Lee's nightmare trip captured in words
After seeing Pompey crash out of the League Two play-offs, life-long fan '‹Lee Freeman was hoping for a better showing by England in the European Championships.
But for Lee, the competition in France was anything but what he expected with rioting, a missed flight and a lost passport.
The 40-year-old has written a book based on his experience of Euro 2016, starting from Pompey’s heartbreak at Plymouth and finishing when he finally reaches home following a difficult journey from France.
Called The French Dejection the book has a humorous tone but it also highlights some of the horrifying moments that happened in Marseille.
One of those moments is when Russian thugs attacked the England fans before the England game on the second day of the tournament.
During that event, Pompey fan Andrew Bache, known as Pepe, was hit on the head several times with a metal bar.
He ended up staying in hospital in France and was flown home in July.
After hearing about what happened, Lee decided all profits from his book would go towards helping Pepe.
He says: ‘In the beginning, I just intended to write it, have it published and that was it.
‘Writing a book on what happened was something I was keen to do but after hearing about Pepe, I thought it would be a good way to raise cash for him.
‘Friends of his suggested just a percentage of the book going to him, but I didn’t write the book to make money.
‘I was happy for all the profits to be donated.
‘I was there when the Russians attacked the English fans but I was watching from the side of the square so luckily I was not directly involved.
‘The book mentions the moments surrounding the attack on Pepe but it does not mention him specifically.
‘It was such an awful incident that I felt I needed to include some of what happened in the book.’
The book is available on Amazon and for Kindles and Lee said he is overwhelmed with the response he has had from Pompey fans and even people abroad.
He adds: ‘I couldn’t believe the response I got. It has been unbelievable.
‘It has been fantastic and people have really been taking an interest in it.
‘On Amazon, people have been giving it five-star ratings which is really humbling.
‘It was enjoyable to write and go over what actually happened because everything that could have gone wrong, did.
‘I wanted to get it out as quick as possible but the editing process took a long time.’
Lee has been a Pompey fan his whole life and he decided to include the end of a disappointing season for the Blues in the book.
They lost 1-0 in the final minutes of the game and Lee said it seemed like a good way to start the book.
‘When Pompey’s season ended in Plymouth, we were excited for the Euros and going to France,’ he says.
‘It was the first time I had ever been to the Euros and I was looking forward to it.’
Lee, from Eastney, travelled to France on Friday, June 10, ahead of England’s first game against Russia on the Saturday.
He headed to the square near the stadium before the game was due to kick-off and said everyone was having a fantastic time.
But within minutes, he said the whole scene changed and he witnessed something he had never seen in football before.
‘All these people dressed in black with balaclavas appeared at the square,’ he said.
‘I thought it was the Marseille Ultras that people talk about, I didn’t even think about the Russians.
‘What saved me from being caught in the middle of it all was the realisation that they would probably run towards the England fans.
‘The next thing I knew, there were riot police everywhere, tear gas was being let off and the English fans were being attacked.
‘Even from the side I was affected by the tear gas, the whole thing was awful.
‘The fans were trying to run into nearby restaurants or shops to get away.
‘I have been to a lot of Pompey away games but I have never seen anything like that before.
‘It was really shocking.’
Lee headed to the ground to get away from the violence but he said during the game, rioting started in the stands and he said at that moment, he knew he wanted to go home.
But it took him another three days to get back to England after losing his passport and then missing his flight.
All these moments are described in detail in the book including Lee getting lost when trying to find the British Embassy and waiting outside the wrong gate for his plane.
He adds: ‘Some of the things that happened seem unreal. I thought losing my passport was bad enough but then missing my flight as well, I just couldn’t believe it.
‘It was just one thing after another.
‘And the book is about everything that could go wrong on a trip, going wrong.
‘So although some of the things that happened were really serious, it has a humorous tone.
‘What has been really good is different people have picked different sections of the book as their favourite parts.
‘They said they found it funny which is what I was going for.’
So far, more than 60 copies of the book have been sold and Lee said he has had a brilliant response.
He says: ‘Portsmouth is a working-class city and people look after each other.
‘That is evident when you look at how much money has been raised for Pepe.
‘What his friends have been doing is unbelievable and I wanted to play my part.’
The French Dejection is available on amazon.co.uk for £6.99 or to download for Kindles it is £4.99.
CASH WILL GO TO PEPE
MORE than £27,000 has been raised by the family and friends of Andrew Bache following a horrific attack.
The 51-year-old, known as Pepe, was attacked by a Russian thug before England’s first game of the Euros.
He was flown back to England last month after spending weeks in a Marseille hospital. His treatment was continued at Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Cosham.
Since the attack, a number of fundraising events have been held including football games, cricket matches and live music nights.
The money allowed for the family to pay for an air ambulance to fly him back to the UK.
Donations started pouring in after Mr Bache suffered a cardiac arrest, extensive brain injuries and a lung infection when he was attacked.
A French police officer gave him CPR after he was hit in the head repeatedly by a heavy object.
EXCERPTS FROM THE BOOK
Pompey crash out of play-offs (start of the book:
As I stood in the away end of Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park I watched as the Argyle supporters erupted into raptures as Plymouth celebrated scoring an injury time winner to send my team Portsmouth crashing out of the play-offs. It meant confining us to another season of having to endure watching League Two football and putting up with the shockingly terrible standard of League Two referees.
As I walked back to John Westwood’s smelly minibus I started to think about the Euros to take my mind off the latest Pompey pain I was being made to endure. I was going to be jetting off to France in June to watch England and see if they could salvage my season after Pompey’s latest failure to get out of a truly mediocre League Two.
English fans being attacked:
I looked to the left of me which was now the top end of the square which was jam-packed with England fans just having a good time in the sun with a few beers. Suddenly out of nowhere I saw black-clad figures running in amongst the England fans. The only way I can describe what it looked like was an earthquake or for Pompey fans imagine being in the Fratton End and watching the entire Milton End celebrate a last-minute winner but with tables and chairs flying up in the air.
Scenes from a nightmare
Some of the English were getting punched and being hit with metal bars, but were able to carry on running through the square or down the lane to relative safety. Police fired tear gas into the square. It was absolute carnage and this level of violence was not something I ever thought I’d experience going to football.
Trying to find British embassy after losing passport:
Suddenly I thought of the Jason Bourne films. I could see the similarities between me and Jason Bourne! I was limping around injured in a strange foreign city wearing headphones and giving out locations and landmarks similar to Bourne in the movies. The only problem was that I wasn’t very good at giving descriptions or taking directions.
My flight was to the City of London airport and the one I had sat patiently for three hours was for Heathrow airport.
I walked away in a daze, my legs feeling like jelly and went straight to the customer service desk in a panicked desperation.
I didn’t really know what to say when I got there.
I guessed I’d just say “I’m really sorry but I’m an idiot who has just sat for several hours at the wrong departure lounge and has missed his flight, can you get me another flight please?‘