June 8 2012
One of the nice things about having friends in the right places is that they help you out. My original intention was to fly to Paris, get the TGV to Lyon, stay there for the weekend, while meeting up with the rest of the travelling support. Happily I have friends who live in the Lyonnais area so I phoned Jean-Marc to ask if he fancied meeting up for lunch before the match on Saturday.
“When are you arriving?, he asked. “OK, I’ll come and pick you up from the station on Friday evening, We’ll go to the match on Saturday and take you back for the train on Sunday. You’ll be staying with us for the weekend”. How could I refuse?
I left home around 9.00 on the Friday morning nursing a bit of a sore head after celebrating Mrs Barbancet’s birthday the night before. This involved being force-fed dodgy sherry left over from an earlier funeral by one of the bar maids. ( Nothing to do with Mrs B).
I love travelling alone but have a thing about being on time for connections. This is possibly due to a previous incarnation driving buses.
Having arrived by Metro at Newcastle airport in good time, the first moment of anxiety was when my boarding pass was rejected by security. This had me seriously worried as the return part was still in the Air France internet ether. The nice Air France staff re-printed my boarding pass and I sailed through security quicker than I’ve ever done at Newcastle; despite the fact that I had very large chunk of Christmas cake and a box of organic tea bags in my hand luggage.
Once I was airside I relaxed in the bar with a couple of Guinnesses. The team were around waiting for a flight to Heathrow and I had a chat with a few of them. I also bumped into Smithy (NCJ etc.) who was on the same flight as me. A civilised 11.50 departure was improved by a decent Merlot on the plane.
Paris CDG is huge, and connection anxiety set in again. Signage is minimal and it took ages to find the TGV station via another immigration control. Sometime I think the French are having a go at us for not signing up for Schengen. I was still there in plenty of time for a beer though.
The TGV to Lyon was nearly empty and on time, allowing me plenty of time to relax, read Motorcycle News and enjoy a beer during the two hour journey.
I had a call from Jean-Marc saying he would be late due to the traffic in Lyon and that he would meet me outside the Virgin shop at the station. I couldn’t find the Virgin shop at Part Dieu. After another couple of calls we met up at the “rendez vous” point. It transpired that Virgin had transformed into FNAC since his last visit. He insisted that a joint a joint beer at the station would not be out of order after finally meeting up. The journey up to Montrottier took 90 minutes instead of 45. It was pissing down with rain and Lyon was virtually gridlocked. The delayed, but excellent meal, prepared by Corinne was much appreciated; especially after my first pastis “apero” of the trip. Wine with a four course meal followed by a “digesto” begs the question, “Why do I love France & the French so much?”
Match day was a late start. For the mandatory French four course lunch we were joined by my nephew Géraud and a wonderfully unexpected visit from my niece Lucile with her boyfriend Christophe. Lucile plays women’s rugby at a fairly seriously level. Two of her club mates play for the French team. My next day travel anxiety was relieved by the successful printing of my return boarding pass.
The journey for the five of us in Jean-Marc’s car to the new Matmut Stadium (opened in November 2011, apparently) was fraught with more Lyonnais traffic. The Matmut stadium is so new that the delivery stickers are still on the urinals in the West Stand. We met up with Margaret et al in the stand after a brief stop to buy beer.
Our seats were just to one side of the halfway line, but unfortunately there was a rather large pillar in front of us and we had the Lyon “Fanfare” (brass band) to the rear. They are actually quite good and, I have to admit, we were challenged on the volume front for the first time in my away travel career.
Joel kicked off for the Falcons in damp and greasy conditions. The first few minutes were end to end physical stuff and it was clear that both teams were up for the contest. Ash, in particular, was all over the place, like a blond wrecking ball.
Our defence was solid at first until it drifted a bit too much, leading to the first Lyon try from a crash ball through the middle under the posts.
It was not too long before our try from Red. Mark Wilson, who was Man of the Match for me, made a great break from the back of a scrum before offloading to Red who broke through two or three tackles to score. Jimmy duly converted to level the scores at 10 – 10.
The lineout was working well with Swinno and Ali Hogg being the main targets. We managed to nick a couple of theirs too.
Jimmy kicked a penalty just before half-time, sending my nephew to the bar with the Falcons 13 – 10 up.
The second half continued in much the same vein, with Joel distributing the ball wide with long passes and from the boot.
The battle up front was as fierce as it had been in the first half. Fifty five minutes in, Ali got a yellow card for, allegedly, pulling down a maul. The resulting scrums were desperate and the referee finally lost patience and awarded Lyon a penalty try. They scored a further try in the right hand corner while we were still down to fourteen men, which effectively sealed off the match at 21 – 13. Despite some spirited attacking and inventive rugby from the Falcons, two scores was always going to be too much in the time left. It was a good game and the lads put in a monumental effort.
There was the traditional post-match postmortem and away game photoshoot with the loyal travelling band of fellow supporters; some of whom, I believe, were invited into the VIP area post match.
Unfortunately I had to leave with my mate as we had a 45 minute drive back to his house, and the family had another two hours back to Clermont Ferrand after that. Beer and pastis were the precursors to yet another four course meal with wine and digestifs.
Jean-Marc and I left Montrottier at 9.15 and had enough time for a beer at the station before the 11.00 am train to Paris CDG. The two hour journey gave me the opportunity for another beer. There was an anxious moment on the train before the airport when it stopped and we were told we weren’t allowed into the airport for security reasons; but I think they were just trying to wind me up.
I got checked in without too much hassle, once I’d found the right section of Terminal 2, in time for a leisurely beer before embarking on the same flight as Smithy, who had missed the flight he was booked on. Who cares about deadlines? There was a half decent Corbières on the plane.
The journey on the Metro back to Jarrow was eventless and I was in the house by 5.40.
It was great to stay with friends and spend a weekend speaking French; but equally important, to meet up with the foreign travel regulars. I know the team appreciate it. If you haven’t done a foreign away trip yet; start saving. They are an amazing experience.