LOSC Lille 3 - St. Etienne 0.
This weekend was quite like many of my weekends.
A bit of live football and some beers.
The main difference this time was it had taken around 20 years in the planning stages.
Many moons ago, when I was younger, still had something of a say in my hairstyle and the world seemed full of possibilities, I often spent time chatting with my good friend Adam about the possibility of going to see some football in France.
Both of us fancied ourselves as Europeans, rather than little Englanders, and we felt it might be fun to take a trip and see what was happening in the French league.
Over many beers and many years, our potential trip started to take on a mythical status.
Would we ever take our trip?
Just before Christmas 2011, Adam and myself found ourselves enjoying the wares of a convivial pub in Whitehall.
As ever, talk returned to our 'French football trip'.
I'm not sure why but on this occasion something snapped and the whole thing started to become real.
Yesterday, as many Charlton supporters were heading West to the charming cathedral city of Exeter, I found myself heading to St Pancras International to board a train to Lille.
We were off!
The first shock of the day was when Adam announced the kick off time. He'd been online to check the LOSC website and been amazed to discover what time we needed to be at the stadium.
We knew it was an evening game but 9pm seemed a tad late.
Needless to say, it just gave us more time to enjoy the city and see what was on offer.
I'd been to Lille before and on my first visit, had expected it to be some industrial horror with little in the way of beauty.
I now knew it should be compared to some of the wonderful Belgian towns in both architecture and food.
|Adam at Les 3 Brasseurs|
We took in the Grande Place, ambled around the shops and walked towards the Citadel before settling in a highly recommended, (by me), microbrewery of the kind quite frequently found just over the border in Belgium.
It would have been very easy to have stayed there for the rest of the weekend but we dragged ourselves on to the Metro and caught the subway train to the match.
Our match ticket entitled us to free transport for 2 hours before and after the game which seemed quite a sensible thing to promote.
As it turned out, very few people seemed to have taken up the offer. There were a few people who got off at the same station as us but in general, most people had made their way to the match by car.
We walked in semi darkness through a grim housing estate before the shining floodlights of the Stadium Lille Metropole showed us our destination in the near distance.
The crowd were quite sparse when we arrived. They were also silent.
The ground gradually filled up, (we had been reliably informed the game was a sell out) and then around 2 minutes before kick off the place went nuts!
The slow build up of tension and atmosphere we experience in England just wasn't there.
It went from absolutely nothing to hardcore fanatic in a blink of an eye.
The crowd swung their scarves around their heads and sang a song to the tune of Amazing Grace.
I was quite impressed.
The area to our right where the Ultras seemed to have congregated was going potty, then something happened, there was a mass exodus of a particular block, lots of booing and launching of ripped up (free) club news sheets followed by empty plastic beer glasses.
I've no idea what went on but around half an hour into the game, everyone rushed back into the section and carried on as if nothing had happened.
The teams were announced and the woman on the tannoy did that vaguely cheesy thing of saying the first name of each player so the crowd shout the surname.
We joined in when Joe Cole, currently playing for Lille, showed up on the big screen doing his daft dance for the cameras.
I should point out ALL the Lille players did some crud sub Hip Hip style posturing for the cameras as it was their turn to be announced.
Lille are in the process of building a new mega stadium to compete with other clubs who have Champions League ambitions.
At present, they are playing in a municipal stadium, really better suited for athletics but still holding 18,000.
Having been to the Withdean at Brighton a couple of times, I feared the worst but the view, and atmosphere were pretty good.
The first half of the game was pretty forgettable.
At half time I went to use the toilet facilities and couldn't believe the height of the urinals.
I'm around 6 feet tall with my shoes on, yet I had to 'perform' on tip toes such was the design of the WC's.
The second half was much, much better.
Early on, Lille were awarded a penalty which was tucked away without too much anxiety by Hazard.
Later, Joe Cole, (who we had been hoping would score so we could maybe capture some reflected glory from the people around us), managed to shank an absolute sitter past the post when the entire stadium was sure he was about to wheel away in celebration.
Joe was substituted with the score at 1-0 and about 10 minutes to play.
About three minutes later, The St Etienne goalkeeper Ruffier pulled off a remarkable save, only for the ball to fall kindly for the new boy Nolan Roux to score on what appeared to be his debut, (if the excitable woman on the tannoy was translated correctly).
It got better as only a minute later, Roux managed to tuck the ball past the impressive keeper once more, as the St. Etienne defence completely evaporated.
Song 2 by Blur blasted out, followed by the opening riff of Walk this Way by Run DMC / Aerosmith, now for the third time.
We all sounded like a herd of Guernsey cows as the crowd chanted ROUX!
The game ended with the home fans going doolally again, singing their Amazing Grace tune.
Unfortunately, by the end of the game it was after 11pm and I was frozen.
I had a thick coat, gloves and hat but it just wasn't enough for the temperature.
It must have been well below zero.
On the subway back to the city centre I had my (tiny) Charlton badge on my coat noticed.
It turned out to be a Villa fan who lives in Surrey who was wondering why we were so far from home.
"We fancied a change," seemed to be enough to satisfy his curiosity.
A couple of beers in our favourite microbrewery were just the ticket to wash down some warming chips before heading back to the hotel.
Today, we ate a fantastic buffet breakfast overlooking the city from a room with a magnificent panoramic view, then wandered around Lille some more before our late afternoon train back to London.
|Our favourite microbrewery|
What I hadn't expected was absolutely everything to be completely shut.
In London, we are used to a few watery restrictions on trading each Sunday but Lille appeared to be like a small Devon village in 1972.
It's Sunday so that's it. Everything closed.
We ambled around some more, contemplated for a millisecond taking in the Lace Museum but with some relief realised it was closed too.
As a child, when visiting any new town or resort with the family, the worst case scenario was when Dad decided we should go and have a 'stimulating' church visit as part of our explorations.
I had nothing against churches but quite frankly, as a young boy, I'd rather be outside.
Today, we went to have a look in the Cathedrale Notre Dame de la Treille.
It has been built in stages with a most obvious modern part fully complimenting the old parts.
It was cold outside but I'd like to think it was the beauty of the building that kept the both of us entranced by the stained glass and totally awe inspiring architecture.
On the way home, while speeding through Kent at ridiculous speeds, Adam and I discussed returning to Lille when the new LOSC stadium is up and running.
I wonder if Joe will still be there?