Writing this I feel like I am still recovering from Lille. Being 35, hangovers and all over system cleansing seems to take forever these days.
Still, while the copious amounts of Kronenbourg are still working their way out of my system, I do feel suitably sober enough to write my account of a memorable trip to Lille.
Memorable for good and bad reasons.
Everton On Tour: Lille Memories
Our European tour began at 07.30 on the Wednesday morning with the Oswestry Supporters Club, guys I’ve known for many years from my time following the Blues from when I lived in Wrexham.
Having been living in Liverpool for 8 years, it’s always great to catch up and I was accompanied by my Uncle Steve, twin brother Ben, cousin Wayne and friends Brian and Gywn. The latter who I have known since secondary school and never fails to have me in bits. The perfect company for a hugely exciting trip.
This didn’t feel like a trip but an extra long match-day. The ultimate indulgence; supporting Everton for me, like it does every blue, is something that comes from the soul. To spend two days abroad with great people, lager flowing and dodgy takeaways and rounding off with the blues playing in a magnificent stadium was sensory overload.
The bus to Dover was soon en route and the atmosphere within the coach was amazing. People buzzing, singing songs, the first of 45,000 renditions of “Sixty Grand Seamus Coleman” came out. The Becks was flowing and amazingly, the coach toilet was functioning. These were heady
couldn’t get the TV working to put Everton DVDs on but nothing new there. No coach telly has ever worked I’m convinced. Purely decorative in my opinion.
We arrived at Oxford services not long before 11 am to be greeted with a view of a sea of blue and white with everyone commenting on the sheer volume of Evertonians at the service station.
It would appear the on board drinking had taken its toll when on closer inspection they were quite clearly a gang of school children on a day out. Not to worry, the bacon double cheeseburgers went down a treat and £106 later, we’d bought some McCoy’s too, we were back on the road and headed for Dover.
The true excitement came as we departed Dover. Seeing the white cliffs disappear from view – this was it – supporting Everton never felt more exciting. The sea was choppy and the boat was rocking, testing our reflexes in ale control. With not a drop spilled the journey seemed unbelievably quick and we arrived in Calais shortly after 3pm local time.
The bus ride to Lille was special – the atmosphere great with some of the focus being on how much Real Madrid were going to smash the RS by. Not obsessed like, it was purely topical.
We arrived at the Hotel Campanile just outside Lille city centre. The hotel was surprisingly of a decent quality considering the price we paid for it. Although faces dropped massively when the ale was quoted at eight Euros in the hotel bar. In all honesty Del Boy’s was bigger at Nelson Mandela house: tiny bar, astronomical prices. This was gonna be an expensive hangover.
Bags were thrown in with barely a look at the room and we headed out on the same bus that brought us all in. Lille is an impressive city on the eye, lovely buildings, postcard stuff at times. We travelled through the centre, skirting round the edge of the soon to be invaded Lille square, to be dropped off at Bar Dracir. A little bar on the edge of the mayhem.
What a great bar this was. Four euros for a pint of Kronenbourg. The guy who owned it was a ringer for Edward Scissorhands. Cutting prices as well as hedgerows certainly endeared his bar to the 30 of us who took over it.
It had felt like he’d opened up just for us although there were other patrons in there. With the ale flowing the chants started. Including some old classics; “Jimmy Jimmy Husband” was one. An absolute sucker for nostalgia me.
A great night had the icing placed on it with Real Madrid duly doing the business and putting Liverpool to bed by half time. The second half was spent outside another bar in the main square singing Everton songs. It doesn’t really get much better than this.
The next morning we had heard about the trouble in the Australia pub that had made the news back home. I must admit I didn’t see any sign of trouble the night before and it soon became clear this was an unprovoked attack by Lille fans on unsuspecting blues.
The two lads from our group had said it was a terrifying experience with blues rushing in to the pub to get away from the Lille fans who were launching outside furniture through the windows. In my opinion they were striking while the expected invasion of blues was still in the process of happening. An unsavoury and cowardly incident that had us all concerned. Just a relief nobody was seriously hurt.
Aside from this, the day leading up to the 7pm kick off local time was memorable. Going back to Edward Scissorhands bar, happy hour prices now part of the furniture, the atmosphere was fantastic. Blues excited about the trip to the Stade Pierre Mauroy edging ever closer, we walked up to the main square to take in the atmosphere.
