THE plane from Luton was full of football fans. No, not English supporters heading for a showdown with their Russian friends, but Hungarians travelling to Bordeaux in support of their team. There are plenty of Magyars in Britain, one of the issues being debated as the nation votes on its membership of the European Union.
There was a man with a chicken on his head, another with a Hungarian flag draped round his midriff. They’ve all been drinking in the Luton Airport bars in preparation for the big game: Austria v Hungary, the second most played international football fixture. The Habsburg derby.
Bordeaux is quiet upon landing. It’s a small airport, with an arrival area that resembles a provincial bus station. There’s little sign of Euro 2016, aside from some items of livery. There’s a couple of stray Welsh fans roaming around the terminal, but otherwise, you wouldn’t guess that a major competition is taking place. The city is expectant of the arrival of thousands of Austrians and Hungarians. There’s a bit of bunting up in town and bars have strings of flags (Germany’s had the wrong combination of colours!) and special offers of beer to entice the fans.
Of course, there were good reasons for a subdued atmosphere. UEFA were still selling tickets for the game right up until the day before, a reflection of the apprehension many fans still felt at visiting France. The country was on high alert after the terrorist attacks of November 2015. The French government promised a veritable army of police to look after the fans – we didn’t see a single Gendarme. Either they were well hidden or Bordeaux didn’t figure as a high risk.
On route to the town, a typical bar had a sprinkling of locals who were smoking incessantly and criticising Ireland against Sweden. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, well known to French fans, is having a frustrating time and the audience seemed to enjoy that. A woman with a small dog took a seat, ordered a glass of wine and also smoked away for France. She spent all her time complaining about the football. Eventually, the dog grew restless and she tottered off, gesturing.
Further along the quay, another bar was being bossed by Hungarian fans. A man too young to remember Hungary’s glory days sat with a Puskas shirt, another had Ferenvaros’ forward Daniel Bode on his back. During the course of the next two days, there were many Puskas shirts to be seen.
Like all major competitions, Bordeaux hosted a fan zone. Having seen these in Hamburg in 2006 and Vienna two years later, I thought they were quite innovative and worthwhile. Now, there’s been a bit of Disneyfication introduced. Time to get back to bed, I thought. A big day ahead.
Cut inside Bordeaux’s main thoroughfares and the city looks quintessentially French – how you would imagine France to look. Even the shabbier streets have a certain style. More than one Frenchman has said to me, “You Brits are funny. You love our food, you love coming to France, but you don’t like us.” As I walked to my hotel, a bearded trendy, listening to his phone, called out to me, “haha…f****** Rosbif”. That did make me laugh!