UEFA Euro 2020 was a strange animal; in my life the strangest footballing event ever.
In some ways it was emotional given the pain of the previous year. Most of us remember the tournament being postponed for a year and that announcement was amongst the hardest ever I have had to deal with in 40+ years of football watching.
Postponements in football are a fact of life for players, fans and managers. A muddy pitch; the goalmouth waterlogged; snow covered field or a ground frozen. Most of us whatever the club allegiance have experienced the dreaded ‘P-P’ but we try again a week later.
But there is something more drastic about a whole tournament being postponed for a year. Decisions about football tournaments should be made by football people alone – not globalist bodies with an agenda, or state governments or politicians.
UEFA were in a no win situation. As for fans, the postponement was a hammer blow – the pain indescribable in words.
For Euro 2020 instead of 12th June 2020 it was 11th June 2021 and that took a lot of getting used to especially during the spring of 2020.
One year on – once the tournament was given the go ahead – it was clear the story for fans would be even worse than first thought. Instead of 60,000 inside the stadium it would be 10,000 – thousands of successful ticket applications cancelled – lost opportunity, lost fan freedoms gone in the blink of an eye.
But, despite the pain Euro 2020 arrived but one year later than had originally been planned and there was some consolation in knowing I would attend.
The first instalment was Croatia against Czech Republic on an early Friday evening not two hours before Scotland were due to play England at Wembley. Around 6,000 of us congregated inside Hampden Park in Glasgow; a place where football has been played since 1899. Back then 12 acres of land off Somerville Drive was sold to Queen’s Park FC and football has been played here ever since from European Cup finals to this – UEFA Euro 2020.
The game between the Eastern Europeans started slowly with VAR again being the early deciding factor.
Carlos del Cerro Grande made the first key decision by offering the Czech Republic a controversial penalty which the tall Patrick Schick scored to the delight of a small pocket of Czech fans congregated behind in the East Stand.
Half time came and went as did the protestations of the Croats still outraged at the award of a penalty that looked far from clear and obvious. If the penalty was curious equally bizarre was the fans who were not allowed to buy food but water was allowed on a night when the sun sneaked through behind the clouds.
With pallets no sooner quenched for more action so the Croatian team delivered. A man who scored in the World Cup Final Ivan Perišić brought the Croatians level not two minutes after the break.
Appropriately one of Croatia’s key players Ivan Perisic equalised.
Restored to the left, the Inter Milan star accelerated, cut inside on his right foot, dropped his shoulder, dodged a marker and beat Vaclik courtesy of a swerving shot benefitting of a finals tournament.
Admittedly Croatia’s Ivan Perisic and Luka Modric are always a paring who will ultimately succeed in raising the tone of any match, especially a game that proved to be uninspiring. Part of the problem for the Croats was the Czech Republic’s game plan of hassling and sitting in for the draw. The earlier win over the host Scottish side meant a point was welcome and nudged a team thought to the underdogs in the group to within touching distance of the knockout stages.
Next came the dramatic last 16 tie between Sweden and Ukraine at Hampden Park in Glasgow.
In that knockout tie the great Andrei Shevchenko paraded the touchline majestically in his suit and tie.
In appearance he looked suave, sophisticated – as you may expect for someone who was once an Georgio Armani model. None years earlier in Kiev Sheva was the key man for the Ukraine against Sweden. On a night when nationalistic fervour reached boiling point two goals from the maestro gave the hosts a win.
More than anything some 9 years on he looked like a man who could still play – if asked.
The game itself was decided by VAR red card and a winning goal that the great man himself would have been proud of.
On a warm Scottish night – the 29th June to be exact – Artem Dovbyk was thrown on by his manager in place of Andriy Yarmalenko. With virtually the last kick of the ball he struck and Ukraine were through to a quarter-final in Rome against England.
Post game into the night we all went at around 10.30pm; walking back to both public transport and cars. Being at the game was like coming out of the end of a long dark tunnel of pain and suffering. Like a footballer who has been out injured and come back and scores a goal on the night of his return the last 16 tie had been the final redemption – even if Scotland were out.
Images from Euro 2020 here.