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A wee light hearted reminiscence of France ’98.

One of the best sports documentaries ever made is When We Were Kings, which is about the ‘rumble in the jungle’ – Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight contest against George Foreman in Zaire in 1974 (awright this is a football fanzine and am talkin aboot boxin but stick with me). Ali was the big hero as always and was followed everywhere by huge crowds of young Zairians. My favourite scene is when Ali goes out for his early mornin run and there are hundreds outside the trainin camp waitin to accompany him. Her sets off and they follow in behind. As they jog along the chant goes up,

“Alee ku-muu-a”. (trans: Ali kill him)

“Alee ku-muu-a”

More and more join in, until it is a resoundin primordial chant as they jog in time and punch the air,





and that’s how Muhammad Ali helped us beat the Brazilians. Let me explain.

We had played Brazil in the opening game of France 98 and were narrowly beaten (as ye well know). I had watched the game on the big screen at the Hote de Ville (town hall) in Paris with my 11 year old son Jordan, my brother David and several friends, and two of my outstanding memories of that day were the sound of John Collins’ penalty and the soakin wetness of the final whistle. When Collins slotted the penalty home to equalize, there was an incredible sound, apart from the huge cheer, I’d never heard before or since; it was the sound of thousands of beer, whisky and wine bottles and glasses, bein dropped on the ground or accidentally thrown in the air as the majority of the crowd leapt up in a great outpourin of joy and threw their arms wide ready to hug each other in celebration, before comin crashin and smashin back down to earth. It was an incredible, indescribable sound, like an elongated crrrrsssshhhmasshhhh (telt ye – indescribable).

Of course it was short lived as we were defeated when the ball went in off Tommy Boyd’s shoulder to put them 2-1 up. As soon as the final whistle sounded the skies, which had previously been bright blue, immediately turned black, there was a huge clap of thunder and an eruption of torrential rain that soaked us through to the skin within minutes. It was as if all the heavens were cryin for us sufferin another inglorious defeat.

So that was the openin game but on the Thursday (it might’ve been the Friday) we had to get the train from Gar du Nord to Bordeaux in preparation for the game against Norway, and it was on this train that Muhammad Ali helped us defeat the Brazilians. The journey was four hours long and started off with the usual nonsense you’d expect from hundreds of football fans at the world’s greatest event – drinkin, singin , drinkin, laughin, drinkin, fourteen-a-side football in the carriage, before it simmered down after a couple of hours to just drinkin, chattin and fallin asleep.

By the time we were pullin into Bordeaux we were all pretty subdued and lookin forward to gettin off and into some fresh air. Apart from the hundreds of Tartan Army foot soldiers there were a few normal French citizens about and in our carriage, five Brazilians (four men and a woman, don’t know why they were there, Brazil were playin elsewhere). As we stood up (far too early) in desperation to get off, one of the Brazilians, who had all remained seated, began singin a wee song in Portugese (there’s no such language as Brazilian), while lookin at the Scots and laughin. His companions cast their glances our way and also started gigglin and laughin. He sang another wee verse, more sniggerin and gigglin and lookin at us askance. After three or four verses we were all standin in silence, watchin them, which they found funnier and funnier – until this six feet four kilted warrior towerin over their table thumped the roof and chanted, “Alee ku-muu-a!”

He thumped the roof again and I joined in, “Alee ku-muu-a!”

The chant swept the carriage like wildfire until all the Scots and some of the French were thumpin the roof, walls and windows and stampin their feet causin the carriage to sway from side to side,




There was no gigglin or laughin,it was all very dead pan and it became a resoundin primordial chant. I looked at the Brazilians, they looked at their feet. At last we’d silenced them, and that’s how Muhammad Ali helped us beat the Brazilians.

Alan J Nelson

First posted on Facebook September 3rd, 2015