Sunday 27th May 2018
By Patrice Mongelard
Farnborough Old Boys Guild Senior Vets Tour To Lille, France - 25-28 May 2018
Phil Anthony was Tour Organiser, Mick O’Flynn Tour Manager and Peter Harvey Tour Captain. The Tour Company was Burleigh Travel Limited (Sports Tour Specialists). The Coach Driver was Eddie the Baggie, after we discarded the feeder driver (Steve the Baggie) just before boarding the train at the Eurotunnel.
For the second year running the theme tune for this European adventure was the UEFA Champions League anthem. This theme tune was written by English composer Tony Britten in 1992, as a serious classical piece, heavily influenced by Handel’s Zadok the Priest. The recording used in the television transmissions was performed by the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and sung by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chorus. The version we used was a version played on a recorder, with the special property of getting under one’s skin. I thought it was funny last year, the point being to remind Arsenal fan Steve Blanchard that his European games would be on Thursday nights in the coming season. This year it was less funny, to me at least, as it was played by a sadist (who will remain nameless and who supports the best team in London) on and on, and on, to remind me of Liverpool’s defeat to Real Madrid.
We stayed at the Hotel Ibis Styles, in the heart of Lille, on a bed and continental breakfast basis. I am pleased to report that this year there was a bed for everyone – including for the two players who made their own way to the hotel. The big lobby/breakfast room afforded a good view of the street. This gave passers-by a good view of our tour shirts and in Phil Anthony’s case it was on view for all four days. There was an Indian restaurant and a small supermarket across the road. The hotel cocktail bar was on the bijou side and ran out of beer on the first night. There was table football in the lobby which I was advised to study closely as an example of a back four playing in unison and keeping a good line.
The party of nineteen players was a combination of thirteen FOBG Senior Vets, four CENT YMCA Vets and two Bird in Hand Vets (and no they were not two birds who played Vets football). Most of us wore especially designed polo shirts with the Farnborough badge and (on the back) nicknames of our choice. The only thing that was understated about the shirts was the white embroidery on a yellow background.
The room pairings (and player nicknames where applicable) were as follows:
Phil Anthony (Sniper) – Gary Fentiman (Photoshoot)
Colin Brazier (Biggles) – Colin Mant (Sausage Boy)
Ian Coles (Male Model) – Steve Blanchard (Shaggy)
Sinisa Gracanin (Sidney) – George Kleanthous (Zorba)
Ian Lyons (Lionel) – Jim Grimley (Lamarr)
Kypros Michael (Kyp) – Peter Harvey (G.B.H)
Mick O’Flynn (Saleté) – Patrice Mongelard (Intellectuel)
Andy White (Blanco) – Pete Milcoy (Milcoy)
Paul Zanelli – Jason Yardley
Vijay Patel (McRaoji)
Getting there (25 May)
We set off early, and surprisingly only 15 minutes late, at 6:15 am. George Kleanthous caused the delay by having to go back for his wallet. There was no time to open the Farnborough club bar and, of course, at that time of day the adjacent Woodman pub was shut. We had been warned not to attempt to drink alcohol on the coach. The toilet on the coach was needed only once, by Mick O’Flynn who experienced difficulty getting out of it. A female Border Police Officer with latex gloves checked us out before we slipped into the tunnel.
There were three matches in three days, in generally hot and humid conditions, in contrasting venues and against three very different teams. We played US Lesquin at 19:30 on the 25th, Spartak Lillois at 10:45 on the 26th and J.S Lille Wazemmes at 18:00 on the 27th.
I “Is your name Zidane?“ (result 2-4)
The Union Sportive Lesquin club had without any shadow of a doubt the best natural grass pitch any of us had ever played on. They were watering it using permanent sprinklers as we arrived. I was told this was done in order to suit their ‘technical players’. The stadium had changing rooms under the main stand, it had railings all round and an electronic scoreboard. The club had teams in every age group between six and nineteen, two senior sides and two Veterans teams. I was informed that the Brighton player Anthony Knockaert came from their academy. The Vets team we came up against not only had younger Vets but it had an ex-professional player who had played over 200 games for Lens in the top tier of French football. He could pass for Zinedine Zidane’s brother, and played like him.
