- 8 Oct 07, 12:00 PM
Marseille, Monday morning - There’s no two ways about it – that was without doubt the greatest sporting weekend I’ve ever been involved in.
Marseille this weekend has been a city drenched in beer, tension, disbelief, sorrow, happiness and wild, wide-eyed celebration.
Even now, with the streets finally emptying of campervans, sleeping fans and plastic pint pots, you can still almost feel the excitement bouncing off the sticky pavements.
It would have been enough had the city simply played host to England’s gob-smacking, gast-flabbering win over Australia.
But for France to then do that to the All Blacks in Cardiff, when the entire nation was resigned to their side going out of their own World Cup in a different country – well, it just picked the whole thing up by the scruff of the neck and threw it high into hyperspace.
Memories of Saturday night in the Vieux Port after the final whistle in Cardiff keep drifting back in fractured technicolour flashbacks: bars so rammed with fans that they were 20-deep on the pavements; men dressed as Zulu-era, red-coated British soldiers thrashing each other with inflatable kangaroos; Aussies and English singing endless happy choruses of “Allez les Bleus”;
French supporters stripping off their blue shirts and diving into the yacht-packed harbour; men in pink wigs astride life-sized plastic cows while 30-a-side games of full-contact rugby broke out all around them.
For the England fans, the total unexpectedness of the win left them staggering around in open-mouthed, stranger-hugging ecstasy.
The tension in the Stade Velodrome on Saturday afternoon? Fearsome. Brutal. At 60 minutes, my hands were shaking so much I had to clasp them together, and even then my shoulders starting wobbling.
As for the Aussies – I’ve never seen a bunch of fans take defeat so well.
Magnanimous doesn’t even get close. I don’t know why they’re such good losers – it can’t be through practise – but I was congratulated on England’s win by so many of them that you would have thought I’d actually been playing.
When it came to the All Blacks game, shown on giant screens and in every café, restaurant and bar in town, there was a unity of support so powerful that it brought the entire city together into one bellowing, inebriated army.
England fans were screaming for France, on the basis that they didn’t want to face New Zealand in the semis. So were the Aussies, simply to get revenge for all the cockahoop crowing text messages they’d got from Kiwi fans after their own defeat.
And the thousands of Welsh fans who’d come over to support Fiji in Sunday’s match? They weren’t in any mood to poop the party.
People must have stopped drinking at some stage. They must have done. But by mid-morning on Sunday the Irish bars were once again full of croaky-voiced fans rehydrating on Guinness, hell-bent on proving the old adage that you can take the hoarse to porter but you can’t make them think.
It seemed inconceivable that the city had anything left in its tank for the South Africa match.
That was before Fiji, roared on by thousands of Welsh, French and Aussie fans wearing garlands of plastic flowers, came so thunderously close to knocking the Springboks out that people were pinching themselves in astonishment.
Sadly, we’ll also be leaving Marseille with some far less pleasant memories.
On Saturday night, with taxis in such short supply that even Andy Farrell was left waiting at the rank for almost an hour, the police came up to the group of fans I was talking to and warned us not to risk walking back to their hotels.
Why? Because, they told us, you will get mugged.
At the time, we laughed uproariously. Got to stick that in the blog, I thought – the cops telling eight towering, brooding rugby fans that someone would be mad enough to attempt to mug them.
Lesson number one: the local police know their city better than you do.
On Sunday evening, Ben went out and returned later - his eyes puffed up like a punched-out panda’s – to tell me that he’d been walking back home alone the coastal road, and was attacked.
He’d been squirted in the face with pepper spray and robbed of everything he had on him.
Ben being Ben, he was doing his best to play it down.
“At least they didn’t knife me,” he said, as we rinsed his eyes and nose.
Before you fly over, Mrs Dirs, I should tell you that he swears he’s fine this morning.
Admittedly he no longer has a mobile from which to call you, or credit cards with which to buy you presents, but I do, and the Bloggernaut residents always look after their own.
It also takes more than a can of pepper spray to put a man like Dirsy off his World Cup fun. Even last night the main thing he kept repeating was simply, “England v France! In Paris! In Paris!”
So, in a few hours time, we’ll begin our slow journey up north, probably a fair bit quieter than we had imagined we would be.
Any suggestions for stop-offs en route – we’ll probably aim to get to the capital by Thursday night – hugely welcome as always. Hey – there’s even room in Le Bloggernaut for a couple of passengers if you need a ride.
If we don’t see you en route, get yourself over to Paris next weekend. It’ll be awesome. And you can give Ben a hug when you’re over too.
Tom Fordyce is a BBC Sport journalist travelling around France in a camper van with Ben Dirs. Click here to search for all of Tom and Ben's blog videos.