Ewan Smith, freelance sports journalist
Raymond Domenech arrived in the press room at the luxurious French Football Federation headquarters looking downtrodden, dejected and despairing.
He looked around the room in the vain hope that someone would offer him a crumb of comfort to raise him from his disbelieving slumber and tell him that it had been little more than a nightmare.
It was the morning after THAT famous Scotland win over France in the Parc des Princes where James McFadden won a place in the hearts of an entire nation and 25,000 fortunate souls from the Tartan Army were able to proudly boast: ‘I was there.’
I was one of those fortunate souls who donned the kilt and went on a memorable march through the streets of the French capital before being left stunned by Faddy’s wonder goal.
I was also the one and ONLY member of the Tartan Army who was able to cross enemy lines for a final time to gloat about a result that sent shockwaves around European football.
For over a year, I had been using my French-speaking skills to cover every cough, spit and sneeze from Les Bleus for the Scottish newspapers and had built up an unlikely rapport with Monsieur Domenech.
He had become accustomed to my presence and went out of his way to ‘throw me a line’ as we often say in the journalistic trade. It didn’t matter that France were playing Lithuania, Faroe Islands or Georgia – Domenech would throw me a line that he knew would hit the headlines in Scotland.
Even though he once left me £40 out of pocket and mildly offended by his refusal of a bottle of Balvenie as a gift for his help during the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, it was hard to stay mad at him.
His rambles were keeping me in work and game after game he’d humour me with answers to my three or four ‘off-topic’ questions during his press conferences to ensure I got coverage in Scotland.
And, for one final time, he was going to deal with me.
Domenech clocked me as soon as he sat down. I no longer had my kilt on but my permanent smile was beaming across the room. This time, he didn’t even wait for my question this time, instead choosing to go on an uncontrollable rant.
Staring me straight in the eye he asked: ‘How the hell did we allow 25,000 Scotland fans to takeover our stadium? Our stadium. Not Scotland’s stadium. OUR STADIUM.’
As he continued to ramble on about how his PR and marketing department shouldn’t have allowed Scotland fans to make thousands of online ticket purchases, it became clear that this was yet another Domenech deflection tactic.
Even still, I hung on his every word.
From a Tartan Army punter’s perspective I was revelling in his misfortune, from a journalist’s point-of-view I was furiously scribbling down my headline-making notes. And from a distant observer’s stance I believed I was witnessing his last stand. Surely, Domenech couldn’t make it back from being humbled by Scotland – TWICE. Could he?
He did. He defied all odds and – with the aid of Scotland’s collapse in Georgia and brave loss to Italy – France squeezed into the Euro 2008 finals, where they capitulated.
Gutted that I wasn’t there cheering on my beloved Scotland, I took more than passing interest in France’s catastrophic Group C campaign where they finished bottom on just one point, behind Holland, Italy and Romania.
It was hard to be gleeful about a group of players who had helped earn me a living for almost two years but, missing my Domenech press-conference fix, I wanted to know what excuses the flamboyant French coach would produce this time for his side’s shameful first round exit.
The answer was typically unpredictable as, when pressed on his future by French cable station M6, Domenech chose to propose on live TV to his long-term girlfriend Estelle Denis – a presenter on the station.
Estelle never did accept his offer but the pair remain happily together with their children Victoire and Merlin in France. And he is £900,000 richer thanks to his hefty pay-off from the French Football Federation.
Me? I’m still in love with the colourful character that is Raymond Domenech and would like to see him take charge of each of Scotland’s World Cup 2014 qualifying rivals.
That way Scotland can rack up a series of wins and I can have a helluva lot more fun with Domenech in the press along the way.