banner news

A fantastic summer - France, football, family and friends

In centuries past, young members of the British elite – think of Romantic poets such as Byron, Shelley and Keats – would undertake a Grand Tour of Europe in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilisation. This summer, Boase Cohen & Collins Senior Partner Colin Cohen went on his own Continental journey of discovery. His destination was France and his fields of study were football and, following the historic Brexit vote, politics. Here is his account of Euro 2016.

ARRIVAL

After a long journey from Hong Kong, I reach Marseille on Friday 10 June, meet up with my mate Mike Kingston and find we’re booked into the same hotel as the England team. That’s the good news. The bad news is England and Russia fans have already been disgracing themselves amid violent clashes with each other and riot police in the Old Port area, which we are instructed to avoid. Heeding that sound advice, we find a nice bar to watch the opening match in which France beat Romania with a last-gasp winner. Euro 2016 is up and running!

SATURDAY 11 JUNE
Group B, Marseille: England 1-1 Russia
By now we are all aware of the new breed of Russian hooligan – fit, trained, organised and ready to rumble – so Mike and I decide against wearing our England shirts for our first live game. Heading to the Stade Vélodrome, we see pockets of tough-looking Russians clearly seeking trouble. We have hospitality passes, but even in these supposedly refined surroundings it kicks off and punches are thrown as we look on, bemused. The skirmishes continue post-match and our bus drops us almost 2km from our hotel, prompting a nervous walk back. We find the sanctuary of our hotel bar – where the England management team are huddled in a corner – but we’re not safe here either as a handful of Russians barge in and cause more trouble before some burly security guards show them the door. Amid the fisticuffs and fury, it seems incidental to mention that a football match has taken place and England have conceded a last-minute equaliser.

Blog 1

With Mike Kingston and the soon-to-be-redundant England team bus.

THURSDAY 16 JUNE
Group B, Lens: England 2-1 Wales
Having arrived in Paris by train from Marseille three days earlier, we’ve toured the capital by bus, found a superb bar off the Champs-Élysées for the games on TV and I’ve even fitted in some work, visiting my old friend Pascal Paillard, Senior Partner at Normand & Associés which, like Boase Cohen & Collins, is a member of the International Alliance of Law Firms. By now I’m joined by my mate John Garratt and, on game day, we catch the train to Lens. Despite warnings we might see more trouble – our Russian friends played in nearby Lille 24 hours earlier – the day goes without incident, the atmosphere is fantastic and England surprise everyone with an injury-time winner. A near-perfect outing is rounded off when we arrive back in Paris in time for Germany vs Poland on TV in our favourite bar. We’re very much into our stride and loving Euro 2016.

SATURDAY 18 JUNE
Group F, Marseille: Iceland 1-1 Hungary
Here I am back on the south coast, having caught the train from Paris with John, as we look forward to our first live game as neutrals. Iceland vs Hungary is hardly the most glamorous international fixture but the experience is thrilling – great seats, fantastic atmosphere, a tremendous contest and our first viewing of the Iceland fans’ “thunderclap” chant. And the sight of Chelsea legend Eidur Gudjohnsen coming on as a substitute for Iceland brings a tear to the eye.

Blog 2

Enjoying some well-earned refreshment between matches with John Garratt.

SUNDAY 19 JUNE
Group A, Lyon: Romania 0-1 Albania
After all the train journeys, it’s time for some driving. John and I rent a car and head to Lyon, where we meet up with my good friend Victor Apps and his wife Lenora. We find we’re again staying in the same hotel as one of the teams, this time Romania. Can we bring them any more luck than we did England? No! Armando Sadiku's first-half header gives Albania their first ever win in tournament football. After the match we are as directionless as Romania, getting lost as we try to find our hotel. Thank heavens for Uber.

