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euro2016adventure

Incredible adventure continues 

Absolutely unbelievable! Another spectacular performance on Friday night saw us batter a Belgian side packed with superstars and ranked second in the world! I keep expecting to wake up and realise this was all a dream, I just hope I can stay asleep long enough to see us lift the cup.

Here is a sentence I never expected to write:

WALES ARE IN THE SEMI FINALS OF THE EUROS!!!

Whatever happens against Portugal I am so very proud of this team and the supporters and everything we have achieved together.

Belgium started strongly and there were a few scary moments early on, particularly when Neil Taylor made another goal line clearance. I must admit that when Nainggolan’s 30 yard rocket went into the top corner after 13 minutes I started worrying that we would lose 4 or 5 nil. 

Not this Wales team. I’m not the first to say it but they possess all of the qualities that England lacked in their games: passion, hunger, team spirit, quality and most of all they played without fear. Shortly after the goal they took the game by the scruff of the neck and proceeded to outplay Belgium for most of the match.

Captain Ashley Williams got us back into the game with a great header and I went into half time buzzing with how well we had played, if a little disappointed we hadn’t scored more.

Captain fantastic Williams celebrates a great equaliser

At half time the belief amongst the Wales fans was immense. Despite being heavily outnumbered we outsung the stunned Belgian red devils and played our part in the best Welsh performance I have ever seen.

Then came that moment of magic. A great ball from Bale, classy touch from Ramsey to play in Robson Kanu and that turn! People are calling it a Cruyff turn but Cruyff never took three defenders out with one touch! And he kept his composure to finish brilliantly and again we were in dreamland! Sure we’ll see clubless Hal in the premier league next season.

A few nervy moments then a great cross from Gunter with five minutes to go and a superb finish from Sam Vokes. 3-1 and time for my lovely wife to book transport for the semis!

Ledley shows us his dance moves again. Gotta love that lad

We were seriously outnumbered by Belgians in the city but thankfully they are amazing fans. Like us they love to drink, sing and dance so it was a perfect match. We mixed and made lots of new friends and after the game they were so gracious in defeat. If only all football fans were like them.

With some of the fabulous Belgian fans we met
Lovely to bump into my nephews Sam and Thomas (in the Wales shirts obviously)

Still dreaming!

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Emotions high as red rollercoaster continues 

All of a sudden it has become very real. I can’t believe that I am on my way to see Wales play in the quarter finals of the Euros! 

There was a fantastic atmosphere in Paris last weekend as the two contenders for fans of the tournament met in the last 16. We had a great time mingling and sharing a beer before and after the game and I felt for their fans.

Inside the ground we outnumbered the Northern Irish but both the fans and the players were strangely subdued. Wales always seem to struggle when they are expected to win. It was a scrappy game as Michael O’Neill’s impressive team prevented us from playing for most of the 90 minutes. 

Who cares, we did it and are in the quarter finals! When the final whistle went I was once again overcome with emotion and I must admit I had a tear in my eye. I still haven’t stopped smiling now!

In the end it was an own goal that saw us through. A shame for Gareth McAuley but if he hadn’t intervened Hal Robson-Kanu was ready to pounce and would surely have scored.

The passion and team ethic of this group has got them a long way. Again at the final whistle the players and management didn’t want the celebrations to end. We stayed and sang and cheered as their lucky kids had a kick about on the pitch. I am so proud of this team and our fans, who once again were praised for their behaviour.

Fair play to the Irish, they were awesome with most of then staying in the ground a long time. We wanted to clap them off as they left but instead settled for joining in with a final rendition of Will Grigg’s on fire. Great fun as both sets of fans went ballistic!

On the way home I drove Rich mad and all week I have been driving Nichola crazy humming that song!
All my life I have watched England underperform at tournaments, thinking Wales would do ok if only we could qualify. I was right and hopefully we don’t have to wait another 58 years for the next one.
Following the match Rich and I stayed in the stadium area for a few hours to savour the moment. Then we had a comedy moment dancing and singing on the metro with some Irish and Scottish (?!) fans. The two young French students on our coach didn’t quite know what to think of us but they took it all in good spirit.

Richard and I were staying in the lovely Luxembourg area of central Paris. Despite having a fuzzy head from one too many complimentary glasses of red wine on the Eurostar the night before I went for a run first thing to keep up the superstition. So far I have run on the morning of each of the three games we have won at the tournament. 

