April in Paris
"On va jouer encore cinq minutes."
That's the referee, telling me that we'll play for five more minutes.
Five minutes, I think. That's not much, merde.
I evaluate the state of my calves' muscles. Aching, cramps well on their way to my body. A quick look at the bottle with the magic salts that I placed near one of Owen's posts tells me that the escort is running out. And the memory of that marauding run into the opposite box, the one and only, is already something from the past. It'll be better to concentrate on keeping the energies for the extra times.
But, still, there's something inside my head that in some way keeps the thought of extra times at bay. I still feel very positive.
A few minutes later ...
The ball is in the net. Marco has just converted a great move of Vipul into what to me looks already as the winning goal. The game should be over soon. I see our own Steven Gerrard pulling his shirt over his head. I start to run, immediately feeling the muscles getting stiff. I don't care. I start shouting, in Italian, like a man possessed. I hear my voice louder and louder. "Te l'avevo detto!!!!" I told you so, I shout to Marco. I know the boy can score these goals, and minutes earlier invited him to do more, to try more. I keep running, the pitch looks endless, but the longer the better. The more I run the more I feel well, the more I shout the more I feel happy. It's a liberation. We deserved this goal, we deserved to win.
Marco has pulled his shirt back on his chest and is now doing an Elvis with the corner flag baton. The plastic stick is suffering, bends and cracks, the flag flies away. I think: "you punk, they've been nice to us, behave yourself", but, again, I don't care too much.
I'm finally there. The corner on the right, on the Gaffer's side. I'm still shouting, "Marcoooooo!!!!" Me being late, someone, Giacomo I think, has already floored Marco, jumping on his shoulders. I join in. I can see Kieran, not too sure about someone else. My leg is stuck under a few bodies. Then I feel this huge weight over my body. It has to be Jon, better known as Jan Koller, for his huge frame. We stay there for a while, corps en masse, very animated. Then we start to extract ourselves. When I finally find myself standing, and still in one piece, I launch a classic chant for Marco. I didn't want to over-celebrate, out of respect for our opponents, but, hey, this is a super-important goal. And this is going to be a fantastic day.
Walking back to my defensive position, a mile away, I'm stopped by the ref. Here we are, I think, I've exaggerated. "The game should finish in two minutes time. Can we add five more minutes to that?" he asks me in French. "Mais oui, pas de problème", my magnanimous answer. I'd have said no, but sportsmanship is something that in England has a proper meaning.
And the prize for this sensible gesture is two more goals, a fluked cross from Marco and an own-goal. Harsh for the opposition, very harsh. Elating for us: winning 3-0 with the first goal on the 88th minute. A goal that I don't remember too well, confused amidst tiredness, fatigue, fumes of armagnac perhaps. A celebration that will stay with me for a long, long time, a precious memory of a truly exceptional tour.
My reflections on the Paris trip definitely centre around some of the subjects already touched upon.
The wonderful hospitality of France Football, who made such efforts to make us welcome after the match, which resulted in some great interaction between the two teams - I hope Frank et al can visit London at some point and we can play again and chat after the match.
Great organisation by Filippo, who was struggling to communicate in three different languages on the pitch - reminded me of a quote from Toshack recently when he said he was talking to Ryan Giggs who was looking at him strangely and then he realised he had been talking to Giggs in Spanish.
Good hotel, fantastic restaurant first night which I returned to with my girlfriend Briony a few nights later (unfortunately, I didn't like anything on the menu second night, but it was still a good night out in the Belleville area of Paris).
Good to see Jez and Bruce, and I hope they can continue to play during tours and one-off events.
Good quiz, with Filippo not believing that I support Roma being a key issue to the answer of one of the questions (team with most supporters on tour). I may have to wear my Roma shirt to a match to prove it. I'll also remember my reply to the waiter in Les Deux Magots of "Merci mate" when he brought my orange juice to the table.
Good game too played in good spirit, with Kieran being very unfortunate in that he was almost destined not to score due to a mixture of good goalkeeping and the determination of a member of the opposition to boot the ball into his open goal as Kieran was just about to score.
Overall, I'm sure everyone will remember Paris to be a fantastic tour.
