Football: Artful dodgers outwit the artists

It was a night when a more traditional style prevailed, writes Jim White
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On the biggest night in Newcastle since before black and white stripes were united, a French performance art troupe chose the occasion to erect a huge brazier around the Grey's monument in the city centre. Into this they tapped shards of metal which, on contact, exploded in plumes of coloured smoke.

It probably wasn't intentional, but as a metaphor for the performance art being staged a couple of hundred yards down the road at St James' Park, it could not have been bettered.

You could tell how serious this performance was by the sight of Ryan Giggs flying in horizontally on Peter Beardsley's ankles and by Peter Schmeichel shouting at himself.

The noise when the two teams strode on to the field was enough to crack any brazier. Perhaps it was the thought of the French artistes on display here, too. The local hero, David Ginola, in whose honour dozens of Geordies wore humbug-striped bandanas (few, it has to be said, with an ounce of their mentor's style) buzzed and fizzed to considerable effect down the left touchline, tormenting Steve Bruce and Denis Irwin and firing in cross after cross for Les Ferdinand to miss. And in opposition there was Eric Cantona, playing so deep in the first half he clearly needed treatment for the bends at half-time.

Something certainly happened in the interval, because as Ginola jinked into ever thicker brick walls, Cantona did all that was required of him to swivel and put away Philip Neville's cross. But in this United Nations of a game (the pitch was so full of artful foreigners it resembled a West Ham training session) with Faustino Asprilla sparkling with his jigs and feints, it was the more prosaic English traits of bite and run from Batty and Nicky Butt that rose to the ascendant.

In fact, maybe that was what those French artistes in the city centre were getting at: it was a celebration of the blacksmith they were constructing.