A pre-match run through the beautiful Luxembourg park

This European adventure has been an incredible experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. So far we have been on planes, trains, trams and buses. I’m taking the car (via Eurotunnel) to Lille for the quarter final so the only thing missing from the collection is a boat. Who knows, maybe the final? I’m still dreaming!

Gary Speed would be proud!!

This win meant a lot to Welsh fans, like me, as now they are through to the Quarter Finals! This superb win for us took place in the Parc de Princes on the 25th of June. It was the Welsh motto “together stronger” against Northern Ireland’s motto ”dare to dream”. Chris Coleman’s wonderful Welsh team emerged victorious again against Michael O’Neil’s   Northern Ireland. Some people say Bale is our only player on the pitch in red that will make some magic, which is not true as you’ve found out already in this tournament so far.

The match kicked off at 5 o’clock. COME ON WALES!! At the end of the Welsh national anthem I put my lucky t-shirt on and   prepared for a nervous game. Ramsey kicked of the game, by passing the ball back to the obviously amazing Bale. The first half had a few chances not taken! Wayne Henessey made a few great saves but to be honest the crowd played a better part than the players (ha)! Well nearly! Wales had one offside goal disallowed from Arsenal’s Ramsey.

Wales' goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey dives
This was one of the amazing saves from Wayne Hennessey
alba bale ,bale ireland 16
Gareth Bale with his child Alba Bale
Hal Robson Kanu
GOALLLL!!!! (I should say own goal)!

WALES ARE THROUGH!

A win’s a win!!

You can always trust Chris Colman’s dragons’ red army to get past the group stages in the Euros, as that’s what they did on the 20th of June 2016 in Toulouse. A big result for them, because it the first time they have qualified for a major tournament in 58 years.

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The opening game for Wales was in the 184 million euro stadium in Bordeaux which was a 2-1 win goals from Bale and Hal Robson Kanu. Then it was a 2-1 defeat against England, but Bale scored AGAIN!! Then it was the big day against Russia, a win they’re through, a draw they’re probably through, loose they might be through! First Bale had a shot but the keeper saved it then in the 11th minute Liverpool’s Joe Allen completed a wonderful long pass to Aaron Ramsey, and Ramsey chipped the keeper! Nine minutes later, a Russian player blocked the ball and it fell for Neil Taylor to score his first ever goal for Wales. At half time it was 2-0.

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The Stadium de Toulouse was made for the 1938 world cup. At half time in Saint-Etienne it was 0-0 in the England game, so Wales were top of the group. Then Bale scored to get the golden boot at the time! The final score 3-0 to Wales. At the end of the match Russia fans were trying to get on the pitch but Wales were celebrating. Joe Ledley did his crazy dance.

WALES ARE THROUGH!!

We only went and won the group!

What an unbelievable feeling it was to be a Welshman in Toulouse on Monday night. I still can’t believe we actually did it! As a young boy I dreamed that we might one day qualify for a tournament. When we finally did and the draw was made I even hoped we might scrape through the group. Not only did we hammer Russia, with a population 50 times bigger than ours, we qualified as group winners!

The atmosphere was incredible with most of the stadium behind Wales and singing their hearts out relentlessly. Despite holding just 33,000 it was surely louder than anything I have witnessed in over 30 years as a matchgoer.

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It was a brave selection from Coleman, dropping fans’ favourite Hal Robson Kanu for Sam Vokes. It was just a small tinker as opposed to the wholesale changes elsewhere in the group and it certainly paid off as the boys put in the best performance I have ever seen from a Wales team (and I have seen us beat Brazil, Germany, Belgium (twice) and Italy).

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Aaron Ramsey got us off to a perfect start in the 11th minute following a great through ball from Joe Allen. Ramsey’s dinked finish was perfect. Needless to say the place erupted and we started to really believe we could do this.

Then Neil Taylor of all people found himself with space in the box following some neat work from Bale. The keeper saved his first effort but he made no mistake second time around and we were in heaven!

Even at half time I still had doubts. Russia were poor but I have seen Wales struggle to beat plenty of poor teams in the past. I kept thinking that a sending off and we would have a different game on our hands. I needn’t have worried. In the second half we continued to control the game and could easily have scored more than just Gareth Bale’s well taken third.

