I confess to having more than one Gmail account. I have my primary account ... I have doctortemp for my school email ... I have cepeda30 for baseball email ... and I have platini84 at gmail dot com for soccer email. And that name is not chosen at random.
In 1984, we made our first trip to Europe. We spent the vacation with Robin's sister Tami and her then-husband Peter. We had a wonderful time. Tami and Peter lived in a village in Southeast England, and from there, we drove across France to Andorra, then to the north of Spain. We saw Barcelona and Sitges. We returned through France, during which I had my 31st birthday, which was quite memorable. Then we made it back to England, where we stayed until our trip was over. During that last part of the vacation, I attended opening day at Wimbledon, seeing John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors (in separate matches, McEnroe at Centre Court).
In all of the small towns we visited during our travels, there would be men watching soccer on television. I didn't know much about soccer at that time. I'd paid some attention to the U.S. league in the late-60s, had watched the occasional German highlights on public television, had a distant eye on the World Cup every four years. We even took our son to a match in Oakland when he was a tyke. And I had tickets for an Olympic soccer match between the U.S. and Costa Rica coming that July.
But I didn't know why, in that particular summer of 1984, everyone in Europe seemed to be watching soccer all the time. Because I hadn't heard of the European Championships, which took place every four years and which featured all of the nations of Europe.
But I was explaining why I took on the handle "platini84". France was the host for Euro 84. They had a strong squad ... they'd made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup two years before ... and were the tournament's favorite. It was difficult to avoid the competition ... like I say, it seemed to be on television everywhere we went. And I would cast an occasional eye at the screen, and there was one player who stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. His name was Michel Platini, and he played for France.
France opened the tournament against Denmark, who included a teenaged Michael Laudrup on their squad. The only goal came in the 78th minute, and was scored by Platini.
Next was Belgium, with their own notable teenager, Enzo Scifo. Platini scored in the 4th minute to put France on top ... his penalty in the 74th minute gave France a 4-0 lead ... in the 89th minute he got his hat trick with his third goal of the match and fourth in two games.
Then it was Yugoslavia's turn. They had already been eliminated, with no hope of advancing, but they played well, even leading 1-0 at the half. But then ... guess who? Platini equalized in the 59th minute ... he put France ahead three minutes after that ... and he made it 3-1 in the 77th minute, picking up his second consecutive hat trick, and bringing his total for the tournament to seven goals in three matches.
And so to the semi-finals against Portugal. The UEFA website calls that match "The most vivid match in the history of the finals." France scored midway through the first half, and that 1-0 lead held up until Portugal equalized in the 74th minute. This led to extra time, 30 more minutes of play. Eight minutes in, Portugal took the lead for the first time. In the 114th minute, France tied the match, 2-2. With one minute to play, with the match looking to certainly be decided via penalties, who managed to put the game-winner into the net? Michel Platini, with his 8th goal of the tournament.
By the time France met Spain in the finals, we were back in England, and I remember quite vividly watching the match in Tami and Peter's house. As I recall, most folks were rooting for France ... it was hard not to by that point ... but I stuck with my heritage and cheered for Spain. A mediocre first half was scoreless ... I don't know that I realized it was mediocre, I hadn't seen a lot of matches at that point in my life. Early in the second half, a foul gave France a free kick just outside the penalty area. You know by now who took that kick.
It wasn't a great one ... in fact, Spanish goalie Luis Arconada made the stop. No surprise there ... Arconada was one of the top keepers in the world. Except ... as he fell on the ground to make the save, Arconada somehow managed to let loose the ball, which squirted ever so gently out from under the goalie and rolled just into the net. France 1, Spain 0, Platini 9. (Wikipedia tells us that "French football lingo has referred to this type of goalkeeping error as an Arconada ever since.")
Spain never did score in that match, while France added one more in the last minute to win 2-0 and become European Champions. Platini scored nine goals ... no one else scored more than three. I returned to the States with a new-found appreciation for soccer. I started paying more attention, and when the 1986 World Cup rolled around, I was hooked, stoked with Maradona Fever. I guess I never looked back. And that's why you can send email to platini84 at gmail dot com and it will end up in my mailbox.
All of this came to mind today, as I watched that France-Spain match again. ESPN has the U.S. rights to Euro 2008, which begins in a week or so, and they've been building up to the tournament by showing the final matches of previous events. Today was 1984. The first half was indeed mediocre ... even given that ESPN is editing the matches to fit into a one-hour time slot with commercials ... but Platini was Platini. If you follow soccer today, you know Platini ... he is an important figure in French and European soccer to this day. But I wouldn't use his name for an email address if all he did was administrate. Once, for a few years, he was the greatest soccer player in the world. In 1984 and 1985, he was named World Soccer magazine's World Player of the Year (he was supplanted by Maradona in '86, of course). The same magazine ran a poll in late 1999 listing the greatest soccer players of the 20th century ... Platini finished fifth, behind legends Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, and Beckenbauer.