Sorry to disappoint most of ya, but this full monte refers to the once in a life time achievement by my lil Scottish Club - St Johnstone. It will not be a big deal to most, but for about 1000 haggis bashers, the trip to Monte Carlo in September 1999 was the best day of their lives!

Posters all around Monaco - the Saints were coming to town

 

 

Forget Man Utd, Arsenal, and Liverpool - teams that have made countless sojourns into Europe in search of yet more pieces of silverware to display in their cabinets, and their supporters for whom these trips have been as frequent as trips to the toilet after a bad curry. The only piece of silverware in the ST JOHNSTONE cabinet is a spoon that the club’s tea lady once almost embedded in Graeme Souness’ head . (Souness had thrown a temper tantrum in the players dressing room after his mighty Rangers side had only drawn with St Johnstone.) It’s only those grey haired folk that you see at the post office on a Monday morning that can remember St Johnstone’s last trip into Europe.

So when St Johnstone was drawn against AS Monaco in the UEFA cup 1st round, it was a fixture not to be missed, and there was no way that I was going to miss out on the occasion. To be in the UEFA cup in the first place was a dream, but to be playing one of the richest teams, in the most glamorous of locations was beyond fantasy.

We flew from Liverpool on a cold wet Thursday morning, and arrived in Nice where the early morning temperature was in the 70’s. We jumped in a taxi and took the short (20km) trip into the principality, parting with a mere 60 for the ride. We then walked through the steep and narrow streets, past the plush hotels, and designer shops, dodging time share touts as best we could, and finally located our hotel in a less affluent area of Monte Carlo. Here, it was more like your bog standard Holiday Inn.

After getting freshened up and changing into formal gear, we headed back out in search of more Saints fans. Some had gathered in Casino square, but as Place du Canton was closer, we headed there. As we walked through the streets a local office worker called us over, invited us into his office where he gave us a commemorative poster and a beer and wished us "Bon Chance". Thinking he was asking us if we thought St Johnstone had any chance of victory we replied "nae chance" !

 

 

St Andrew's Flags in the Place du Canton

Place du Canton was a mass of Blue and White. It is a shopping centre on three tiers with an open air bar area at ground level. St Andrews flags were draped from each tier , and on each level, fans were singing and drinking – the party had begun. It was quite a remarkable sight. An area that was clearly designed for those in Armani suits to gently sup their glasses of Chablis had been invaded by hundreds of beer swilling tartan clad foreigners, who even had the nerve to assume land rights by raising their flags on the shopping centre flagpoles.

 

 

Saints fans raise their flag

What was more remarkable however, was that the locals who had been sitting there before the invasion, were still there, only now were drinking from cans, supplied to them by their vanquishers. Les Monsieurs disgarded their silk ties in place of blue and white scarves, and Les Madames – well they just put the scarves on !.

 

 

Monaco now belongs to St Johnstone!

About two hours before the kick off, the crowd that had been in Casino Square arrived, lead by two bagpipers. The Locals had now really warmed to the festivities and were now even attempting the highland fling , and laughing as the Saints fans chanted "In your Monaco Slums". Somehow, they understood the irony. As kick off time approached, the bagpipers took the lead, and playing "Oh when the Saints go Marching In" lead some 1000 fans to the Stade Louis II.

Sod the wine gae uz a tinnie

For 69 minutes, St Johnstone held Monaco, but in the latter stages, conceded three goals to a far superior team boasting the likes of Simone, Barthez and Trezeguet But after the game, the party continued. The bagpipers lead the fans out of the stadium and the singing did not die down until the train came to take the majority back into Nice.

The next day we wandered around Monaco, walking the streets and realising that we were walking the very stretches of road that the Grand Prix is held. We returned to the Place du Canton. The flags, the crowd , and the empty beer cans had gone. The only noise to be heard was the clinking of wine glasses and ringing of mobile phones. Monaco had been returned to it’s rightful habitants.

The return leg in Perth finished in a 3-3 draw which meant St Johnstone were out of the UEFA cup.

For me, and most St Johnstone fans, the result did not matter. The next time something like this happens, I will probably be the grey haired bloke at the post office, reminiscing, on what was such a fantastic experience.

 

Bing and Del Boy flyin the flag!

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