CZECHS BRIDGE THE GAP
YOU KNOW it has been a tough 90 minutes when you lose 9-1 – and your keeper is still man of the match.
The villagers of Bamber Bridge were always likely to be on the receiving end of a hammering that night, given who they were playing.
It was June 1996, the start of the European Championship was just days away and the Czech Republic team were looking for a match.
“They were supposed to play Southport,” recalled keeper Stuart Barton. “But there was a problem with their pitch and we were asked if we could get a team together.
“The season had finished a few weeks earlier. We had just won the Unibond League and people were going on holiday, but the Czech team needed a fixture as they were playing Germany on the Saturday.
“I remember getting the call and saying, ‘Czech Republic? Why not?’. We knew we were going to be a bit rusty, so we had four training sessions in the build-up to the match.” It was not enough. “The only player I recognised was the late Pavel Srnicek (right), who was playing in goal for Newcastle at the time,” said Barton.
The Czechs had 422 caps between them – and Barton soon learned who Karel Poborsky and Pavel Nedved were. They put their side 2-0 up within five minutes in front of 2,300 fans.
Barton remembered his goal being “peppered”. He said: “It was like they had an extra man or two on the pitch.
“They were passing the ball around for fun and hitting shots from everywhere. You didn’t know what they were going to do next.
“It was roasting hot and we weren’t in peak condition, which doesn’t help when up against an international side.
“I saved all the long shots, but they were very good at opening us up.”
Barton kept the score down to 3-0 at half-time – and was then replaced.
Steve Denny pulled a goal back for Bamber Bridge and the Czechs responded by upping a gear. Vladimir Smicer bagged a hat-trick.
The Czechs went on to reach the final of Euro 96, losing 2-1 to Germany.
“We were invited over the following summer,” said Barton, who is now goalkeeping coach at Bamber Bridge.
“They invited me and the manager to appear on breakfast television.
That was a bit different!”