Column: Euro 96 memories - The Steel City and the great Danes
No one had ever seen Hillsborough looking quite like this. Nor had anyone actually ever been there on - of all times - a Sunday night.
Yet there it was. And Wednesday fans shuddered. Hillsborough was a mass of the dreaded red and white - with not a speck of blue to be seen!
And football played at a time of the week that no-one in the city had ever seen before, and haven’t seen since either.
Euro ‘96 had come to Sheffield and when the Danes invade, then a city certainly knows about it.
The hordes from Denmark descended on Sheffield and, suddenly, the city was transported back 30 years to when it staged games in the World Cup of 1966.
Hillsborough was the home for all three group games for Denmark and Sheffield had dropped lucky, really. For this was no makeweight in the 1996 European Championships.
Denmark were the holders.
They had been the surprise winners four years earlier in 1992. In fact it was only a week before that tournament began that Denmark were invited to play in it.
Yugoslavia were thrown out at the last minute due to the war there splitting the country up and Denmark got the call - it was said that their holidaying players were fetched off the beach!
So, there was extra interest in the group games in Sheffield because the holders were based here.
It was estimated that over 60,000 extra visitors were in the city over the best part of a fortnight that the three games covered.
The vast majority were Danes and the thousands who came took the place over. No longer was half the city red and white. The whole of the city centre was a mass of red and white on the three match days.
They were fanatical but well behaved with no reports of trouble.
And Sheffield - whose people were asked to embrace the Danish visitors, and did - was certainly happy to put out the welcome mat.
The city chiefs had a policy at the time of regeneration through sport, building superb facilities and being particularly intent on attracting national and international sporting events to add to the World Snooker Championships at the Crucible.
The Don Valley Stadium and Ponds Forge had been built and opened at the start of the 1990s and Sheffield really did come to the forefront in the nation’s sporting consciousness by staging major events.
Of course, the FA Cup semi-final disaster of 1989 was still too fresh and many feared Hillsborough would not get the nod for Euro ‘96. But it did.
And, as ever, the people of Sheffield and South Yorkshire rallied round and gave their support.
The Sheffield Star even linked up with a daily newspaper in Denmark, Ekstra Bladet, to help provide coverage for our Danish visitors.
Just short of 100,000 spectators - many from this region - watched the three games with the biggest attendance, just short of 35,000, attending Denmark’s opening game against Portugal - many using the city’s new Supertram to get to Hillsborough.
This first one was Hillsborough’s unique Sunday night game, on the second day of the tournament, Sunday, June 9, with a 7.30pm kick off.
The thousands of Danes made it a party atmosphere outside the ground and then inside it. But they couldn’t start with a win.
Brian Laudrup - brother Michael was also playing - gave them a half-time lead but a Portugal side, which included Luis Figo, levelled early in the second half.
But it is the next match - the following Sunday evening but with a 6pm kick off - that most in the 33,600 crowd recall for one special moment.
The Danes faced Croatia - who had their own fanatical fans, complete with their red and white chequered flags - and they helped take the atmosphere up some more notches.
And they silenced the Danes by going two up late in the second half before the memorable climax.
Davor Suker, an earlier scorer from a penalty, finished off a last minute break with the most sublime chipped finish over, of all people, Peter Schmeichel. It was brilliant.
It rather dampened the Danish spirits thereafter and took any gloss off Hillsborough’s final game because opponents Turkey couldn’t qualify for the quarter-finals and Denmark had only the slimmest of slim chances.
The smallest crowd of the three, 28,600, turned out the following Wednesday night and saw Denmark win 3-0 with Brian Laudrup scoring twice.
But to no avail as Portugal beat Croatia (with current West Ham boss Slaven Bilic) with both going through.
So, ended the Danish ‘invasion’ of Sheffield.
It was good, jolly and, above all, noisy.
A Sunday night in Sheffield has never been quite like either of those two back in 1996.