Don’t come home too soon…yeah right

After the commercialisation of USA 1994, we moved onto France in 1998.  A tournament that was full of controversy on and off the field (but then again which one in modern times, apart from Germany 2006, hasn’t had its share of front page headlines).  If 1994 was a tournament that saw the dawning of the new age of football, then 1998 was the dawning of the age of creed, corruption and lies.

It was also a monumental year for me personally.  For just a few weeks after the tournament was due to end I was marrying, the now current CMF.  And for the first time, I had kept my girl through consecutive tournaments.  As a pre-wedding treat I had arranged a romantic weekend away in France.  This was when I was young and foolish, and thought that Paris was THE place to take a girl to impress her.  Now, with experience and hindsight I know the real truth and would not touch the place with a barge pole (see why here). Oh, did I not mention that it coincided with a couple of games in the capital  – how forgetful of me.

But first the farce.  England had qualified with a 0-0 draw against the Italians in Rome on the 11th October 1997.  How do I remember such details?  Two reasons – a birthday and a waterbed.  You see it was CMF’s (then simply the Future Mrs Fuller – FMF) birthday and we happened to be in Brighton for the night, having been to see Eddie Izzard.  I’d booked a little B and B on the front, even checking in as Mr and Mrs Smith for some naughtiness.  Our room had a massive corner bath and more impressively a water bed.  As the England game neared the end, with just a point needed I was bouncing up and down literally creating waves and testing its resolution to the limit.  I would not recommend this as a viewing medium to anyone.

So England were through.  Now, it would be rude not to go with the tournament spitting distance away.  And here was the first problem, dare I say controversy.  Ticket sales.  FIFA decided to give the French organising committee first dibs on the tickets, which meant that if you had a French address you got to buy them prior to anyone else.  And this was the days before the internet, so it was by phone only.  Of course all of those tickets ended up on the black market, and to try and prevent English fans travelling to France to buy tickets, the Government produced a wonderful little film showing an England fan, delighted with buying a ticket from a local, being denied access to the stadium.  It worked really well as over 60,000 English fans headed across the channel in June 1998, with only a tiny fraction actually having tickets.

Tickets for most games were “sold out” yet at each game the touts, most of whom spoke with a decidedly English accent, had hundreds of tickets for sale at a huge premium.  There was also stories of corrupt officials from various football associations around the world selling suitcases full of their allocations onto touts – for a more indepth account read John Sugden’s excellent Scum Airways.  On our said trip to France we managed to buy tickets in Lens for Jamaica v Croatia that had Mastercard printed on them, and the following day at the Parc des Princes in Paris for Germany versus USA with McDonalds on them.

In the week before the tournament started an event took place that undoubtably changed the game forever.  The election to the office of President of FIFA of Joseph “Sepp” Blatter.  Our Sepp was the protegé of outgoing statesman João Havelange and it was on his advice that the World Cup was expanded to 32 teams – thus guaranteeing more revenue for FIFA from the corporate sponsors, now called Partners and of course the world TV audiences.

Scotland were back in the finals, along with England, after missing out in 1994 and they were drawn to play Brazil in the opening game at the brand new Stade de France.  It took the reigning champions just four minutes to open the tournament as César Sampaio scored, but then just thirty minutes later miracle of miracles, Scotland equalised when John Collins slotted home a penalty.  But we are talking about Scotland here, so it was no surprise when Brazil scored a winner thanks to an own goal by Boyd.

France opened up their account two days later with an comfortable win in Marseille against South Africa in a game where we saw “the kiss” for the first time.  In a bizarre pre-match ritual Laurent Blanc would plant a smacker on the bald head of keeper Fabian Barthez.  These French are crazy my friend Asterix would say if he was alive today.  The following night one of the surprises in world football took place as Nigeria, so promising four years earlier in America, came from 2-1 in Nantes against Spain to win 3-2.

