Twenty years ago, Bath Rugby created history in becoming the first British team to win the European Cup.
On the 31st January 1998, seven thousand Bath supporters made the trip to Bordeaux as the Blue, Black and White prepared to go into battle with defending European champions Brive in the Heineken Cup Final.
Trailing 15-6 in the first half, the French side continued to pile on the pressure with seven consecutive scrums on the Bath try line. The pack held strong and Bath staved off the Brive onslaught to go into the interval nine points adrift.
The Bath forwards set the tone for the comeback, as Bath fought their way back into the game. Their huge efforts were rewarded when Jon Callard slotted his fourth penalty goal to put his side in front for the first time with the clock heading into the red.
Four minutes into stoppage time, Christophe Lamaison and Lisandro Arbizu both had the chance to snatch a late victory for Brive, but both their efforts sailed wide and Bath’s achievements entered the history books.
Draped in a tartan scarf, Captain Andy Nicol held the trophy aloft and recalled: “I remember it as if it were yesterday. Anyone involved on and off the park, it’s ingrained in our memory.
“It was like entering the lion’s den that day. There were 37,000 supporters in the stadium. Of that there were 7,000 of ours, which was amazing. It showed just how much this meant to the city of Bath and the atmosphere they created was just incredible.
“I was really humbled to be the captain of Bath that got the opportunity to lift the European Cup. We’d given Bath the title that everyone craved, to be the best team in Europe and finally justified that in Bordeaux. It was a magical night.
“It is without doubt the greatest achievement of my career and one of the most incredible moments for me personally.”
Callard, who scored all of Bath’s points that day, also recalls the electric atmosphere the Bath fans created.
“The thing that made the occasion so special was how the Bath supporters got into the spirits of the French culture. The noise, the spirit, the banners, the claxons, it was an amazing atmosphere. I can still feel it now walking down the tunnel to that match – it was surreal.
“Any player that comes into the Bath family has the aim to leave something in the foundation of the Club. In terms of what I did during the European Cup, I’m just a tiny little bit in that foundation and I look back at it very fondly.
“I don’t look back and think ‘I scored all the points,’ I was just fortunate to do it.”
Bath’s legendary lock Nigel Redman said that the closeness of the players and supporters during the time inspired them to victory.
“We didn’t just win that European Cup, we beat an unbelievable champion in Brive, 80 kilometres from their home town, in France.
“One of the things during that era that stands out is how tightknit we all were. There was a tight affiliation between the businesses, the people of bath, the players and the Club itself. It was very much evident and part of that Heineken Cup Final win.”
Phil De Glanville commented on the feeling of sheer ecstasy at full time.
“If you see the video of us all running towards the touch line, you probably have a good sense of what the feeling was. It was absolute joy – everyone up in their arms running towards the coaches and the rest of the bench.
“It was one of those magical moments, which still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.”
Matt Perry knew Brive were favourites heading in, but that didn’t have any effect on the players.
“We were underdogs, but we had steel in the team, a mentality that took us through the game.
“It was one Club, one team, one City – supporters and players as one. To have that support for a team who had been through that era, with the likes of Guscott, De Glanville, Redman, the legends of that team, who were all coming to the end of their careers, almost like a swan song was incredible!”
**All interviews sourced from the Bath v Scarlets programme (12th January 2018).