We watched England in Albania fan zone earlier than getting thrashed 8-1 in mountains

Watching England in Albania’s Euro 2024 fan zone was epic. This was not your average Sunday League pre-season tour.

Apparently UK weather was abysmal over the weekend, forcing football fans to seek shelter inside pubs, clubs and everything in between for dry viewing of England vs Switzerland. Any poor souls who pre-booked a table out in the elements for the game, may have wished they hadn’t.

Such scenes were a far cry from my own experience as the fixture kindly landed on the date my grassroots football basked in the sun of Albania (away). The somewhat alternative choice of destination to dust off the cobwebs ahead of another season of Mid-Essex mediocrity, was certainly a decision well-made.

READ MORE: ‘I watched England’s Euro 2024 penalty win in Benidorm – it was hell on earth’

Stay on the Daily Star for the most fun Euro 2024 coverage

Never mind the ridiculously flash ‘Love Island-esque‘ villa out in the sticks, the incredible pitch we played on or the fact all 17 of us bundled onto the back of an old pick-up. There were quite clearly more pressing matters at stake, where to watch yet another woefully dull display of Southgate-ball?

Tirana's Euro 2024 fan zone
Tirana’s Euro 2024 fan zone was pretty special

If we had any concerns the Euros wouldn’t be broadcast since Albania’s own exit from the group stages, then strolling through the port town of Durrës the previous night (Friday) put them to bed. We could hardly walk 10 yards before seeing another bar telly showing France vs Germany.

Football team
Outside our very own Casa Amor

Then came match day. Not only for England but yours truly, the mighty Springfield Social FC against Albania Sunday League champions Kastriotet MFC at 9pm. Why so late? Well as we found out, it’s very, very hot any earlier.

My only two wishes for the day:

  1. England win in 90 minutes so we’re not late to our own 9pm (local time) kick-off;
  2. Convince 17 lads on holiday not to sink beer after beer watching England in a quarter-final

Well, I almost got lucky with the latter.

Before we’d even scoured the capital city of Tirana for a bar to settle into for the evening, we were bowled over by a colossal purpose built fan zone in Skanderbeg Square. And I kid you not, the TV was the biggest I’d ever seen. Absolutely bloody enormous. A behemoth of a screen. A truly magnificent platform for sporting viewing. You get the picture.

Football squad
All smiles before our thrashing under the floodlights

The nation was clearly not going to let their return to Europe’s biggest stage pass without pulling out all the stops. Digital advertising hoardings, surrounding artificial grass with a tiered stand at the back really made for a stadium-like feel. Not to mention the boozy concourse.

There was one slight problem though. Under the baking 30-odd degree sunshine, visibility wasn’t the greatest, but then that’s why England took it to penalties, right? Waiting for day to make way for night to give us few Brits watching, the clearest view imaginable of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s winning penalty.

Springfield FC
And after our sweaty humbling

It was hard to gauge quite how outnumbered by swiss supporters we were given the lack of red shirts but when their opener went in, suddenly we weren’t the only ones creating an atmosphere. Then came Saka’s equaliser – at least I know we enjoyed it…

With time slipping away from us as the seemingly inevitable spot-kicks were confirmed, discreet changes into our kit at the table were well under way. Celebrations should we win were to be emphatic but limited, short but ever-so sweet.

And so they were, no beers spilled, no plastic cups lobbed aimlessly into the air. Just pure unadulterated, harmless limbs in amongst a silenced crowd, cut short by us having to dart to the nearby taxi rank. Incidentally leaving one man behind in the process – somehow he made kick-off without phone battery or data roaming.

The greatest sight we could have asked for on our rural trek to the beach

Our opponents graciously understood our delayed arrival before punishing us for it by firing in just the eight goals to our one, we’ll blame the fan zone beers… More mercy was shown the following day, however, by a truck driver passing us down an extremely rural track road as we recklessly braved a sweltering trek to the beach.

Spotting 17 of us marching in the heat, the motorist arose as the hero we didn’t know we needed pulled over and gestured for us to clamber onboard like Noah’s Ark. One by one we excitedly pulled ourselves onto the back, braced for a bumpy to say the least. Without a single word exchanged, the only warning our driver gave us was a point towards the vehicle’s edge. So through fear of toppling off into stone and hedge, we avoided trusting it with our bodyweight and hoped for the best.

It was wild and yet another demonstration of Albania’s irresistible, unpredictable charm. If it’s not on your travel bucket list already, you may fancy adding it especially for a spot of football.

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