However, the story of the first week of the World Cup didn’t take place on the pitch, but on the beach in Marseille.  The local authorities had erected large screens in time for the first games, so when thousands of ticket less England fans arrived prior to the first game in Group G against Tunisia it seemed the natural place to watch the game.  However, add in some blistering sunshine, lots of alcohol and some baiting by the local African immigrants and you have a recipe for disaster.  The face of the English “disease” was James Shayler, posted across the news networks, with his shaved head and his St Georges Cross tattooed on his stomach.  The authorities initially banned alcohol when England were in town and then shut down any public screenings resulting in ridiculous situations as we saw when England played Columbia in Lens a week later and effectively the whole town was shut down.

So what else can we remember from twelve years ago?  What about these little morsels.

1. Same old Scotland – In a group where they must have fancied their chances of a second place finish, Scotland surpassed themselves in terms of self destruction.  The narrow defeat to Brazil in the opening game should have given them some confidence, and Morocco’s draw with Norway set them up perfectly.  A draw with Norway in the next game wasn’t the end of the world either.  All they needed to do was beat Morocco in the last game, and with Brazil certain to beat Norway they would sail through.  When have we heard this before?  The Scots were stuffed by the North Africans, and Norway’s shock late win over Brazil took them through instead.  “Don’t come home too soon” sang Del Amitri in their World Cup song…yeah right.

2. Hasta La Vista Espanya – Spain came into the tournament in good form having qualified unbeaten in a tough group.  When the draw was carried out they would have fancied their chances along with Nigeria, Paraguay and Bulgaria.  However the defeat to Nigeria, and then a very tame draw with Paraguay saw them needing the Africans to do them a favour against Paraguay.  Despite the Spanish’s 6-1 win versus Bulgaria, the South Americans progressed with their 3-1 win.

3. It’s a small world after all – Any trip to Paris would not be the same without a trip eastwards to the little slice of America in Marne-le-Valle.  One of the oldest and most traditional rides at Euro Disney, as it was then known, was the annoyingly catchy It’s a small world ride.  So picture the scene.  USA are playing Germany in Paris and we decide to take in the upper floors of the Eiffel Tower.  So we queue up and get chatting to a guy in the queue who turns out to be from the Canadian FA.  I mention that I only know one guy in Canada and that was the former Millwall legend Derek Possee.  “No way” said our new friend – “He is my boss!”.  And so started a long conversation about life in general.  He even offered us some tickets as his guest for the game against Iran in a few days time but we were off home.  It really is a small world.

4. Another dodgy England keeper – After their opening game against Tunisia, England travelled down west to Toulouse to take on Romania.  Despite the presence of the local military and water cannons, the game passed off off the field without an issue, which was more than could be said for the on the field antics.  Trailing to Romeo Moldovan’s goal just after half time and running out of ideas, Glenn Hoddle threw on 17 year old Michael Owen.  Five minutes later and he equalised but the drama did not end there.  Ninety minutes were up when a long ball down the England left wasn’t dealt with by Graeme Le Saux, allowing Chelsea’s Dan Petrescu to nip in and then plant the ball firmly threw David Seaman’s legs.  English keepers screw up at the World Cup?  Never.

5. The rise and fall of golden bollocks – After his impressive show against Romania, Hoddle had no option but to start with David Beckham in the deciding game versus Columbia.  And he didn’t disappoint in Lens, setting up Anderton’s opener and then scoring a magnificent free kick to make it 2-0.  So England were through, but defeat against Romania meant that they would be facing Argentina in Saint-Étienne.  In a highly charged game memorable for the Good (Michael Owen’s stunning solo effort) and the Bad (David Batty’s penalty miss in the shoot out) it was the ugly that made the headlines.  Reacting to a foul on him by Diego Simone, the young Beckham kicks out and is sent off.

The vilification of Beckham is something the country has never seen before.  Yes he was stupid, but did he actually cost us the game?  Who chose David Batty, a man who had never taken a penalty before to take the decisive spot kick?  And look at the reaction of Robert Green’s mistake against the USA last week – do we expect to see effigies of him hanging from lamp posts?  I don’t think so.

