Euro 2016 could bring us closer together at the right time

Local fans during a Northern Ireland training session at the Parc de Montchervet, Saint-Georges-de-R

Local fans during a Northern Ireland training session at the Parc de Montchervet, Saint-Georges-de-Reneins. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire - Credit: PA

How fitting that football's European Championship should coincide with the hotly-debated European Union referendum – it's almost as if the government planned it.

Security presence during a training session at the Parc de Montchervet, Saint-Georges-de-Reneins. Pi

Security presence during a training session at the Parc de Montchervet, Saint-Georges-de-Reneins. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Not only could the tournament preoccupy potential voters but it could also shine a welcome bright light on our continent, barring any idiots indulging in a spot of summer hooliganism.

Unfortunately the threat of terrorism hangs around in the shadows but placing our faith in our security forces and refusing to be deterred is surely our greatest response to the threat of such evil.

The tournament brings together supporters from 24 nations in France over the course of the next month or so and I'm fortunate enough to have tickets for one of the early matches.

I'll be boarding a ferry to Dunkirk early on Saturday morning with three friends as we make our way to Lille to soak up some of the atmosphere of a major tournament.

A St George's cross flag with 'Welcome' in Chantilly. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

A St George's cross flag with 'Welcome' in Chantilly. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire - Credit: PA

We hope to be sharing in the good spirits of the French locals and supporters of other countries in the 30,000 capacity fanzone on Saturday night, as England take on Russia in their Group B opener.

We then head to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Sunday to take in Germany v Ukraine in Group C – thanks to tickets purchased for just 25 Euros each before the draw was made.

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My tournament enjoyment will not rest on the fortunes of Roy Hodgson's side though. I may only be 29 years old but I've already suffered enough Three Lions pain to last a lifetime, so I won't be getting my hopes up too much.

As long as our young team give it a good go and play with some attacking intent, I'd see the quarter-finals as good progress for a developing squad.

Instead I'll be trying to enjoy the tournament as a whole, watching the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale entertain us all on the big stage.

Or should that be James Milner? Fifth according to the Uefa Euro 2016 Player Barometer heading into the tournament... not sure about that one.

I'll be rooting for Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic as well, and in amongst it all are four Norwich City players to keep an eye on.

Finally seeing Wes Hoolahan amongst the elite will be really interesting but what a shame he's had to wait until he's 34 for that opportunity.

Let's hope he can do himself justice.

All in all though, I'll be looking forward to enjoying the excitement and the atmosphere, to chat with fans from other countries and to take in games throughout the day for a whole month.

Believing that Europe is better as a united community is a large part of why I will be voting to remain in the EU referendum – and I hope Euro 2016 will help to remind people of the solidarity and friendship that I believe we should be striving for.

Top tip

I've stuck a fiver on Germany to win Euro 2016 and France's Antoine Griezmann, inset, to be top scorer, available at 50/1 on SkyBet.

The world champions seem to be rather flying under the radar, with many tipping the host nation to win on home soil.

If France do make it into the latter stages of the tournament then the Atletico Madrid striker – who scored seven goals in the Champions League and 22 in La Liga – looks likely to play a major part, with Real Madrid's Karim Benzema not in the squad.

If the Germans and the French win their groups they would be on course to meet in the semi-finals – and I would still expect Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and chums to be too strong for the hosts.

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