It would have been about five in the morning, Monday 13 July 1998. I was on a dodgem car in the Place de la Bastille and very drunk. I had just bitten into a merguez sausage and burning red fat had splattered all over the front of my shirt.
I was still a half-hour’s walk from my hotel. I was expecting a call in three hours from CNN to talk its worldwide breakfast show through the events of the previous evening and then I had to go straight to the Gare du Nord to get the train to London and go to work at FourFourTwo magazine.
At some point in the previous couple of hours I had reached the conclusion that speaking on international television while intoxicated was perfectly feasible and that a couple of hours on a train would see me fine for the office.
I had been at the Stade de France the previous evening, reporting on France destroying Brazil 3-0 in the World Cup final. I don’t recall much of the game: I remember Zinedine Zidane scoring two headers from set pieces and feeling triumphant – before the tournament I had been to a Germany v Brazil friendly and the piece I wrote argued that Brazil had no idea what to do with corners; my editor took out that section because he thought I was wrong.
I also remember Emmanuel Petit scoring near the end and Stéphane Guivarc’h missing chances for fun. Until I checked, I had forgotten Marcel Desailly was sent off.
Of course I also remember Ronaldo playing, drafted into the Brazil team at the last minute despite being patently unwell (somewhere I have the original Fifa teamsheet, with Edmundo listed as Brazil’s striker).
My memories are almost all of before and after the game. Of getting to the stadium four hours before kick-off because I couldn’t be bothered to waste time in galleries and cafes any longer; of watching Ricky Martin perform La Copa de la Vida backed by a battallion of supermodels; of getting Falcão’s autograph as he wandered around the press area.
But, especially, I remember the aftermath – the wild, febrile excitement of Paris after winning the World Cup. I remember Amy Lawrence, late of this paper, dancing around the press room at the end of the game singing “He’s French / He’s blond / He’s won the Coupe du Monde / Emmanuel / Emmanuel”.
An hour or two later me and two blokes from Goal magazine, our deadly rival, boarded a train back into Paris, our carriage filled with Brazilian fans whom we taught phonetically to sing “He’s fat / He’s shit / He’s never fucking fit / Ronaldo / Ronaldo”, until the whole carriage was rocking to it.
We wandered the streets swigging bottles of champagne bought from the Gare du Nord buffet. Flashing our final tickets got us free drinks in bars – and an invitation to accompany a man, who seemed to be selling drugs, up to his apartment. We accepted it. He wanted us to show his mother our tickets.
We drank and sang and walked through a city that was busier in the early hours than it had been in daylight, until one of our group disappeared (apparently he was picked up by the gendarmes throwing bricks at a hotel window; there was no gravel to hand, he explained, and he was only trying to get the attention of a woman he had met earlier).
I’ve been to games where the result mattered more to me and to games that were more exciting. I’ve never been to a match before or since that seemed so all encompassing, where what happened on the pitch seemed to feed directly to the nerve endings of the city. It was intoxicating. Not just my favourite game but my favourite night.