MONDAY 20 JUNE
Group B, St Etienne: Slovakia 0-0 England
It’s less than an hour’s drive from Lyon to St Etienne which is fortunate because, in a display of organisation that would make the England team management proud, the boy Garratt has forgotten to do my packing properly and has left my laundry at the hotel. So we drive all the way back to Lyon and then to St Etienne again, thankfully with plenty of time to spare. England are dire, a display as bad as the goalless draw with Algeria I witnessed at the World Cup in South Africa six years earlier. Wales spank Russia (good riddance to them) to top the group, which means England will go to Nice for their first knockout game, against no-hopers Iceland. What could possibly go wrong?

TUESDAY 21 JUNE
Group C, Marseille: Ukraine 0-1 Poland
Last night’s abject England display against Slovakia has left John and I pretty depressed and it’s a sombre three-hour drive we endure to Marseille. We need perking up and help arrives in the glorious shape of Miss Poland! She isn’t the real Miss Poland but it seems the only moniker worthy of the most glamorous fan we encounter in France and she and her friends make us feel right at home. We become honorary Poles for the day and are pleased our team win. But fatigue is setting in, it’s been four matches in four days, with plenty of driving, and we are looking forward to a football-free Wednesday in which we will take the train back to Paris, where John will depart and I will await the arrival of the Cohen clan.

Blog 3

Miss Poland attracts as much attention as the football in the match vs Ukraine.

SATURDAY 25 JUNE
Round of 16, Paris: Wales 1-0 Northern Ireland
Plenty has happened since arriving back in Paris, not least the UK’s unexpected decision to leave the European Union. I attempt to explain it to my astonished French hosts based on my encounters with England fans, who have cited immigration concerns and a distrust – or sheer dislike – of David Cameron as reasons to support Brexit. I also point out to mes amis that these same fans somehow think England have a chance of winning Euro 2016. On a much more positive note, my family has arrived en masse from Hong Kong – my wife Peggy, our daughter Marianne, her French husband Vincent and their young son Nathan. We are staying with Vincent’s parents in the eastern suburb of Lognes and today we are getting down to the serious knockout football. Vincent is now my new football travelling companion and he’s eager for his first taste of Euro 2016 action. The game doesn’t disappoint, a domestic dust-up officiated by English referee Martin Atkinson, an old friend of Boase Cohen & Collins from our annual Referees’ Lunch at the Hong Kong Soccer Sevens. We watch it in the hospitality section complete with outstanding F&B, brilliant seats, souvenir footballs and can-can girls. I can’t help thinking life is wonderful.

MONDAY 27 JUNE
Round of 16, Nice: England 1-2 Iceland
Wonderful? Not now. I’ve seen England play badly before, but this plumbs new depths. And yet the build-up has been so good. By now the family holiday has started. We’ve driven down from Paris in two cars and are staying in a sumptuous villa on a hillside overlooking Cannes where the accommodating owner has kindly installed a huge TV and satellite dish for viewing the football. Wishing to watch England in style, I’ve rented an eye-catching Mercedes E Class convertible and Vincent and I have driven along the coast to Nice for what should be a routine England win. Except, during a tortuous second half, we are stumbling to the most ignominious defeat in our history and, watching from our seats just behind the England dugout, it’s clear manager Roy Hodgson doesn’t have a clue what to do. Iceland are playing out of their skins and their raucous fans are shaking the stadium’s foundations, but around us the mood is turning ugly. Furious England supporters pour down towards the dugout to scream abuse at Hodgson before being hauled away by security staff. The final whistle brings ecstasy for Iceland, utter despair for England and I receive some terrible grief in hospitality. We drive back to Cannes in stunned disbelief and, entering the villa, I announce to everyone: “From now on, je suis Français!

Blog 4

At our villa in Cannes, checking the latest football news with grandson Nathan.

THURSDAY 30 JUNE
Quarter-final, Marseille: Poland 1-1 Portugal (3-5 penalties)
What a fantastic evening! A wonderful drive along the coast in our Mercedes convertible with Vincent as my chauffer is followed by an engrossing game and thrilling penalty shootout, which takes place at our end of the ground and sees Portugal triumph. There’s more drama on the way out when stewards try to confiscate the souvenir footballs I’ve been given in hospitality. They relent after I reveal my nationality and point out the English have suffered enough already in this tournament.

