I love Paris in the springtime
Friday 1 April 2005
As a Philosopher in exile I embarked on this latest sojourn to mainland Europe having very little idea of what to expect. Having travelled from deepest darkest North Wales the day before to spend the night on Ally's sofa bed I was unaware of the tour programme the Gaffer had sent that day. All I knew was that our captain, whose new healthy-eating lifestyle was hitting his wallet harder than expected (organic fruit and veg and soya milk aren't cheap you know) and tour regular Gibbo (whose healthy-eating lifestyle is still in the post) were not going to make it. To add to this, when I arrived at the Grand Café in Waterloo, news was reaching us that our tour talisman Cornish Al was stuck in court and was therefore struggling to make the trip. Despite this latest setback spirits were high and with Jez coming from Brussels and naturalised Parisians Jon and Allessandro joining the squad we were confident that we were heading off with enough quality to beat whatever Paris had to offer. Goober and Chairman Hugh arrived at the last minute with new shirts and to wish us bon voyage.
It soon became clear that we were spread quite liberally along the length of the alarmingly long train; Vipul and I in coaches 1 and 2, with Damian miles away in something like coach 57. As we got onto the platform Vipul and I smugly walked ten yards to our carriages leaving everyone else treks of varying distances to reach their seats; little did we know that upon arriving at the Gard du Nord we would have to walk three-quarters of a mile to rejoin the squad.
The 2-and-a-half hour journey practically flew by as we busied ourselves answering the Gaffer's devilishly difficult quiz, educated guesses turning into ill-educated guesses as the French countryside sped past our windows.
At the Gard du Nord we set about finding a bus that would take us to our hotel. Filippo led the way, and after discussions with the driver (who was very helpful, most unlike the London bus drivers who would sooner run you down than help you out) we were on our way through the Paris traffic. The journey through Paris was dominated by quiz-inspired debate about the footballing allegiances of the tour party: were there more Liverpool fans or Roma fans? And confirmation that Al was indeed not going to make it, followed by news that Gibbo might be able to take Cornish's ticket ... alas our hopes were quickly quashed as Gibbo would have had to have stormed the court room, borrowed the Cornish Bank credit card and used it to get the ticket. Neither of which would have been advisable: Gibbo with someone else's card? Even with a drink ban it's a disaster waiting to happen.
At the hotel we were assigned our rooms and with the Gaffer and Fil unable to turn off their tactic-addled minds, we were to be in formation even as we slept. Damo, Fil and I made up the bulk of the defence in a triple room (Fil insisted I took the right-hand bed as I was to be right-back; such was the Mourinho-esque attention to detail), the midfield pairing of Kieran and Marco roomed up together, and so on. Of course the Gaffer was alone in his palatial presidential suite so he could finalise the formation and team talk without distraction.
As we set off for the restaurant we met our rival manager Frank, who to Kieran's delight turned out to be an Everton fan. Yes, I was bemused by this as well, but as they say: once a bleu always a bleu. With some difficulty and a great deal of patience by Frank and the waiting staff at the restaurant we all managed to get fed and were buoyed by the news the Gaffer had relaxed the alcohol ban so we were allowed wine and a snifter of armagnac après the meal. The arrival of Jez and Marco during the meal only added to the bubbling atmosphere as we talked about the day ahead, the match and the new style astro-turf we would be falling about on come the morning.
Much to the Gaffer's chagrin, there was a mini revolution when we got back to the hotel. Gaffer was keen for the squad to get an early night but the consensus was that it was too nice an evening to go to bed just yet, and we retired to a table outside a café in the Place du Sorbonne. With the Gaffer quietly fretting about Owen leading us astray into the Paris night, we had one pint and then returned to our beds to dream of scoring a thirty-yarder with the left foot in the last minute.
Saturday 2 April 2005
After a light breakfast of corn flakes, croissants and coffee we made our way in a motorcade of a half-dozen taxis to the stadium, nestled in the back streets of Paris. After a quick pitch inspection we headed to the changing rooms to prepare. The talk before the match was of sin bins for yellow cards and the scrapping of the off-side rule, so when Marco ran onto an early through ball to score we were bemused to see a flag go up. Apparently the off-side rule, having been repealed, was back in force, but luckily the sin bin never saw action in a match played out in good spirits on a beautiful sunny morning. With the Gaffer relaying text updates to London we secured a hard-fought 3-0 win, with the first goal arriving in the 87th minute. The pick of the goals was Marco's Nayim/Ronaldinho-inspired second, pitched from the left wing with his left foot and sailing beyond the despairing dive of the opposition keeper. Kieran was on hand to force a mistake in the dying seconds as the tiring French defence put in an own-goal to flatter the Philosophers, but the result was the right one.
