Updated: May 10
There are many assumptions made about what happens when English fans follow their teams abroad. I’ve also noticed there’s been some involved debate on some of the Spurs message boards about what goes on, how people behave, and what should be expected.
So I thought I’d write up my trip to Lyon, not because it’s any more or less important than anyone else’s, but because I think more small, first-person stories help build a more accurate bigger picture – that’s for those prepared to look and listen.
I’d not seen Spurs play in France before, so that and the prospect of a relatively straightforward journey led me to Lyon via Lille for Thursday’s game, accompanied by @SpursAli and the legendary Bruce Lee from chapter 1 of We Are Tottenham. We opted for a one night stay and a late afternoon train back, which gave us time to take in the town on the day after the game but still kept the price and time off down to reasonable levels.
There’s immediately an issue here. Choosing to travel independently raises suspicions that those who choose to do it are up to no good. This also rather conveniently ties in with clubs’ efforts to push the official trips, which tend to be far more expensive than independent travel and offer less chance to see the place you’re going to. The latter is deliberate, of course, as the idea is that the less time fans are in a foreign city, the less chance there is for trouble. The point that treating people as a potential problem may prove somewhat self-fulfilling appears to have been lost on the football authorities. This whole issue is addressed very well by John Sugden in his excellent book Scum Airways. But enough cod sociology from me, back to the trip.
We took the Eurostar to Lille and then one of the excellent, fast and comfortable SNCF double deckers down to Lyon. On the way it was good to catch up with a few familiar faces, including Crocket from the FTL message board, Mel Gomes (@melstars) and Luc from the Belgian Spurs. We ended up sitting with five lads we had a good craic with. There always seems to be a quote that ends up being associated with a trip, and this time it came quite early. We’d spotted a bloke wandering up and down the train a few times looking a bit lost and possibly not in full possession of all his faculties. He was wandering the aisle with his mobile phone and we overheard him say “I don’t want to know where you are, I’m trying to find out where I am.”
We’d left early in the morning, but not too early to have missed news that, once again, Spurs fans had been attacked by a suspected far right mob in a pub in Lyon on the night before the main numbers of away support turned up. Spurs fans seem to be becoming a bit of a target, and news such as this always casts a bit of a pall over a trip. When you’ve been on a few trips you’re reasonably confident you can avoid any problems, but this new, anti-semitic element raised the prospect of fans being targeted however they behaved.
There was, however, some light relief when we spotted a tweet from Tim Grigg (timgrigg76) of Spurs Away Days fame, saying that after the attack from “Nazi scum” he and Dan Louw were “tooled up with stale baguettes”.
Thankfully, our trip was a pleasant one – save for some clueless policing immediately after the game. We checked into to our hotel, right next to the station and on a direct metro link to the Stade de Gerland, and headed off to the old town to find some food. We’d got a call from a couple of the Enfield contingent who’d flown in via Geneva the same morning, and headed for the pub they were in. It was packed, so we wandered round the corner and found one of the little restaurants that is evidently enjoying a renaissance in Lyon. The clientele was predominantly Spurs fans, including two women sat next to us whose French resident English ex-pat friend was showing them the sights. We had a very good three-course meal and a couple of carafes of wine for about £20 a head.
We left for the ground about an hour before kick-off. The metro was pretty crowded, with Spurs fans in good voice but no animosity evident. Local fans were filming on their phones as we went through the songbook while waiting for the train. On the carriage we got talking to a long-time Lyon season ticket holder who, like us, felt the tie was pretty finely balanced. Once at the ground it was pretty easy to find the away end, despite having to walk around the ground, and everything was very friendly.
The away end at the Stade de Gerland is essentially the old terrace with some flat plastic seats bolted on to the steps. There didn’t seem to be any seat numbers and there was no effort made to get anyone to sit in the seat on their ticket, or indeed to sit at all. There was plenty of room, despite us having taken more than the initial allocation. It looked a bit more crowded in the small section to our right in the stand along the side of the pitch, which I assume was the extra allocation.
We were in the corner behind the goal, with a reasonable view and a big old empty block between us and the home support. In common with most European away games, there didn’t seem to be much regard paid to the allegedly cast iron matchday rules that many English clubs use to make European games that bit more irritating than they might be. And despite the fact that you could get a beer on the terrace, stand up, smoke and sing, civilisation didn’t seem to be threatened at any stage.
