Monday 21st June
Lisboa – Estadio Da Luz.
England 4-2 Croatia – 57047 – Scholes 40, Rooney 45, 68, Lampard 79 / Kovac 5, Tudor 73.
Monday morning saw the departure of four of our gang leaving just myself, Matt and Wolfie facing a rather long day ahead. Portuguese railways had done it again. Back in April when we bought our bonus England vs. Croatia tickets (55 euros each) there was a train scheduled to depart Lisbon back to Porto just after midnight. It might have crawled back taking five hours or more, but we would have made it “home” eventually. Unfortunately a couple of weeks before our departure the new timetable was unveiled minus our train. The first inter-city back didn’t leave until 6.55 a.m. Tuesday morning – getting back at ten to ten.
We strolled onto the platform at Porto Campanha for the 10.15 service south. There were numerous other England fans all milling around; the feeling was one of trepidation mixed with hopeful anticipation. We didn’t want England to lose and go out, we didn’t want to encounter any hooligans but we did want to find somewhere pleasant to chill out after the game.
The trip south took three hours and ten minutes through the rather arid looking Portuguese countryside via two other venues Coimbra and Leiria. We cruised into Lisboa Santa Apolonia station expecting to find ourselves in the midst of thousands of England fans but it was all rather low-key. There were few people around and little sign that a major sporting event was scheduled for that evening. We ambled in the general direction of central Lisbon and the Praca Do Comercio filled with weird modern art. Then up through the spectacular Arco de Rua Augusta (the arch at the bottom of main street Rua Augusta no less) and into the grid of streets known as the Baixa. The streets were packed with thousands of England fans in red and white, strolling up and down as if out for their Sunday afternoon constitutional. On arrival in the Rossio Square we were greeted by many more fans and a forest of flags adorning every available flagpole. There was plenty of boisterous singing and it has to be said a few people you wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night in the bar adjacent to the McDonalds, but the sheer weight of numbers of normal people rendered them a pathetic irrelevance.
Our time in Lisbon was limited so we wanted to make the most of it. Matt headed off to the world famous aquarium and we found a seafood restaurant off Rossio. The place was heaving, the food better than anything in Porto and the service more efficient. Lisbon seemed far more geared up to the huge influx of visitors but it perhaps lacked some of the magic of Porto. The huge numbers of England fans just swamped everything else.
To calm my terrible pre-match nerves (even worse than Coimbra and no goat stew to blame it on) we even went for a scenic tram ride to take in the sights (more spectacular hills) in the company of a dozen cheeky looking Croatians. Eventually it was time to head for the legendary 65,000 capacity Estadio de Luz. We caught the metro up from Rossio where the chaos was total. There were few employees to help out, there were too few ticket machines and one incompetent fool in the ticket office. All any of us ever wanted was either a simple return ticket to Colegio Militar/Luz or a one-day travel card for central Lisbon. What could be difficult about that? It was a shambles.
The journey was a nightmare. After one stop we changed onto the blue line. Unfortunately due to the long delay before a northbound train appeared (three or four had gone in the opposite direction) the platform grew severely overcrowded with England and Croatian fans exchanging rowdy songs. We all piled onto the groaning train and then suffered as it trundled out to the Luz. It was boiling, stuffy and the woman next to me began to suffer from claustrophobia. At one point it looked like she was going to have a full-blown anxiety attack. I didn’t blame her, concentrating on keeping calm and thinking nice thoughts I just about made it intact but dripping with sweat. It was the most unpleasant metro journey I’ve ever had to endure in my life. Stuck in an airless box with some numbskulls at the other end of the carriage oblivious to the distress and acting like the clichéd ignorant En-ger-land fans was no fun at all.