6.  The Golden Goal – Introduced as a way to stop the “unfair lottery” of penalties, the first game to be decided by the Golden Goal was Laurent Blanc in France’s 1-0 2nd round win versus Paraguay.  It never really took on, and FIFA tinkered with it a few years later, introducing the bizarre “Silver Goal” instead.  France’s game was the only one in the tournament decided in this way.

7. A dastardly plot – Just a few weeks ago Glenn Hoddle, the manager of the team in 1998 revealed that they had received a threat to blow up the bench during the tournament. Hoddle said recently: ‘There had been lots of trouble on the streets the night before. I didn’t know at the time, but I was told years later that people were trying to blow up the England bench. It didn’t cross my mind that something like that was happening.’

Former FA head of communications David Davies confirmed Hoddle’s story. He said: ‘Sir Brian Hayes, the FA’s head of security during the World Cup finals, alerted us to the possibility of a major security problem. We knew the England team had been targeted, but not the specifics. But I know we had security concerns in Marseilles.’

8. The best quarter finals ever? – England’s elimination to Argentina allowed us neutrals to concentrate on the rest of the tournament and what a set of games we saw in the last eight.  The surprise was Croatia, in their first ever World Cup stuffing the German’s 3-0 with Slaven Bilic, Davor Suker and AC Milan’s Boban impressing the watching world.  Brazil edged out Denmark 3-2 after trailing to a 2nd minute opener.  The Dutch, for so long a disappointment at major tournaments beat the now vilified Argentina thanks to a wonder goal in injury time from Denis Bergkamp in a band tempered game that saw two sent off and finally, France showed they had luck on their side with a penalty win against Italy.

9. What a cheat – The Semi-finals saw Brazil beat the Netherlands on penalties in a pulsating game which saw the Dutch equalise late on forcing the game into extra time.  But the real drama was in Saint Denis where the surprise package and neutrals choice Croatia took on France.  After a goal less first half the Croatians took the lead in the 46th minute when Davor Suker scored his 5th goal of the tournament.  The lead lasted just a minute when galloping full back Lilian Thuram his first goal for his country.  Twenty minutes later he scored a carbon copy goal – amazingly his only goals for his country in over 140 games. But the drama did not end there.  In the 76th minute there was some jostling at a corner, and Croatian centre back Slavan Bilic fell to the floor holding his face.  The Spanish referee was fooled hook, line and sinker and sent off Laurent Blanc.  TV replays showed that the Croatian had cheated and was not touched at all, meaning the Frenchman was ruled out of the World Cup final.  Cheats never prosper we cheered in October last year as England’s 5-1 at Wembley eliminated the Croats under Bilic’s charge.

10. What on earth was that all about? – What happened in the hours leading up to the kick off in Paris in the Brazilian camp will always be a mystery.  The star of their tournament was buck toothed centre forward Ronaldo but he was admitted to hospital after suffering a fit.  Quite how he then ended up playing is today up for debate as to whether there was outside influences from the likes of team sponsor Nike or whether it was all just mind games.  Whatever it was backfired completely as the French recorded the biggest winning margin in a World Cup final in 40 years.

Zinedine Zidane gave France the lead just before the half-hour mark with a header from an in-swinging corner. Only minutes later, Ronaldo was put through on goal by a long ball from Dunga, but he could not get the better of the onrushing Fabien Barthez, who collided with the Brazilian striker. Both needed assistance from the squad medics but quickly recovered. Zidane doubled France’s advantage on the stroke of half-time with an almost identical goal to the first and it was game over. Midfielder Emmanuel Petit wrapped up the scoring in the 90th minute to put the victory beyond all doubt. France had to survive the last 20 minutes with only 10 men with the dismissal of Marcel Desailly and thus became the newest name on the World Cup trophy.

So another advancement in world football.  First we have the commercialisation of the game, and now we had the all too common ticketing farce that has dogged every tournament since.  My nuptials passed with great success a few weeks later and my eyes were firmly fixed on 2002 and South Korea.  Surely I couldn’t swing that one could I?

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