“Prepare to fail, prepare to fail better.”
That’s the journo’s version.
So there we were on arrival day in France last Wednesday, a small group of us sitting over our café au lait in the morning sun, consulting maps and train schedules as we attempted to plot the most efficient way from base camp in Versailles to the Parc des Princes in Paris to pick up our tournament accreditation, those all-important danglers without which a man might as well attempt to walk naked through Euro 2016.
Then, the eureka moment. One of our number — no names mentioned — discerned a path to glory: A direct train, only a handful of stops, a journey of no more than 30 minutes door to door. We congratulated him warmly and set off with all the misplaced joie de vivre of Spinal Tap attempting to take the stage in Cleveland.
To cut a long story — and what turned out to be a much longer journey — short, we disembarked at St Cloud to find that the immediate surroundings of the station were conspicuously lacking in what you might call a sports stadium and, even more worryingly, any signage indicating that there might be a sports stadium in the vicinity.
Eventually, I was obliged to accost a passing local. “Le Parc des Princes, monsieur?” I inquired politely. The look of astonished dismay on his face suggested I had asked him to perform an unnatural sex act there and then on the street. “Non! Non! Non!,” he almost shrieked.
After recovering from his shock and breaking into fluent English, he then patiently explained that while we had indeed fetched up in St Cloud — a most pleasant leafy suburb by the looks of things — the place we actually wanted to be in was Porte St Cloud, away across on the other side of the river, at least another 20-minute ride in a cab.
In short, we were a bit like visitors to Ireland on their way to a match in Thomond Park who get off the train at Limerick Junction thinking that they can enjoy a nice wee walk to the ground from there.
Ah well, not to worry, better to get the snafu out of the way early doors, eh? Like the team, we’re still on course to peak at just the right time.
Or not, as the case may be.
You need a bit of luck, of course.
One of my favourite football books is Geoffrey Green’s Great Moments In Sport: Soccer which was originally published in the early 70s and has remained an inspirational presence on my shelves since I was an impressionable 13-year-old.
Working for the Times of London, Green — who died in 1990 — was one of the legends of the inky trade, a beautiful writer and, by all accounts, an unforgettable character to boot. There’s a story told about him that, at a football writers’ awards ceremony to honour England’s 1966 World Cup-winning manager Alf Ramsey, Green dispensed with the usual master of ceremony formalities by whipping a harmonica out of his pocket, announcing ‘This one’s for you, Alf baby’ and playing ‘Moon River’.
(And it wasn’t that he didn’t know his audience, once writing of Ramsey: “Doctrinaire, puritanical, even apparently humourless, he has nonetheless dedicated himself to one end — victory. A lone wolf, he yet managed to build up a team spirit among his men unknown before in any international squad.”)
Anyway, even the maestro sometimes needed a helping hand from the benevolent gods to get him to the gig on time.
In his book, Green recalls his joy at being assigned to make a maiden voyage to world football’s holiest of holies, the Maracana, for a Brazil-England friendly in 1964. The trip required an eve of match overnight flight from Paris where he had been covering the French Open at Roland Garros, so that when he checked into his hotel in Rio the following morning, badly in need of a few hours’ rest, he left strict instructions with reception to wake him at least two hours before the match.
But, deep in the arms of Morpheus, he never heard the call, instead waking abruptly in total darkness at 8pm — the precise time of kick-off in the Maracana.
So here he was, the distinguished Times correspondent, having travelled halfway round the world at his newspaper’s great expense to report on the most prestigious of away friendlies for any international team — and now he was missing the whole damn thing.
In a blind panic, he rushed down to the street and hailed a taxi. “Football! Maracana! Pele!” he shouted in the universal lingo, whereupon the driver put his foot down and sped to the stadium.
But once there, Green’s trials weren’t over. Like so many of us in this business before and since, he was obliged to do almost a complete lap of the stadium before finally locating the media entrance.
Then it was up numerous flights of stairs, through an opening and there, finally, were the serried ranks of his colleagues who, as one, rewarded his arrival with a collective raised eyebrow.
It was only then that he turned his gaze to the field of play to see that the two teams were… warming up. A delay had caused kick-off to be put back an hour.
Deliciously, Green describes how he then proceeded to take his seat in the press box as nonchalantly as possible, all primed and ready to do the necessary.
Now, in our game, that’s what you call a result.
So on this second day of the 2016 European Championships, here’s hoping that we all — Irish team, Irish supporters and even us scurvy Irish hacks — get to enjoy a little rub of that particular Green as the tournament unfolds.
Though somehow I can’t imagine I’ll quite get round to serenading Himself with my celebrated version of ‘Positively 4th Street’, played on the spoons. “This one’s for you, Roy baby.”
No, another time perhaps.