02529

France 2007 - World Cup Final
Paul Williams - Friday 21st December 2007

Hi there.

I've finally got around to putting the most expensive weekend into words.

What a weekend! Someone should make a movie about it. I'll try and piece it together in chronological order.

Phone call from Pauly M after beating the Aussies telling me he had a spare ticket to the semi do I want to go? Made a joke about if they get to the final then I'll consider it. So straight after the France win he's back on the phone saying come along. So after saying no, no, no, no I can't go, I finally succumb and tell him on the Tuesday if he can get me a ticket I'll go. He has a ticket so I have to go. So I organise my flight to Paris to leave Sydney on Thursday night and leave Paris on Monday afternoon.

All going well so far. Wednesday morning Pauly admits he has no ticket so I look at cancelling the flight if I'm going to watch it on the telly. I'm not going to do that in Paris. Travel agent chick is trying to a deal on the cancellation fee as Pauly comes back with a ticket! But I've got to pick it up in London so I get back onto travel chick to change the flight to Heathrow and include a London-Paris trip. So the best I can get then is leave Sydney on Thursday afternoon, arrive London Friday morning, leave London early afternoon on Eurostar arrive Paris Friday evening. Then leave Paris early Monday so I can fly out of London Monday lunch, to be back in Sydney Tuesday night, to be back at work Wednesday morning!!!! All going well so far. Work gives the time off as long as I am back on the Wednesday. All good.

Until......

THURSDAY - FRIDAY

Get to the airport in plenty of time and queue for check in for 1½ hours. Eventually I get to the front and the bloke asks for my ticket so I show him the reservation No. but he needs the ticket which I don't have. I can't remember the last time I had an actual plane ticket. So I have to go off to the Qantas help desk, they send me to another part and after a lot of stuffing around I get my plane ticket. Back to the check in and hand over my new ticket which brings about my new problem. The ticket only takes me to Kuala Lumpur and not on to London. So I show the reservation details showing I am going further than Malaysia I get to talk to 3 different managers by which time I am getting very pissed off as I can visualise me watching the final at some dodgy bar in KL.

Long story into short eventually they come up with the plan that I have to check out at KL and then pick up my ticket there and check back in. They can't upgrade me on this flight as it's full but they will try for the return leg (Yeh right). Finally I'm heading off to The Smoke. Land at KL and grab my backpack, head out through customs and then straight back in again to discover that my 3 hour stopover will be a 4½ hour stop. Its time to give the Tiger beer a hammering.

Friday morning we land at Heathrow at about 8:00 am to the balmy conditions of 3 degrees! Bloody Hell where are the polar bears?

With my head full of Malaysian Airlines alcohol, without thinking, jump into a cab and give the old cockney rebel the address of the ticket agency which is apparently just near Knightsbridge (might nip into Harrod's whilst I'm there). I check the meter, not too bad, carry on a bit further getting a guided tour and arrive at the ticket shop and the meter says $75. That hurts a little so I hand over the cash and my jovial cockney turns into Mr Nasty as I'd given him Aussie dollars, I apologise, hand over just about all my sterling and realise that the cab ride has cost me $200. Hell! Get me to the Tube.

Inside the ticket agency, I find my contact who very calmly tells me that my ticket is in Paris. I very uncalmly show him my paper that tells me to pick it up from him at his address and tell him for the sake of his safety that he had better give me my ticket. The calmness in his voice was now replaced with fear when he realised how serious I was, so he gave me the name and address of the hotel, mobile number, and any other detail he had of his partner in Paris who has all the tickets. After a gentle reminder that if that bloke is not in Paris with my ticket there would be blood spilled. My change of flight from Paris to Heathrow now becomes totally unnecessary.

Off to the Tube as I don't have enough sterling for a cab and get myself onto the Eurostar without any drama and merrily speed through the tunnel and into the French countryside.

Send an sms to Pauly to let him know I will be in Paris early evening, he replies back with the joyful news that the Metro workers are on strike. Bloody Frenchmen! Why did we help them in the War?

