Alan Pattullo: Show goes on at Planet Football no matter what

Wales fans are still in the game with their team seeking to reach the last four of a major finals for the first time ever. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Wales fans are still in the game with their team seeking to reach the last four of a major finals for the first time ever. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

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These strange post-referendum days see players living in a bubble and fans not wanting to go home, writes Alan Pattullo

Talk about feeling dislocated. Out of tune, out of line. Possibly, even, a little out of touch.

Being a Scot at Euro 2016 marks someone out as different enough. People are constantly wondering why you are here, who it is you are supporting. But there are no rules, at least none imposed yet, that prevents journalists crossing borders to cover a football tournament their own country has been unable to qualify for.

But it does, admittedly, feel a little strange. Political ructions of the scale of these last few days simply increases the sense of unease for those who have been away while the UK seemingly implodes.

What are we coming back to? Is it possible to just sit and cover football matches forever; to live a life governed only by kick-off times and SNCF train schedules, strikes permitting.

Even these worries about the impact workers’ protests in France might have been on visitors seem like a long time ago, as do concerns over hooliganism.

The news agenda churns on as an ever-smaller number of footballers continue slugging it out in France.

As at seemingly every football tournament, going back to the Nessun Dorma sound-tracked 1990 World Cup, an ear worm has buried itself deep into lugholes.

At the World Cup in Brazil two years ago, it was the Argentina fans singing, to the tune of Creedance Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising, a ditty that mocked Pele and delighted in the prospect of winning a trophy on Brazilian soil.

In France meanwhile, even those with little interest in football are surprised to find themselves whistling either one of a couple of tunes as they walk down boulevards.

One is in ode of Will Grigg, the Northern Ireland player who didn’t actually feature in these finals despite being so “on fire” defences were left terrified.

The other is a more maudlin song. It is one you are likely to hear on the metros heading back to town centres from the inevitably inconveniently located football stadiums in which they seem to specialise in France.

“Don’t take me home,” it begins. “Please don’t take me home.” At the root of the one verse-composition, apparently conceived by Newcastle United supporters, is the desire to skip work, stay here and drink beer. It is escapism, pure and simple.

The Welsh have taken this ditty to their hearts and fortunately for them, if not their employers, their team have given them a reason to remain (with a small r). Northern Ireland, sadly, are back to face reality as of last night.

The Brexit convulsions are of course front-page news here in France. But the debate is avoidable if desired.

Chris Coleman, the Wales manager, made the point that he, his staff and players are all living in a bubble right now. They are on planet football and in no particular hurry to get off it.

They have a tournament in which they are trying to do as well as they can. The hand of history rests on their shoulders – Wales are seeking to reach the last four of a major finals for the first time ever against Belgium on Friday night in Lille. Imagine the ferment Scotland would currently be in if that achievement lay in sight. Everything else could go hang.

As Coleman put it: “The rest can wait,” he said. “It’s all about the football for us.”

He’s right too. For once, surely, footballers can be spared criticism for being incurious. They are, Coleman suggested, being willfully ignorant of the Brexit ructions and its repercussions because they need to be if they are to retain their focus.

They are cooped up in their training bases. Given security fears, the players’ seclusion seems even more pronounced. Michael O’Neill, the Edinburgh based manager of Northern Ireland, described the gun-toting guards at the team’s base near the small Rhone-Alpes town of Saint Georges des Reneins as making him feel vaguely “presidential – I could get quite used to it”.

Coleman observed that the only crosses in a box his defenders need to obsess over are ones from a winger.

As it turned out, it was O’Neill, his opposite number in last Saturday’s so called “British derby” v Wales, whose team’s fate hinged on a cross put in a box – one from Gareth Bale.

But even O’Neill, this erudite, engaging manager, whose stock has soared during these finals, confessed to having failed to organise a postal or proxy vote for last week’s EU referendum. He publicly scolded himself. “I am disappointed in myself about that.”

But the French have not been slow to express an opinion. The security guard at the entrance to Parc des Princes who, spying the country on my laminated ID badge, grunted “So, in or out?”

“Good luck” was the wry message on the widely-circulated front page of Liberation, along with the photo of Boris Johnson dangling from a zip wire.

There are other things to worry about here on Planet Football.

For sports writers, it is making sure you adhere to the strict rules in place. Can’t make a match you have been accredited for? Then you must send a polite email to the Uefa media department confirming your absence within 24 hours of kick-off, otherwise you can expect to go to the bottom of the queue for your next request.

Slightly tricky if the train you’d planned on getting you to the game is cancelled without warning due to a strike.

I overheard one conversation between a media liaison officer and a journalist that went something like this: “So let’s get this straight, you are meant to be in Marseille but you are here in Lyon. That is what you are telling me, yes? And you have not cancelled your SAD?”

SAD, by the way, stands for Supplementary Access Device. Or, in other, normal words, your match ticket.

But it could sum up those of us who have (temporarily) logged off from the world because of a football tournament.

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