Our man in a van: Clocking up the miles as we bed down in Belgium for the night

Greetings from Belgium — yes, Belgium.

No, we haven’t defected our allegiances like a gloryhunting barstooler, and it’s also not a case of being gluttons for the punishment of enduring more scorn at the hands of those who beat us so comprehensively at the weekend.

If Bordeaux was awkward for accommodation, Lille is downright impossible. A hotel booking website ran an analysis of room prices across host cities during the fortnight of the group stages of the Euros, and found that the three most expensive nights are all in Lille — with the night of our clash with Italy tomorrow topping the lot.

Supply not meeting demand is not just a problem with hotels, as we’ve found out. Lille campsites appear to be few and far between, and the only one we could find with vacancies when booking months ago is miles out in the sticks to the east of the city, with little means of getting to and from the centre of socialising civilisation.

Meaney, Jack Ryan, and Dara O’Shea, from Templeogue, Dublin, in Lille yesterday. Pictures: James Crombie/Inpho
Meaney, Jack Ryan, and Dara O’Shea, from Templeogue, Dublin, in Lille yesterday. Pictures: James Crombie/Inpho

So that’s why we are to the west in Tournai, Belgium, just minutes over the French border and thankfully a mere 30 minutes away from Lille by train.

Depending on public transport poses its own problems too, however, particularly when the last train back from Lille leaves at the ridiculously early hour of 9.30pm — by which stage the first half won’t even have ended tomorrow night. That’s a bridge we’ll cross when we get to it — all we need to decide is the mode of transportation.

The weather here is downright miserable — and seemingly so right across the country. From the moment we left Tours early yesterday morning we drove towards a soft, grey, wet vagueness on the horizon, the only dashes of colour being the immaculately maintained sports cars that overtook us north of Le Mans having attended the 24 hours at the weekend.

In between admiring cars we’ll never be able to afford, we stopped in service stations full of British over for the event — it was only when our slightly circuitous route rejoined the main Paris-Lille motorway that the colours adorning our accompanying vehicles change from red, blue, and white to green, white, and gold.

Last night, however, we toasted the end of our own endurance driving. The trip to Lille was the last long haul of our trip. Win, lose, or draw tomorrow night, the camper has to be returned to Paris by the end of the week.

Ian Devane and Aaron Browne, from Ballincollig, Co Cork, in Lille ahead of tomorrow night’s clash.
Ian Devane and Aaron Browne, from Ballincollig, Co Cork, in Lille ahead of tomorrow night’s clash.

That drive south from here will feel like nipping to the shop in comparison with the mileage we’ve put up so far. The odometer on the van now reads 5,042km; it was 3,327km when we picked it up.

Even with the Parisian streets to navigate back to the rental agency, the few hours from here to the capital pale in comparison when the time-consuming previous treks are considered.

The drive to Lille was made easier knowing we have something here we were denied in Bordeaux; precious match tickets.

Despite keeping an eye out for tickets, and reluctantly turning down a pair that were priced too far above face value to justify the spend, we spent Saturday afternoon watching the Belgium game in the Bordeaux fanzone.

Shane Murphy and Declan O’Dea, from Oranmore, Co Galway, trying to find their way around Lille.
Shane Murphy and Declan O’Dea, from Oranmore, Co Galway, trying to find their way around Lille.

I’ve discovered that watching a match involving a team you follow in the fanzone is a bit like seeing your favourite band at a music festival, instead of their own standalone show.

It’s grand, and in a way the experience is very similar, but you still end up with the handful of eejits who pay no attention to what’s going on — to the detriment of those around them.

Thankfully they were a minority — and I’m choosing to believe the same of the group of Belgian fans who ungraciously goaded we Irish who offered our congratulations at the full time whistle.

Still, weighing that up against the camaraderie we enjoyed with the Swedes in Paris, we know who we’re rooting for in the other Group E closer tomorrow.

We just won’t be revealing who to our hosts here for the next few nights.

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