Ramsey was immense and fully deserved the man of the match award for easily his best performance of the tournament. Joe Allen put in another brilliant display, and will surely make it in to UEFA’s team of the tournament. Gareth Bale was, well Gareth Bale and even though he is now joint top scorer in the competition with three from three games I still feel there is a bit more to come from him. Ledley put in his usual tireless shift, creating the platform for others to thrive. On top of that the defence looked more solid than it did in the first two games.

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With our side of the draw opening up a bit as we avoid Italy, Germany, France and Spain until, dare I say it, the final, who knows how far we can go now?

Following the final whistle no-one wanted to leave. The players and management team stayed out on the pitch as long as they possibly could as more than 20,000 fans celebrated with tune after tune. Bonkers.

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It really was an amazing night in the lovely city of Toulouse and I feel very privileged to have been a part of it. The atmosphere was something special. I am a Liverpool fan and I was in Istanbul for that unbelievable night in 2005 and I have to say that this topped it for me.

I was very nervous about coming to Toulouse. In Lyon we met some England fans who told us some horrific stories of how their fans were attacked by Russian fans in Marseille. In Toulouse, the city was on edge as people anticipated the possibility of similar scenes. I left our hotel on Sunday afternoon with feelings of massive apprehension. I very nearly went back and sat in the hotel on my own all day. Luckily we bumped into Paul Corky and the Welsh Football Supporters Federation who were set up with their Russian counterparts and able to reassure us that their intelligence indicated no expected trouble. Thanks guys, you relaxed me no end.

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The gendarmerie in Toulouse were also excellent and left me feeling very protected. Thankfully there was no sign of trouble and the whole city breathed a massive sigh of relief and, like we had been in Bordeaux and Lens, the Welsh fans were praised for their exemplary behaviour.

None of us expected us to top the group. We hoped we might finish second and most of us had people at home ready to book travel arrangements to Nice on Monday. I made a quick booking on my phone to go back to Paris at the weekend. Thank goodness I got data roaming before I went away as everyone else’s phones had died. With the great acoustics in Parc des Princes it is going to be extremely loud on Saturday against Northern Ireland. I’m sure it will be a great atmosphere, we had a great time with their fans in Lyon. Bring it on!

As we leave Toulouse at what was supposed to be the end of our adventure it feels good to be going home, even if it is only for a couple of days. I can’t wait to get a hug from my wife Nichola and my two kids Ryan and Freya. Also, importantly, I need to go back to the job I started just a week before coming here.

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This trip really has been one of the most special times of my life. I never thought I would get to see Wales at a tournament and it has been better than I could have ever imagined. I’ve had a great laugh with the Eglwysbach boys and met plenty of other fabulous people of many nationalities along the way. And best of all it’s not over yet! I’m still dreaming of the final at the Stade de France on 10 July.

England match, missed planes and Super Furry Animals

Sorry that it has taken me a while to write about the Wales v England game. I think to be honest I needed a bit of extra time to get over what was an emotional and draining day.

This was a massive game for Wales. An unlikely victory and we would go through as the group winners. Of course that didn’t happen with England stealing a win with Daniel Sturridge’s goal well inside stoppage time. To be fair the best team on the day won but, having held out for so long, to lose in that way was hard to take. We had been given hope with Gareth Bale’s dipping free kick before half time but the second half was nearly all England with Jamie Vardy’s goal coming soon after the break and the boys did well to soak up the pressure for so long until Sturridge broke our hearts.

This was the game before the tournament that we were most worried about their being trouble at. The good news is that it passed off in a good natured way with everyone getting on well and behaving themselves. This goes to show that the vast majority of England fans just want to watch the game and have a good time like we do. It is just as well that everyone got on so well as segregation in the ground was non existent. I was sat behind the goal and the other side of a small vomitory were England fans. No stewards or divide between us at all.

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Our day started early with a pick up at 8am in the coach that Richard (aka Brendan’s tours) had organised. We stopped in the small town of Peronne Somme, 45 minutes from Lens which gave us all an opportunity to have a bite to eat and a beer away from any other football fans. Great planning from Brendan. He has done a brilliant job with the whole trip.