To say the sight of Lille Main square covered from head to toe in Evertonians was special would be the understatement of the year.
It was fantastic. As we were walking up you could hear the distant shouts of “Roberto had a dream.” It was like County Road had been moved to France, but with more singing. Just brilliant passion from the blues supporters.
We were in the main square for around two hours. I saw no sign of any trouble but the attitude of the French police towards the fans was all wrong for me. They didn’t seek to embrace the occasion.
Blues respond great to authority who show a sense of humour now and again. Unfortunately the police were more obsessed with looking like Robocop with intimidation the order of the day. It just didn’t fit the occasion. Evertonians were singing, the atmosphere for me was relaxed and from what I could see there was no malice.
I think the French paranoia and prejudgement that all football fans are thugs was badly misplaced here. If they wanted thugs they needn’t look no further than their own plain clothed officers who acted disgracefully.
They were the aggressors, the initiator’s, acting heavy-handed in a situation that didn’t require over, but needless to say I feel sorry for Wolfsburg fans who have to travel there in police are a knee-jerk bunch clearly.
With kick off slowly approaching we made our way to the train station. A decision every bit as horrific as the French authorities attitude towards Evertonians. What started as a passionate show of support with Everton chants echoing around the Gare Lille Flanders metro station, soon descended into chaos. Far too many blues were allowed into the subway to board the trains.
Not realising the full horror of the situation I walked down with my brother with what seemed like 2,000 blues into an area to board the train. The situation soon became dangerous as a crush ensued with every train arriving causing panic. People trying to get off the train, sometimes with children in prams, could not get through.
Blues were almost being thrown onto the trains which were already full due to the swell of the crowd. Thankfully, as the situation threatened to get even worse, I managed to get on the train and pull my brother through and we were out of there. But this will go down as easily the worst experience of my life – and I’ve been married.
I felt like I needed a psychiatrists couch at that point but we were on our way to the ground and slowly but surely the excitement returned. With the vow that we would wait a week if necessary to go home rather than face a crowd like that once more.
The french crowd control in the metro was a disgrace as they left us to sort it for ourselves. And unbelievably we were back in almost the same situation trying to get into the ground. In a cue of around 1,000 blues for Section I.
The stewards only had 2 doors open and their cunning plan to control the crowd was a Vin Diesel lookalike holding back the swell of fans using his own body weight and letting people in underneath his arms. It didn’t look like he was a regular user of the shower either.
Paranoia was rife with each and every fan needing the minimum of two checks to get through security. It felt like 9/11 had just happened such was the ferocity of the checks. Stewards and Robocop’s falling over themselves to check Evertonains in a painfully slow process to get into the ground.
The last rant will be about the Lille stewards. With no idea where to go, my brother and I naively went up to one in the vain hope that he might be able to point us in the direction of our seats.
The guy we asked looked like he’d been told this was his last shift and he wasn’t needed after it. He rolled his eyes, lifted his arms up in a classic French pose and said “Anywhere.” The arrogance was borderline impressive to be honest.
We eventually found our seats five minutes before kick off. Next to our mates and family and all the guys from the bus in close proximity – we had been separated during the metro fiasco and it was such a relief to see everyone was OK. Finally the chance to watch the game.
As the game was nearly a week ago, I’m not going to do a match report but for me it was fantastic to see us playing in a stadium as classy as this one. The Stade Pierre Mauroy is a stadium we should aspire too – although I wish we’d just renovate Goodison instead – purely hypothetical as both seem unlikely with our currentI digress.
The atmosphere was great in the stands. I’ve never seen that many away fans at a ground before, I was getting flashbacks of Bradford at Goodison but this support was as world-class as Eto’os Burnley performance.
The singing had waned a little bit as the game wore on although I was amazed there was any singing at all with the consistent wall of blue noise that went on beforehand in the main square. Surprisingly laryngitis had not made an entrance.
The game ended 0-0 with Everton only showing glimpses of our attacking prowess. A great result for me, it was job done, win our home games and the group will be ours to lose.
