Mel Aldis’ article on Sassco’s visit to France.

The Sassco.co.uk 5-a-side team.

The Sassco.co.uk 5-a-side team.

A fantastic article by Mel Aldis, who arranged the games in France. A brilliant take on what the “other” organiser has to go through in arranging a game.

Sassco.co.uk visit the Côte d’Azur.      

The Sassco.co.uk 5-a-side team.I just happened to be browsing the AngloInfo Riviera website back in the springtime when I noticed a request for football opponents to play a group of guys that would be visiting from Sunderland in August.

So I offered to play them at 5 aside with my team being made up of friends, colleagues and contacts from in and around Nice and affectionately known as AngloSports Select, My offer was accepted and initial talks with Tour Organiser Davinder Sangha led to us agreeing a game on the Saturday of their visit,as they already had a Fri night game arranged at Soccer Park Antibes. Within days Davinder advised me that Soccer Park would be closed for refurbishments when they arrive and could I sort a game for them on Friday as well.

After a couple of weeks of trying to sort a local club without success (out of season) I spoke with the Beach Volleyball Guys in Nice and they agreed to host a 4 v 4 Beach Football Match, so the details were set and agreed with Davinder.

Friday Beach Football at Plage Ponchettes – Nice 7.30pm
Saturday 5aside at Stade de Villefranche – Villefranche sur Mer. 10.15am.

So everything sorted with 2 months to spare.(hah)

Those in the know will be well aware that there is a somewhat laid back approach to all things in this area of France, so with a month to go i make a quick visit to Villefranche and Plage Ponchettes to confirm all is ok, pleasingly no problems and all is good.

Regular contact with Davinder is kept as we countdown to their visit.My teams are sorted with the help of Ben Morter and some friends from Wayne’s Bar and Ma Nolans (life doesn’t just revolve around Bars!).

With 3 weeks to go another visit to Villefranche and its confirmed that the Stade de Villefranche will be opened at 10am for the big Match, on the way back home I call in at the Beach Venue and the Volleyball Guys tell me it will be difficult to take down Volley and put up Football Posts for one hour of Soccer (oh shit! ).

An email to Davinder, where we considera game at Urban Soccer in Villeneuve Loubet, this idea is discarded due to time restraints,as Sassco don’t land until 4.50pm on the Friday, we then agree to a Volleyball Match, something quite different forSassco.co.uk.

Back down to the Beach and court booked for Volleyball – AngloSports v Sassco.co.uk.
I’ve come to learn that on the Côte d’Azur, plans and arrangements get changed regularly and sometimes without notice or correspondence , that’s just how it is, but when you have a group of guys relying on you and travelling some 1200 miles I cannot be so laid back.

So after work on Thursday (the day before Sassco.co.uk arrive) I call in and see the Sports Director in Villefranche, to check all is ok for the visit of Sassco, I eventually catch up with him after waiting around while he was on a prolonged Ciggy break and give him the mandatory bottle of Red as a thankyou, he phones the President of FC Villefrancois who is to open the court for us on Sat morning, only to learn that he is on Holiday, a further call to the VP and we receive the bad news that he is on sick leave, (another oh shit!) but M.Fredolini then offers to come in on Sat morning,his day off, to unlock for us- phew- remember the Red wine! So after 2 hours in his office its back to the Bus stop to return to Nice, where 2 buses Menton-Nice fly past without stopping as the sign says -Complis, finally the third bus comes along and I hop on and return to Nice, where a final check at the Beach Court the lads there inform me that the new Beach rules says Winner Stays On, so no organised match now, crikey what a day!

Can’t be bothered to walk all the way back up to Garibaldi, so it’s straight to Wayne’s Bar for a Happy Hour pint or 2 (5-8pm) and a bite to eat. A few texts to tell my local Volleyballers they are not required and a bit of David Zincke live in the Bar. Life is sweet on the French Riviera.