I perked up immeasurably when I walked out of the tube and the Luz came into view. It was amazing – a huge towering grey and red saddleback stadium. There were thousands of England and Croatian fans happily mingling together in the sunshine drinking beer and singing at each other in a playful mood. We didn’t stop to hang about though; tales of chaos for the France game and fans straying up a slip road onto the motorway between the metro station and the stadium demanded that we erred on the side of caution. It was still a funny old route right round the houses, (well round in a arc and under a bridge actually) before the inevitable first checkpoint. Thankfully as relatively early arrivals we were soon strolling into the stadium and after a much needed drink (I was feeling faint due to stomach ache, dehydration and anxiety) I was finally able to take my seat (at the second time of asking – more illogical numbering) and simply sat in awe at the stunning and beautiful stadium. A fellow Gills fan (Lee) and his father in law had joined us after their own epic bus ride up from the Algarve, they had their own worries about getting home again but then that was all part of the “fun”.
There were hundreds of England flags circling the pitch at each and every level, the Croatian section was already pretty packed (13,000) but the rest of the ground was 95% England. The FA had bought up some of the spare seats and not put them on general sale that ultimately meant that there were about 7,000 empty seats but the rest of the ground filled up nicely. We were high up in the gods towards one corner, a spectacular but distant view of proceedings and a little too steep for jumping about like a loony if we scored.
The pre-match atmosphere was brilliant but the sheer weight of numbers (40,000 plus England fans) made it difficult for us all to co-ordinate our singing properly. We seemed to be singing three songs at once most of the time – including “Ten German Bombers”, the “Great Escape” and “En-ger-land En-ger-land ”. The Croats had no such problems and were in fine voice singing with great gusto and clapping in synch with impressive regularity. I am not a great fan of our national Anthem (I’m a republican atheist which somewhat renders the first line irrelevant) but I have to admit the hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention with 40,000 voices singing it before kick off.
After five minutes all my anxieties came rushing back. I had my head in my hands rocking back and forth softly whispering “no, no, no, no, no”. Visions of England losing and going out and the fans rioting and fighting the belligerent Croats in Rossio and us stuck in Lisbon all night, homeless with nowhere to hide filled me with dread. It was all a bit melodramatic but then “being there” heightens the emotions. You aren’t just down the pub with your mates; you can’t just trudge home and give the cat an almighty boot up the backside if you lose. The vibrant sounds and vivid colours, the dramatic sweep of the stadium and the balmy continental evening were suddenly meaningless because once again England had failed to deal with a routine set piece at the back.
The farce began with a needless foul by Beckham on Rapaic. The resultant ball in caused havoc, Cole had a good stab at poking it into his own net; James could only parry and Terry hesitated long enough for Kovac to prod the ball home. The Croatian fans went crazy, flares were lit and tossed onto the pitch (how did they smuggle them in?) and yet there was no panic in the stands (apart from me), the goal was so early that it simply stirred the England masses into roaring their flawed heroes back up the other end.
The England players took the set back in their stride and stormed back in flamboyant style. Rooney was the undoubted star of the show; the chunky prodigy was the source and inspiration of some splendid high tempo quality play. Owen appeared to recapture some of his old zest, Lampard, Gerrard and Scholes were enthusiastic partners in crime and even Beckham was raised from his torpor. With the imperious Collina in charge we didn’t have to worry about the blatant Croatian diving and enjoyed the ebb and flow of an outstanding encounter.
It took until the 40th minute for England to be rewarded for wave after wave of attacks. The goal typified the pattern of play, Lampard and Gerrard combined sweetly to put Owen through, his strike was parried up in the air by the Croat keeper Butina but fell to an onrushing trio of red shirts, Rooney got there first and intelligently headed the ball diagonally across to Scholes and the little ginger ninja did the rest (after 2,257 minutes of trying). With England “only” needing a draw the celebrations were pretty anarchic, much flailing around and hugging each other culminated in one almighty stadium-wide chorus of “you’re not singing any more” at the Croatians.
We were still gesturing triumphantly at the boys and girls in the red and white checks when young Mr Rooney decided it was time for a little bit more magic. In injury time the Roon-meister was fed the ball by Scholes outside the box and without even breaking his stride he lashed the ball joyfully into the net via Butina’s fingertips. The Luz erupted in even more ecstasy – a split second later 40,000 delirious fan were repeatedly screaming one word, “Rooney!” and pointing in the direction of the nation’s new footballing god.