I arrive at the Eurostar station called Gare du Nord at around 6:30pm and look for someone to direct me to the train into the city I need to catch to meet up with Pauly. The line up for a taxi is about 200m long so that is not an option. There is absolutely no one around, all ticket offices are shut and there are only automated machines that do not give good directions, so I shove some Euros in, take any ticket it will give me and head off in search of a map.

Unbelievably I find the right platform, but believably due to the strike the train now leaves from a different platform. I find the new platform and wait for a train to take me to Charles de Gaul airport where Pauly has booked us into a hotel and I wait, and I wait. Eventually the train arrives and on I get heading to the airport which was confirmed by a couple with suitcases.

My phone rings and it is Pauly who now informs me that he has changed our hotel and I need to get off at Charles de Gaul station not Charles de Gaul airport and that I need to be on the other side of the city so now I have to jump off the train change platforms and wait ¾ hour for a train in the opposite direction. Heading back into the city I see that I was only 1 stop away in the opposite direction originally.

So I land back at Gare du Nord just needing to go one further stop as everyone gets off and loads more people get on. One of them, being this strange little Moroccan looking bloke who is just staring at me. Needless to say I wasn't in the mood for this and was thinking to myself don't start anything you horrible little Frenchman or I'll unleash on you, anyway he mumbles something in French to which I reply in my best Anglo-Franco relations and tell him that I do not speak your f***ing language. His reply was to splutter in Franglish that the train was not carrying on and was turning back towards the airport so I had to jump off! At first, I was ready to bash him and he was trying to help me! Oh well! It had been a long day.

So here I am back at Gare du Nord some 2 hours after getting off the Eurostar at the same bloody place.

Pauly M sends text giving the new directions and tells me to get to line 4 and head to Chateau something or other. Not being sure which direction my train was heading in wasn’t going to be a problem as there were tumbleweeds blowing down both platforms it was that busy! A new text goes off to Pauly requiring new directions and he comes back with the news that I must head to Line 13. Well I think he must have sent it to everyone else in Paris because they were all waiting on the platform. I force my way onto the train with scrummaging power the English pack would have been proud of and discover that somehow I'm on the right train.

Jam packed is an understatement and I've got one hand being squashed against a reasonably cute French girl's arse and then discover, as Pauly tries to call me, that my phone is squashed against another girl's cheek, and the fact that my pocket is vibrating against her leg causes me to receive some very strange glares.

The miracles carry on and I eventually meet up with Pauly who informs me that we have to try and get another train to the hotel. We find the platform for our new train and discover that there is another ½ hour wait.

We finally arrive at the reception for the hotel which is a Formula 1- Camponile type place and lo and behold because I am checking in so late, they have given my room away! What a wonderful country I am in. Pauly tells me that he has 2 beds in his room so the spare is commandeered. A quick shower and then to the hotel next door that has a bar and a tv. We get there just in time for the 2nd half of the France-Argentina game. Wonderful, I arrived in Paris at 6:30pm travelled 5 stations on 2 trains and sit down to a beer at around 10:00pm.

Watch in joy as the Argies bash the Frogs and then get the hotel cab to the rugby village at the Eiffel Tower. We get to the village at 12:05am to find out that the village shuts at midnight!

Our cab has gone elsewhere so we have to walk, and walk and walk. Find some dodgy bar and settle in for a glorious ½ hour as this place shuts at 1:00am. It's at this time that we needed to know something about French people...... Never trust them, they are all lying bastards. A 5 minute walk to the Champs Elysees takes 40 minutes but at least we find a bar that will stay open to enable some serious quantities of French beer to be consumed.

Then find a cab that we have to bribe to take us back to the hotel for a couple of hours' quality sleep in a single bed.

WORLD CUP FINAL DAY

Starts off with the fact that my phone has died. Great. Supermarket on the corner opposite has Nokia phone chargers, brilliant. Doesn't have Nokia charger for my phone, s**t. Get directed down the road to find a charger, alright! Head back the hotel nearby, get my phone on charge and commence my Heineken diet whilst I wait for Pauly to come out of his coma.

Pauly's brother turns up and we all head off to find Hatty and the others who were staying in a different part of Paris.

