Ten years ago today, I set off at 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning to drive the three hundred miles from the Mediterranean village of Collioure to the city of Bordeaux.
Two hours or so later, I pulled into a service station on the autoroute. Fans in yellow and blue spotted my Leinster jersey, ‘Ah, Leinster’, they called, and then shouted, louder, ‘ASM, ASM’.
Reaching the outskirts of Bordeaux by one o’clock, I parked the car near a tram stop and bought a ticket. The carriage was well filled – a sea of yellow. I smiled and they began to sing, ‘Ireland’s Call’.
On reaching the city centre, where a change of trams was required, the number of ASM Clermont Auvergne supporters seemed to have multiplied exponentially. I was pulled into a group in order to be photographed with them.
‘Bonne chance’, they said, each of them offering a handshake.
Walking to the pub where Leinster fans had gathered, it was impossible to get near the doorway, let alone get inside, so I walked to a tram stop to go to the Stade Chaban-Delmas, a piece of Art Deco architecture built in 1930 that became the home of Union Bordeaux Bègles rugby club. With a capacity of 34,000, it was much larger than any of the grounds of clubs in Ireland or Britain.
The size of the crowd making its way to the match meant the tram could go no further than two stops, and I got out to walk.
The Leinster supporters had begun a march to the ground, led by a man with a blue flag and I slipped in among them. The streets were lined with yellow and blue attired ASM supporters applauding the arrival of the opposition support – it was a strange experience.
As we approached the stadium, the lines of Jaunard supporters converged and formed a funnel. Passing through it meant exchanging handshakes with dozens and dozens of people – it was hard to imagine this happening anywhere else.
The noise generated in the stadium was tremendous, chants and tunes and songs and musicians, a constant barrage of sound.
Leinster were left winners of the match when in the 79th minute the Clermont winger Wesley Fofana knocked the ball forward instead of scoring a try, and then the ASM pack conceded a penalty on the Leinster goal line.
There was a feeling that we had robbed them, and even then they still shook hands with us in the stand, and as we left the ground.
It remains the most memorable sporting occasion I have ever attended.