Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Euro 96 - England

26th June 1996

Czech Republic 0-0 France (pens 6-5)

In early 1995 I had applied for a number of tickets for Euro 96 matches, even before the contestants were known.  I had, incorrectly as it transpired, thought there may have been major difficulties getting hold of tickets, especially residing as I did in a “foreign” country.  

So I decided to apply early to make sure.  I had carefully selected a spread of group games to maximize my chances of hooking a Scotland match, should they qualify.  Additionally, pre-booking a requisite number of group matches entitled me to one quarter-final and one semi-final ticket (but, regretfully, not a final one).

In the event Scotland did qualify, (something which used to happen quite frequently back then), but were drawn in England’s group, for which I had not bought any tickets.  Fortunately, I had ended up after the draw with a reasonably interesting looking set of group matches to attend, primarily at Anfield and St James Park.  However, my only chance of seeing Scotland play was if they finished runners-up in their group and then somehow snuck into the Old Trafford semi-final.

There then occurred one of those instances when Real Life collided with Football Life, and Wife announced she was pregnant and, all things being well, we would welcome an addition to the family at the end of June – the same week as my semi-final ticket to be exact.  The pregnancy was not exactly unplanned, but I suppose it reflected a particularly effective example of Sod’s Law at work. 

But as things progressed I began, perhaps rather naively and certainly rather selfishly, to think I could maybe get away with this.  I could disappear down to England for a few days to watch the majority of the group matches I had tickets for, plus maybe even the quarter-final tie.  

The semi-final I could play by ear.  If things seemed to be going slowly on the birthing front, I could just nip to Manchester and back in a day.  And, I supposed, if the worse came to the worse, and the little chap/lady decided to put in an appearance when I was out of the country, well, Sister-in-Law could always substitute as Birthing Partner.  Sorted! 

But as we all know, the best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft agley.  Wife and I had just sat down to dinner after watching England make dreadfully heavy weather of drawing with Switzerland in the opening match of Euro 96, when she announced in a matter of fact manner: “Oh dear, my waters have just broken”.  And sure enough, there was the tell-tale patch on her jeans.  Cue much flapping by Self, a quick car journey to Edinburgh, followed by the arrival of Son a few hours later. 

Thus did I fail to see any of the Euro 96 group matches for which I had forked out a not inconsiderable sum.  Not wanting the tickets to go to waste, I offered them free to the Wife’s Brother and, although not a huge footie fan, he was also keen not to see them go to waste.  

His first port of call was St James Park, Newcastle to watch Bulgaria take on Romania after which he, rather inadvisedly as it turned out, dropped into a local hostelry for a few beers before his train back to Edinburgh.  He fell into chatting with a group of Geordies who decided to present him with a souvenir of The Toon to take back North, by following him as he left the pub and proceeding to administer a stiff kicking, leaving him with a broken cheek-bone requiring surgery.  He was, not surprisingly, reluctant to take advantage of the rest of the free tickets, and they eventually ended up pasted into Sons’s Baby Book along side his first photographs and lock of hair.

Brother-in-Law, it later transpired may have got off lightly, when it emerged following England’s semi-final defeat by Germany, a Russian student had been stabbed by disgruntled home fans for no other reason than he sounded as if he may have been German! 

Towards the end of June, however, it had been decreed that the domestic situation had stabilized sufficiently for me to be permitted to attend the quarter-final and semi-final ties at Manchester, although, predictably, Scotland were already back home by then.

Outside Old Trafford, before the semi-final tie.
The first of these matches took place at Old Trafford on June 23rd between Germany and Croatia, and a fine encounter it turned out to be, even though I had to watch it from the dizzying heights of the recently added top tier of the north stand.  

The Germans opened the scoring on 20 minutes, KLINSMAN converting a slightly soft penalty, a lead they held until the break.  Then six minutes into the second-half, Davor SUKER equalized after a delightfully balletic shuffle of the feet had taken the ball around Anreas Kopke in the German goal.  

Defensive frailties, however, proved to the Croats’ undoing, and Matthias SAMMER took advantage to restore the German’s advantage just before the hour.  30 minutes of intriguing football followed, but Croatia never quite looked like they had the nous to pick open the German defence a second time.  And thus did the match finish 2-1, sending the Germans to Wembley to face England.

The occasion, I have to say, was spoiled for me a tad by having to endure a relentless Gumby-chorus of “Ing-Ger-Lund, Ing-Ger-Lund, Ing-Ger-Lund” which arose anytime the crowd (or at least a significant portion of it) became restless or bored, or anything really.  A Cro-Magnon with a baseball cap and no neck, in the seat next to me seemed particularly to derive great personal satisfaction from bellowing out the chant, to the extent I felt sure the bulging veins in his temples were sure to pop.

The flags of France and the Czech Republic get an
airing prior to the match commencing.

The well-packed south stand.
Three days later I was back at Old Trafford for a compelling looking semi-final tie between France and the Czech Republic – the match from which the pictures come.  

The French had looked impressive in winning their, admittedly slightly weak looking, group and had eliminated the Dutch in the quarter-finals.  The young Czech side had seen off Italy in the group stage, before Karel Poborsky’s sublimely lobbed winner defeated Portugal’s Golden Generation in their quarter-final tie at Villa Park.

But what a disappointment!  I am quite sure that those few Czechs or Frenchmen at Old Trafford that day were on the edge of their seats throughout the tie, willing their country to reach the final.  But for us neutrals, it was torture: a real Pig of a game.  120 minutes of unremitting tedium towards the end of which I was pleading with someone, anyone, to score.  Pleeeeese. 

One of those occasions where the scoreboard,
unfortunately, did tell the whole story.

Czech defender Miroslav Kadlec pops in the winner
in the penalty shoot-out, to let us all go home.
It was, as we all know, the Czechs who finally prevailed after a penalty shoot-out, with poor Reynald Pedros the French fall guy; eventually to become a pariah in his own country.  £50, the ticket for this guff had cost me.  Talking to my Boss a few days before the game he had suggested “That’s a lot of money for a football match”.  “True”, I had replied, rather smugly, “But I think I am worth it.” – What an Arse!

The extra-time and penalties meant I was still trying to get out of the car park when the other semi-final kicked off, and Alan Shearer had put England 1-0 up before I had left Manchester.  I drove back up the road to Caledonia barely able to listen to the radio, willing the Germans to equalize.  I could not bear the thought of another 1966.  In the end, of course, the delightfully named Kuntz did the business for the Germans, before Gareth Southgate wrote his name into Teutonic Folklore forever.

I later did actually feel a modicum of sympathy for the thoroughly likeable Southgate, especially once his Mum started to have a go at him. “Why didn’t you just belt it?”, she is quoted as asking him afterwards.  He should have replied “What, like Gary McAllister did?”

Rather primitive Panoramic view of Old Trafford, Manchester.

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