An early lunch followed at the ground with our hosts; the wine and conversation flowed (albeit sometimes through interpreters) and new friends were made. After the presentations of T-shirts and a modest trophy we were invited to take a tour of the offices of France Football, just a short walk away. As well as seeing past issues of the magazine and where it is all put together, we were afforded a look at one of European football's most prestigious awards. The Ballon d'Or is the gong awarded to the European Footballer of the Year as voted for by journalists across Europe from an initial list put together by France Football. Greats such as Di Stefano, Cruyff, Best, Law and Charlton have received the award. We managed to get our photos taken with it, although I for one didn't dare pick it up for fear of dropping it.
The rest of the day was spent recuperating; some spent the afternoon in the Place du Sorbonne, while others (like me) had a bit of a kip after learning Man Utd had stuttered again in drawing 0-0 with Blackburn. Filippo, however, was busy writing about the Bowyer–Dyer debacle at St James' Park, and filled us in on the details as we headed out for our evening meal.
We braved the Metro in search of the evening's eatery, and after a couple of changes and a brisk walk we arrived at La Sainte Marthe. The food was again superb, and after some poor jokes (initiated, sadly, by myself) we went off in search of liquid refreshment. We ended up in a bar that featured a bizarre DJ in a crow's nest who didn't as much mix the records as mash them up together, but the beer was cold and spirits were still high (but not as high as the DJ). Marco, ably assisted by interpreter Jez, attempted to find out from the locals where we should head next. Unfortunately Marco chose two girls, who said they were from Lyon just to get him to go away, and the decision was made to go to the club next door instead. Vipul and the Gaffer retired to the Hotel and Damian and myself went in search of somewhere to sit down; Ronan, Fil, Marco, Jez, Kieran and Owen headed next door and proceeded to get their funk on. I have it on good authority that Filippo, at the tender age of 38, outlasted everyone else and had to be dragged off the dancefloor. Ronan, meanwhile, was determined to sample the local culture and was leaving to go to a party with some friendly Parisians when he was persuaded to head back to the hotel by Filippo. The other four, seeing Ronan waltz off in the opposite direction, decided to hail a taxi. Now in Paris, apparently, there is a surcharge for more than three passengers in a cab. Either that or the driver had some serious personal space issues and was determined to fleece the tourists. As they arrived back at the hotel the price jumped up and the four Philosophers, despite being worse for wear, were determined not to be conned. (Owen's time in Scotland teaching him frugality if nothing else) As they attempted to get out of the cab the driver got tetchy (some choice French 'phrases' by Jez may have helped) and tried to restrain Marco. But as the France Football players found out that morning Marco is not to be held back, and things looked like they might get ugly. The driver went to his boot and pulled out an object. Events from this point on are subject to speculation or just plain fiction; it has been described as a tazer, a plastic whip or – what I believe to be the truth – a miniature samurai sword. Actually they just paid up and went to bed. Would have been more interesting to have had a sword fight if you ask me, but hey I was in bed by this point.
Sunday 3 April 2005
After a fitful night listening to Filippo's comedy snoring, myself, Damian and Filippo were the only ones to make breakfast with the Gaffer. Vips made it a few minutes later but the others were dead to the world. After rousing Ronan and Marco, and unearthing Kieran after Marco had lost him (he was in the bathroom) we headed out to find Les Deux Magots, a café frequented by Camus and Sartre. Jez and Owen were incommunicado and only reached after the third phone call by the Gaffer; they joined us a little later on. We had coffee and took in the strange paintings and busts on the walls and a photograph that was thought to feature Camus and Sartre amongst others.
After saying goodbye to Jez, who was back off to Brussels, and Damian, who was off to meet his girlfriend, we wandered the streets and had a beer at a café whilst we read the Sunday papers. From there we walked on towards the Jardin de Luxembourg, where we fancied sitting (or in Kieran's case, kipping) on the grass in the sun. We were met with a strange sight: crowds and bagpipes. Crowds on a park on a sunny day not so strange, but bagpipes? In Paris? It turned out to be Tartan Day (don't ask me?), and there were marching bands from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Cornwall. Strange stuff. We sat on the grass for a while before heading back to the hotel.
The Gaffer was determined to take make the most of the Camus and Sartre T-shirts and Les Deux Magots, so Owen and Ronan donned the shirts and they headed back with Vipul to take some pictures in the famous café. Kieran, Marco and I, lacking the stamina required, stayed behind to vegetate outside aé, before we headed off to the station and our train back to London. At the Gard du Nord, there were confirmed sightings of Robin Cook, Gyles Brandreth and Giacomo. I was going to ask for an autograph, but Giacamo was in a hurry.
And so the sun set on another tour, the tenth anniversary tour and eleventh in that time. This was my fourth, and again reminded me of how glad I am and how lucky I feel to be part of this team. Philosophy Football is about more than just playing football, it's about meeting new people, experiencing new things and seeing new places. The people we have met on the tours have been first class, friendly, hospitable and passionate about football. And as always the Gaffer has been on hand to provide the cultural touch to proceedings, making sure we took more than just a few hangovers and a couple of grazed knees back to Blighty.