Stephen Higgins has travelled for the Sweden game and taken a trip around the city and the fan zones
One of the wonderful aspects of events like the European Championships is the opportunity to befriend fans from all across the continent and beyond.
One night in the Latin Quarter, I chatted with some locals about visiting the west coast of Ireland, helped some American girls find their friend and spoke disparagingly of Jordan Henderson with Michael and Will, my new Bournemouth mates.
That Friday night ended up with this writer, after a few too many pints of Sans Culottes, shambling from Notre Dame back to the hotel room in the early hours.
Happily, my trip hasn’t revolved around drinking as Paris has too many sights to see and baguettes to eat.
I arrived into Charles de Gaulle on Wednesday morning. The flight was full of fans and some familiar faces from the Irish sports media. John Aldridge stood alongside me in security. I knew I was on the right track.
Upon arrival to the city centre via train, I dumped the bags in my hotel and went exploring.
I spent the first few days visiting the Champs-Élysées, the Louvre, Sacré-Couer and finally, the Eiffel Tower. The latter had by far the biggest security presence, particularly at the designated fan zone.
When I surfaced from the métro stop at Bir-Hakeim, I found supporters of every hue. They were singing, chanting and doing Paul Pogba (or should that be Wes Hoolahan) impersonations on the streets.
Members of France’s main opposition party, Les Républicains, called for the tournament fan zones to be scrapped, fearing that they would become an easy target for terrorism. The French authorities have decided to leave them intact but with a formidable military cordon.
To enter Fan Zone Tour Eiffel, you must remove caps from any bottles you have and prepare for TWO full body searches. To give credit to the security personnel, the process is handled politely and I couldn’t imagine any sensible fan taking issue.
I made it inside for the dying minutes of the Welsh match and the place was more than half full. It is supposed to house 90,000 spectators at full capacity and I can fully believe that as the rectangular area stretched from the foot of the Eiffel Tower far into the Champ de Mars park.
Unfortunately, rather than a casual meeting place for Swedes, Turks and Gary Breen appreciation societies, the zone felt more like a compound.
Fans were of course enjoying themselves, no doubt helped by the products of a famous Danish brewer you have ‘probably’ heard of. But it didn’t have that wonderful spontaneity of Euro 2012, when Irish fans could freely join with Spaniards in Poznan to sing ‘Shoes off for the Boys in Green’.
However, given the legitimate concerns over ISIL and the violence in Marseille, what choice did the French authorities have?
As I write this, in a cafe on Rue Monge on Sunday afternoon, the Irish have begun to stream into the French capital. I have spotted them on the steps of Sacré-Couer, around the métro stations and across the cafés and bars. There’s even a lad in a Mayo jersey across the table from me!
We’re all gearing up for the first test of the campaign against Sweden on Monday evening. I spoke to some Swedes during the week and we came to some consensus. Both of our squads are for the most part average, but they have Zlatan.
Let’s see if Martin, Roy and the team can keep Manchester’s newest superstar quiet at the Stade De France. COYBIG
All images and video by Stephen Higgins.