Monday 12th June 2000, Liege
Germany 1-1 Romania (30,000)
Day two saw all bar Lee, Dave and Sean up sticks and move on to Liege. Chris drove across Belgium with two passengers and all the luggage whilst the rest of us let the excellent Belgian railways take the strain. We turned up and travelled, there were no stupid time restrictions, no hassles, no engineering works, the tickets were cheap, the trains spotless and on time… how do they do it??? Well for a start they weren’t broken up and privatised on a vindictive political whim – ho hum…
Anyway we all met up in Liege and checked into our new hotel, the Metropole which was basically a slum. The “builders were in” and the renovations seemed to consist of painting and papering over the cracks and hammering loudly. The place was pricey, unfriendly and a mess. Thankfully it would be home for just one night. We then grabbed a bite to eat in the restaurant opposite. It would have been a quick bite only it was the slowest restaurant in Belgium with the stroppiest staff who cocked up the order. Things were not going well until Chris went to the toilet and returned giggling and suggesting in the strongest possible terms that we might too like to try the facilities. Matt ventured forth and returned in a similarly cheery mood. The reason was the toilet it self. It was one of the new experimental self-cleaning jobbies. When you flushed the whole seat received a thorough once over too as it suddenly whirred into action and began to rotate. It was a comical sight. Perhaps Liege wasn’t so bad after all.
The reason for our visit was of course to attend the Germany vs. Romania game. Originally we’d only had four tickets between six of us but Bjorn and Chay managed to buy some spare tickets off a guy in a pub in Bruges for half price so we were all sorted. There were football special trains laid on in addition to buses and given that we were staying opposite Liege Guillemins station it seemed rude not to avail ourselves of their facilities. The service was pretty sparsely utilised but well organised none the less. The only flaw, a bit of a fundamental flaw, was the location of the “local station” in relation to the Sclessin Stadium. Our train meandered through Liege and finally stopped in the middle of some sidings. There was no sign of any stadium, nor frankly any station, just some shale dumped alongside the track. Gradually we twigged that this was it. We cautiously climbed down from the train and tip-toed across the tracks into a car park packed with German BMW’s – we were indeed in the right place.
We found ourselves in the arse-end of Liege. The edge of the city is, or at least was, given over to heavy traditional industries. We ambled through the desolate streets between semi-desolate factories following the zigzagging trail. We passed a couple of grimy bars and the most unlikely of Greek restaurants (they’d obviously ignored the mantra for “location, location, location”). Finally we emerged out by a river and the first set of check-points, we all got through, even those naughty young scamps Chay and Bjorn with black market tickets, we could finally relax, we were in.
Well we would have relaxed had it not been for our own location, location, location. To not put too finer point on it we were up in the gods – bumping our heads on passing clouds. Chris and I had seats for the second-from-back row on the top tier. Pre-tournament worries about the third tier in Charleroi were rendered fatuous. We were on top of the world. The fundamental design flaws were numerous. Firstly the stands were incredibly steep. Imaging the steepest stand you’ve ever been in, now double that and you get the idea. Couple that with very little leg room and seats in the middle of a row and you had a logistical nightmare. The choice was stand on people’s toes (invariably German) or risk falling into space. We went for the crushed-toe option, but still the view was both breath-taking and terrifying. The near touch line was obscured by the huge railings designed to stop people plummeting to their deaths but that wasn’t our biggest concern. Behind us were a bunch of German skinheads. Should anything cause them to jump about in a lively manner, lets say a goal perchance, then we all risked tumbling down the stand with nothing to stop us until we reached the bottom. Poor old Matt suffers from vertigo, he was in a complete state. His seats were also high up in the third tier. He had to swap his seat for one nearer the front, but even then he spent the entire duration of the game clinging on to a crush barrier for all he was worth.
The actual view from our vantage point was pretty amazing once we’d acclimatised. The stands fell away dramatically in two corners, one of which enabled us to study an enormous factory. It might have been a steel factory but all it seemed to produce was smoke, steam and rust. Initially we thought it must be derelict given it’s dilapidated, shabby old state. Then we spotted signs of life in the huge rusting hulk which really looked like a child’s caricature of a factory from hell.