Friday 16th August arrives and I have a day of work in Monaco, well 4 hours including a meeting at Rascasse Corner, after work I enjoy a few sunrays before heading home for a shower etc.

At 5.14pm I get a text from Davinder ‘we’ve landed’, they still have to get through Passport Control and travel to hotel and book in before coming to the Beach. So it’s down to Civette de Cours, my favourite spot in Cours de Saleya(flower market) for a Pre-meet glass of Rosé .

I get over to Plage Ponchettes for 6.30pm to be ready to greet the boys from the North East of England who are expecting to arrive at the beach by 6.50pm.

As I sit on the bench nearest the Volley Courts on the Promenade des Anglais I wonder how I will recognise them amongst the 1000’s of folks walking on the Prom in the early evening sunshine. I need not have worried, no need to wear a rose for ID, six guys resplendent in Red and white Volleyball kits with Sassco.co.uk emblazoned across them come marching across the beach.

I hop up to greet them with handshakes , they don’t look like the sort of boys that do the “double kiss greet”, a few pleasantries are exchanged and an explanation of the format of the evenings Volleyball follows. The visitors from Sunderland then give me a Sassco Tour Shirt signed by them and a signed Black Cats programme, very much appreciated!
The boys are next up and their warm up game is to be honest slightly ‘iffy’ as they come to terms with their beach volleyball techniques, the Volleyball version of Cool Runnings springs to mind….

It’s 7.30pm and the Beach and Prom is packed, is it the sunshine or the Boys in Red that have brought tourists and locals out on this beautiful Friday evening ?… A bit of both I think.

The Main match against the Plage Ponchettes Boys is actually a close run thing with the scores 18-18 at one stage, with the Sassco boys receiving cheers from other locals including a Maradonna lookalike,for every point they achieve. Even in France the underdog is the people’s favourite especially after I explain to the locals in my own Suffolk/Nicoise language that this is the first time they’ve played Beach Volleyball, the Local team of French lads eventually win the game 25-19. Handshakes all round at the end, a noted improvement over the 70 minutes and time for the boys to return to their hotel before they eat. I walk the boys through a couple of shortcuts and point them into the direction of their hotel, I then head home and have a shower before treating myself to a Steak dinner at Mori’s on Rue de France, highly recommended when in Nice, après dinner I head to Ma Nolans for a nightcap, well a pint of Carlsberg. A quick email to Davinder to explain how to get to Villefranche from their hotel via Tram and Bus and ok then one more drink in Wayne’s on the way home. It’s in Wayne’s I learn that 2 of my team can’t play football in the morning due to change of shifts, (i’m sure they were going to let me know ?),so a quick email to Ben to confirm that his 5 are still coming, Ben confirms they are, so drink up and wander home.

Saturday morning up early and pack the Yellow and Black kit in the bag, get the Mitre matchball out of the cupboard,it needs some air in so I pump it up (yes I have a pump and adaptor in my room , I’m English), time for a quick shower before some brekkie and the short walk to Bus Stop Seguane for the 10 minute journey to Villefranche.  After showering and deoderanting, it’s gonna be hot and sweaty today, I notice the Ball has lost some air, so I pump it up again only  for it to be semi flat within minutes, I now have one of those ‘oh shit’ moments, I have to leave in 40 minutes and no matchball.

A pitch – 2 teams and no ball will be slightly embarrassing!

I decide to run from Garibaldi to Place Massena, there is a Sports Shop under the arches there, so a quick run down the Tram Line to the shop, yes you’ve guessed it, shop opens at 9.30am, (I’m catching Bus at 9.30), so it’s another run, well a jog by now,to Nice Etoile, the big Mall up Ave Jean Medecin, I arrive out of breath to see the sign on the door Samedi overt a 10hrs, yer open at 10 on a Sat, it’s a massive ‘oh shit!! ‘ now….. Mmmm what to do?. Wait for the shops to open and be late or be on time with no ball ?  I take a very slow jog along the Pedestrian area to see if the Sports Shop along Rue Massena is open, wishful thinking I know, I’m sure it closed down a couple of years ago,……..I’m right no sports shop there.

