According to Google, in order to get from Guadalajara in Mexico to Nice in France, it takes 15 hours and 55 minutes with a stop-off in Houston. The longest it will take, is 21 hours with stop-offs in Atlanta and Rome.
Someone should have told the Northern Ireland team, it took them 30 years, to the day.
Unsurprisingly, players and fans were determined to make up for lost time. Northern Ireland fans had been in the city for days in advance, befriending their Polish rivals.
The Polish fans were even singing their own version of one of Northern Ireland’s songs. Instead of “the Ulster boys, making all the noise”, it was “Everywhere we go, Lewandowski goal”
With some justification, he was the top scorer in qualification (equaling David Healy’s record from Euro 2008 with two less games played) as well as banging them in for Bayern Munich.
Fans reached the stadium via a free Shuttle Bus from the City Centre, which left you off a 30 minute walk from the stadium.
The scenery around the stadium was fantastic, some stunning views. The problem was, that’s all there was around the stadium. There wasn’t really much else.
So, I headed into the ground as the weather in Nice was what meteorologists call Drinking In Botanic Weather. Unfortunately, vendors in the stadium ran out of stock of overpriced (€4 a bottle) bottled water. You’d think they might have foreseen this.
The match kicked-off and Northern Ireland were nervous. They hadn’t been this nervous for a while.
Poland had most of the possession and chances in the first-half. Michael McGovern was the Northern Ireland player who was getting the most touches of the ball.
When Northern Ireland’s outfield players got the ball, there didn’t seem to be options to get it forward.
It felt like a Polish goal was inevitible, but Northern Ireland managed to hold out to half-time with a 0-0 score. There was no way they would get away with another 45 minutes like this.
Just when you were looking at milestone minutes to get to to aim to keep out the Poles, Poland took the lead early in the second-half when Arek Milik got enough space in the box to set himself up for a shot and fire home. It was as deserved for Poland as it was disappointing for Northern Ireland.
Instead of trying to stay in the game, Northern Ireland were now aiming to get back into the game.
It looked more likely that Poland would make it 2-0.
As the game neared it’s end, Northern Ireland had a go. They had Poland worried, but not hanging on for life.
Conor Washington looked like he was running through, but Poland’s keeper was straight out to deny him.
Steven Davis got free from a low free-kick but lost his footing.
Poland were able to hold out and get a vital win.
Northern Ireland didn’t play awful, but they could have played so much better.
Supporters left the stadium to find the Shuttle Bus back to Nice City Centre. They eventually found it after a 30 minute walk.
Supporters queued up in a line which had no clear marking as to where the start was. Buses just stopped where they like. It was pot luck if it stopped near you. Buses were overcrowded. People were angry. Thankfully, it didn’t spill over.
To make matters worse, there were no amenities for supporters. Nowhere to get a bottle of water or even somewhere to eat. It was an utter farce.
The last time i’d seen scenes like this was trying to get back to Dublin from Slane after seeing Oasis in 2009.
I eventually got onto a bus at 9.30pm, just over 90 minutes after the final whistle. That is nowhere near acceptable.
Allianz Riviera is a brilliant stadium and Nice is a brilliant city, but you have to question the wisdom of making it a host city with such poor infrastructure.
It is interesting to note that Nice is one of two (the other being Lille) Euro 2016 host cities that didn’t host games in France 98, with Nantes and Montpellier missing out this them.
On the basis of this farce, they can feel hard done by at missing out.
Fast forward four days, and the weather had changed to more Northern Ireland Weather by the game Northern Ireland faced Ukraine in Lyon.
Feeling at home, they won 2-0.
It games them a great chance of making the Second Round. They’ll get there if they can beat Germany. They might even get there as a best 3rd Placed team. We’re all mathematicians now.
Poland was a false start, Ukraine was when Northern Ireland really got going.
It just dawned on me that this was the 9th Northern Ireland match outside Northern Ireland that i’d been to (6 away, 3 neutral) and they had yet to win any of them.
I’m considering surrendering my passport until 11th July. If you see me at an airport between now and 10th July, feel free to try and stop me boarding a plane.
Hopefully, by this time next week, the Euro 2016 campaign will be still ongoing.