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Lens itself was a strange experience. It is like a small, industrial, northern English town with its terraced houses and a stadium that holds more than its population. The alcohol ban wasn’t in operation, and who can blame the local businesses who are probably very quiet the rest of the time and relying on this trade?

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Thankfully the Welsh and English were all happily sharing banter over a pint and the atmosphere inside and outside the ground was excellent. I did find it hard to stomach though when at the final whistle the England fans sang our Don’t take me home song.

This is quickly becoming the song of the tournament and we have taught it to all nationalities and heard many of them singing it.

I’m still disappointed we didn’t get the draw but incredibly proud of the team. We are a small nation with just 3.1 million population and to go so close was a tremendous effort. England, with all their superstars, had to use all of their five forwards to narrowly beat us. As much as we all love Hal Robson Kanu, one of our better players on the day, what we would give to have some more quality striking options. It gets me down when people start complaining about the performance. Yes, we didn’t keep the ball and England stopped us playing. With their squad you would expect them to and we were so close. Never mind, let’s get the result we need against the Russians and get through to the last 16. Come on Wales.

The day after the game we did some sightseeing in Paris and visited the fanzone beneath the Eiffel Tower. I then met up with a former colleague I hadn’t seen for 15 years who currently works in Paris and went to a few lively bars in the Montmartre area.

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I certainly gave myself some free time today as I managed to miss my flight to Toulouse! First we all got in a cab and the clutch blew. When we had been rescued and got to the airport I realised I had left my passport at our hostel in Paris. I went back to get it and missed check in by 2 minutes. Unfortunately there was no persuading the stone-faced Easyjet employee at Paris Orly airport to let me on the flight. So, I have spent six and a half hours on a train from Paris to Toulouse! It hasn’t been that bad to be honest. I’ve caught up on the last few day’s Guardians and it has been interesting to see the scenery change as we slowly move further and further South. I am hopeful that in Toulouse we will finally see some sun as the weather has been pretty dreadful everywhere that we have been so far.

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I got in to Toulouse and quickly met up with the boys and headed to see the Super Furry Animals who were headlining Rio Loco, an annual Celtic music festival they have in the city every year. As always, the furries were excellent and there was a brilliant atmosphere with the Welsh and the French all getting on brilliantly. When the gig finished we headed to the Four Monkeys where there was a real party atmosphere. The locals well and truly joined in with the Welsh, singing our songs better than some of the Welsh fans. We finished the night singing and dancing in the streets with Cian from the Super Furries. Top lad, just a shame my selfie is rubbish!

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Great craic in Lyon and gay Paris

For the second leg of the adventure we were in Lyon and we all really enjoyed our time in the city. I went to watch Belgium versus Italy which was a great game. I enjoyed watching the defensive masters and I think Italy will take some beating. A great first goal from Giaccherini. At half time I managed to accidentally blag my way in to a hospitality zone where I got my hands on the cup! I think I will probably be the only Welshman to lift it this tournament but you never know, Greece and Denmark both did it!

On this trip so far I have met loads of really nice people from different countries. English, Americans Australians, French, Italians, Belgians, Swiss, Romanians, Northern Irish, Irish, Germans, Polish and more. [Touch wood] We haven’t seen any trouble at all and everyone has mixed nicely.

Our last night in Lyon was a belter and a perfect example of this. We ended up in a bar packed out with Welsh and Northern Irish fans. We all had a great craic, joining in and singing each other’s songs.

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Chuch shows off his moves. Jagerbombs are ideal preparation for longboarding
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The brand new stadium in Lyon

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The Belgians outnumbered the Italians
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The UEFA hospitality area

The old town in Lyon is very nice and worth a visit. We also made it up to the impressive Basilique Notre Dame de Fouviere. Incredible architecture and great views of the city.

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Joe suffering from last night's jagerbombs

We got the train from Lyon to gay Paris and Richard and I hot footed it across the city to go and see Switzerland v Romania at the Parc des Princes. Another good match and a great volleyed equaliser by Mehmedi for Switzerland. The atmosphere was really good in the old stadium which has excellent acoustics. I imagine it is really loud when PSG have a big game.

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Parc des Princes

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My next post will be about the Wales England game and the rest of our time in Paris.

