“Still boiling over there? It’s boiling here!” asks a friend on WhatsApp. The thing is my perceptions of what “boiling” is have changed somewhat over the last couple of months. Previously it would have been mid-20s but now we’re talking low-30s degrees minimum. Mercifully for all concerned it is starting to cool ever so slightly in Brittany, but yesterday was another scorcher in St Malo for the second day’s games at the Under-20s Women’s World Cup.
I discovered at last year’s Euros in The Netherlands that part of the joy of being at these tournaments is watching the teams and games you normally wouldn’t think to go to. China against Haiti may not be the tie that everyone is anticipating but I’m over here to experience all of the tournament and it proved very definitely an experience well worth half of that day’s €10 ticket price.
Setting the scene of the day first, however, and it was a return to the St Malo I’d experienced slightly groggy-eyed straight off the ferry on Saturday morning. The historic part of town sits right next to the sea but the more modern section is a bit inland and the train station is only a short walk along to the Stade Marville where the games are being held.
The publicity of the tournament in St Malo is a little more understated than in Dinan but as on the previous day there is a small information desk at the station with maps to the stadium and a friendly volunteer on hand to answer any questions. Flags flutter from the lampposts in the modern high street to guide you down to the stadium which is in the middle of a small sports village style complex.
One side of the ground holds the covered main stand which is in shade for the entire afternoon (relevant no doubt for many England fans ahead of the Young Lionesses playing there on Sunday!) but unlike in Dinan the additional temporary seating is either side behind one goal, with a standing section occupying the length of the opposite touchline to the main stand (with very little shade – possibly also relevant for Sunday). You can get into this part of the ground for €10 for the two games – an absolute bargain for 180 minutes of football!
Germany take on Nigeria in the day’s first game and whilst there isn’t evidence of many Nigerian fans there are certainly no shortage of Germans there to support their team, who make hard work of things in the St Malo heat. Cue the celebrations from the German substitutes warming up in front of me when the breakthrough comes, but on the final whistle it is much more a sense of job done than the joyous celebrations from the Mexican bench at beating Brazil 24 hours prior.
Already the stadium had been filling up with Haitian fans and as the Germans dissipate in the break between games suddenly the area is filled with Haiti caps and flags. Over in the main stand the same is happening and soon a drum kicks off the singing and dancing. China score and the players all come together in front of the section I’m standing to do a little dance. The Haitians seem to momentarily let their views be felt on the goal they’ve just conceded but quickly get back to a very passionate support of their team.
I’m not sure many of them see China’s second goal which comes just after the restart and equally I’m not sure many see their own penalty actually hit the back of the net. They’d already kicked up the party when it was awarded and were dancing around in celebration as it rippled the goal. There was a sense whatever the result they were just happy to be watching their team at a World Cup, although as the clock ticked away they did have chances to steal a point, each attack accompanied by enhanced excitement and jumping up and down, all while the drum beat kept on in the main stand to accompany the loud singing.
As I wandered into town from my hotel an hour or so after the final whistle had gone, many Haitian fans were still outside the stadium enjoying the hot evening sunshine and sharing drinks and homemade food from the backs of their cars as two supporters coaches began to pull away.
So yes, maybe China against Haiti isn’t the match that will be remembered long after the trophy has been lifted at this year’s World Cup. For me though it was very much what these tournaments are about – it’s the experience, the passion and the people as much as the football.
I look forward to watching them have their day again when they take on Nigeria on Thursday. In the meantime though there’s the small matter of a return to Dinan and game two for our Young Lionesses. Bonne chance girls. You’ll have a vocal support behind you in the stadium again and a nation behind you back home.
Oh and for the record, water has just started falling from the sky in torrential bucketloads here in Rennes. Not sure what this phenomenon is but hopefully it stays away tomorrow!
(Get your ☔ out Jamie! – SK Ed)