Right then my last chance, hit the Promenade and see if one of the local kids will sell me their ball, then as I jog past a Gift shop along Rue Halevy I amazingly see a Sondico matchball hanging up outside amongst the sunglasses and flip-flops, I take a second look and yes it’s a decent ball, well good enough to play with, I ask the lady how much and she says 10 euros…Bargain!.   I now have to sprint back home to get the Kit, well sprint as a 50+ man does, I arrive at the Bus stop as the Bus arrives, my next worry, will I get on this Bus? there are a lot of folks waiting for this Bus, after about 10 minutes I’m on the Bus and moving in the direction of Villefranche, I have to stand but who cares ?, the journey as always makes me realise why I love this area, the scenery from the bus is awesome, the American Tourist informs me that it’s 33c outside, just right for some 5 aside football. I arrive at bus stop Octroi in Villefranche, the Football ground is just 60m away, I’m here and it’s only 9.50am, then my next worry kicks in, will Mr Fredolini remember to open the gates to the pitch, he said 10am, but we all know about South of France timekeeping don’t we ?, well to my relief at 9.59am Mr Fredolini comes puttering up the path on his scooter, yes!  Now all I need is the teams, within a minute Sassco.co.uk arrive, where are my Team?, then I spot Mike Steve and Remi arriving, closely followed by Ben, just Korma to come then, if not I’m playing, 2 minutes later Korma appears, he has travelled from Cannes to Villefranche by train for the game, that’s dedication.

A few intros and handshakes and we are ready to play, Ben and Mike both brought decent match balls so my early morning ball search, run and stress was all for nothing as my new Sondico gets relegated to 3rd choice.
I bring the skippers together and Ben presents the  Sassco.co.uk captain with a much sought after AngloSports Polo Shirt (only 12 manufactured) signed by our team and of course the Referee.

From the ko it’s straight away evident that Sassco are much more confident at football than volleyball,

my quick analysis of their team,! – they’ve all played a bit, individually :

    • Dave Gourlay, reminded me of Wes Hoolahan, neat on the ball, quick feet, feisty at times, prefers running towards the opponents goal rather than his own,the sort of player I love in my teams, some call it ‘luxury player’ I prefer ‘playmaker’
    • Ed Cooke, probably underrated in his day, one of those players that just gets on with it, never gives the ball away and works hard, looked like a fullback to me, (he later told me centre-mid), he probably played out of position for all those years!
    • Paul McConville, ball playing centre back, composed,competitive, motivator,have a feeling the Lager may have held his career back, that’s another story,
    • Chris Dixon, pacey winger/forward with an eye for goal, could probably still play at a decent level.
    • Kev Cooper, goalkeeper, great reflexes, safe hands, carrying a bit of luggage nowadays.
    • Davinder Sangha, tour organiser, team manager and sponsor, cameraman,the player every team needs. Would guess most of his career has been in 5 aside leagues, competitive defensive player.

Please note this analysis is the authors own views and not that of any newspaper or website that may publish this report.

The first half of the match saw Sassco have the lions share of possession but the AS’s team were dangerous on the break, at half time the score was 3-3, with the woodwork denying AS on 2 occasions, the pick of the goals was a decent strike from AS’s Mike Quigley.

The second half was played at a much slower pace with AS looking like they would increase their lead, but it was Ed Cook who put Sassco in front with a Beckhamesque shot from inside his own half with the AS keeper stranded on the edge of the area, AS continued to push for an equaliser but it was Sassco who increased their lead when Dave Gourlay was put through one v one after a deft touch from McConville. Within minutes AS had reduced the arrears when Ben Morter’s angled drive took a slight deflection and left the Sassco custodian wrong footed. 5-4 with a minute to go and the smart money was on AS to grab an equaliser, but following a fine save from Cooper, Gourlay once again found himself one v one and again he made no mistake as he slid the ball past the advancing keeper. The final whistle followed and the result was 6-4 to Sassco.co.uk in what was a very close game played in 33c.

