Vast majority of fans from all countries mingling amicably around city
15 June ~ At half-time in last night’s Portugal v Iceland match I wandered down from my flat to the crescent of bars surrounding Gare Lille Flandres. When I got there it was obvious a number of Lille locals had chosen to participate in another spectator sport rather than tuning in to Cristiano Ronaldo and co.
Their pastime of choice was “Watch The England Fans Doing Not Very Much”. There were 200 or so England supporters on the pavement outside Les 3 Brasseurs bar chanting, chatting, singing songs and drinking beer. A Preston North End flag was tied against one of the windows.
Three semi-circles of people surrounded them. The first was made up of bored-looking riot police, checking their nails and yawning; the second comprised a scattering of media, who were probably wondering why they were there; the third consisted of locals, who occasionally stepped forward with cameraphones in hand, to be met by compliant displays of group-posing and singing from the England fans.
The only sign of trouble was the fact that the normally popular Le Palais de la Biere – scene of a fight earlier in the evening – was closed. The two adjacent bars were open but had shut down their usual outside seating areas. All other bars were open as normal.
In short, there was little at 10pm last night to suggest that Lille will be on “lockdown” today, as the Guardian is reporting in one of the main stories on its website. Perhaps predictions mentioned in the same piece that it will be a “dark day” for the city will turn out to be true. At 3pm this afternoon (local time) Russia play Slovakia at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, which is about a 15-minute metro ride from the city centre.
Large numbers of England fans are expected to arrive in the city at various points during the day ahead of their match on Thursday against Wales in Lens, a 40-minute train journey away. Understandably the authorities are taking no chances – an alcohol ban is in place and certain bars will close earlier than expected in order to minimise the risk of trouble.
But what is obvious when you live here is how reductive the press coverage is. On Sunday a fight between Germany and Ukraine fans took place at Place Rihour in the city centre. Video footage shows it happened: it appeared to last a couple of minutes and be instigated by around 20 people.
For the rest of the day several thousand Germany and Ukraine fans happily shared public spaces all over the city. I was out and about in several different locations from 10am to 6pm and the atmosphere was terrific everywhere I went. It was possible to be less than 100 metres from where the fight took place and not even be aware it had happened.
You cannot expect the media to post dozens of hours of footage of fans mingling amiably, exchanging “How did you get here?” stories, checking maps, holding hands (the number of German couples clad in their country’s colours was remarkable) and politely ordering lunch in some of the city’s many fine restaurants. But all that is going on as well, and in far greater numbers than the trouble. At times it feels as though I am living in a different city to the one the media is reporting on. Let’s hope that continues. James Eastham