Iwan Roberts: A day in Lille with Robbie Savage and Kevin Ratcliffe had us on red alert
PUBLISHED: 22:10 30 March 2018 | UPDATED: 22:10 30 March 2018
PA Archive/PA Images
Even though it’s been international week in the football world, the last few days’ sport news has been dominated by the cheating Australian team’s ball tampering incident against South Africa.
And, once again, a handful of supposed English fans (I’d prefer to call them morons not fans) drag their team’s good name through the mud with their pathetic behaviour in Amsterdam last Friday night.
Some people have blamed the FA for all the trouble on the streets of Amsterdam. I’ve heard people say, “what were they expecting organising a game on a Friday night in one of the busiest stag-do capitals in Europe – they were asking for trouble”.
I’m sorry, I’m not having that one bit. You could have played that game on the moon and those handful of idiots would somehow have made their way there just to cause trouble on a belly full of beer.
I spent five weeks in France in the summer of 2016 and didn’t see one incident.
We travelled to Bordeaux, Toulouse, Paris and Lyon and all we saw were supporters having the time of their lives, mixing with the locals while having a good old bit of banter, all of which was good humoured.
The one city we all were worried about was Lille, where all the Welsh and English fans stayed before they played each other in their second group game in Lens. The other problem the French authorities had was Russia were playing Slovakia in Lille the day before the Wales v England game, so you had four sets of supporters in the same city at the same time.
I travelled to Lille in a car with Robbie Savage and we couldn’t believe our eyes as we drove into the busy city centre where all the bars were. All we could see were Welsh and English supporters enjoying each other’s company while have a few drinks – and that’s how it should be.
Mind you, it got slightly scary as we drove through the crowds when all of a sudden a few English supporters spotted Robbie sitting in the passenger seat with his sunglasses on, even though it was raining! They started giving him a bit of stick and started banging on the car roof. But, I hasten to add, not for one minute did I feel threatened... it was Sav who was taking all the stick!
The funny thing is, Robbie will tell you he hates all the attention he gets, but believe you me, he loves it really. Why else would he tell the driver to slow down to a crawl while we drove past all the bars? He wasn’t thinking of their safety, he quite simply wanted to be noticed, even if it did mean him taking some abuse, which had us all in stitches.
Mind you, I wasn’t in stitches later in the day when having a quiet drink in a little bar not far from our hotel with Kevin Ratcliffe when all of a sudden the door opened and about 10 Russian supporters walked in, having just seen their team lose 1-0 to Slovakia.
They were big lads and the first thing they did was take their Russian shirts off and put normal T-shirts on, which instantly worried me after all the trouble that had gone on in Marseille before Russia played England a few days earlier. They looked like your stereotypical Russian hooligans – they all had skinheads and as soon as Kevin saw them take their shirts off he looked at me and said, “we could be in a bit of bother here” – we were the only ones in the little cafe bar so if it was all going to kick off we were going to be their only targets.
I didn’t take my eyes off them and then all of a sudden four of them approached us and in broken English asked us where we were from. We both said “Wales” as we had no idea what Wales was in Russian, but they understood ... all four said at the same time “Gareth Bale” and put their thumbs up to us.
I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I felt a bit more at ease as I got the impression that they were proper football fans there to support their nation and nothing else.
Kevin and I were wearing little Welsh badges that we’d been given by the Welsh FA and a couple of them asked if we’d like to swap for one of their Russian badges, something that neither of us wanted. But, as we were getting on okay and didn’t want to cause any offence by saying no, we both quickly took our pin badges off and swapped them.
They soon left without having a drink. I think the only reason they came in was to take their Russian football shirts off as they didn’t want to be targeted.
It proved to me you shouldn’t judge every book by its cover and it’s only a very small percentage who bring a bad name to all the other fantastic supporters that travel to international games.