A friendly game then followed with Sassco playing all 6 players and AngloSports adding the ref to their team, although not officially recognised by the Tourists the home team ran out 8-5 in a somewhat pedestrian affair.

11.55 and M.Fredolini appears with keys to lock the ground and off we all go.

I pop into the local bar for a quick refreshing pint with the Sassco team, where we learn from Michel the Barman that Nice are to play behind ‘closed doors’  that night, so with that spanner in the works the tourists decide to go watch Monaco on Sunday instead.

We all board the 100 bus back to Nice and when we reach the Garibaldi Stop, McConville and Dixon decide to head to Wayne’s Bar with me, while Sangha, Cook, Gourlay and Cooper browse the Garibaldi market before joining us in Wayne’s. I walk my two visitors to Waynes through the Old Town and McConville is tempted to spend 59 euros on some Budgie Smugglers from the Men’s Swimwear Shop off Place Rosetti, but decides not too in the end, that’s quite a few beers Dixon informs him.

We are still enjoying our first pint when we are joined by the other 4, we all move down into the ‘pit’ to watch the games on the big screen, Liverpool v Stoke, followed by Arsenal v Villa, the Sunderland lads also get a decent ‘stream’ of the Sunderland home defeat by Fulham on Davinders tablet. We are looked after well by Julian the Barman and the very competent if sometimes irritating Helen the waitress,  we enjoy a meal, several pints and Dixon and McConville even sample the Happy Hour cocktails, when the massive tab arrives the blow is somewhat softened by the generously measured complimentary jägerbomb we all receive, we drink up,pay up and leave, the Sassco troupe head back to their hotel while I meander home through the Old Town .

I get home have a shower, text the family in the Uk and fall asleep on the bed.

About 9pm I decide I should just go out for a while, well it is Saturday night, I’m knackered but the old British Bulldog spirit kicks in and off I go, just a quick half at Moris Bar, too many Stella’s in the afternoon!, I then head to Wayne’s, which is jam packed, I get my Magners and sit on the Terrace, where I chat to a couple of locals and a couple of holidaymakers, then along comes 4  of the Sassco contingent, Dave,Ed,Paul and Chris, apparently Davinder and Kev have retired early, or gone hunting for Russian tourists.

After a couple of beers on the terrace and Paul falling asleep standing up we go inside, too fatigued to dance on the tables Dave suggest I take them to another Bar, so we go for a wander through the busy streets and finally plump for a beer or 2 at Paddys Bar, where Ed insists the musician looks more like a magician. We enjoy a chat about Sunderland, Norwich,Newcastle,Ipswich, the Uk and life on the Cote d’Azur, McConville  accidentally knocks Gourlays 8e Bourbon over and decides its time to leave, (without telling anyone else) Dixon is given the task to find him, they finally make telephone contact, McConville tells him he is standing near the Panda Bar because he can’t find his way home, we tell him to stay put and go to find him, when we arrive there some 5 minutes later no sign of the illusive Mc, but then he appears from a side street, the lads greet him with an ‘Haway the Lads’ and its time to go home, I say my goodbyes as I have to work elsewhere tomorrow and so won’t see them before they go home on Monday.

I remind them that if they are ever coming to Nice again to let me know and we can hopefully meet up, also offer an invite for them to come down to Suffolk and play against my local club that I am involved with and also enquire to see if they might host my veterans team up on Wearside sometime.

I can’t remember the conclusions as the lager plays havoc with my memory nowadays.

My regret is that I didn’t mention the 1985 League Cup Final when the Canaries hammered Sunderland 1-0 at Wembley thanks to a George Chisholm  og.  :-))

Over the last few days I have been told the boys enjoyed their visit to watch Monaco, Falcao et al, the only downside Dave Gourlay losing his phone on the train back to Nice, C’est la vie!

Until we meet again – Bon chance

Mel.