were there".

The players had performed exceptionally well but more importantly you could see what it meant to them. They gave everything out on the pitch.

They were heroes, every single one of them.

Nobody wanted to leave, all of us wanting to savor the moment for as long as possible. The players came to applaud the fans which was a wonderful touch and we all applauded them back. It was as if we had won the entire competition.

Before they left the pitch they huddled together as a team as they did before the game. It was a great sign of unity and of their fraternite, their brotherhood. The campaign motto "Together Stronger" was so evident.

We left the stadium which emptied nice and quickly. Not much in the way of a bottleneck.

The only queuing we experienced was when we came to the tram station. The two opposing of fans mingled without any incident which was so good to see.

Last night the news was full of England and Russian fans running riot in Marseilles. Trouble always seems to be attracted to the English fans.

We squeezed onto the tram, tightly packed like the proverbial sardine. It became unbearably hot and humid in the carriage. There weren't any windows that you could open.

Every time we stopped and the doors opened it brought in some fresh air. This one Welsh lad was having a laugh pretending to be a conductor shouting "Room for one more". Then when the unfortunate local came to the carriage they could see that there wasn't any room for a stick let alone a person.

We weren't making much progress and when we reached the tram stop at Place Ravezies we didn't move for a good ten minutes. At least they kept the doors open. Some were leaving the tram and deciding to walk instead. In the end we decided enough was enough and did the same.

Not much more than a minute after we started walking the tram was back in action and it rolled past us all everyone waving at us. We could see the next stop Grand Parc some distance ahead of us, so we all began to run to catch the tram. Of course there wasn't a chance of us getting there before the tram moved on but at least we tried.

Stood on the platform we had the choice of walking all the way into the city which was at least another half an hour away or wait for the next tram and squeeze ourselves on to it. We waited and with some luck the next tram to arrive wasn't that full. I guess plenty more had bailed out as we did.

The tram transported us towards the city centre, past all those supporters who were still pounding the streets. We made the right choice. However, for some reason we decided to jump off the tram one stop before we planned and walk the last bit towards Place de Quinconces.

On the corner, not far from the fan zone we stopped at a bar called Nulle Part Ailleurs. It was busy outside with happy Welsh fans watching England struggle against Russia.

We joined them for a few drinks, watched some of the game and listened to a Welshman who was propping up the bar singing that Sasha Distell song that goes "rat a tat a tat". He even got the bar staff to join in.

You could tell he was an entertainer. He had that classic pub singer warble to his voice. He also did a great rendition of the Tom Jones classic "Delilah".

We bumped into the guys who we shared a taxi from the airport to the train station. He seemed to be struggling to be standing straight. It may have been his gammy leg or something else, so we offered him our seats and we moved on.

As we passed the fan zone we decided to go inside to continue watching the second half (that's after I spent about 15 minutes literally running around looking for an ATM with some cash left).

Inside it was like a festival ground with beer tents all the wat down the sides and the massive screen taking centre stage.

It was an excellent idea to have a large area to coral a large volume of fans but I must admit I preferred the togetherness and camaraderie you get watching the game in a pub.

Within a few minutes of us being there England scored from a Eric Dier free kick. There wasn't much in the way of celebrations. Most (if not all) in the red Welsh shirts were probably hoping for a Russian win.

Once England scored we left the fan zone. We didn't even stop for a drink. The queues at the bar saw to that.

It was now around 22:30 and we hadn't eaten for about ten hours and we were absolutely starving.

We set off in search of food, walking past the impressive Opera House in Place de la Comedie and down the shopping street Rue de Catherine. We weren't at the point of desperation where a McDonalds would have done. We still had some options.

We turned left into the narrow alleys of the St. Pierre district looking for a late night bistro or brasserie. Most of the ones we came across were closed or about to close until we came to Brasserie L'Alysson.

It was really popular and they were open until midnight.

I had a quick look down the menu and spotted the Salade de chevre chaud - a goat cheese salad. Julie went for the duck confit.

Whilst we waited for our food we struck up a conversation with a couple sat next to us. He was Dutch and she was from Belarus which she made the point of explaining she wasn't Russian. Especially as the England/Russia game was shown on a large screen inside the brasserie. Whilst we were talking Russia scored an equaliser deep into injury time. Which I celebrated with a clenched fist and a little "Yay".

"So the Welsh really do hate the English" he said.

I explained that perhaps hate was too strong a word but yes, there was a rivalry between us. "It's only natural to feel that way towards your flashy neighbour, or your annoying big brother" I explained. "We do enjoy it when they lose." I contined "but tonight a 1-1 draw is better for Wales as both teams have dropped two points and Wales are top of the league."

"How did you find the stadium?" he asked me.

"Oh, it was a beautiful design" I said and began to describe its architectural merits only for him to say "I know what it looks like, I work for UEFA and I am responsible for the safety at the stadium during the tournament."

Well, we all had a good laugh. Miss Belarus even felt compelled to take a photograph of myself and the UEFA representative.

Being Dutch and knowing that I was a Manchester United fan he asked me what I thought of Louis Van Gaal.

He said that in Holland he is ridiculed for his personality despite having taken the national squad all the way to the semi-finals of the World Cup in Brazil.

Our food arrived and it looked great. Julie really enjoyed her duck confit and my thin slices of goats' cheese were absolutely delicious. Even the simple salad beneath it was nice drizzled as it was with a tasty dressing.

We washed it all down with a glass of Bordeaux finest mid-priced red wine.

There were a plenty of other Welsh fans eating in here. Julie pointed out how they were all drinking wine.

It did look peculiar to see all these large blokes in their football shirts embracing the local culture with delicate champagne glasses in their hands and not a pint of beer.

We left the brasserie just before midnight and made our way to the Place du Parlement where we stopped for a drink at Le Bistrot d'Edouard.

Here some Slovakian fans were celebrating their defeat in good spirit. A few of them were playing football in the square with some Welsh kids. It was so nice to see the friendliness shown between the two sets of fans.

I don't remember exactly what time we left the square but it was very late.

We followed the same route back up the hill along Rue Mouneyra to our hotel. However tonight we struggled with it. We were very tired. By the time we reached the top we were absolutely shattered and a little grumpy.

We crawled into bed just before 2:00am.

Next Day >>>

ęCopyright 2000 - 2020