Bitter echo of bygone era
Match of the Day commentator Steve Wilson’s Euro 2016 column
The depressing violence which left the streets of Marseille’s Old Port district littered with broken glass and fogged by teargas scarred the opening days of Euro 2016.
It was a bitter echo of the rampant hooliganism which dogged England through tournament after tournament in the 1980s and 90s, and a reminder that a bad reputation is far more easily won than lost. The daily French sports newspaper L’Equipe splashed their front page with the headline “La Honte” – The Shame.
In Bordeaux, where I commentated on Wales’ victory over Slovakia, the atmosphere could hardly have been more different. The huge Welsh contingent of supporters celebrated with the locals as France won their opening game against Romania, and the locals returned the favour as Wales enjoyed their win a day later.
At the time of writing, the prospect of England playing Wales in Lens can only be described as a daunting one for the authorities, who must be hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. Many England and Wales fans will be staying in nearby Lille, a much larger town than Lens and with more available accommodation.
However, Russia are playing Slovakia in Lille the day before that England match against Wales, which – as FA chairman Greg Dyke has pointed out – could be a major problem.
I now have the rare pleasure at a tournament of a few days in the same location – Lyon.
The normal commentator’s routine is to travel on one day and to commentate the next – never spending enough time in the same place to bother properly unpacking.
However, Lyon and Saint Etienne are only separated by an hour’s drive, allowing me to cover Belgium v Italy, Portugal v Iceland, Ukraine v Northern Ireland and the Czech Republic v Croatia without having to make any long journeys or re-pack.
Cutting down on travelling also gives me more time to watch and analyse the games I’m not at.
Ahead of the knockout phase, becoming an expert on all 24 teams is important during the group stages. The last thing I want is to be asked, at short notice, to commentate on two teams whose group games I haven’t been able to watch carefully – it’s happened before and it can give you a very sleepless night!
I still think France are the favourites to win the Euros, despite needing that late Dimitri Payet wonder-goal to beat Romania in Paris, but some of the other main contenders have been showing what they can do.
Germany did not overwhelm a typically stubborn Ukraine, but they won and know how best to grow into a tournament.
pain have high hopes of retaining the title they won in 2008 and 2012, but now that the era of David Villa and Fernando Torres has passed I’m not sure they have a world-class striker they can rely on to turn possession into goals. They dominated the Czech Republic, but victory almost eluded them.
What a pleasure it was to commentate on Italy and Belgium on Monday in the impressive Stade de Lyon. There is absolutely no doubt that Belgium have some great individuals, but Italy were much the better team.
To see veteran Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon run the length of the field to join the celebrations was magnificent.
For such an experienced, decorated player – one with a house-full of medals – to behave like an excited teenager energised by the sheer joy of sport was uplifting.
After the gloom of Marseille it was just what the tournament needed.