Saturday 17th June 2000, Arnhem
Portugal 1-0 Romania (18,000)
It is possible to have too much beer and football:- OFFICIAL! It might seem like heresy but the heavy nights on the strong Belgian beer began to take their toll. Lee, Dave, Sean, Chay and Bjorn were ready for a rest after the madness of the previous six days and nights. They were sorry to go but were knackered. That left myself (the Binman), Chris and Matt to negotiate the next two days. Poor old Chris was saddled with the driving. The weather was getting hotter and hotter and tempers began to fray. Matt’s map reading skills or lack of them didn’t help but basically we were tired and wanted to collapse in a heap. We couldn’t because in our wallets were tickets for Portugal vs. Romania in Arnhem.
Things went from bad to worse when I called our accommodation in Utrecht to let them know when to expect us only to find out they’d cancelled our booking because we hadn’t called them earlier in the week. We hadn’t called because we didn’t know when we might turn up and were unaware of the risk of cancellation. A swift call to the Inter Hotel we’d just left in Bruges meant that we did have a place to stay but it was many, many miles from Arnhem. A disaster, especially for our lone driver Chris.
Arnhem was a confusing place, all forests and new development and no real life or centre. A bit like Milton Keynes without the concrete cows. We got lost trying to find the true middle of the town because it is so small and insignificant amongst the sprawling parkland. I’m glad we didn’t have to make it our base for any length of time. The town itself seemed a bit bland and dull. The locals were very friendly though, reassuring us when we parked it was safe and giving us details of how to get to the Gelredome in perfect English.
Our route took us out of the city centre and over a bridge, a very famous bridge, the “Bridge Too Far” from 1944. We studied the war memorial and paused to take in the view of the river and fields. It felt weird with England due to play Germany at football later in the day. We strolled up to the stadium and joined the very colourful crowd milling about. Portugal’s colour scheme of maroon, green and yellow caught the eye, but the Romanians weren’t shy with their yellow, red and blue flags. Throw in the obligatory dash of orange from the enthusiastic hosts and you had a riot of vivid colour.
Sadly the surroundings didn’t match up, the new development has only a drive in McDonalds for company which was predictably overwhelmed. Chris liked the stadium but I thought it lacked character. We tried to work out which end the sliding pitch came out but that was as exciting as it got. The outside of the stadium looks like modern office blocks and inside the four basic single decker stands were like the town, bland. The only quirk saw perspex screens located several rows from the front for no apparent reason.
We found ourselves in the neutral section along side the rather sparse Romanian enclosure. The Portuguese had arrived in huge numbers and generated a superb atmosphere. Their colour scheme and their brilliant song and dance routines captivated our attention. Their national anthem brought out an inspiring display of scarves and flags. It is just a shame the football never lived up to the build up.
The game turned out to be the one poor game we attended during the whole tournament. It began very promisingly both sides were blessed with an abundance of skill, touch and vision. Many of the early passing movements were silky, artistic and had us all drooling but they came to nothing. Slowly the two sides cancelled each other out and nothing much happened. Figo was a joy to watch but ended up too deep and all the tricks and fine passes were in midfield. Hagi also showed some lovely touches but the sum total of all this skill was bugger all. No shots, no saves, no passion. Well there were a few goal attempts but none that really tested the keepers despite the fact that Baia in the Portuguese goal looked very suspect indeed.
The second half was no better, well it got worse, both sides seemed to settle for a point although the Romanians were more cynical, negative and defensive. It was up to the Portuguese to do something special to break the deadlock but they lacked the spark of originality and invention.
Five minutes into the four minutes(!?!) of injury time something very funny happened. The Portuguese stole the points when a smart Figo free kick was headed in by Costinha. The stadium was stunned, a goal? What was that? The Portuguese squad spilled onto the pitch to celebrate an unlikely win and qualification. We just looked at the heavens, mumoured than god that’s over and headed back into town in search of a bar showing the England vs. Germany game. It wasn’t a simple task, the middle of Arnhem is severely lacking in bars and several were closed or lacking in televisions. Eventually we found one and settled down for the game. It was soon heaving with a mixture of English, Dutch and Portuguese fans, all of which desperately wanted to see England win.
Well you all know what happened next in the meeting of Europe’s two footballing dinosaurs. England won a poor, scrappy game thanks to a typical piece of finishing by Shearer. The heaving pub erupted in delight, we couldn’t believe it. After such a disastrous day none of us could believe something was finally going to go for us. The feeling of relief when that final whistle went was immense. England were still in the competition and if they could draw with Romania they would be through in second place to play Italy in Brussels. A game we happened to have tickets for. It was then time for the long slog back to Bruges. Chris did a brilliant job fighting back tiredness to drive through the small hours across the low countries for the umpteenth time.