Sunday in Paris turned out to be a strange mix of the mundane and the magical – the kind of day which makes working at a tournament so unpredictable and enjoyable.
It started with a visit to the launderette. A commentator’s job at a tournament such as Euro 2016 generally involves almost constant travel, so being in Paris for two-and-a-half days was a treat, and meant there was time to wash, dry and iron enough clothes to get me through the last week in France.
After a run along the banks of the Seine to the Eiffel Tower and back, I settled down to update some commentary notes on Germany, only to get a text from Robbie Savage. It was a link to a video clip on Twitter with the message: “We’ve made it!!!”
The clip was of the Stereophonics opening their set at a Wrexham gig the previous evening. Footage of Wales’ goals against Belgium in the quarter-final had been projected onto the big screens on the stage, and our commentary was booming out of their sound system, “Robson-Kanu, what a turn – what a goal!”
Warm-up man for the Stereophonics – I’ll take that!
On Sunday night I managed to get a ticket to watch France play Iceland in the Stade de France.
It was partly research, because I knew I’d be commentating on the winner’s semi-final in Marseille, and partly just to soak up the atmosphere.
The usual walk from Saint Denis station to the ground was being diverted by military police, who’d closed the road to carry out a controlled explosion on a van which had apparently been abandoned in one of the side-streets – a reminder of the constant state of high alert throughout the Euros.
The calm authority of the police and the complete lack of panic among the fans was impressive. Many of those police and fans must have been at the stadium on the night of the Paris attacks in November, when the Stade de France was one of the suicide bombers’ targets when France were hosting Germany.
Inside the ground, hearing 60-70,000 people belt out La Marseillaise was wonderful, but seeing the Icelandic supporters salute their team, even in defeat, with that slightly scary chant and rhythmic hand-clap was really moving. Iceland’s contribution to these finals has been immense – and don’t be too surprised to see that hand-clap being replicated at a match near you next season.
There have been some outstanding individual performances at the Euros, but not many from players we’d consider to be traditional centre-forwards.
Goalkeepers Buffon, Neuer and de Gea performed heroics; defenders Chiellini, Boateng and Bonucci excelled; midfielders Naingollan, Iniesta, Allen and Kroos have created and carved open defences – but where are the No 9s? Olivier Giroud and Graziano Pelle, of Arsenal and Southampton respectively, have been just about the best on offer.
Apparently France has just had its wettest June since records began. I was told that by an umbrella salesman, not by a weather forecaster, so it may or may not be true; but it feels as though it’s more than likely.
Having been drenched in cold, cold rain in Lille and Paris over the past few days, it came as good news that my Euros would end in Marseille with the semi-final clash between France and Germany. Not only is the Stade Vélodrome the most awe-inspiring of the 10 venues – and I’ve been to them all except Lens in the last month – Marseille is also a great port city which is absolutely crazy about football. A wonderful, multi-cultural mix of North African and French is reflected in everything from its dialect and architecture to its cuisine. Above all else, it’s sunny!