Never before had I had the privilege of attending a major international football tournament, so it was great excitement that I received confirmation of my success in the ticket ballot for Euro 2016, in association with Coca-Cola, Carlsberg, Hisense…
I had no idea which teams I would be watching, only that I would be travelling to the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille, brought to you in association with Orange.
When the draw was made, I eagerly sought my fixture out: Ísland vs Magyarország. Iceland vs Hungary to the philistines.
Initially this was somewhat disappointing. Even with an expanded format, I was being offered this. But once the tournament got under way, it soon became clear that Iceland were threatening to put a run together. The thought of being able to say that I’d seen them, everybody’s favourite underdog, in only their second game of the tournament, was a gift of monumental proportions. So much so that in the days leading up to the game I practiced saying it off hand in the mirror while moisturising my torso with extra virgin coconut oil.
Hooliganism had been a problem is some of the earlier games of the tournament, but my pre-game sleepless nights centred around the possible confusion of trying to order a coffee in a French café. The savage continentals have yet to widely embrace the flat white, and asking merely for un café might land you with a dreaded espresso.
…Adidas, Turkish Airlines…
Hungary fans were gathered in huge numbers in the port, singing songs and letting off flares. Cafés were scattered here and there, but the menus intimidated me. Caffeine withdrawals were hitting hard.
Sadly, inevitably, like a partisan joining the queue for the firing squad, I caved in and went to Starbucks. The baristas were dancing, but sadness rested in their eyes. Like dad’s.
Upon exiting, a loud bang boomed around the street. Given the security climate, I and others flinched, fearing the worst. Great, I thought, when they find my body all they’ll say is he was carrying a Starbucks cup. But alas, it was only a firecracker.
Back in the port I had the first opportunity to use my #Euro2016 hashtag. A Hungary fan had lit a flare, roaring red in the humid air. Then, in a touching moment, he passed it to an Iceland fan who almost burnt his face off handing over his phone to a friend for a photo #Euro2016.
Thousands upon thousands of Hungary fans, filling the entire width of the avenue leading away from the port, marched to the stadium some forty-five minutes away in a cloud of flare smoke, banging firecrackers and bellowed chants. I opted to catch the metro from Vieux Port. My Adidas Gazelles weren’t fully broken in yet and I didn’t want to get a blister.
At the entrance to the metro, some Hungary fans were singing ‘Ro-nal-do is a ho-mo-sex-ual, a ho-mo-sex-ual, a ho-mo-sex-ual’ #Euro2016.
I looked around excitedly to see if he was passing by, but no such luck. My disappointment was supplanted by how finessed the Hungarian fans’ homophobia was #Euro2016. No room for such base terms as faggot, bum bandit, or fudge packer, no. Strictly homosexual.
An Iceland fan began dancing to the beat of the derogatory chant at the top of the escalator. Dancing, apparently, like a homosexual. You know, those dance moves and mannerisms that are distinctly homosexual. You know the ones, when people are having the kind of fun that beery, bloated, gassy men hate.
The chant shifted to ‘YOU are a ho-mo-sex-ual, a ho-mo-sex-ual, a ho-mo-sex-ual.’ When the Iceland fan started blowing kisses, the Hungarian fans pelted him with bottles, so he beat a hasty retreat down to the platform.
From the outside, the Vélodrome is an odd sight. The white roof is a hulking plastic mass seemingly plonked on top of an old stadium.
Excitement was building as I passed through the turnstiles. On the concourse, a Hungarian fan in a black t-shirt adorned with a print of Adolf Hitler overlooking Paris seemed vexed as he remonstrated with a steward. I was toying with intervening, reassuring him that I, too, hadn’t been able to find any decent coffee options, that I had to make do with Starbucks, but he probably didn’t speak English.
If the outside of the stadium is confusing, the inside is a thing of beauty. The four stands and the sloping roof rise and fall in an eternal loop of gorgeous curves.
From my seat I had the perfect view of hundreds of Hungarian hooligans, all in black t-shirts, some with hair, scaling a fence between stands and sprinting the full width of the stand behind the goal to join a melee in the opposite corner #Euro2016. Apparently, the Hungarian hooligans all wanted to be stood together, but the police had other ideas and it all went off #Euro2016. Batons, blood, riot police #Euro2016.
Yet, not one of the those who jumped the fence returned to their allocated seat, so their skills of persuasion must have been first class.
The game itself was dire with an undeserved electric atmosphere. Gylfi Sigurðsson put Iceland one up with a first half penalty, but Hungary levelled when Birkir Sævarssona put through his own net a couple of minutes from time. The silver lining was being part of a thunderous celebration that involved flares on the pitch and firecrackers booming in the stands.
…SOCAR, McDonald’s and Orange.
The Orange Vélodrome. Piss off.