We are now only a month away from either euphoric victory or embarrassing failure, as the England team gets ready to hop across the channel alongside thousands of British football fans to compete in this years Euros. But are you all set and on the ball?
Speaking from experience - whether you're in Paris, Lyon or Lille post-match beer will flow and the chants will echo (painstakingly into tomorrow's hangover) as whole streets and plazas are taken over with dedicated fans chanting just how much they love Roy Hodgson, Roy Hodgson, Roy Hodgson and you won't want to miss out. Whilst most fans opt for the cheapest, and often most questionable, accommodation they can find - if they can find any at all - I recommend being organised. I have slept on benches, beaches, in bus stations and just about anyone's bunk bed. On the rare occasions that I've been lucky enough to find an over-crowded and under-staffed hostel, I've often been left in an all male dorm having to arm-wrestle for the top bunk. The top bunk is the Holy Grail for any female football fan as it's one of the few chances you'll get to escape the stomach-churning smell of sick and urine that will invade your nostrils come 4am in the 25-man dorm. It's also an added bonus because you won't get rocked to sleep by the frantic lovemaking of the fans below. The key to avoiding sleepless nights is to get organized. Book early and plan well - don't leave anything to chance and always have a back up plan. Fancy your chances in the quarters? Book the hostel! Plenty of sites offer book now, pay later and you'll thank yourself when your shower is hot and your trainers are absent of any suspicious foil packets!
If you pull a Becks and injure your metatarsals make sure you're insured. One of the most common things us Brits forget to sort out before we go abroad is comprehensive travel insurance - and, unfortunately, we often don't have a blank international cheque book to bail us out. Don't be shown the red card like Zidane either: get yourself a little blue EHIC card. The European Health Insurance Card entitles you to receive state provided healthcare at a reduced cost or, in some cases, for free. These are available online here https://www.gov.uk/european-health-insurance-card. Plus, most insurers insist you have a valid, up to date EHIC card to insure with them and often waiver your excess as a result.
While competition on the pitch will no doubt be fierce, it's looking like the hustle for tickets will be easily as competitive off the pitch. A recent study shows that over a third of British fans travelling across the channel are without tickets and are looking to either buy tickets on arrival or use many of the fantastic fan zones that France are offering. The fan zone atmosphere often exceeds all expectations and the stadium vibe isn't far off - plenty of times during the 2014 Brazilian World Cup we joined in huge mass conga lines and Mexican waves! Don't be caught offside. It is in fact illegal to sell tickets outside of French stadiums and be careful if you are buying from a secondary source. Make sure you check carefully that they are authentic.
Get cultured. Put down the beers and venture out. The Euros are taking place in some of France's most enchanting cities and there's no reason why you should be confined to sweaty stadiums and sweatier bars. If you're heading into Marseille for England's first group game, then check out Parc National des Calanques which is accessible via various local bus routes. It is one of the most celebrated national parks in France and contains stunning and tranquil scenic views - you can even opt for a boat or snorkeling tour around the neighboring islands.
Whilst I shouldn't be saying this for fear of jinxing the results, if we do make it through the group stages then we have the delights of Paris and Nice to explore. Paris needs no introduction and weekends can be spent exploring the rambling avenues that make up the glorious city if the big tourist attractions fail to entice you. Being at the heart of the French Riviera, Nice is equally as pleasing. I'd highly advise visiting the local market Cours Saleya which will heighten your senses and leave your mouth watering as you sample freshly baked baguettes and just caught fresh mussels. From sunset onwards the Cours becomes a bustling hive of great restaurants and bars where you can find everything from tapas to traditional French cuisines. Some of my favorite nights out during in Brazil occurred when I did as the locals do and ventured out and embraced carnival culture. Caipirinhas were passed freely into my hands as I was assured I'd make the perfect wife to several sons and a few optimistic old men, whilst girls danced on the tables, chairs and car rooftops around us.
By the end of the month long Brazilian tournament I had racked up over 2000 minutes of stadium time, learnt 11 new chants, could swear in four languages and had sunk endless Brahmas. I was a converted travelling fan and cannot wait for the Euros to start. It's true what they say; when the wives are away, the lads will play. But, what they don't tell you is that football really is an international language. Stay safe and be on the ball for the 2016 Euros and the boys might, just might bring it home...
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