Sunday 25th June 2000, Bruges
France 2-1 Spain (30,000)
This was a perfect day. The sort of day you dream about when you’re booking tickets for non-existent games eighteen months before they even happen. We arrived in Bruges from Brussels for the last time. It was a glorious day and the clash between the French and Spanish promised a great deal. We even had time to do the toursity bit by going up the tower by the main square (except Matt naturally) and buying chocolates for loved ones.
The pre-match fun didn’t end there because we made our way out to the stadium early enough to catch the entire Netherlands vs. Yugoslavia game. Thousands of Dutch fans had bought tickets for the Bruges game on the off chance the Dutch came second in their group. They were everywhere dressed entirely in day-glo orange. They were mostly drunk, loud and boisterous and that was before the game began. The bar was so packed you could hardly move, dozens watched through the windows of the pub as the Netherlands took Yugoslavia apart. Patrick Kluivert was their main destroyer with a stunning hat-trick which sent the place barmy. “Pat-rick Kliuvert, Pat-rick Kliuvert” rang out to the tune of “Nice One Cyril” – their joy was ineffective, even the French, English, Belgian and Spanish fans were enjoying themselves.
Our own game was just a riveting, but completely different. It was an end-to-end humdinger of a game. Zidane was on fire, Henry a star, Lizarazu and Thuram were elegant and powerful at the back. Barthez typified their arrogance and confidence, Desailly and Blanc tidied up any threats. Against most sides it would have been no contest but the crazy arm waving Camacho had his own team of all the talents. Raul and Mendieta exhuded menace and the whole party was to be ruled over by Collina the alien referee from Italy.
From the start it was sumptuous stuff, high quality, fast, intelligent play. It made England’s efforts look pathetic. Amid all this perfection mistakes looked completely out of place and yet Zidane, the undoubted star of the game and the entire tournament contrived to miskick in front of an open goal on the half hour. Two minutes later he made up for it by doing rather better with a free-kick from twenty five yards. He curled it extravagantly and directly into the net. The French hordes behind the goal went wild. We just gauped in admiration.
Six minutes later the Spanish surprised even themselves by equalising. Thuram caught Raul who went down. Mendieta coolly beat Barthez from the spot to make it one-one. Could the game get any better? Well one minute before half time Djorkaeff struck to regain the lead for the French. He lashed the ball home at the near post from a pass by the languid Vieira. Top class football. The game was on fire.
The second half was equally competitive but less chances were made. The French might be the best side in the world at the moment but the gallant Spanish pushed them right to the wire. We were praying for an equaliser, we wanted more, we wanted extra time. In the last minute Barthez spilled the ball and then fouled Aberlado in trying to recover it. Penalty. Sadly Mendieta had been substituted and Raul stepped up to decide the game. He wafted the ball horribly high, wide and into the crowd. The French were through. A stunning end to a truly magnificent game.
The evening in De Pub was a riot. The square was packed with drunk, singing fans from all over Europe. Amid it all were a group of Gills fans who’d just had the holiday of a lifetime. We befriended some Scots including one in a kilt who runs the London Hearts club and a woman and her young daughter from Surrey who found a soul mate in Matt. She would sing the “Uncle Fucker” song and Matt would join in. Matt even got off with a young Scot who’d driven up from Switzerland for the game. She had a scary friend called Morag and wonky teeth but Matt didn’t care. We even had Danes singing Gills songs. The boys in De Pub even put on a couple of cheesy Queen anthems just because they knew I HATED them. The Scandinavians loved them. It was a sensational end to a magnificent tournament. Here’s to doing it all again in the year 2004 – the venue – Portugal.