Sunday 18th June 2000, Liege
Yugoslavia 1-0 Norway (27,000)
Another day, another match, another slog across Belgium for poor old Chris. The Utrecht hotel debacle really stuffed up our itinerary, but it was the last game before we could go home so we girded our loins, packed our bags and headed for Liege. We had been short of one ticket for the Norway vs. Yugoslavia game but the trusty black market worked it’s magic and I picked one up for £15. The game didn’t promise much really but we knew the Yugoslavian side would play with skill, spite and cynicism and that the Norwegian hordes would be good for a laugh.
The afternoon in Liege was spent relaxing, the heat was getting oppressive. We met up with the Sunderland fan from previous games and watched an entertaining clash between Spain and Slovenia on the television. Matt attracted the attention of a couple of nutty Scottish fans (as he tends to do). They had been involved with the seminal late 1980’s Meadowbank Thistle fanzine AWOL and regaled us with weird and wonderful tales from their varied travels. We also got talking to some Norwegian supporters. As ever I was wearing my Gills shirt, so when one would-be Viking introduced himself I prepared myself for the usual explanation of who exactly Gillingham Football Club were. I’d only got as far as “Gillingham…” when the guy pulled a face and went “Ah! Nicky Southall – FA Cup!”- and we were away. They get to see Match of the Day in Norway and the Gills had naturally been on against Sheffield Wednesday. Clearly Nicky Southall’s goal had got an airing across Scandinavia… he is now a little bit famous!?! The only real downer on the afternoon was spotting our first Manchester United fans. They were blonde and had Berg and Solskjaer printed on their backs. Methinks they weren’t from Manchester.
The train journey out to the ground was now familiar. The train stopped and the Norwegian fans were reluctant to get off until I reassured them that this was really it. The march through the grey streets between steel works and derelict factories was brightened up by the red, white and blue of the thousands of Norway fans. My seat was in the Norway end up in the gods behind the goal. Chris and Matt had posh seats along the side, but they too would need oxygen at such a high altitude.
My main problem was actually getting into the Sclessin Stadium. Two narrow gaps in a fence were the official entrances for a end holding thousands of visiting fans. An almighty crush developed and genuine fears for people’s safety surfaced until further gates were opened. It was a real shambles and the hot and sweaty melee was just what I didn’t want on such a long and tiring day.
I eventually found my seat amid much confusion due to illogical numbering patterns. Climbing through rows of pissed Norwegians in the middle of their national anthem was no fun. Breathlessly I took my seat directly above one goal. I had some moaning Scots behind me who were aghast to discover the referee was Hugh Dallas from Scotland. They hated him and predicted a totally incompetent display – they were spot on. For people watching the game at home on television it might have been a bit of a bore but we all thoroughly loved it, for all the wrong reasons. After a tournament blessed with magical, fantasy football, incredible skills and thrilling games it was a nice change to see an old fashioned kicking match.
The contest soon degenerated into a bitter, violent, cynical battle filled with passion and anger. For the first time we really felt involved and it was all due to the approach of the Yugoslavians. They took gamemanship and cynicism to new depths and Mr. Dallas was unable to control what was happening. They were wasting time from the first minutes and tried every trick to make the Norwegians lose their cool. They feigned injury continually and took ages to make substitutions.
The tens of thousands of red shirted Vikings got angrier and angrier but their one-dimensional side were unable to do much about it all. Savo Milosovic had given the villains of the evening the lead on eight minutes with a deft header from a Drulovic set piece. In between all the thuggery and naughtiness the Slavs passed the ball neatly and confidently. Why didn’t they just stick to doing just that? Norway had Flo, Solskjaer and Iverson up front but no quality in midfield and their one hope was their mister perpetual motion, Mykland. He was their Hessenthaler but he was simply kicked to bits. The rest of the Norwegian side seemed happy to lump long balls up field to no great effect.
With more of the same in the second half the fans around me grew restless. Things got even worse with the introduction of a carthorse named Carew who looked nothing like an international player. The poor guy couldn’t control the ball, couldn’t pass, couldn’t run. Inevitably the one big chance in the dying moments fell to him. In the last minute the hulking bambi on ice was put through only to poke the ball apologetically wide. By then the game had degenerated into farce, a trio of Yugoslav substitutions took an age. One youngster Kezman who’d only been on a matter of seconds went in rather too enthusiastically and was sent-off. It was a shocking decision but he was paying for the many sins of his team mates. Dallas had finally lost patience and done what he should have done an hour earlier. We left a ground resounding to boos and headed back into Liege and then on to the Eurotunnel and home. The game had been a disgrace, the cheating and diving non-stop. Chris and Matt were grinning from ear to ear, they’d loved every minute of it.