I drop them off and go and find this bloke who'd better have my ticket or I'll be in a Parisian gaol and he'll be in Paris General or whatever it's called. Find the hotel easy enough and find my potential GBH victim who gleefully announces he has my ticket! Apparently he'd had a few people doing the same as me and he'd made a joke with them that their tickets were in London, but he said that the look in my eyes and previous phone calls to his mate in London advised him that this was not a good idea.

So I've got my ticket and head off to find the boys again. Traffic is easy and we fly through Paris like royalty running from the paparazzi. Find the boys and get on the cans soaking up the atmosphere. Everything is going well. Head off to the game, find no merchandising shops and can't even buy a programme. The Frogs need to talk to the Aussies about organising sporting events. So I take a photo of Andy Irvine and his family whilst Hatty is trying to understand Jeremy Clarkson who appears to have tried to drink every bottle of wine in Paris.

Inside the ground and I have a reasonable seat and the atmosphere is pretty good even though I have a Frog next to me and some 'Boks behind me.

Game over. S**t.

Head back to the city and it's time to drink down the disappointment. The night becomes a blur and we have to check the digital camera the next day to work out where we'd been and roughly what time we'd got in.

SUNDAY

The plan is to get up and go for breakfast. Here is the next lesson I learnt, everywhere that serves breakfast in Paris is closed on a Sunday. I have a pleasant 15 minute walk to bloody Macdonald's, oh my God, and I thought they were supposed to serve beer in Macdonald's in France. Begrudgingly I have my 1st non alcoholic drink since leaving Sydney.

It's somewhere around this time that I realise I have to, at some stage, get back to London. My flight leaves Heathrow at noon the following day. I have to be there by 10:00am at the latest so I have to leave Paris by 6:00am, mmmmmmmmm. I call Eurostar and check out the options. I can get on the 8:00pm tonight, which is sounding like a damn good idea, so I bid the boys farewell and head back to the dreaded Gare du Nord to check in. Someone has not turned up for the 6:00pm so I manage to score a seat on that one. Off to my rapidly booked hotel somewhere near Earls Court to get stuck into some warm English beer.

MONDAY - TUESDAY

Actually managed to get some sleep before I get the train to Heathrow and wait for the feeble excuses of why Malaysian Airlines won't upgrade me. So I zoom straight to the business class desk and inform them that I'm ready for my upgrade. Which, as a total shock, is actually forthcoming, to make it better it's not just to business class but right up at the pointy end in first class!!!!

Now that I am travelling first class, I get to use the lounges and free food and drink that go with it. I get faster clearance through customs and everything. So I walk onto the plane and turn left, never done that before. The Asian beauty of a stewardess in front of me greets with "Hello Mr Williams, this is your seat and would you like a welcoming glass of champagne?"

Well, I liked the welcome so much I had four of them before we took off. After take off, I put my seat into recline mode and was horizontal! Had to get the Asian beauty to show me how to drive the seat! The food was fantastic and the drinks were flowing. The seat actually turns into a bed, shame I couldn't persuade the Asian beauty to join me! Did manage to swap e-mail, phone number and address though. Shame she was on the London – KL leg and didn't go through to Sydney. Oh well! Never mind.

The guy next to me (3 meters away) was a bloke called Wayne Bennet, he is the Brisbane Rugby League coach, ex Australia coach who was coaching the centenary NZ team 'The All Golds' against a GB team so that ensured a really interesting trip. He was a really good bloke.

The customs bloke at Sydney was a d***h**d, he was being a real a**e because I'd been to France and only had one small bag, so I was being a smart a**e back until I realised I was only wasting my time and showed him my passport with the leaving date on it.

Basically Sydney to Paris was a s***fight and had so many things go wrong but Paris to Sydney was a dream and getting some sleep in first class made life easier. I actually think that I didn't have enough time to get jet lagged.

The result was wrong and the game was s**t but the trip was unreal.

Now there is only one thing left to do and that is to try and work out how much it all cost.

(Paul Williams, now in his 40s, is the son of Liverpool Competition Chairman, Ted Williams. He played cricket for Sefton CC. Paul learned his rugby at Liverpool College and went on to captain Middlesbrough. He is now back home in Sydney, where he has a career in the construction industry.)