The first day of any major tournament is always memorable because everything is new and exciting. We’d all been looking forward to Euro 2000 for nearly two years but the actual build up was rather strange. Our minds had been focused on other rather more pressing matters for much of April and May, namely the Gills’ pursuit of promotion which meant that the tournament rather sneaked up on us. The hotels were booked, the money changed, the travel details confirmed, our itinerary mapped out and yet it had little of the feeling of “making history” which accompanied us to France ‘98. We approached Folkestone early on the Sunday morning rather less bright eyed and bushy tailed than we’d planned due to a rather enjoyable evening in Canterbury half watching the opening victory for Belgium over Sweden on television and mostly talking “Gills”. As we went to board Le Shuttle Chris’ car suddenly started spewing steam, the staff waving us onto the train wagon were understandably a tad concerned so asked Chris whether his car was about to blow up. He replied that he “hoped not” which was good enough for them and on we went. Chris then spent most of the voyage under the Channel refilling the water container under the bonnet of his car, the top of which had come off, hence the steam. We’ll never know how close the car did come to seizing up, but it might just have been a rather close thing…
The drive up to the Belgian border from the Eurotunnel was uneventful and largely steam-free. Curiously upon entering Belgium nothing seemed to change. There was no sense of occasion and precious little evidence that anything special was taking place. We arrived in Bruges and found our hotel (the excellent Inter Hotel) more by luck than judgement, we checked in and after a brief rest headed into town. We were due to meet up with fellow Gills Lee, Dave and Sean who’d travelled out to Bruges the day before. With little previous knowledge of Bruges we planned to meet up at “De Pub” near the main town square. It was an inspired choice because it later transpired that De Pub would be at the heart of all the Euro 2000 fun to be had in Bruges. Sadly all the strongest and tastiest beers were off the menu on match days due to police orders but both Jupiler and Tongerlo beers were still flowing freely when we arrived amid boisterous hordes of very noisy Danish fans.
Chris, Matt and I had previously experienced the Danish support at France ‘98 in Lens and knew what to expect. They tend to drink vast quantities of beer, sing songs (badly) and generally know how to enjoy themselves without getting belligerent. Their favourite anthem sounded like “Half Past Four, Half Past Four!” sung to the tune of “Here we go” – the central square was swarming with a multi-national throng although the numerous French fans appeared to be a little more reserved. The Danish were mostly based in and around Bruges while the French arrived later by car mostly on day trips which was understandable given the close proximity of the French border. The mood was buoyant and sunny, for the first time we really felt like we’d arrived at Euro 2000.
Then Lee, Dave and Sean appeared grinning from ear to ear with a young female Danish fan in tow. She sported the obligatory red and white face paint and a jingly hat and was introduced to us – her name was Signe (pronounced “Seena”) – they had a very weird story to tell. The young lady in question had been innocently meandering through the streets of Bruges the previous afternoon when Sean spotted her. He made a passing comment in Danish (one of his ex-girlfriends was Danish) and they got talking. Incredibly she wasn’t a football fan and didn’t even know Euro 2000 was happening. She was in Bruges to sell postcards to raise money to pay for her to go to Mozambique to teach Portuguese to the local children. She was understandably perplexed by the sudden influx of thousands of her fellow Danes into Bruges but was blissfully unaware of what was going on. Well Sean happened to have a spare ticket and one thing led to another and twenty four hours later she was blending in with the Danish invaders and knocking back the beers with the best of them. God knows what the nuns in the nunnery where she was staying thought of all this. One minute she was innocently selling postcards on the streets of Bruges all for a good cause, the next thing she knows she’s standing in the town square beer in hand, flirting with Gills fans and translating Danish songs to an attentive audience.
To be honest it all got a bit crowded at De Pub that afternoon, any attempt to catch much of the Italy vs. Turkey game on the television was rendered pretty impossible by a combination of a packed narrow bar and a small television. We did see replays of the goals and the cheers that greeted both Italian goals from every nationality in the pub suggested something that would later be confirmed, namely that the Turkish side and their supporters are by far the most unpopular across Europe.
Soon it was time for us to make our way to the Jan Breydel Stadium across Bruges for our first game. Worryingly were still minus three other Gills. The Faversham duo of Chay and Bjorn had travelled over by Seacat but all our best laid plans to meet up prior to the game had gone a bit pear shaped because we couldn’t get through to them on their mobiles. We did bump into two Palace fans (Dean and Karin) as planned, but that still left a third Gill – Jinxy in limbo. His Eurostar train from London to Brussels got severely delayed enroute but his mobile was working and we were eventually able to meet him at the station.