L’Eurofoulee Andrezieux-Boutheon 10km Road Race, 15th April 2007


At 0400hrs on a cool Saturday morning, the 14th April 2007 a taxi mini-bus rumbled through Soham to collect four members of Ely Runners to take them to France to represent Ely Runners and Soham in the annual L’Eurofoulee 10k race in Andrezieux-Boutheon, a village which is twinned with Soham. John Crisp, Graham Chapman, Ian Blatchford and Lisa Redman were the willing volunteers for the race and Helen Crisp who acted as team manager and Brian Redman who acted as chief bag carrier accompanied them!!(amongst other things). Also in attendance was Mr Brian Peacock from Soham, who was attending to speak on the game of bowls.


The EasyJet flight left London Stansted on time at 0715hrs and after a very smooth flight touched down in Lyon at 1030hrs (BST+1), we were met at the airport by Mme Martine Crawford who escorted us to a waiting bus, where we travelled a further 1 hour by motorway to the town of Andrezieux-Boutheon (near St Etienne). During the journey we were able to ask questions and it became apparent that she was able to speak good English as she is not only an English teacher but she is married to an Englishman.


Upon arrival at the town hall/tourist office at Andrezieux we were met by a further delegation of families who had volunteered to give us a home for the duration of our visit. At this point the group was spilt up, Graham and myself went with M. Jean-Louis Boniteau to a very small village called Margerie-Chantagret which was a further 15km from Andrezieux. We arrived at the family home and met the family and looked around the house and garden – we were then offered a drink and the wine and beer was produced much to the pleasure of myself but the dis-pleasure of Graham who was determined to produce a PB in the 10k next day. After a few drinks we returned by car to Andrezieux when we met with the rest of the group and attended a reception with the Mayor at the local sports centre where he gave a speech about European integration, we also met other teams from Germany, Italy and Portugal who had also been invited to the race. This immediately raised our competitive spirit and we realised that Ely Runners were not only representing Ely, but also Soham, England, Great Britain, Tony Blair, Maggie Thatcher, John Turner, Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill etc. at this point we knew we had to win the overseas team event.


After the speeches, we all attended a buffet avec alcohol where only the true athletes abstained from trying the various wines and spirits (John and Graham) everyone else dived in!! Once the food was complete, we were guests at a Nation League Basketball game involving Andrezieux a game that is obviously very well supported in France but not so much in England judging by the glazed look in our eyes!! (this may also have been caused by the fact that we had now all be awake for 18 hours). The whistle blew the players left the court, and we all assumed that Andrezieux had won the game 45-25, so we made our excuses to the Mayor and left the stadium – we were all tired, and had a hard battle with the other ‘Europeans’ in the morning to look forward to. Apparently it was only half time, as they play quarters at Basketball!! Andrezieux did win eventually even without our support!!


M Boniteau drove us back into the country where Graham and myself could no longer stay awake!! We were sorry but we had to go to bed. My bed was surrounded by wood, and you may have noticed but I am about 10’ tall, so I put the mattress onto the floor and slept like a baby.


The next morning we set our alarms for 0630hrs as M Boniteau was preparing breakfast at 0700hrs before a departure to the race at 0800hrs. The breakfast consisted of croissants, bread, jam, honey and a large bowl of coffee (Graham asked for tea, knowing that there was no PG tips, but he ended up with a mint infusion which was ‘quite minty’). M Boniteau drove us back to Andrezieux to the start of the race in the local park – the journey was very very quiet, there was no traffic on the country roads on a Sunday morning. The race organisers from the local FAC athletics club were already well advanced in their preparation with a large contingent working hard, we were already pre-registered so we took in the atmosphere (which mainly consisted of the previously mentioned sewerage works)!


