Let me introduce you to my travelling companions. Some time ago I looked at the schedule for the tournament and decided that I would go for the first two weeks and visit every venue. After checking the logistics I put together an itinerary which fitted the bill. I circulated this and three friends expressed an interest.
Darren, you don't need to worry about. He can be relied upon and has helped with everything. It's Steve and Ivan we need to watch out for!
Steve's introduction on this visit was by text to Darren. "Problems on the bus in London, I think I'll be there in time."
No problem we are booked on the 8.58 Eurostar, arrive in Lille at 11.30, have to check into our hotel, dump our bags and catch the 12.19 to Lens.
He made it, and so did we. Arriving in Lens full after sampling business class catering. (Thanks again, Darren).
Along the way we caught up on the last four years as we were all together at Euro 2012. Amongst the stories told, the most memorable was Steve saying that it had taken him half an hour to eat a snail. Darren explained that snail's are slow!
On the train from Lille to Paris we discussed politics with two Frenchmen, who lived in Newcastle upon Tyne. Running Le Petite Creperie in the city - visit if you can.
In Lens we were to meet Ivan, we expected him to be waiting outside the train station but there was no sign. We took a moment to look around, and decided to head for the other exit, where Ivan would have arrived earlier. There he was sat patiently in the waiting hall with a rucksack on his back to distinguish him from the crowd!
Ivan is French and lives in Paris, so he should be really helpful on this trip.
In Lens we had heard that there was an alcohol ban for every game (not just the upcoming England v Wales match), so we were surprised to find out that this alcohol ban didn't include beer. So we headed to the nearest bar.
The population of Lens is actually less than the capacity of the Stadium, and there was visible security in place to protect them.
At the stadium Ivan's rucksack was spotted, security saw it/him as a risk and asked that he leave it outside the ground.
The ground was a sea of red with what seemed to me to be predominantly Albanian supporters. It was noticeable that supporters of both sides were sat together and had come to the game together. This was further evidenced by the teams, with a number of Swiss being Albanian, and some of the Albanian team play in the Swiss league.
The scoreboard, started the countdown to the match 9, 8. Being in France, I expected to hear neuf, huit, but instead heard the crowd countdown in English. Something I found strange for a country so proud of its mother tongue.
The advertising around the stadium, did not seem to be the usual suspects. Ironically the French Railways, SNCF, were on the billboards, as talk surfaced of more possible strikes. Are the major sponsors wary of football....probably.
An early goal for Switzerland settled the match, but a 10 man Albanian team gave a good account of themselves. Whilst the management dressed to impress!
4 hours and 48 minutes after arriving in Lens, we were leaving and heading back to Lille for the night.
Moules en frites were preferred over the joys of watching the football in a pub near the station full of English and German fans who seemed keen on reenacting World War II.
Later we found a quieter pub further away and had some good company as we watched the conclusion of the football for the day.