As Euro 2016 begins, my mind is taken back to the summer of 2000. This summer was to be my first, and only, experience of a major football tournament as I, along with a mate, decided to apply for tickets in the ballot for Euro 2000 in Holland and Belgium and see where it got us.
Well, the ballot was a success and we were rewarded with tickets for group games in Bruges, Liege and Amsterdam as well as the final in Rotterdam. As the tournament got closer, anticipation built and we, more than anything, looked forward to the final and hoped England would make it (yes I know, I know….but I was young and naïve etc etc).
We were based in Antwerp for a few days taking in the charm of this lovely city and, after getting my first taste of proper Belgian lager, travelled to our first game in Bruges, France v Denmark. Yep, we’d managed to get tickets to see the World Champions…Zidane, Henry, Barthez, Blanc et al. I spent most of the match just watching the greatest player I have ever seen on a football pitch, the mercurial Zidane…at the peak of his powers.
Sadly, we never made it into the centre of Bruges as our train into the city was met by Police who ushered us onto buses straight to the ground. Our bus was full of vociferous Danish fans on the journey to the ground, and they barely noticed our 1999/2000 edition Wigan Athletic shirts, which could easily have been mistaken for French tops from a distance ( or if they all had bad eyesight etc) .
WHAT IF THEY HAD KNIVES I HEAR YOU CRY…
13 years later 2500 pissed up Wiganers.made the same journey, but I bet you never got chatted up by four female Charlton* fans eh? I know who the winner of this competition is …* they were all a bit butch.
France won the game easily with goals from Blanc, Henry and Wiltord. Henry’s goal was class, he got the ball on the halfway line and 3 touches later it nestled in Schmeichel’s net.
Our next scheduled game was Germany v Romania in Liege, but that same day England played Portugal so we decided to scrap the game and watch England instead…..England lost 3-2!! But on the plus side we spend the night drinking copious amounts of Duvel and Kwak so we’ll call it a draw.
Before we were due to head to Amsterdam for our next scheduled game, we were drinking in the centre of Antwerp and as we came out of the pub a familiar face was walking across the main square. Italian legend Francesco Totti was strolling through Antwerp (with his stunning girlfriend…makes you sick doesn’t it). I whipped my camera out….yes camera… and asked for a photo but he casually ignored me as he chatted on his phone, I took it anyway and the cocky git happened to turn round at the last moment and look straight down the lens. Chuffed to bits with seeing a true icon, we followed him… (I maintain we were going to the next pub and just happened to go in his direction) and spotted him going into an Italian (obviously) restaurant to meet fellow player Demetrio Albertini (again this is just hearsay, we didn’t stick around outside of the restaurant for a bit at all, that would be very sad!!).
Amsterdam was our next stop to take in Spain v Slovenia. After a day sampling the many delights of this city, including a fella knocking on the hotel door asking if we wanted any ‘Charlie’, we politely declined and took in the England – Germany game that night in the city centre and were glad to report that all white plastic chairs were accounted for the morning after.
Spain won the game with goals from Raul and Etxeberria in the fabulous Amsterdam Arena, this was a state of the art stadium in 2000, and it still baffles me how the final wasn’t held here in favour of Rotterdam’s De Kuip, which is an absolute shit hole.
We headed home in high spirits (Amsterdam has that effect) and counted down the days until our return for the final. England crashed out to end that dream and we watched the tournament unfold as France and Italy made it to the final in Rotterdam.
So off we flew again and spent the day soaking up the atmosphere in the city centre. The day had such a buzz about it and fans mingled all over the city, not many people asked about our Latics shirts, as this was pre Premier League era no-one had heard of Little Wigan. On our quest for food we walked and walked past restaurant and restaurant until we literally reached the ‘Other Side of the Tracks’. We had hit the roughest part of Rotterdam and hastily retreated before anyone spotted us, and made it back to the relative safety of the French fans.
We arrived at the ground and, after bumping into ex Arsenal striker Alan Smith, took our seats in the Italian end….lucky for me with my love of all things Italian.
The match itself was fairly uneventful, the highlight being the body painted girls who were ‘dancing around a bit’ before the game. Things were going to plan as Italy opened the scoring through Marco Delvecchio, the Azzuri fans were partying and praying for the final whistle. Then it all turned sour for the Italians, Wiltord equalised in injury time and David Trezeguet scored the Golden Goal winner to earn France the European Championship to go with the World Cup. The Italians were shattered, I felt their pain as it is a heartbreaking way to lose any game, never mind when it’s the National Team.
We left soon after, hiding our Latics shirts which could have been mistaken for French shirts….WHAT IF THEY HAD KNIVES ETC ETC…and returned home with happy memories of our European adventure.
Allez Les Bleus