The so-called 'pink city' - named after the terracotta roof tiles so visible from the air as you come into land at the airport here - has been subject to the same sort of 'friendly invasion' by the Welsh as the Northern Irish fans had in Lyon just a few days ago. As my producer Scott and I left our hotel to walk the early evening streets in search of grub, Wales fans were already spilling out from the pavements into the Rue de Strasbourg, but not spilling a single drop of their pints whilst doing so.
Police with guns and all matter of accoutrements were in evidence, especially near one British pub named 'The Melting Pot' which seemed to have attracted the most concentrated numbers of vociferous support. Land Of My Fathers was getting sporadic airings here and there, a ball was basically being walloped high into the air every 10 seconds above the throng and presumably landing on some poor bugger's unsuspecting head (or pint) but there was not a hint of nastiness or a feeling that things could degenerate into anything remotely unpleasant.
Scott and I met up with Danny Gabbidon and our other producer/touchline guy Dave at their hotel about half a mile from ours. One cursory glance at reception told me they'd done rather better than we had in the opulence stakes - that's if reception area chandeliers are anything to go by. Of course, Danny and Dave were quick to deny such apparent luxury upon seeing our open-mouthed response, but they're both evil liars.
Not that it really matters in the grand scheme of things. Most of the hotel rooms I've stayed at on this trip have barely seen me in there other than to shower, sleep and fiddle with air conditioning units. Today happens to be a bit of an exception, given that Wales don't play until 9pm local time, I arrived early evening yesterday and I don't need to skedaddle to the Stade de Toulouse until late afternoon. It's just somewhere to rest your head, or flick through French TV to try and translate news bulletins on the fly or find adverts which get horrifically dubbed into English for our benefit (Karcher window washers being one example) aired with original dialogue. Actually I stumbled across the last few minutes of 50 Shades Of Grey - sorry, "Cinquante Nuances de Grey" - at some typically French-like early hour for S&M romance. I swear it was around the time we'd normally be settling down to wholesome family entertainment like The One Show, although torture does enter one's mind when Gyles Brandreth appears on screen, so that's fair enough.
Danny Gabbidon is definitely a man much beloved of his people. This was never in doubt to my mind in the first place, but as we searched for a suitable restaurant, he was spotted straight away by Welsh fans and the first in a long succession of selfies was demanded of him. The lovely thing about Danny is his humility and shyness when it comes to the love that his countrymen (and women) have for him. He's never been a fellow to court publicity or narcissistically search out folk to adore him or sing his name - he just wanted a bite to eat and a glass of wine, same as us 3 no-marks who were with him. He's happy to leave the crowd surfing and traffic cone nicking to Keith Gillespe and Colin 'Partridge' Murray respectively.
It all reached its peak when, having left our chosen restaurant and headed off to find a quiet bar to take in the night's Group A climax, we thought we'd found somewhere nice to shepherd Danny into with a minimum of fuss. We were miles off.
"OH, DANNY DANNY!!! DANNY DANNY DANNY DANNY GABBIDON" swelled up from the bosom of the bar, as Welsh fans suddenly materialised out of thin air, smartphones brandished and ready for selfie action. One was even on FaceTime to his mate back in Wales telling him 'what a pr***' he was for not being here with DANNY F****** GABBIDON in the bar having a beer!'
We'd have liked a beer, but it appeared Toulouse was out of Heineken thanks to the guys and gals of Pays de Galles. No need for UEFA to enforce an alcohol ban on matchdays...just let the Welsh get there early enough and they'll sort it out for you. Glass of rosé then please, garçon.
I mentioned in a previous blog that I'd been to Paris in the late 90's for a debauched wedding. The Welsh were uncannily at the heart of that too. My old band mate Mikey Evans was getting hitched to his beautiful missus Kirsten in a church just off the Champs Elysées, and it seemed that just about the whole of Cardiff and Ebbw Vale's rock cognoscenti had decamped to a glorious chateau/hotel about 30 minutes outside the capital for a wedding breakfast which became a reception to remember for all the right reasons...if only one of us had stayed sober enough to remember anything.
Rarely have I been as drunk as I was at that reception. That was mainly down to a phrase that shall for evermore be intrinsically linked to my mind with the Welsh - and only because the man who uttered said phrase more than most had the thickest Valleys accent you can imagine. Dai Crispin, I salute you wherever you are.
Dai was the archetypal Welsh beer-drinking, rugby-loving sweetheart with a voice that boomed across the room at you like cannon fire. Upon noticing that you had taken your first delicious sip of a fresh pint of lager, Dai's voice could have been heard above a sell out crowd at the Arms Park as he exclaimed, "DRINK THAT DROP, IAN - ANOTHER ONE COMING YOUR WAY, ISN'T IT?"
*He may not have said 'isn't it' at the end of that sentence, but I just wanted you to say that sentence in your head as though it was in a broad Ebbw Vale tongue* :)
The atmosphere at that wedding had me laughing and smiling about it for years afterwards and what I sensed from last night in Toulouse was similarly joyous. I didn't want to go home from that wedding weekend, and these fans sure don't want to head back over the Channel from these Euros quite yet.
Perhaps one lucky omen is that Welsh football writer Chris Wathan, who had taken to eating carbonara dishes on the night prior to all Wales' qualifying matches for these finals as a superstition, did indeed find a suitable restaurant last night to soothe his psyche. He'd managed to find carbonara in Bordeaux, but crucially NOT in Lens. I've heard of lucky shirts, boots, jackets and so on, but lucky pasta dishes is a new one on me. Nevertheless a nation can rest easy knowing that Wales' premier football writer is suitably carbonara'd up for this one. Sounds healthier than the burger and fries that the squad tucked into after the England game, but you've gotta have some filth now and again in amongst the strict diet they're on. It's like they were all suddenly hankering for Caroline Street in Cardiff on a Sat night into a Sun morning. "Come on Cookie - let's 'ave a bit of Chip Alley action!" may have been the cry from somewhere on the team coach.
Anyway, better get my abacus and slide rule ready for my qualifications calculations later. This will doubtless give me a headache to rival the one I had after Dai Crispin's insistence that I 'drink that drop'!