Russell Todd is Bordeaux bound via Angoulême from Wrexham
Travelling overnight to Dover from Wrexham isn’t on paper an attractive proposition. Nodding off on the outskirts of Oswestry and waking near Maidstone though takes the edge off the journey, stirring only once as the strains of “We hate England” break into my cranium accompanied by a song questioning the legitimacy of Harry McNally’s parentage.
Students of the history and nuances of Welsh and English footballing rivalry will be aware that McNally is one of Chester’s most popular managers. That his name is being sung en route to Bordeaux betrays that I am travelling with the Wrexham Supporters’ Trust.
A CPD Wrecsam banner adorns the rear window of the lead coach in a convoy of four, which soon becomes three as one becomes detached. There are over 200 north Walians, with this hwntw interloper among their number, meandering their way to the banks of the Garonne. There’s a Rhos Aelwyd jacket, numerous Welsh replica shirts – home and away; current, recent and vintage – a couple of Wrexham FC shirts and a variety of the new apparel that espouses Welsh pride, and no little relief, at finally reaching a major tournament. How long have some these designs been in gestation? Oh and there’s lots of Spirit of 58 bucket hats (is there a collective noun for these? There deserves to be).
We take our seats in the ferry bar area.
“Blaady hell, they’re all farckin’ Welsh”
A handful of surprised Sarf Londoners and a few dozen French exchange teenagers and their teachers notwithstanding, the bar is indeed largely farckin’ Welsh.
The Sarf Londoners turn out to be Kentish, but Crystal Palace supporters all the same. We discuss our respective journeys. We’ve been on the road for longer to date; they have the longer journey ahead today, Marseille bound to watch England tackle Russia.
Compliments about Hennessey, Jonny Williams and Ledley – “he was a massive loss in the Cup Final” – are volunteered and they wish Wales well based on that connection and that of Chris Coleman.
This prompts a rattling off of other recent Welsh Palacemen: Paul Bodin, Eric Young, Danny Gabbidon. I’m pleased at recalling Darcy Blake’s short-lived spell at Selhurst Park, but minutes after we depart for our respective parking decks I’m annoyed at belatedly remembering Lewis Price and Andy Dorman. As we board the coaches Men of Harlech echoes round the deck to the bemusement of the exchange students. There’s also reminder, if any were needed, of our regard for the English.
As we leave Calais the camps on the town’s periphery are a sober reminder that we are not alone in pursuing a dream. A short while later the barricades and fortifications around the Channel Tunnel at Sangatte serve to reinforce that notion; as wonderful a journey as the one Welsh fans have been on since Andorra, some people are on a more hazardous and uncertain one.
Oddly there seems little hint that a huge footballing circus is getting underway in France, one in which they are expected to prosper too. There are few hoardings and billboards promoting Euro 2016, few endorsements linked to the tournament. I have not yet seen Super Victor, the tournament mascot. There again it is easy to forget how vast a country France is.
Tempers fray once or twice, fueled by tiredness, cabin fever and drink. One of our number has to be persuaded not to abandon the convoy to pursue the remainder of the journey under his own steam. His foolhardiness will embarrass his sober self.
Spirits are lifted at the first site of a roadsign bearing the name Bordeaux; even higher at the sight of Angoulême.
The dream is drawing closer.