We lost 4-2 with Kypros Michael scoring our goals, both assisted by Peter Harvey. It was only 2-0 at half-time. We were 2-0 down after a quarter of an hour and could even have taken the lead had Peter Harvey’s first attempt on goal not drifted narrowly wide. We got back to 2-1, then the gap increased to 3-1 before we got another. We even had a great chance to draw level but were undone by a lightning break from a Farnborough corner. We used all nineteen players. Steve Blanchard came off injured after a quarter of an hour and did not play again. Our keeper Gary Fentiman sustained a small cut under his eye after diving at a striker’s feet in the 85th minute, and was replaced by Colin Mant who could claim, and did, ad nauseam, to have kept the only clean sheet of the tour.
The après-match hospitality was great – cold beers, French bread, barbecued sausages. We even had a burly French Traffic Police Officer in our midst who threatened, jokingly, to breathalise the lot of us. I say jokingly because he revealed he was a director of the club and had finished his shift and had dropped by on the way home. Under the influence of drink Phil Anthony revealed that on the form for the tour company he had described the Farnborough Old Boys Guild Senior Vets as a high-quality Vets team that had won many tournaments. He is not filling the form on his own next year.
II “Are you going to tackle” (3-1)
This was a different experience – artificial pitch, more modest facilities, barely any of our opponents over thirty years of age and it appears unused to playing 11-a-side. We had been informed that that they did not play with a referee as all their games were played in the spirit of football. However, for their protection from football ā l’Anglaise we insisted that Jim Grimley – a qualified referee, did the first half. Phil Anthony – an unqualified comedian, did the second in sunglasses. We are used to tantric refereeing for our games but Jim took it to a higher level by not having the use of a whistle. A whistle was found for Phil for the second half which he used only once, I seem to recall, to give a foul throw against Ian Lyons. As we were about to kick off I was asked by one of the Spartak Lillois players if we were going to tackle. It was unfortunate that the same player ran into my studs later in the game. To my chagrin he was unconvinced that it was accidental.
We took the lead quite early on through a Kypros Michael special, assisted by George Kleanthous. We thought we would extend our lead when Jim Grimley awarded a penalty against a Spartak defender for taking away Andy White’s leg from under him. He then changed his mind having been persuaded that Andy’s studs got caught in the laces of the defender or it might have been his laces in the defender’s studs. Barely five minutes later Andy took a Spartak attacker roughly from behind and the Spartak equaliser followed from the spot.
The insertion of Peter Harvey gave us more thrust. Peter went on to score two splendid goals and was denied what would have been a vintage hat-trick by a finger-tip save from the keeper who diverted the shot onto the angle of bar and post. Other players came close to scoring including a marauding Mick O’Flynn who was inches away from a happy outcome, and Kypros Michael who beat three players late on before stumbling into his shot against the post.
We used eighteen players, while injured Steve Blanchard worked on his cruise holiday perma-tan. Cold beers went down a treat in the midday sun.
III “Algeria versus geriatrics” (7-8)
Many of the locals were Real Madrid fans and Mick O’Flynn helpfully tipped them off about the team I support. I was greeted with chants of “Madrid! Madrid!” To one of our players this sounded a bit like “Patrice! Patrice!”, and he was momentarily impressed by my global appeal. Still, the locals appreciated my quip that Sergio Ramos would not be visiting the Pyramids anytime soon, unless the Egyptians built one with him in it.
The scoring was frantic – we were a goal down after two minutes. This is how it went: 0-1, 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 2-3, 3-3, 3-4, 3-5, half time, 4-5, 4-6, 5-6, 6-6, 6-7, 6-8, 7-8.
This was our third game in three days and it showed. The artificial pitch was enormous. We were down to 15 players and we under-estimated our canny opponents. Steve Blanchard and Ian Lyons were injured, whilst midfield dynamos Andy White and Pete Milcoy had gone home.
Kypros Michael scored five goals including three headers (could have had ten) and Peter Harvey helped himself to a brace including a penalty. Cold beers and French baguettes with cheese were made available.
On our tour last year we visited Adinkerke Military Cemetery. This year too we remembered the fallen. Like last year I was struck by the thought that here we were in Europe to play football while others had gone there to fight wars and lose their lives. Many were not older than the players we came up against. I know what I prefer, and you could argue that others fought wars so that those who came after them could play football. So, it felt right to remember them.
At the Canadian National Vimy Memorial a keen-eyed Ian Lyons took some moving pictures of the Memorial designed by Canadian sculptor and architect Water Seymour Allward, including of some young Canadians who were paying their respects to their fallen countrymen.
