France 1 v 0 England (26.03.2008)
This spring friendly epitomised the frustrations of being an England fan. On paper it looked like it had the makings of a decent fixture (especially for a friendly), and as there’s no real love lost between the two nations you could be forgiven for thinking there might be a bit of spice to the occasion. For me, the fixture was tempting enough – good quality opposition; a short and accessible away trip; Beckham’s 100th cap; and a chance to visit Paris for the very first time.
After a short flight from London’s City Airport (my favourite airport of all time) to Paris Charles De Gaulle, I’d arranged to meet Mark in the Latin Quarter where we had our hotel booked for the night.
The Latin Quarter of Paris is situated on the left bank of the River Seine, around the Sorbonne. The area is well known for its student life, lively atmosphere, narrow cobbled lanes and streets and many bistros and bars. The area acquired its name from the early latin-speaking students, and is now generally associated with artists, intellectuals and a bohemian way of life. As such, I’m not quite sure why me and Mark were basing ourselves here!….I think coming from the Portobello / Ladbroke Grove area of London Mark fancies himself as a bit suave and sophisticated. It’s amazing what a silk cravat, an Ivan Lendl tank top, and a few vodkas can do to you!
As nice an area as it was, the price of a beer didn’t reflect its student origins. I remember one bistro that had a fella playing a piano and the barman had the cheek to charge £9 for a pint of lager. On querying the exorbitant price, the barman gestured towards the man playing the piano as if that justified things. I think my sharp witted retort was something along the lines of “tell him to stop playing then!”
After burning a hole in our pockets in the Latin Quarter, we had arranged to meet up with a few of Mark’s QPR mates over in the ‘Pigalle’ district. Although popular with tourists, with cabaret such as Moulin Rouge and the Divan du Monde based here, I would describe the area as a poor man’s ‘De Wallen’ district in Amsterdam. There are many sex shops on Place Pigalle and apparently the districts raunchy reputation led to its World War II nickname of “Pig Alley” by Allied soldiers. Pig Alley is what we had thought it was called anyway before we found out the background information! We spent the remainder of the afternoon in a few shit bars dotted around the district.
The Stade de France is located in the Saint Denis area of the city and is easily reached by catching the Green line from Gare du Nord which is only one stop away and takes just under 10 minutes.
The match against France happened to be David Beckham’s milestone 100th cap, following which he would join an illustrious group of five other English players to achieve that feat: Peter Shilton, Billy Wright, Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore. If you take a moment to reflect back to the aftermath of his 18th cap against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, it’s to his credit that he had the strength of character to re-build his international career and become such a respected footballing servant to his country.
The French supporters unveiled a massive ‘shirt-shaped’ banner as the teams walked out prior to kick off, and that combined with it being Beckham’s 100th appearance were the only real memorable things to come from the match! This game epitomised everything I’ve come to loathe about an England international friendly: a subdued atmosphere; a boring and lethargic England team performance that barely created a notable effort on target or a worthwhile attack; and the general feeling that you’d wished you’d stayed in the pub instead! Sometimes the football really does get in the way of an otherwise fun trip! The game’s only goal came from a Ribery penalty on 32 minutes.
Post match, we returned to the Latin Quarter for some more over priced beers and were left to reflect on why we bother with these England ‘meaningless’ friendlies….all the while knowing deep down that we wouldn’t be able to say no to the next one!
Before the flight home the following afternoon, Paris got the respect its visit deserved as I headed out to acknowledge some of its key sights. A ‘speed tour’ in and around the banks of the Seine and you can tick off the Louvre (just from the outside); Notre Dame Cathedral; the Eiffel Tower; the Arch de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees.
Speed Tour of Paris including Champs Elysee’s; The Louvre and Arch de Triomphe