Two indisputable facts:
- The French make great food.
- Football stadiums serve terrible food.
So, with Euro 2016 being held in France, I decided to find out which of these truths would give, and if the Universe would survive this shift in its fundaments, by heading to the England vs Wales game and trying out the entire official Uefa match day menu.
Leaping into a Kia (who sponsor the Euros, but apparently have no involvement in menu choices), I drove from London to Lens, passing up the offerings of every service station en route, keeping my powder dry and my belly empty in anticipation of steak and kidney croissants or vin de Bovril.
Legging it to the food counter five minutes before half time, and missing Joe Hart’s gift to the Welsh people, I got stuck in. Sadly, they were out of hot dogs and tuna baguettes, and I refused to buy the popcorn because it has no place at a football match (or a cinema, IMHO), but I did manage to plough my way through eight of the available items. These are my expert opinions.
PIZZA JAMBON & FROMAGE - €5.00
Let’s begin with the décongelé (defrosted) ham and cheese pizza. The French aren’t known for their pizza. In fact, they aren’t known for acknowledging any food that they didn’t invent - or at least name. But they do know a thing or two about ham, cheese and bread, so I opened the box optimistic that they’d mustered something half decent. Turns out half cooked was the best they could do, as my stomach would later confirm in my hotel bathroom. Still, I did manage to fashion a pizza mask with olive eyes to make a pizza sad face. So that’s something.
PIZZA POULET - €5.00
Bizarrely topped with four large lumps of chicken, rather than a lot of smaller bits, which made distribution an issue, the chicken pizza was better than the jambon et fromage inasmuch as it was cooked. Both offerings, however, were an affront to pizza and the nation of Italy. Thank goodness the Azzuri are managing to bang in plenty of late goals, because their fans must be close to suicide after witnessing these atrocities at half time.
CARLSBERG 0.5% BEER - €YOURSOUL
I thought I was ordering a beer, but it turned out a terrible demon with a stomach ulcer had wrung the moisture from a dead skunk, stirred in some battery acid and Ron Atkinson's ball sweat, drunk this concoction - and then squirted it out of his evil arsehole into a plastic cup that read 'Carlsberg 0,5%'.
SANDWICH JAMBON BEURRE - €5.00
What was that I said about the French ‘knowing’ ham and bread? I thought, of everything on the menu, this would be the banker. I mean, ‘ham baguette’ is the most French lunch imaginable. It could only be more French if it was made by a mime on strike. Turns out they’d created a forgery of an antique sandwich: it was new, yet resembled something so much older. That thing being puppy tongues sandwiched between two slippers. I had wondered why a baguette felt the unusual need to highlight its butter content in its name, but it’s the only way you’d know there was any in the arid husk of a roll.
SANDWICH POULET - €5.00
A clear winner among the savoury offerings. Whereas the previous baguette made a song and dance about the mere presence of butter, this was far more than the simple chicken sarnie the packaging promised, seducing my taste buds like a femme fatale with the electrifying tang of cheap mayonnaise and crispy crunch of real salad. It actually had depth of flavour and although I couldn’t actually detect any pieces of chicken within the mayo, I’m sure they were there; Uefa could ill afford any more off-pitch scandal.
CHIPS - €3.00
Having seen a Welsh fan in my section of the stand munching his merry (Wales were winning at his point) way through a carton of what we’d call chips, I was disappointed to find no such fried delight among the official Euro offerings. Had he gone off menu? Brought his own? I guess if you can smuggle flares into a stadium at this tournament, then a box of pommes frites wouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Anyway, the ‘chips’ behind the counter were plain crisps, which tasted like the usual sub-standard plain crisps you get in every country outside of the UK, but still eat anyway when you’re on holiday, because you’re on holiday. I would question why someone would pay €3.00 for crisps when they could get a pizza or sarnie for €5.00, but I guess you're paying for the comfort of knowing that any bacteria have been genocidally deep fried.
BROWNIE - €3.00
Probably the nicest thing on the menu, which I imagine is due to the fact that it was a pre-packaged, shop-bought type item made by a company whose revenue stream relies on it producing food that appeals to people who aren’t trapped inside a football stadium. Moist, tasty and, despite its diminutive size, divided into two pieces, so that - as with a Kit Kat chunky - I could convince myself that by eating the two halves a minute or two apart, I was less of an example of 21st century gluttony than if I’d knocked the whole thing back in one go.
COOKIE - €3.00
You’d expect quality from Bonne Maman, makers of the poshest jam in Tesco, and they delivered with bountiful choc chips and strong hazelnut notes. What I didn’t expect from the wording on the menu - and is a lovely surprise - is that you actually get two cookies, each individually wrapped in plastic and popped into a cardboard box. Not, perhaps, the most eco-friendly packaging solution, but hey, you get two cookies when you think you’re only getting one, so perhaps Mother Nature can hand us a pass.