Paris – Wonderful

Stade de France

Paris 2006 – well what an absolute cracker it was, I have to say.

Clearly, the disappointment at about 11.30pm on Wednesday night as we filed out of the ground was palpable, but it was sadness, not bitterness, and it was tinged with pride. The more time I’ve had to think about it the better I feel about it, and Thierry Henry’s clearly with me on this one. With 10 v 11, we survived for forty minutes unbowed, and our much-vaunted opposition were getting increasingly frustrated. OK, so they got through in the end, but perhaps that was inevitable. The whole team played out of its socks on the night, with some special performances, especially in defence. Ljungberg too – he caused havoc all game. Lots has been written about Campbell too, who clearly exorcised a few demons on Wednesday. He looked very solid and scored a header to remember.

But our stock across Europe this season has risen steadily, and it rose again on Wednesday. I said before the game there’d be no shame in losing if we gave a good account of ourselves, and we certainly did that.

As for the day itself, well it was cracking too, absolutely brilliant. Our ferry from Dover might as well have been chartered by Arsenal, so many gooners were there on it. Arriving in Paris and driving past the Eiffel Tower we could hear the chanting from beneath it. It’s a great sound…

In and around the ground there was none of the teargas nonsense the CRS inflicted on Arsenal fans in 1995 at the shabby, dilapidated Parc des Princes. In fact, both sets of fans were fantastic, and I read in the French sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday morning that there had been no arrests at all – apart from 21 around the stadium for touting and ticket theft. Marvellous.

So all in all, it was one of those days you’re just not going to forget. It’s taken us this many years to make a European Cup final, and now, having been there and experienced it, I can see what all the fuss is about. The wall-to-wall press coverage, the 40,000 travelling fans, the palpable excitement – it’s the biggest club game, perhaps the biggest game behind the World Cup, and the atmosphere in the ground was testament to that. Going back to L’Equipe – they claimed it was possibly the best atmosphere they’d seen at the Stade de France since the World Cup final in 1998.

For the players, it’s the kind of experience that comes round very rarely. But we’ve now got teenagers and players in their early twenties who have witnessed 13 high-octane games on the way to the final, defeating Real Madrid and Juve en route, and who have witnessed playing in the biggest club game there is. All that will stand us in good stead.

And of course, we have arguably the best player in the world. He’s seen all he needs to see and is staying. We’ve got a new stadium to grace, we’ve got a burgeoning side, and with a few judicious signings (as well as keeping hold of key current players, in particular Ashley Cole), we can build on this.

Am I disheartened? How can I be?

Come on you rip-roaring reds!

PS – a word about the poor sod who impaled himself on the spikes of the Stade de France trying to get in without a ticket. I really hope you’re recovering, because that was not remotely pleasant.

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