Chateauneuf du Pape……Rodney
Saturday 23rd July 2016
This was my 3rd visit to Lens. And like the previous 2, the locals could not have been friendlier or more welcoming. That compliment however, certainly cannot be extended to the help and assistance provided to us away fans at the stadium.
Back in September 1998 approximately 4 thousand Gooners made the short trip into Northern France for what was our very first match in Europe since the European Cup had developed into the Champions League. About 30 of us Maidstone Gooners travelled from what I remember and in what turned out to be an entertaining and incredibly messy day for a number of reasons, a line up that was pretty much first choice in our double winning 97/98 season came away with a point from a game we lead until the very last few seconds. Little did we know that after 6 group games it would prove an extremely crucial and costly goal to concede.
Looking back at my memorabilia from the game, the press pack makes interesting reading too, the then Lens manager Daniel Leclercq having attended our previous league fixture at Filbert Street appearing to be not over impressed by Dennis Bergkamp or Marc Overmars. “The Dutchmen didn’t impress me too much……but Parlour did” he said, concluding with “He is the real motor of the team”!
Dennis took the Eurostar to Lille for the match, the reason being described with a line straight out of ‘Google Translate’ perhaps, “Talking of motors, Bergkamp’s allergy to the aerial variety…”!
Leaving home Friday morning just after 6am on a glorious sunny day we were a bit concerned about the journey ahead. Not because I don’t like driving. Following Arsenal all over the UK and Europe would be a tad tricky if that was the case.
But the media warned us all week that Friday was the busiest day on the calendar travel wise and Eurotunnel’s email warnings were dramatic enough to suggest you should ‘bring plenty of food and water’!!
As it turned out we did ok. A quick journey from the south coast was followed by a relatively short delay at the tunnel and we were in France before you could say ‘Bonnet de Douche’ 🙂
Lens is in another country. But it’s really not very far from Blighty. Less than an hour from Calais it is far easier to get to than the likes of Burnley, Sunderland or Hull.
Consequently we found ourselves munching on a bit of al fresco lunch washed down by a couple of Duvels (or Duvets as Shaunie called them). Very civilised to be honest.
A very fine day all round only spoilt slightly by the lack of help or signage when we got to the stadium. Sometimes you can blame one or two beers for struggling, but every Gooner had the same issue. Not only were there no signs to the away end but none of the stewards or police knew where the entrance was and the normal practice of walking round the stadium until you find it proved fruitless.
The entrance turned out to be at the end of a cul-de-sac that resembled Brookside….although that wasn’t the way we got in.
Considering it was just a friendly it was a pretty full, colourful and noisy stadium that greeted us, but the game itself couldn’t really be described as gripping.
A one-one draw was just about the right result in a game of few chances, the funniest bit being the fact Shaun missed our goal. Too many Duvets I guess. 🙂
I’m writing these notes back on the Eurotunnel train and I have a fat head. A good sign we enjoyed the post match stuff.
No time for hangovers though, the United States await.
And tomorrow that is where I am heading.
Victoria Concordia Crescit