SATURDAY 2 JULY
Quarter-final, Bordeaux: Germany 1-1 Italy (6-5 penalties)
By this time we’ve been joined at our villa by a dear friend of mine who lives in Cannes, Philip Cole, plus his wife and daughter. Philip has agreed to fly with me to Bordeaux for this clash of footballing heavyweights. For today only – and purely to wind up the Germans – I revert to type and board the plane in my England shirt, sparking plenty of banter. “What’s an Englishman doing at this game?” “I’m coming to support Italy and watch you lot get beaten!” Unfortunately, a thrilling match goes to penalties and we know what the Germans are like at those.

Blog 5

High drama for the Germany vs Italy shootout – with the outcome inevitable.

WEDNESDAY 6 JULY
Semi-final, Lyon: Portugal 2-0 Wales
My new match companion is my brother Ian, who has joined us in Cannes from England. Back into the Mercedes for the four-hour drive to Lyon, where we stay in the laughably named Comfort Inn which, judging from its imposing iron gates and austere interior, can only be a converted prison. Wales have done well to get this far but are missing key players due to suspension and the game turns on a moment of brilliance from one of the all-time greats, Cristiano Ronaldo, whose opening goal sets up Portugal’s victory.

THURSDAY 7 JULY
Semi-final, Marseille: Germany 0-2 France
Little rest for the Cohen brothers! After four hours’ sleep in our “prison cell”, we hit the road at 5:00am for the drive back to Cannes. I grab some lunch and then, with Vincent behind the wheel this time, we set off for Marseille for what turns out to be the most electrifying game of Euro 2016. The Stade Vélodrome is a cauldron of French passion, with La Marseillaise reaching deafening levels, and the French play superbly, national hero Antoine Griezmann scoring both goals. And who should we meet in hospitality afterwards? The same Germans who had mocked my England shirt in Bordeaux! I give them a demonstration of how to lose properly, shaking Vincent’s hand and congratulating him on his team’s victory, but they don’t see the funny side. I’m also aware someone else will be lacking a sense of humour the next morning – those nice people at the car rental company. We have to hand back the Mercedes and, besides having racked up 3,600km, it now has a nasty scratch down one side thanks to some errant driving by someone – I won’t say who – while bringing back groceries to the villa a few days earlier.

Blog 6

Showing my patriotism with son-in-law Vincent at France vs Germany.

SUNDAY 10 JULY
Final, Paris: Portugal 1-0 France
And so, the final denouement. The entire family has driven back to the Paris home of Vincent’s parents. For our footballing sins, we’ve escorted the ladies on a shopping trip into town and paid a high price in the boutiques and department stores, after which we’ve enjoyed a wonderful dinner with a dear friend of mine, Bruno Chiomento, who has been invited by UEFA to the final. Vincent and I take the train to the Stade de France but, alas, the game fails to produce the dream outcome the whole nation desires. France play poorly and Portugal – despite Ronaldo limping off – stand firm and steal it with a superb extra-time goal from substitute Eder. Amid the raucous Portuguese trophy celebrations I spot another old friend, English referees chief Mike Riley, and chat with him. He is delighted with the impeccable performance of the all-English refereeing team in the final – just about the only positive for England in the entire tournament. Poor Vincent is too devastated to say much.

Blog 7

Victorious Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo gets a hug from Sir Alex Ferguson.

DEPARTURE

Monday morning – more shopping! But it’s a small price to pay for a month of football and cultural heaven in which I’ve seen 13 live matches and countless more on TV. I find myself recalling vivid snapshots of picturesque train journeys, engrossing road trips, buoyant fans, lively banter, the Icelandic thunderclap, old friends, new friends, grumpy Germans, happy families, dramatic football, joyous Portuguese and much, much more. In the evening I say goodbye to my family who are flying back to Hong Kong while I head for the Euro Star and London. I’m off to watch England lose again, this time at cricket, against Pakistan at Lord’s. But that’s another story.