Despite watching all three of the games played on the opening Saturday of the Euros, I’d be hard pressed to tell you much about what happened in them.
I was in Dublin, with some friends from Leeds, celebrating one of my BFFs (yes, men can also have them and in multiples too) 40th birthday. Which, I guess, is a slightly long way round of saying that we sat in a pub on Saturday, actually the River Bar, and drank and drank and drank… Seriously, we arrived for the second half of the Australia v England rugby match – I am allowed to mention rugby in this column, right? We didn’t leave the River Bar until just after Russia’s poxy equalising goal denied England what would would have been a deserved win.
Yessir, we had us some drinking time.
Like the Euros, it began for us on Friday. We had such a good time on Friday that I’d totally forgotten about watching the France match in a cavernous, and pretty busy, boozer called the Woolshed. I still can’t really remember who they played. I do remember two massive plates of nachos, though. I also remember my BFF, Mike, to give him his proper name, joining me in a chorus of “Na na na naaaaah Giroud!” when the bearded Adonis headed the opening goal of the tournament. We were being only slightly ironic. Well, I was. Maybe Mike was just hammered. Which would be apt, Mike being a West Ham fan and all. I missed the Hammer, Dimitri Payet’s winning goal, because I was attempting to catch up on the last 15 years of my old friend, Nugget’s, life. What a goal it was though, eh? EH? A worldie, and no mistake! No wonder he was crying when he was substituted minutes later.
A change in venue before we headed back to the hotel bar involved some left handed drinking. There was also sambucca. What a treat though, as English men abroad, to be able to walk into a pub, obviously completely drunk and, instead of being met with suspicion and hostility, be actively encouraged to drink until we went blind. I’d heard about Irish hospitality, I hadn’t really believed in it. But here it was.
It wasn’t until my third pint of Hophouse 13, a highly recommended lager out of the Guinness brewery, that I began to feel normal again on Saturday. Obviously, normal then quickly became slightly inebriated – or was slightly inebriated the new normal? By that time, I think the Xhaka brothers were about to take centre stage. This is a terrible thing to confess to you, perhaps some of you will not be surprised, but I barely noticed our new signing. I read afterwards that he was highly, highly influential and there were stats to prove it. Perhaps I wasn’t supposed to notice him as he went about his business.
The Albania captain’s rather daft handball was slightly easier to notice and I thought his red card deserved. Switzerland made heavy work of the 10 Albanians. At least to these, already slightly bleary, eyes.
Wales? Indebted to a goalkeeping howler from the Slovakia goalkeeper and a bit of luck with their second goal, I thought. Honestly, it was very, very difficult to look at Gareth Bale’s free kick and not think that approximately 99.99% of the world’s population would have saved it. Not to get all Geoff Boycott about it, but I’m sure my Nan would have caught, or at least stopped, that free kick and she’s 93. My Granddad will be 96 next month and I think he’d have just sat on it.
In the River Bar, a conversation broke out regarding David Seaman’s status as a world class goalkeeper. Having backed up Nugget in his argument relating to the merits of Ryan Giggs v Steve McManaman, I found myself incredulous at his argument that old Safe Hands wasn’t so safe after all.
That the Wales goal came from a miskick from the wonderfully named Hal Robson-Kanu after the Silver Surfer, sorry, Aaron Ramsey took the heaviest of touches to inadvertently tee him up will have felt very cruel on Slovakia.
I have just read that Gareth Bale thinks not a single Englishman would get in the Wales team. I am no patriot, but I think that’s nonsense. It’s also the kind of misguided rubbish that sometimes does a manager’s team talk for him.
And so to England, some eight hours after we pitched our tent in the River Bar. We had, I think, discussed standing for the national anthem – that’s progress for someone who would normally cross the street to avoid an England game, I guess I was just caught up in the atmosphere. And the beer. We didn’t do it though, thank God. I think we’d forgotten that we’d discussed it. To sit here and try and analyse a game I watched through the beeriest of goggles would be dishonest, but I do remember thinking that England had most of the game, certainly the best of it. I remember feeling, as Eric Dier’s free kick screamed into the net and we celebrated like mad men, that we had deserved that goal.
Even if I was only to consider the implications of going ballistic to a goal scored by a Spurs player, for a team containing four others, in the morning, that we were going to win felt appropriate to me. On this night, of all nights, Leeds and London joined together in an alcoholic rapture.
How f***ing naive of me.
I have had some great communal experiences watching England. Not for many years, it’s true, but I have. Holland in 1996, Germany in 2001 and, um… Weighed against that, Germany ’96 Argentina ’98 (a night I was so proud of us, even in defeat), France 2004…
Did I really think England were going to win? I don’t know now. I do know that the Russian equaliser deflated the mood more effectively than any one of the several stink bombs unloaded by my friends from Leeds and I this weekend could have done.
For a few minutes, anyway. I mean, come on. Were we going to let the football bring us down in the craic capital of the world?
I had a four and half hour delay in Dublin airport the next day for that.