The Euro 2016 (football) in France is history, and I went on a long weekend tour to watch one of the games. And lucky we had been indeed: we saw one of the best games of that tournament live, Wales vs Belgium in Lille. Without knowing who might play on that quarter final we bought the tickets beginning of the year. A good idea it was indeed, same as to not travel for the game only but to go for a long weekend tour.
Chap no. 1 picked me up on Thursday afternoon, and after a “let’s get going” espresso we set off for the long weekend tour. On our way to Ghent we stopped in Osnabrueck and picked up chap no. 3 (having arrived by train from Berlin). The remaining drive passed rather quickly. The main concern for the day: Will the camping site still be opened when we arrive or will we need to camp outside?
The real reason behind that question was not concerning toilets or shower. It was rather electricity for keeping the beers refreshingly cool that worried us. It’s all a question of priorities.
Just 15 minutes after a wonderfully charming and relaxed welcome by the receptionist at Ghent Blaarmeersen Camping we had our barbecue up and running – late check-in, late dinner.
While exploring parts of Ghent the next morning I felt that it was a mixture of Amsterdam and Luebeck. All in all a really nice town indeed. Lots of waterways, fantastic old buildings and a pretty enjoyable atmosphere for a long city weekend. I have never had Ghent on my top list of cities for a weekend tour. After this one morning I can certainly recommend it (and might return some time in the future). Our aim, however, was not to roam Ghent’s streets but to get to Lille for the game.
Off to Lille
Chap no. 4 lives in Ghent and our initial plan was to leave at 16:00h (it is only a 1h-drive to Lille). Due to the Belgium enthusiasm for their national team news reported that something like 150.000 Belgians were expected in Lille. Including the advice: Don’t travel by car! We quickly decided on a change of plan: Get to Lille asap (by car)… good idea, although I really loved that old pub we stayed in just before leaving Ghent.
Once in Lille, six hours before the game, I was more than positively surprised by what was happening there. Unlike with club games, here the party had already started and Lille was covered in red (mostly). The party with Belgian and Welsh fans was absolutely friendly, no fights (at least I have not seen any) and simply a great and noisy atmosphere – that’s what it should be like!
Getting to the stadium is pretty cool: The Lille Metro uses self-driving metro trains, the frequency (at least for this game) was amazingly high. Even after the game we only had to wait for five minutes or so before being rushed away towards the city centre again. Fantastic organisation!
Anyway, I love being at sports events way before the official start. Soaking up the atmosphere, seeing more and more athletes and fans arriving, realising how the noise level goes up, that is what I really like. My first glimpse on the pitch I got two hours before the game, and from then on it felt as if time was on fast forward. All of a sudden, the game was over…
Luckily enough, this was one of the best games of the Euro 2016. I was a bit disappointed by the Belgian supporters, who more or less struggled to support their team after the Welsh equalizer. But hey, the Welsh team continued their amazing and unexpected journey during that Euro 2016 (and I was there to see them party).
Back in Ghent – and bye bye
Our return to the camping site in Ghent was absolutely uneventful. The Belgian fans, sad and disappointed, kept up their fair behaviour and simply went home, without any fuss or fight. Respect! Welsh fans we did not see any outside the stadium – I guess they were all still partying either in the stadium or city centre… Despite the very late return we finished off this amazing day with a little nightcap, breakfast the next morning was served a little later than usual.
The long weekend did not end there and then, another one and a half pretty cool days followed. The summary of those, however, I might write and talk about later on… The sensible part of my brain might ask whether driving from Germany via The Netherlands and Belgium to France to watch a football game does make sense. For a club game, I would not really want to do it. For a national game during a championship I’d certainly go for it again, no matter which country might be playing. This trip I have not regretted at all, and many thanks go out to chap no. 1 for having organised it all…