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So, the Euro 2016 football championships have reached the quarter final stages, and we still have home nation interest! Wales are through to face Belgium, which is a remarkable feat for a country better known for its rugby than football. There's obviously great consternation in England that, yet again, the men's team have failed to flourish in the knock out stages. England have been beaten by Iceland (but hey, they were in the difficult side of the draw, having failed to beat either Russian or Slovakia in the first round). Of course England fans can take some solace in remembering the Lionesses fabulous performance at last year's World Cup, before harking back to the good ol' days of 1966.
What surprises me is how dispassionate I feel about this. Several tournaments ago I'd have been on the emotional rollercoaster of the highs and lows of being an England supporter. This year my pulse has hardly raised, and I even took the opportunity to go out for bike rides during the Russia and Slovakia matches, rather than sit in and watch England play. As the photo shows I think I made the right choice - empty roads, stunning scenery and fabulous weather, and still back in time to see the agonising final minutes as England failed to score a winning goal.
One of the things that's changed my attitude to football has been the simple fact of becoming a mother. I want to watch live sports with my boys, both on the TV and up close and personal. We've been really lucky to have gone to some fabulous sporting events. We saw athletics and wheelchair basketball at the 2012 London Olympics, and returned to the Olympic stadium for the para-althletics a year later for the Anniversary Games.
We've seen Rugby 7's, badminton and athletics at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and several rugby games at last years rugby world cup. All these tickets were very affordable (most of the kids tickets less than £10), and enabled Chris and I to introduce the boys to a wide range of sports. We've also watched great sport on TV - the Six Nations sees our family split into England vs Wales each year, and Wimbledon and the Davis Cup have had us on the edge of our seats screaming at the TV.
Naturally, we've also seen a lot of cycling! We failed to get into the velodrome for the Olympics, Para-Olympics and Commonwealth Games (sob!) so watched from afar. We were lucky to get tickets for the World Cup in Manchester - what a day out that was!
We've lined the streets for the the Tour of Yorkshire and the Commonwealth Games Time Trial, and even got to ride part of one of the stages of Le Tour when it came to Yorkshire in 2014.
Whilst on holidays we've accidently come across the Prudential Race in London and the Energie Wacht Tour in Grongingen and changed our plans to cheer on the cyclists.
We've spent hours watching the Tour de France on TV, marvelling at the cyclists and the stunning scenery they pass through.
Without exception all of these events have been brilliant - we've seen dedicated sports men and women at the very top of their chosen disciplines. We seen our sporting idols win golds and yellow jerseys, and also crash and fade. We've experienced the fun and excitement of sell out stadiums and the hours of tediousness waiting by the roadside for the cyclists to come by (although even this can be more exciting that some football games I've sat through!)
We've waved flags and cheered ourselves hoarse. And never once did we feel threatened or scared. We've seen fans in euphouria and despair, but always friendly and well behaved (OK - except the drunks on the side of the road in the Tour de France who think it's fun to run alongside the riders). The most we've had to contend with is seeing past the headwear in front of us at a Wales rugby match at the Millennium Stadium.
Compared to our fabulous sporting experiences described above, my experiences of football are rather different. Chris and I went to Euro 2000 in Belgium and Netherlands, and I also went to see England play Spain in Madrid. I listened as fans (not English I hasten to add) chanted racist abuse at players and opposing fans. I worried for my own safety and that of my friends before and after the matches.
I've been with the boys to see a national league football game. The school had been given tickets by the local football team, as part of their community involvement, and we had to sit in the "Family Stand". Having heard the language coming out of the surrounding stands I was thankful we were segregated, and wasn't inspired to return.
After England and Wales played their afternoon game two weeks ago, I had to explain to my 7 year old why the police were out on the streets of our usually quiet market town. Why grown adults were shouting at the police officers, urinating in public and passed out drunk in shop doorways whilst we were walking to and from Beavers. I've had to explain why they were seeing footage on the television of football fans running riot in the streets of France.
I've also had to watch my boys going on websites that calculate how much certain footballers earn. They are fascinated to learn that it takes Wayne Rooney 18 minutes to earn the average UK annual salary of £26,500. Someone on that salary would have needed to start work in the year 1451 to have earned the same as Rooney's annual 2015 wage of £15m. (Which, I'm sure is a fair living wage for someone talented enough to score one goal in four Euro 2016 matches)
For these reasons, I'm saving my energy, excitement and support for the events that are coming up over the next few months. We'll be on the edge of our sofa cheering on Andy Murray at Wimbledon, and shouting encouragement to Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Mark Cavendish in the Tour de France. We'll be following the fortunes of Team GB in Rio during the Olympics and Paralympics, interspersed by cheering on the Tour of Britain as it passes our house in September.
Of course no sport is perfect, and I've had to have difficult conversations about doping in cycling with my boys. But I'm looking forward to spending the next month of watching incredibly fit cyclists powering through the beautiful French landscape, whilst listening to the amusing commentary of Carlton Kirby and Sean Kelly. And I'll be perfectly happy for my boys to watch alongside me. Unless of course it's a gorgeous day, when we'll probably be out riding our bikes!
To help kids of all ages enjoy the Tour de France, Chris and I have written a series of kids guides to the Tour de France - I do hope you find them useful.
The 2016 Tour de France starts on Saturday 2nd July and ends on Sunday 24th July. To see all Cycle Sprog's posts on Le Tour de France, please click here.
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