One Night In Paris.
Updated: Sep 2
It was late Summer 2006 and whilst preparing for the start of the European 2008 qualifying campaign, Scotland were still reeling that another major football tournament had been and gone without them participating. This was the 4th successive tournament The Tartan Army had been absent, and they had a missed a beauty of a World Cup in Germany, where the Italians had come out on top. Any major sporting event is a little less better off without the Tartan Army in tow. Having said that, Germany wasn’t completely free from Scotland fans – myself and three friends spent the best part of three weeks travelling around Germany soaking up the atmosphere and the local beers!
In fact, in attendance at the second-round match between Argentina and Mexico, we stood proudly in the stadium with our Scotland tops on. I’d like to think that at every match that tournament there was a small piece of the Tartan Army involved. A great game: with a young Messi, extra time, a wonder goal from Maxi Rodriguez and a very excited Maradona in the crowd waving a scarf around his head so fast, it looked like he would take off. The best part of the evening though was the warmth we received from Argentina and Mexico fans alike. We were even asked to exchange our Scotland tops for the latest blue and white of Argentina – about 10 Quilmes down, we were only too happy to oblige.
Later that evening in the stunning city of Leipzig, my lasting hazy memory is of Mexico and Argentina fans doing the conga in the streets together. Argentina had just dumped Mexico out of the World Cup in a tightly contested match, and there was not one bit of animosity in the air. Around every corner, another conga lurked, full of Mexico and Argentina fans interspersed with the odd fan from other countries, such as Sweden, Canada and of course Scotland. A true carnival atmosphere – the power of football at its absolute best.
As much as we felt like we were the 12th man in Germany, we still, of course, yearned for Scotland to be at a major tournament on the main stage, and not just as the supporting act.
By now, the 2008 European Qualifiers were underway – Scotland were placed in the hardest of hard groups, which was inevitably labelled ‘the group of death’. Newly crowned World Champions, Italy, footballing powerhouse and recent Euros and World Cup winners, France and the highly thought of Ukraine team led by Shevchenko were all in Scotland’s group. Before a ball was kicked, we were given no chance with the usual ‘jokes’ going around of whether we would finish the group above minnows Faroes Islands, who also found themselves in this group of superstars.
A seven-team group with twelve games in total to be played; it was to be a busy schedule. By the time September 12th 2007 had come around, eight rounds of fixtures had already been completed and Scotland had done well, winning six and losing two of them. Five of those wins had come against teams we were expected, albeit not guaranteed, to beat and two defeats away to Ukraine and Italy was also in line with expectation. The one anomaly was the superb 1-0 win at a packed Hampden Park versus France. Henry and co. could find no way passed a stern Scottish defence and impeccable handling from goalkeeper Craig Gordon. That night I remember thinking he must have Velcro on his gloves because despite the rain lashing down, absolutely everything stuck to his hands like glue.
A good point was turned into a memorable three points when Gary Caldwell slid home from a corner. The celebrations that night were fitting of winning a World Cup. Even so, fast forward to the return fixture in Paris and despite taking 18 points from 8 matches and very much mathematically being in the mix, not even the most optimistic fan believed we would finish in the top 2, with France, Italy and Ukraine left to play in three of our remaining four matches. First up of these final four fixtures was the match in Paris.
Fans travelled over in hope and in the mood for a party. The recent performances had reignited the bond between the players and fans, and irrespective of the result, the country was as one. There was pride, and with more Tartan Army fans in the home section that night than the away seating, it felt as if half of Scotland was there. And for those lucky ones that were there, they experienced a night that will be remembered forever. I was fortunate to be one of these lucky ones, although I almost wasn’t there. The close group of friends I now travel to Scotland matches with, had already booked their tickets. I was unable to commit at the time and resigned myself to the fact I would have to give this trip a miss. Fate and some creative thinking was to change that.
I had started seeing someone and it turned out her cousin lived in Paris, running her own business…renting out flats. Throw into the mix that noises were going around Scotland, that fans could easily get their hands on tickets made available for general sale, then my mind went in to overdrive! My girlfriend Pam (now wife and mother of our two children!) mentioned Paris is her favourite place in the world and that she would love to go there for a weekend. By now, flights from Scotland and England were booked up or would cost a small fortune, not helped by the fact England were playing in the Rugby World Cup in Paris at the same time. Hours of searching online, and I found a loophole – cheap flights to Paris from Belfast, via Cardiff! A ‘romantic trip’ to Paris was booked! And the rest is history.
Arriving on the day of the game, Pam went off to spend the day with her cousin and I shot off quicker than Usain Bolt doing the 100m to meet up with the lads underneath the Eiffel Tower. Several hours before kick-off, and already the area was mobbed with tens of thousands of Scotland fans. Bagpipes, kilts, cans of beer – it was party central. With the sun shining, it was as close to perfection as you could get. Bumping into new friends and old, the time passed at pace before we all marched off to the Parc de Prince. The procession from the Eiffel Tower to the stadium is something you had to see to believe. The togetherness and camaraderie was incredible and by now, as is always the way, more and more voices could be heard saying, “you know what, we could win this”.
I don’t remember going into the stadium, but I do remember thinking, are we at Hampden Park? The weather was better, but for every French supporter, it felt like there was five Scottish ones.
Memories of the game escape me, apart from one, and really, the only one that matters. 5 seconds of my life is permanently etched into my brain. Midway through the second half, when we started to dream of holding on for a nil nil draw, the impossible happens. A long kick upfield from Craig Gordon goes straight to our talisman, James McFadden – one touch, two touches and then bang, a left foot strike from fully 35 yards or more which flies passed the French goalkeeper and into the top corner. Pick it out Landreau. The noise was deafening as we all swamped on top of each other, half in ecstasy and half in disbelief. Before my memory then fades, I remember my brother stood next to me, crying like a baby for the first time at a match, but certainly not for the last.
Relive James McFadden's goal against France, we swear it will give you goosebumps.
Ultimately, despite beating Ukraine in our next match, we missed out on qualification to Euro 2008 by just two points. We ended up two points behind France who only lost two matches out of twelve, both to us, highlighting how remarkable a feat that was.
As the wait for our next appearance at a major tournament goes on, it is easy to think what could have been. Ultimately, what matters is those few moments and memories we experience that last a lifetime, and who we experience them with. As Scotland fans, we may only have a few of these moments in a lifetime, but that only goes to make them even more special…and we will always have Paris.
Well Done Michael, He's 13