Euro 2016

Andy Watters can think of worse ways to spend a fortnight

Trianon Palace in Versailles is the Republic of Ireland's base for Euro 2016. Andy Watters (below) will be doing his best to keep tabs on the lads 
Picture by PA
Andy Watters in Versailles

WITH a heavy heart I left home, wife and kids on Friday for two weeks of total football in France.

Yes, woe is me having to cover Euro 2016 and having to watch football, write football and see a bit of the world for a fortnight. Damn you Irish News. But time is a great healer, thank God and, by the time I got my ’oul 307 up into third gear, I was starting to feel a bit better about my trip. By the time she was in fifth, the penny had finally dropped: ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’, as somebody once sang.

After arriving in Dublin, the second leg of my journey to Versailles - where the Republic of Ireland squad are based - was the flight to Charles De Galle airport, Paris. The plane was crammed with men and women in green - there were Republic fans from Tipperary and Norn Iron supporters from Armagh all making their way to games around France.

The Northern Ireland boys were overnighting in Paris and flying to Nice on Saturday. At least that was the plan - the Air France strike could mean they’ll have to make a seven-hour car journey instead, but nobody seemed up for doing the driving.

After landing, as we waited at customs, we heard the first bars of 'Nnnnnorthern Iiiiirreland' breaking out from another group. The Ulster boys were making all the noise, as per usual - it made me feel right at home.

But amid all the merriment, I was on my guard. Having seen Liam Neeson's classic Taken a few times, I was watching out for some butter-wouldn’t-melt French pretty boy type sidling up to me and giving it the whole “taxis ’ere are so dommed exspanseeve, want to share?” Next thing you know, I’ve been kidnapped by some eastern European mob and Liam Neeson has to use those skills of his to rescue me from a crowd of rich Arabs on a luxury boat.

I wasn’t about to risk that, was I? So I got the train into the city. There was standing room only as it pulled out of the station and, being a nervy traveller, I tend to ask the first person I see if I’m on the right path.

“Bonjour. Excusez-moi monsieur, parlez vous Anglais,” says I in my best French.

“Sorry mate, I’m English,” says the guy in his best Birmingham before we got our heads together and went through our maps of ‘Paris et ses environs' and decided that, yes, we were on the right line after all.

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The train was a real melting pot. Chattering American backpackers - 'They were like 'huh' and I was like 'WHAT?' - and Burka-wearing residents of the St Denis suburb, where Monday night's Group E opener between the Republic and Sweden is played, stood side-by-side as we rolled along.

A couple of changes later - at Gare de Nord and St Michel Notre Dame (where machine-gun totting soldiers patrolled the platforms) - and I had arrived in beautiful Versailles. The grandeur of the royal houses, the parks and the fountains will have to wait because there’s work to be done, starting with Martin, Roy and the lads at Trianon Palace on Saturday morning.

Yes, it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. Au revoir.

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Euro 2016