Amazing fans, 3 points and plenty of sore throats (and feet)

It’s just as well that the most popular song in Bordeaux was Please don’t take me home
because, even if we had wanted to, getting home was impossible thanks to the transport strikes and the lack of taxis in the city. We ended up walking miles and exploring most of the city on foot during our three days here.

My match day started with a really nice run around the area by our hotel and I stumbled across this lovely little park.

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Being the superstitious type I now have to go for a run before all of our games!

After (inevitably) walking miles into the city centre we grouped near the Grand Hotel where there was a brilliant atmosphere.

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After a few beers we decided it was time to head to the stadium. On the way to the tram stop I was made up to meet my childhood hero Ian Rush.

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With Rushie and the boys
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Waiting for the tram to the ground

Despite being packed in like sardines the trams were really rocking with the Welsh choir warming up for the stadium. 

After waiting all of my life it was an emotional feeling reaching the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux for our first match at a tournament in 58 years.

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With Richard outside the impressive Nouveau stade de Bordeaux

The stadium was at least 60% Welsh and it was really buzzing with anticipation as we got inside.

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With my sister Nina

As the national anthem kicked in I felt an overwhelming feeling of emotion and fought back the tears, as apparently did the players. I have dreamed of that moment all my life and it was better than I ever imagined it would be. The anthem.

When Bale scored, the place erupted.

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We were the better team and, if things had gone our way, could have won comfortably, however there were plenty of hairy moments and, having watched Wales for more than 30 years, I am used to disappointment. At 1-1 I was getting plenty of negative thoughts as the Slovaks applied the pressure. Thankfully Coleman changed things around bringing on Hal Robson-Kanu and Joe Ledley. Ledley’s story is amazing – he broke his leg about 5 weeks ago and has worked really hard to get back to fitness. He played the ball through to Aaron Ramsey who found Kanu whose scuffed shot went into the bottom corner and the crowd went wild.

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It annoys me when people say this is a one man team. Clearly Bale is our talisman and biggest goal threat but that is so unfair to the rest of the squad. How well have Portugal done in all of the years that Cristiano Ronaldo has been playing for them? The unbelievable team spirit in this squad has taken them a long way and Chris Coleman and his staff deserve a lot of credit for that.

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Together Stronger

Us fans deserve credit too as the wonderful atmosphere clearly inspired the players again. 

All of the Slovakia fans that we met were very friendly and, despite being outnumbered, they played a big part in making it such a good atmosphere yesterday which was in stark contrast to scenes in Marseille.

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With some of the lovely Slovakians we met

It’s fair to say that the 25,000 Welsh consumed a lot of beer and the local red. Amongst our group we certainly did our bit. Despite this, we didn’t see any trouble at all. Several locals told us how glad they were to be hosting Wales and they certainly made us feel welcome.

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The police were excellent and have praised the Welsh fans for their behaviour. I hope this continues in Lens where we face England and Toulouse where we play Russia.

It really was a perfect day. Great company with the Eglwysbach boys, my sister, Dad and everyone else we met along the way. The three points we all hoped for but many of us thought were beyond us and England and Russia drawing in the other match in the group all meaning that after match day one, we are top of the league!

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Enjoying a post match beer with Dad and Rich
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Beautiful. The Eiffel Tower in Wales colours

So today we have travelled to France’s second biggest city, Lyon and for me a much needed day off the booze. I’m looking forward to Italy v Belgium tomorrow. For their sake I hope that Belgium play better than they did against Wales at the Cardiff City stadium one year ago today. It should be a great game anyway, the stadium looks awesome and it will be nice to see a match without the emotional roller coaster of yesterday’s game.

Bordeaux is very nice, the sort of place I would definitely come back to. Just not when there are transport strikes!

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The wait is finally over, come on Wales!

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After a couple of great days and nights in the lovely city of Bordeaux we are finally there. Match day one. So excited, as a nation we have waited 58 years for this.

We watched the France Romania game in the fanzone yesterday. The atmosphere was strangely subdued, a bit like the French performance. Apart from at the back where it was really rocking with the welsh congregation in fine voice.

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Me and my Dad

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Outside the fanzone yesterday
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A typical Thursday night in Bordeaux

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It’s fair to say Bordeaux is full of Welsh.

Only a brief post but more to come. Come on Wales!

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