Euros’ press centres as deflating as match balls

The calm before the kick-off: the scene in the mixed zone in Paris
The calm before the kick-off: the scene in the mixed zone in Paris

VIEW FROM THE PRESSBOX: If you thought the tournament footballs deflating, the French pitches too leaden and the crowd-control non-existent, then you ought to take a look at the sandwiches on offer in the press centres at Euro 2016. One football hack has been blogging from France since the tournament started, and can be guaranteed not to make a meal of tonight’s England match

If Euro 2016 was a player, it would be Eric Cantona.

French cuisine: Hack's cheese sandwich (or what passed for a cheese sandwich) in the press centre
French cuisine: Hack’s cheese sandwich in the press centre

Not the Cantona who strutted around, chest puffed out, collar turned up, arrogantly helping Manchester United conquer England in the 1990s, but the Cantona in a French shirt, who strutted around, chest puffed out, collar turned up, arrogantly leading his nation to nothing but spectacular failure.

Take Hack’s sandwich from the media centre in Lille. So bad he took a picture (trust Hack, it’s even more rubbery than it looks).

As a colleague close by said: “It’s like they haven’t even tried…”.

This could be a motto for the tournament. Hack queued for 20 minutes to purchase said sandwich (it only cost about £3). This was because the poor lad selling it was trying to serve a room containing a few thousand journalists, most of whom speak no French, on his own, from one till. God help him…

We journos are used to overlooking little problems like this (for “overlooking” read “constantly bitching about it amongst ourselves every day to make ourselves feel better”) if the football, the facilities, the access and the police and stewarding are all good. But, well..

Let’s face it, the football has been rubbish. There must be half a dozen teams here who have yet to manage more than one decent shot on goal.

Goals. Remember them? They seem to be an endangered species. A bit like a steward, or anyone in fact, who speaks English. OK maybe Hack should have brushed up on his GCSE French before he came. But when even the Russians are complaining that no one speaks English, you know you have a problem.

Then there’s the fact that despite France being in a state of emergency, they can’t seem to get anyone to behave themselves. How many nations is it now on the naughty step? Russia, England, Hungary, Belgium, Portugal, Turkey, Croatia, Albania… That’s a lot of people on one naughty step. Whether it’s setting off flares, throwing objects, pitch invasions, or Hack’s favourite… “crowd disturbances”, they’re all at it. OK, those flares are tiny, and it’s said people smuggle them in up their bums, where no steward is going to shine a flashlight. But still. There’s been an awful lot of them.

Stewarding in general has been uniquely French. The health and safety inspector in Hack can’t help but wonder why people are being allowed to stand, or even sit, in the gangways.

And then there’s the fighting. They’ll let you fight anywhere in France. In the stadiums, in the streets, or even in the media centre (scuffles over mixed zone access probably not being as serious as the Battle of Lille, admittedly). Scuffle away boys! We’ll just watch.

“Lille city centre was the scene of scuffles!” Hack read the other day, “provoked essentially by drunken British nationals.” Sounds a bit like a few mixed zones Hack’s been in, actually. Though most of them just involve waiting around forever hoping to grab a quick word with a player. Any player. Only to be snubbed by one and all.

Is your spnsors' beer fridge beer glass half-empty, or half full?
Is your media centre sponsors’ beer fridge half-empty, or half full?

Many teams here are so desperate not to speak that they’ve adopted a devious tactic. Wait for the players summoned by doping control to go and pee in a cup, get showered and changed as slowly as possible and then, two hours later, hoping all the journos have left, march through the mixed zone as quickly as possible complaining that they “have to go”.

So annoying was this that even one of Hack’s more mild-mannered colleagues felt minded to complain, crossly, to a smug-looking UEFA delegate. He was very helpful (he was no help at all).

Hack has learned one important rule at least. Never ask a UEFA delegate anything.

They have a thousand different ways (few of them in English) of saying: “I don’t know, and I wouldn’t tell you even if I did.” Hack will give them their due though. They are very good at telling you not to stand down the aisle in a press conference (gangway in the stadium though? No problem).

In truth, few press conferences here have actually been worth the trouble of the tortuous application process on the (shudder) official UEFA Fame website (a thing so frustratingly unfit for purpose it could have been designed by Michel Platini himself).

Hack remembers going to a Slovakian one and watching as the player summoned to speak yawned through his coach’s first answer.

Hack is actually considering bringing a flare along to the next one, just to liven things up, but doesn’t really fancy having to stick it where the sun don’t shine…

Maybe he should just have another sandwich.

Hack’s identity is closely guarded. We asked a UEFA delegate, but they weren’t saying who Hack is, but they directed us to this website.

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