The flight out was like a valley’s Con Air.
I truly felt for those who weren’t fans going to the game. A lot has been said in the media about the fantastic and well behaved Welsh support and that is something to be proud of but there were some animals on that flight. Drunk as hell and boisterous and rude. Top to toe in Stone Island and Steroids. I stuck my headphones in and closed my eyes for the duration.
Touchdown Toulouse. Bang on time.
I was there. The weather was scorching and the sweat was ruining the fake tans of those in their terrace hooligan parkas and hats. This was the last time I’d see Chunky, Baz , Mental Dave and the rest of the tribe from Penrhys. Thank fuck for that!
DROP A PIN.
A tool only before used to show off on whatsapp where you were on holidays was now becoming essential when planning in France. Within seconds I’d found out that the minibus troupe I was meeting were a mere 5 hours away on their trip down from Lille but two other who’d managed to fly out the day before were just 3.5 miles away from the airport in Saint Peter’s Square. A short taxi ride later and €30 lighter (this was gonna be a costly trip I could sense) I had met them, ordered a beer and text home to say I was safe from the Russians and wasn’t alone.
After a few hours in the sun soaking up the atmosphere the minibus crew let me know they were 30 minutes away. Google maps told me I was a 20 minute walk from the hotel so I decided to make my move to meet them. I was quite drunk and thought the walk would help.
GOOGLE MAPS LIES.
45 minutes later after walking up the fucking motorway in Toulouse I was soaked in sweat and sunburnt. I didn’t care though as I turned the last corner before the hotel to see one of the minibus crew flat on his back outside the hotel trying to carry his case and finish a dubious looking bottle of supermarket lager. I had made it. I met the rest in the foyer and was given a warm can. It was like nectar from the Gods.
The room was stinking and they hadn’t even made the beds from the last occupants. I didn’t care and had no right to complain. I was gate crashing. A quick shower, Wales shirt on and a spritz of Chanel and before I knew it I was in a taxi on my way to the centre. After a quick pint stop en route it was time to join the hordes walking to the stadium and after finally finding the gate I needed and queuing I was though. Now just to find my seat and meet the dad who I’d sold the extra ticket too.
My seat number meant I was last on the aisle. Superb. Pretty much in line with the edge of the 6 yard box behind the goal would attack in the first half. On my way there I was, for want of a better word, kidnapped. 2 of the minibus crew were 5 rows behind my seat and also on the aisle. I stood in between them and waited to be ushered to my seat. That never happened and I spent the entire game between two friends. I don’t think any Welsh fans sat down during the game.
In the next 90 minutes I witnessed perhaps the greatest display of all time by a Welsh side. Complete and utter dominance for the whole game in a 3-0 victory that flattered the opposition. We sang, chanted, danced and cried as Messrs Bale, Ramsey, Allen et al decimated the Russian rear guard with aplomb never seen before from the boys in red.
5 minutes before half time I snuck of for refreshments to beat the queues at the bars and returned to the others with the spoils of my trip and a loud exclamation of HOT DOGS FOR TEA BOYS!
Toulouse hot dogs are special. A herby foot long sausage in a baguette along with frites already inside. Winner.
The noise was sensational throughout with the Red Wall providing support and atmosphere never before heard or felt. Songs were learnt, throats were destroyed and enough tears of joy were shed to overflow the nearby Garrone river.
As news filtered through that England had drawn against Slovakia the surreal fact dawned on everyone present that we had topped the group. Not only were we progressing to the last 16 but we were doing so above our old enemy.
At full time we hugged strangers as we filtered outside to be greeted by a jazz band where we met the rest of the group. Hugging strangers had now turned to dancing with them. Nobody wanted to go home.
Eventually we made it back to the hotel at around 1AM. There was no sleep in us. The pride and adrenaline would see us through until the morning where 17 hungover, voiceless Welshmen would depart for Barcelona at 9AM talking of what they had been a part of the night before for the duration of the journey.
I think we will still be talking about it for years to come.
Thank you to everyone who made this dream trip possible and so memorable.
My wife, the minibus crew, the Red Wall, the people of Toulouse, the friendly Russian fans, The Penrhys massive but most importantly the Welsh team that I saw – I actually saw – creating history.
It’s been emotional.
PLEASE DON’T TAKE ME HOME!