The mood at half-time was euphoric, Croatia now had to score twice, qualification was in our own hands. The big screens replayed the goals, we cheered again, “all” England had to do was maintain their tempo and their concentration…
The second half was unlike most international fixtures. It was so relentlessly open and packed with goal-mouth incident in a “lets rush down the other end and try to score more than them” way. Some of the passing, movement and invention going forward was breath taking, the less said about the defence the better. Rooney was the catalyst for everything positive from England, he set up Scholes and Owen (his deft lob just drifted over the bar) but the defining moment occurred in the 68th minute. A sumptuous wall pass move on the halfway line between Owen and Rooney set the teenager free and bearing down on goal with the Croatian defence split to buggery. On he ran and then with the minimum of fuss guided the ball nonchalantly into the net to make it 3-1. Carnage, utter carnage followed, the relief for me was overwhelming but the genuine thrill of the moment was enchanting. It was a perfect moment, one to be replayed mentally in years to come like Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland. Here was a boy genius, an English boy genius taking Euro 2004 by storm.
Rooney was substituted five minutes later which could have upset the English balance and indeed Tudor did head the ball beyond a static defence to pull the score back to 3-2 with seventeen minutes left on the clock. Fortunately the remaining England players retained their irresistible forward momentum and Lampard was able to cut inside and drill home England’s fourth goal six minutes later – game over. The Luz reverberated to every anthem England fans have ever sung. Football was “coming home” and we basked in the moment, the here and now, news that France had beaten Switzerland 3-1 was largely irrelevant, England were through and barring injury were blessed with the star of the whole tournament.
Outside the Luz there were scenes of pure elation, England fans hugged each other and danced in the streets, young and old(er), men, women and children, even a significant number of non-white faces were there on a magical night. The one sobering post-match thought was the inevitable realisation that for thousands of fans the holiday was over. They would be following England against Portugal in the last eight on television back in Blighty. We were not alone. Those that were lucky enough to be staying for the duration sang “we’re not going home” and rather cruelly “they ARE going home” at their England-bound mates.
Back into central Lisbon and we decided to avoid the potentially rather excitable Rossio square and instead headed for the Bairro Alto (the high town). It is a tightly packed area of narrow lanes dotted with tiny bars and restaurants. We chilled out with a snack before ambling higher into the maze of alleys and pavement bars. We just bought a cold beer and parked ourselves on the pavement and watched the world go by. The crowd was half local (getting stoned), half English (clutching Super Bocks) with the odd smattering of rueful Croats. The mood was happy, buoyant, but not over the top. We chilled out and then every few minutes some more England fans would walk past and we would greet each other with the new mating call of the lesser-spotted England fan. “Rooney! Rooney!” went the call, “Rooney|” Rooney!” came the reply, cheesy grins all round and then off they would stroll into the night.
Gradually the high town got busier, more and more England fans joined the throng until it was time for an impromptu sing song, the highlight of which were these two classic songs:-
“He scores with his feet, He scores with his cock, Wayne Rooney drinks Super Bock!”
This song was accompanied with a little soft shoe shuffle in the middle of the street and followed by;
“Eee-i eee-i ee-i-o, Off to Lisbon we will go, When we win the Euro, This is what we’ll sing, We are England! We are England! Rooney is our King!”
Come four o’clock and the bars began to shut; we knew this was on the cards and sensibly bought a beer to drink as we walked back down to the station. We tried to walk as slowly as possible to kill time, our train wasn’t until 6.55, nearly three hours away, but we bumped into plenty of other England fans in the same boat, all moaning about unfortunate changes to the timetable. We were all homeless in Lisbon and could only stare in wonder at Roman Abraomovic’s boat in the harbour. When I say “boat” I mean ocean-going Bond villain hideout complete with secondary motorboat, helicopter and patrolling goons. Santa Apolonia station was a comical sight when we finally arrived via an all-night cake and beer stall. It was strewn with bodies, all clad in red or white – a retreating army had decamped for the duration until, finally, our inter-city opened its automatic doors and we could gratefully collapse into a fitful but ultimately contented sleep.