“Sniper” Anthony went into the trenches. The young Canadian students who staff the Visitor Centre will have been struck by the uncanny resemblance between Phil Anthony and a Canadian Inuit. Many Indigenous Canadian soldiers served with distinction, and from their ranks came the best elite snipers.
We also visited the Arras Memorial to lay a wreath to remember the 34,785 British, and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Arras sector between the spring of 117 and the summer of 1918. The wreath was laid by Farnborough Old Boys Guild Veterans in the form of Ian Coles and Colin Brazier. In Arras we also made time to go underground into the Wellington tunnels, built largely by New Zealanders and used by thousands of British soldiers to get behind German lines in 1917.
Gifts (no own goals this time)
We took club pennants and FOBG scarves for our opponents. These were handed over by a smiling Peter Harvey. In addition, we handed over three of our match balls to the club who hosted us on the Sunday. We could not help notice that some local youngsters were playing with footballs that had seen better days.
On the coach back Mick O’Flynn presented Phil Anthony with a little something as a thank you for organising the tour. The present which Mick had in mind for Phil could not be purchased by Kypros Michael. Kypros had one job to do (apart from scoring eight goals). I suspect Kyp would have been deemed under-age to purchase the item. Mick will get it when he goes back to the area in a fortnight.
There was also a well-deserved collection for our driver, Eddie the Baggie, and a Farnborough scarf to inject a bit of football chic into the Midlands. As a West Brom fan, Eddie would have been happier driving Aston Villa fans back after the Play-Off final on Saturday, but he enjoyed our company and the games. He thought we were angels compared with some of the tour parties he had taken over to Europe. For example, we did not all emerge from the coach naked (only some did – joke!).
In the lobby/bar we held our tour award ceremony on our final evening. The winners were:
Players’ Player of the tour – Gary Fentiman, who got fewer votes than the number of goals he conceded (but still more votes than anyone else).
European Golden Boot – Kypros Michael, who was on fire, and not for the first time this week.
Managers’ Player of the tour – Jim Grimley, who rescinded a penalty decision in our favour, and awarded a penalty against us in a space of five minutes.
There was one further award. I do not recall what it was for but I won it. It had the silhouette of “Big Ears” on it – another bitter pill to swallow.
No man left behind
This was not strictly true because not everyone came back together. Four left early. Andy White and Peter Milcoy travelled back on Sunday morning. Paul Zanelli and Jason Yardley drove back on Monday.
Cultural differences /Language barriers
You always get moments on tour when cultural differences or language barriers create mildly amusing situations. Last year we had Kypros Michael ordering a quickie instead of a quiche in a Belgian restaurant. This year it happened underground, in the Wellington quarry/tunnel and involved the word ‘helmet’, guaranteed to induce tittering in schoolboys and footballers. This is how it went:
Female French tour guide: “Look up and hold on to your helmets”. Steve Blanchard (three seconds later): “Oops, wrong helmet”
Other Tour highlights
I cannot say it was the Champions League Final. But on the same day we were able to witness a socio-political event which is rare under our system. I refer of course to a political march/demonstration so common in France. Saturday was a big day for anti-Macron protests. Trades unionists, SNCF workers, public sector workers, refugees and asylum seekers, the unwashed all seemed to be in it.
Phil Anthony’s jokes were as expected. Here is a sample:
• What do you call a fat psychic? Answer: A four-chin teller.
• Patient: Doctor I think I am going deaf. Doctor: Which ear is it? Patient: 2018
There is a beer for the reader who can attribute the highest number of the following quotes correctly:
I have plenty of lube.
I was expecting something bigger.
They are marching for better showers.
Pat, look there is a saga coach over there.
We should go on Segway football tour next year.
Why haven’t India won the football World Cup?
Who dropped their guts in the tunnel?
No melted cheese on my burger please. I don’t like the word melt.
Don’t put your head in your hands (Karius) you’ll drop it
Getting back (28 May)
We took the opportunity of an earlier crossing than planned. There was no time to visit the tunnel terminal for a bit of shopping. Peter Harvey knew he was back in England when he lost his broadband connection. There was time for a swift half in the clubhouse.
What goes on tour stays on tour
I wish I could tell you more. If I did I would be banned from next year’s tour. Mrs M has already queried two crafty references I made to next year’s tour within half an hour of getting home, whilst noting that I did not bring back the big box of chocolates I had promised.
Man of the match: Gary Fentiman / Jim Grimley