Graham and myself decided to locate the toilets before it was too busy. There was one small portacabin marked as WC, which was for use, by all 500 runners, and for those of you who know France it was a traditional ‘Turkish’ toilet consisting of a hole in the ground and two footprints to assist with positioning. I tried them out with great success, but it was a little disturbing being able to speak to the man/woman in the next cubicle, Graham looked in and decided that he was not that desperate as did the others. A long queue, mostly of women, began to grow, while the men ran for the trees! Lisa also made for the cover of the undergrowth, but her yellow ER shorts acted like a GPS beacon and her position was highlighted!


We warmed up, and made our way to the start where we were entertained by the band. A man with a huge ‘curly’ horn, a drummer, a trumpet and an accordion. The crowd grew and we waited for the start. There were no further speeches, the horn sounded and much to our surprise, we were off! The race consisted of two laps of the park with a little run into the country, the weather was very hot, with no wind and very little cloud or tree cover. As we finished the band greeted us and once again the organisation was excellent.


(please see separate race report)


M Benitou offered to take us back home for a shower and then bring us back for the presentations and picnic, which we accepted. Upon return, we were just in time for the presentations, which went on for a long time due to speeches and lots of presentations for a 5k race, which had also taken place and many children’s events. Then it was our turn, the prizes for the overseas delegations were announced, Portugal had won, they had four very quick, lean looking athletes (they looked as if they had recently run in the European Championships), we believe we came second, in front of the Italian team and the German team, however, we all climbed onto the lorry where we were presented with a trophy. There were more speeches and I gave a brief word of thanks to the assembled organisers, dignitaries and anyone else who listened. The French lady who stood next to me said I spoke ‘very fast’ – but my English was good!! (perhaps she thought I was German).


We were now all given a ticket which enabled us to collect a pre-prepared picnic of bread, cheese, meat, salad, cake, crisps, the sun was now very hot so a marquee had been erected. There was also wine provided and plenty of bottled water. After a further hour it was time to depart.


M Boniteau took Graham and myself to the local chateau, which was magnificent, but he clearly felt that it was not fair for us to pay to get in as we were ‘guests’ of Andrezieux. He went around the back of an office, we heard raised voices, and he returned with tickets, which gave us free entry! We looked around the outside of the chateau, which was magnificent, and we walked around the grounds, which contained many animals, some of which were rare breeds. As we came towards the end of our trip we met up with John, Helen, Brian and Lisa with their France family, who obviously had the same idea. M Boniteau said to us that we must not tell them that we had got in for free, but it would appear they had also got in for nothing!! I wondered if anyone actually pays for entry.


We returned to the house and we were asked what we wanted to do. Graham and I decided that we would like to stay in the village as we had already travelled a lot and it was still very hot. We said that we would take them to the tabac in the village centre and buy them a drink – we sat outside and both Graham and myself ordered a ‘grand biere’ the lady looked at M Boniteau and returned with two huge glasses our eyes lit up and we said yes please, so out came two huge beers with two small ones for M. Boniteau and his son, David. We talked a lot and ordered some more, which disappeared the same way. I think M Boniteau then thought that he may be there all afternoon, with the English ‘larger louts’ so we returned to his garden where he provided more beer, pastis (which is a aniseed drink) and homemade snacks of crisps and sausage.


Later, we were then provided with a fantastic family meal, where we sat at the table all evening eating lots of homemade French foods, and lots of wines. There was a cheese that was so strong that we had to go outside to eat, and there was a pudding, which we ate with cake and a glass of ‘rhum’. They allowed us to phone our families gave us gifts of wine, embroidery, badges, sausage, cheese (which was wrapped in yellow industrial warning tape). The evening ended at about midnight.


The next morning we rose at 0545hrs, said goodbye and thank you to the family, before we returned to the bus in Andrezieux, we then said goodbye to a further delegation and headed to the airport, where we all agreed that we have had an exceptional experience, and are all very honoured to have been lucky enough to represent Ely Runners and Soham on the international stage. I have provided some information to a representative of the Andrezieux Athletics Club about the Grunty Fen Half Marathon via the web sites and my understanding is that they are going to consider entering a team.


Ian Blatchford

April 2007