The pre-match build-up was dominated by the rather touching enthusiasm the Romanian fans had for cheesy Queen songs which were belted out to build up the excitement. The vast German contingent were not immune to joining in, but they most caught the eye, well the ears actually with their impressive reaction to the announcement of their line-up. The guy on the tannoy would boom out the Christian name, then all the Germans would bellow out the correct surname. Something we should consider doing at Priestfield. Imagine it:- “Number one, Vince…” – “BARTRAM!!!”, well perhaps not then, it sounds better with Oliver… “KHAN!”
The game itself got off to a blistering start despite the intense heat and the presence of several well known o.a.p’s including Mattaus for the krauts and Mr. Grumpy, a.k.a. Hagi for Romania. Prior to the game we’d all decided to cheer on the Romanians but we were surrounded by Germans, some of whom looked a bit rough. It was a shame because after just four minutes I felt like jumping out of my seat despite the risk of free-fall sky-diving. The lively Illie escaped with the ball down the wing, crossed it in low and hard and Moldovan blasted it into the roof of the net. He nearly put it over the bar from four yards, but he didn’t. The previously confident German fans were mortified and it wasn’t the end of their worries. The Germans were able to look good on the ball when they had it, but seemed keener to give it away and let the Romanians have a go. When the Romanians did win it back or were given it, they counter-attacked. More often than not they utilised the long ball and cut the Germans to ribbons. The current holders of the championship were a complete shambles at the back, we were loving it.
The Romanian passing and movement was a joy to watch, even the Germans showed plenty of ability on the ball, their problem was when their livelier opponents had it. It might not have come across on television but the first half was thrilling. It was a novelty to see an established side in such disarray but the Romanians blew all their best opportunities. Moldovan headed wide and Khan thwarted Petrescu. At the other end Bierhoff saw his header saved before they finally equalised. Scholl was fed the ball 25 yards out and he casually drilled it into the top corner. The Romanian keeper never even smelt it, we thought it might even have taken a deflection, but it hadn’t. Twenty nine minutes gone, one-all, defensive lapses and rapid counter-attacks it should have been game on. That would have been the case on 40 minutes when Illie had his leg blatantly taken away in the area but the ever-so-popular Mr Nielsen from Denmark (remember Beckham in ‘98) missed it. The Romanians saw another chance deflected wide, the Germans were incredibly lucky to go in a half-time on level terms. We sensed the Romanians had missed their chance…
The second half was very different, Romania seemed to go back in their shells and settle for a point. The Germans weren’t good enough to do anything else but keep it level. Bierhoff grazed a post but it was the men in yellow who threw victory away. Illie saw his shot well saved by Khan, the ball fell invitingly to Moldovan. His first shot was cleared off the line, the second fell to him with the goal at his mercy. He blasted it wide. We couldn’t quite believe it, but at the time a 1-1 draw suited England who were preparing to kick-off in sixty minutes.
It was another rush job back to town to make the start, we found ourselves back in the slow restaurant with the rotating toilet seat. The place was busy but we were magically ushered into a back room with a big screen and a bar. We’d hit the jackpot, well we thought we had when England went into a shock two-nil lead. You all know what happened next, but you probably didn’t watch the game in a bar full of sniggering Germans who responded to our unfolding horror with a mixture of smirks and cat-calls.
Our initial reaction was one of anger and bewilderment at the naive and shambolic showing but we didn’t want to let it spoil our fun. Chay and I bought two black market tickets for the Slovenia vs. Yugoslavia game in Charleroi the following day off a friendly Shamrock Rovers fan and then we all decided to get bladdered. We walked into the centre of Liege and found a rather pokey bar. The beer wasn’t too good but the inhabitants were friendly. One Brighton fan regaled us with the story of the “indestructible tickets”. He’d been arrested earlier for ticket touting even though other locals had been engaged in serious business dealings next to him. He just had a couple of spares, but the police had had some fun with him. They’d threatened to lock him up unless he proved he wasn’t a tout by tearing up his spares. He was unable to do this due to their indestructible properties, the police had then laughed at his expense and then let him go. To prove his point he produced the offending tickets and passed them round the pub. Nobody could manage even the slightest of tears.
The rest of the night was spent with a mixture of Germans and locals. Bjorn is half German and as the beer kicked in his German came flooding back. Soon he was as fluent as any pissed English bloke can ever be. We taught them several songs, their favourite being “Two-nil and we fucked it up!” – we sang it about the Gills but that night it applied equally to the earlier England horror show. In return they taught us “Stand up for the Germany” (well their equivalent). We then talked the international language of football into the small hours once again before returning to our hovel of a hotel.