With England, Northern Ireland and Wales all through to the Euro 2016 football finals to be played in France from 10 June to 10 July next year, many fans are waiting anxiously for 5pm UK time on 12 December. That is when the draw begins to assign teams to the six first-round groups. Within seconds of a team being placed in a group, travel websites will be hit with a spike in bookings – while airlines mark up the price of flights expected to be in high demand. Accommodation reservations are likely to be equally intense, as supporters of the nations with the biggest populations – England, Germany, Italy, Spain and France – all weigh in.
The canny football traveller, though, will watch this frenzy unfold with calm amusement. He or she will have already taken a punt and chosen a city in which to base themselves for the opening round, between 10 and 22 June. And which city should it be? Our analysis points squarely at France’s gastronomic capital: Lyon.
Looking at the geographical spread of venues, this is a tournament of two halves. The northern part comprises the two Paris grounds, plus Lille and Lens. But the southern locations are far more enticing: Lyon and neighbouring St-Etienne; Toulouse and its south-western sibling, Bordeaux; and the Mediterranean pair of Marseille and Nice.
England are a seeded team, so we know they will not be in Group A with the hosts, France. That delivers a 60 per cent probability of England playing at least one match in Lyon or nearby St-Etienne – just half-an-hour off by frequent commuter train. The odds for Wales and Northern Ireland are slightly less favourable, but even if the draw is unkind to Lyon-based supporters, there are plenty of high-speed trains linking Lyon with Paris and Lille (Group C) or Nice (D).
That means on 12 December the canny fan will be quietly booking trains while the others are still seeking flights.