It shouldn’t be a problem if Lille play the way they did here. The hosts were very poor in my opinion, low on quality and threat. We were able to keep them at arms length for large parts of the game whilst playing poorly ourselves.
The highlights for us consisted of Eto’o bending one round the post and McGeady seeing his low effort smothered by Enyeama when put clean through on goal. The miss did nothing for McGeady’s relationship with the fans, only adding to a hugely frustrating performance. Blues fans await the very best of Aiden McGeady and he is a player I would love to see do well. He clearly loves playing for us.
The journey back to the town centre was calm and peaceful thanks to the waiting back tactics with the highlight coming as we waited to enter the Grande Stade metro station.
The french authorities, whose mouthpiece was a jobsworth showing unmistakable signs that he was bullied at school as a youngster, as he picked up his microphone and promptly told 300 Evertonians to be quiet.
This wasn’t school and we weren’t pupils, so you can imagine the reaction. Even better, a few moments later a blue had grabbed the microphone and started singing “Sixty grand Seamus Coleman” down it. Absolutely brilliant and classic Evertonian humour. And the French police, for once, showing a human side, joining in the laughing and visibly in bits at what this fella was doing.
It was a funny end to what had been in all honesty a traumatic day. Honourable mention for my mate Gwyn; borrowing a french lads skateboard en route to the kebab house after having had trouble standing up all day due to the ale intake was ill-advised and hysterical in equaldrink and skate buddy, it’s just not cricket.
It was an early night for everyone as the police closed the bars at midnight. No late drinking but I was thankful for this. The previous morning I’d woken up with an elephant sitting on my head. The french beer was impressively strong and had my head feeling like trainers in a washing machine for most of the day leading up to the game.
The trip home was almost as long as Kenwright’s search for investment. The highlight coming before the ferry crossing from Calais to Dover with a stop off at a French ale supermarket. Feeling like Del Boy with the forklift truck, we gathered supplies. At six Euros for a crate of Stella it would have been rude not too.
To quote Blackadder, we were making about as much progress as an ‘asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping’ once through Dover. Not the fault of anyone but the sitting car park that was the M25 – five hours to move five miles – was painful. How the hell does anybody get anything done in London? Nothing moves.
The coach seat felt like it had been worn down to the frame with piles becoming an ever-increasing danger. The coach finally started making progress and we finally arrived home at 11.30pm. A mere 13.5 hours after leaving France.
Metro station nightmares and Robocop auditions aside, it was a fantastic trip. I had a great time and cant wait to do it again and I hope we are all back together in Warsaw in May to see the blues lift the trophy and ignite a golden era for the club.
Evertonians are the best fans in the business – of course I am biased – but for genuine people who by and large want nothing more than to support their team and have a ball, the blues are miles ahead of anyone.
At one stage my friend Brian started a terrace chant from the 70’s and everyone around got involved. The song took off and then when it finished there were blues patting him on the back. It’s not much I admit, but for me it captures beautifully the spirit that was present in Lille. Nothing like the antagonism suggested by the Lille police.
The guys on the coach were a different class with the majority heading back to Burnley to follow the blues a mere 48 hours later. Phenomenal support and dedication replicated right across the spectrum. Support I’m convinced will be rewarded with a trophy this season as our promising side begins to click into place.
It’s impossible to cover everything that happened in Lille but I have a huge sense of pride in the supporters of our club. Yes, you get fans who can’t handle their ale and go overboard but that aside, we truly are a class act as a fan base. Great humour and fans embracing the presence of one another was a joy to be a part of.
Evertonians deserve the best quite frankly. The commitment of the fans is something the players and management are acutely aware of and as the team ominously moves towards the form of last season, we have every chance of a memorable season.
Everton invaded Lille impressively and it is now time to do the same to the psyche of European football. We are starting to get noticed and long may it continue.
Taking 12,000 plus to an away game in a foreign country is unbelievable. I just hope Wolfsburg police watch how the french did their jobs and proceed to do the opposite. It’s truly that simple.
“The first thing I feel is immense pride and an incredible feeling of seeing what we are as a football club. The support doesn’t stop amazing me day-to-day. It is incredible.” Roberto Martinez
It’s what comes naturally to Evertonians Roberto. The best fans in the business deserve success and this season gives me hope that the wait could finally be!!!