Another wonderful trip resulting in our fifth victory out
of the last 6 European tour matches: 3-0 over France Football. Wonderful
hospitality from France Football. Stupendous organisation from Filippo,
ably assisted by partly invisible restaurant and bar adviser Alessandro, who
also made an impressive debut. Jez and Filippo's French was invaluable and
the tour also featured the return of Camus and Sartre to one of their old
haunts, Les Deux Magots. This tour also marked our very first interactive
commentary where Hugh, Al and others were able to follow events from Paris,
with Goober putting together an enthralling, humorous and gripping account
from my text messages on the touchline. This beat all our expectations, as
it was really a last-minute idea and in the future we will do this more often.
With a notable and increasing global network this will be important in keeping
Anyway my immediate reflections seem to be dominated by numero trois!
* the time we set off on Eurostar on Friday
* the number of travelling tour debutants (Marco, Giacomo and Ronan)
* the number of people you can get into a Parisian taxi, (for obscure reasons no one is allowed in the passenger seat)
* the number of 'externales', Jez, Jon and Alessandro
* the number of times I called Owen before finally getting through on Sunday lunchtime to find his and Jez's wherabouts (a blast from the past)
* the number of goalkeepers who seemed to dominate the weekend for various reasons - Camus, the Pope (R.I.P) and Owen
* the number of languages Filippo was speaking on the pitch
* the number of Marcos we have had, the third of the genre putting in a match-winning performance
* the number of pints per person that were NOT consumed on the Eurostar
* and finally, the number of goals we won by, even if we were a bit flattered by the final score.
Great trip, and many thanks to Frank and France Football.
Paris in the Spring-time was an excellent choice: fantastic
hosts, great weather and another famous win away from home in the Champions
Here are some of my fondest memories:
* Should have paid more attention in GCSE French at school!
* The mind-boggling quiz on the Eurostar, which appeared to have been compiled by William G. Stewart.
* Hooking up with long-lost buddy Jez and being thankful for his excellent grasp of the language.
* Fine food, especially the crème brulée, and the old vin rouge wasn't bad either.
* Gaffer unexpectedly lifting the drinking ban on the night before the game. Bring on the Almaniac (sic)!
* Gaffer being irritated when there was mass insubordination and the majority of the team went for 'a nightcap'.
* The lads being very disciplined and sticking to the above one nightcap.
* Appalling night's sleep before the game in addition to some of the most horrendous psychedelic dreams that would've given Jerry Garcia nightmares!
* Waking at some ungodly hour to play footie.
* Breakfast team talk that you would imagine happens before the FA Cup Final in the team hotel.
* The magnificent stadium, changing rooms bigger than my flat in London and an UEFA-approved astroturf pitch. Beat that, Paddington Rec!
* The man of the match performance from Marco and his Elvis '68 comeback special celebration.
* Me having to don a 'cloth cap' due to the sun, when three weeks previously we where playing in blizzard conditions.
* I was referred to as 'le guardian'.
* The conversation I had with Laurent at the meal after the match about Liverpool's European Cup quarter-final against St Etienne in 1977.
* Experiencing a cool glass of vin blanc in the sunshine in our favourite café in the Sorbonne.
* Feeling stuffed from our meal on Saturday night then finding myself in a nightclub with Jez, Kieran, Fil, Jack and Ronan. Fil turned the clock back to 1988 and the aceeeed house era and we desperately tried to reach for those lasers.
* Experiencing a Jez masterclass in the Dennis Wise school of taxi fare negotiation.
* Visiting le Jardin de Luxembourg on Sunday afternoon to find ourselves in the midst of what appeared to be a St Andrews' Day parade in Edinburgh. It turned out to be 'Tartan Day' to celebrate all nations Celtic including Bretagne, Isle of Mann, Wales, Eire and Cornwall. Where was Cornish Al when we needed him?
* The visit to 'Les Deux Magots' with Ronan, Vipul, Geoff and myself to recreate the debates and arguments of Camus and Sartre. The locals didn't bat an eyelid when Ronan and I mimicked Gallic shrugs, hand gestures and various poses for Vipul's camera. Outside the café Ronan and I were treated like minor celebrities: people read our shirts, took photos, pointed and smiled. I had a brief glimpse of the world of stardom and found it all mildly embarrassing.
* Spotting Robin Cook and missus at the Gare du Nord (we should have challenged him to stand against Blair but we were all too tired). Also saw former Tory MP and eccentric sweater wearer, Giles Brandreth. He was in the queue for our train, and I was praying I wouldn't get seated next to him!