I don’t really need to go into much detail about the game itself – I imagine if you’re reading this you’ll have seen it. Spurs were poor in the first half, better in the second – especially when the infuriating Adebayor managed to get himself into gear. The support sounded great when you were in the middle of it – a sustained 30 minute version of “AVB’s blue n white army” particularly impressive – but the home crowd looked and sounded pretty impressive and we weren’t surprised to hear after that we couldn't really be heard on the TV.
Dembele’s goal went in just as a few of us had concluded that was it – and pandemonium ensued in the away end. Delirious scenes including a moment when one celebrating fan barrelled into the back of me and sent me flying down the steps, landing in a heap with several others. No harm done except for a chunk of skin off my shin.
We celebrated loudly after the whistle, and stayed loud during the wait to be let out we’d been warned about.
This is where it all got a bit daft. After about 15 minutes everyone moved off the terrace into the tunnels that led out to the exits. That was presumably because those at the front had been led to believe the gates were open. They weren’t, so we spent the next 20 minutes or so jammed in a tunnel, not a situation that anyone with the most cursory knowledge of Hillsborough relishes. When the gates were finally opened, we shuffled slowly towards a set of steps that were not lit, so people in front were having to shout “steps” to warn those behind to watch their feet. At the gates we were held again, before being funnelled in behind a water cannon truck and between two columns of riot police. I can only assume the local police force wanted to show off all its toys, because nothing I had seen or heard about indicated this was a proportionate response.
The pseudo-armoured column then marched us all up to the Metro, taking us within a few yards of the pub we’d been warned not to go to because it was where the local hard core gathered. There was an entrance to the station concourse further away, but the police chose to take us all as close to the pub as possible. Some of the local fans were shouting and gesticulating, and then we saw someone we at first thought was a copper swinging a long, metal pole at the column of Spurs fans, and whacking it on the low wall that separated us from the concourse. We quickly realised it wasn’t a police man, but a local hooligan in a baseball cap. He was allowed to wave the pole around for long enough to prompt several Spurs fans to rush the wall and go for him. At this point, the riot police seemed to wake up, jumping on pole guy but also rushing at the rest of the Spurs fans and waving their batons.
It seems pretty clear that pole guy was either trying to achieve a bit of local rep – he seemed to be acting alone and inviting arrest – or to provoke a bigger confrontation. He nearly succeeded. I’m not naive enough to suggest there weren’t Spurs fans there more than willing to take the bait, but this situation should never have been allowed to happen. It was only due to the fact that the section we were with weren’t up for a row that the situation calmed. It was a reminder of how quickly events can unfold, and of how far the policing of football fans still has to go in some places. This reminded me of the kind of nonsense we used to face in the bad old days of the 80s, particularly in the Midlands.
We managed to get back into the town centre after debating whether to head for the hotel or a bar in town. The only problems seem to have come from Inspector Clueless and his mates, so we figured if we stuck to keeping our heads down we’d be OK, and we were in the mood for a bit of celebration before bed – as well as avoiding the eye-wateringly expensive hotel bar. We found a little bar showing the Bordeaux v Dynamo Kiev highlights and met up with some more familiar faces.
News that Chelsea had scraped through came as we moved across the road after tiring of the grumpy barman, and we found we’d stumbled on a brilliant little bar, packed with a fair few of the Enfield contingent and serving some exceptionally fine beers. We stayed, we drank, we went through the songbook and the guys working the bar were great with us. At sometime around midnight Ali spotted Dan Louw and Tim Grigg sitting right behind where we were standing and we had a good old chat, us waxing lyrical about the Away Days videos and them being very nice about my books. Horrible modern football story as it seems, with footie media types slurring “I really luv your work” late into the night, it was good to meet Dan and Tim in person.
The bar closed at about 1pm, which was probably just as well, and we headed for our beds. The next day we explored the town more, taking the funicular railway up to Notre Dame cathedral that overlooks the town, visiting the old silkworkers’ quarter in Croix Rousse and taking in a leisurely lunch in another of the towns fine restaurants, although avoiding the local preference for tripe – never a favourite of mine – meant having pretty much the same as I’d had the night before.
We caught the 5pm train out, this time to Paris. We had to get across town from the Gare de Lyon to the Gare de Nord – €1.60 and 10 minutes on the shuttle, London Transport please note – and then wait for an hour for the Eurostar back home.
Ali and Bruce are great travelling companions and we reckoned it was one of the better trips, despite the problems outside the ground. On any trip you see the best and worst of your team’s support, although there wasn’t much of the worst this time. The tale of the trip isn’t the stuff that will make a book that Danny Dyer can star in the film of, but it’s probably a bit more common than many people are led to believe.