It is perhaps only an England fan who can so easily draw parallels between the buckling of a collapsible stool in an Airbnb apartment under the weight of a friend’s (over)zealous patriotism, and his team’s own collapsible defence that lacked much patriotism at all, zealous or otherwise. I will be the first to assure you that my friend is not overweight, though England did their level best to make a featherweight Russian strike force look positively obese.
Fortunately it wasn’t the England game that we were in Paris to see – that master class in inadequacy and indifference, that we had run from the Métro station to the apartment to watch, was dragged out in front of us on a TV screen like an environmental documentary about the dangers of waste. Who knew Adam Lallana’s shooting was the biggest contributor to landfill sites?
It was Turkey v Croatia that had us living near the banks of the Seine for the weekend. The Croatian midfield was alluring enough but it was perhaps the promise of a sizzling atmosphere that had us most excited – the Turks are famous for adding a bit of flare to their support after all.
I’ve been to Paris a few times but I’ve never been to Rio de Janeiro. I’m told that the vibrancy of colour is what is most memorable about Rio, and the Euros brought some of that vibrancy to an otherwise very rainy and overcast Paris. If Year 7 Art Class taught me anything it’s that accentual colour makes your painting look a lot better than it really is.
Every dodgy Parisian backstreet and struggling café had bursts of colour from the Euro 2016 watercolour football kit palette. The Swedes and Irish pushed café tables together to bond over French lager and discuss whether Zlatan or Shane Long would win the Golden Boot. At every turning I saw colour and unity and the universal languages of beer and football.
I also saw snipers. Beer certainly dulls the senses but it didn’t quite quell that slight feeling of anxiety. I wasn’t nervous, nor were any of the other fans around me, but the city felt nervous. My bag was checked three times before I entered the Parc des Princes, my socks twice. If I had a flare they would have found it, but there were still flares going off inside the stadium – I guess it was subconsciously worrying that these were missed.
Perhaps it is a sign of the current state of the Western world that I felt a little bit of relief that nothing bad happened. A firecracker went off near the edge of the pitch and everyone booed, some Turks threw plastic bottles when Mandzukic went down injured for the hundredth time, but nothing too bad. In fact, the most horror I experienced was when I heard how expensive my hotdog was.
The fans were great, proper football fans; the sort who stand up and chant for 90 minutes but don’t feel the need to plunge their fist into someone’s face afterwards. The support was infectious. Sitting with all the Turks, it was hard not to cheer Arda Turan despite him performing awfully, or mumble Turkish sounding words in time with the fervent chants.
As Turkish as I felt for those few hours though, you couldn’t help but applaud Luka Modric’s wonder goal. From our position behind the goal he tore apart, we couldn’t tell how far out he was, but you could tell it was special from the sound the ball made when it left his foot. We got a few looks from the Turks around us as we respectfully applauded the Real Madrid man’s goal, but I think everyone knew it was too good to get angry about.
Unfortunately I cannot claim to have visited the Eiffel Tower Fan Zone; it rained far too much to consider being outside for any longer than those 90 minutes, but what I did see was overwhelmingly positive. I don’t think the Parc des Princes had experienced such a close game for a long time, given PSG’s destruction of Ligue 1, so it was nice to see a competitive match.
Passion and colour are what I will remember the trip for. For all the stories of violence and unrest, there are hundreds more of camaraderie and friendship. The Turkish fans around us were exceptional supporters and clearly valued the game over violence and idiocy. Football is about passion, respect and on-pitch entertainment, and I certainly saw all of that and more.