Oh What A Day…Barcelona 1999

Following United’s unprecedented win in Italy, all the questions and talk in town after Turin was (a) Are you going to Barcelona”? (b) How are we getting there? (c) Where are we staying? (d) Have we got a ticket? (e) How much are the snides coming to? The respective answers were (a) Yes, (b) flying (c) Salou, (d) no and (e) £50.00. Getting to Barcelona by air out of Manchester was nigh on impossible, unless you were prepared to part with a mortgage-sized down payment for a flight. Through a friend whose sister worked in a travel agents (ha, remember using them?), we got a week’s holiday in Salou for a relatively reasonable price with flights…out of Stansted. With United playing in the FA Cup Final two days earlier, this actually worked out quite nicely. With a distance of 47 miles, Stansted is not really anywhere near Wembley, but it’s a hell of a lot closer than Manchester.

Brendan Markey, somebody with MUFC shaved into his chest and Anthony Murphy on Plaça Reia in the afternoon before the match (photo courtesy of Malcolm Hancock)

As we got off the train at Barcelona Sants station, local prints of the British Newspapers were being sold in the kiosks scattered along the central reservation of Las Ramblas. I was passed a copy of The Sun and to my dismay, saw on page five that they had pointed out the spelling mistake that was on the snide tickets. The genuine tickets had Graderia on them (which means tier) and the snides were spelt with Granderia, which was what we had. It was the kind of mistake that would have made a particular Old Trafford t-shirt printer proud.

Having done a load of my swag in London the previous Saturday, I did the rest in Salou in the run up to the game. A new shipment arrived in Barcelona on the morning of the match. One thing I learnt in Salou was that the Germans were paying 2,000 pesetas (about £8.00) for the shirts where United fans were paying 1,500 pesetas (about £6.00, £5.00 in sterling.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVjAP9iq_YU

Commentary by Clive Tyldesley and Ron Atkinson

For obvious reasons, I sought out the Bayern Munich fans in Barcelona (who had mostly been in Lloret de Mar). The majority of them were hanging around the huge roundabout at Plaça de Catalunya, at the other end of Las Ramblas. Soon after, having sold all my swag to the Bayern fans, we stopped for a few drinks with some other grafters on Plaça Reia, a square just off the Las Ramblas. As per usual, we’d underestimated the strength of the local beer and whilst walking to the station, it dawned on me that I was bladdered.

Teams line up before the match

As we got to the nearby Liceu rail station, there was chaos outside, similar to the frightening scenes outside Estádio das Antas in Oporto a couple of years prior. One saving grace was that the Guàrdia Urbana patrolling the station entry didn’t lose their heads, something you can normally guarantee when Latin police come up against pissed up fans of English football clubs. The nine stop journey to Maria Cristina rail station was a wall of Red noise. Soon after leaving the station, we hit the first of what turned out to be seven ticket checkpoints. Every time we passed these checkpoints, we thought we’d cleared the final hurdle of getting into the ground, even though we’d been there before and knew there were also turnstiles. As we approached the turnstiles, my Dad and Sister went before me and they were almost immediately carted out. I approached the turnstile with the same expectation but, to my amazement, I was cleared to carry on. I couldn’t believe it. Now I had a problem. Alone and pissed in the ground with no idea where I should be, I just walked up the nearest stairwell and stood where I could once up there. I looked at the scoreboard and I could see that United were already losing 1-0. Just as I was settling in, I heard my name shouted, I looked left and to my disbelief, I saw my cousin. I could’ve gone anywhere in the ground but it happened to be there.

Paul Farrell and Wayne Holt of Moss Side meet George Best just before kick off in the Camp Nou (photo courtesy of Paul Farrell)

Continue reading Oh What A Day…Barcelona 1999

Joined The Choir Invisible

According to the fourth estate, the early part of Summer saw Manchester United rocked by Harry Kane staying at Tottenham Hotspur. We were shattered by David de Gea’s imminent departure (he hasn’t gone yet), snubbed by Paul Pogba and had more links than Houdini’s chains. United have been preparing, readying or launching bids for Uncle Tom Cobley, whilst at the same time getting rid of Paul Scholes’s replacement, Tom Cleverley… (having written that sentence, I suddenly had a choking fit).

In early July, Nani left United for Fenerbahçe. The Lisboan arrived in a huge fanfare of expectation in the Summer of 2007; some people claimed that he was better than Cristiano Ronaldo… (oh Christ, I’m off again). Nani looked like Michael Jackson but played football like Janet Jackson. A player of undoubted skill occasionally, he will always be remembered by me as a winger who took worse corners than Mads Timm and whose crosses would’ve been comfortably dealt with by a blindfolded Jim Leighton. To use the words of Brian Clough, he floated like a butterfly and he stung like one.

A seminal moment from Nani at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica da Luz in 2010. Cristiano Ronaldo turned Gerard Pique inside out, his exquisite goalbound shot from was gliding over Iker Casillas’s head and into the net. Nani decided to add the finishing touch, from an offside position. Ronaldo’s reaction was priceless

Another player joining Nani in Kadiköy is Robin van Persie, who has left United after three seasons. He came to Old Trafford having turned down a better offer from Manchester City (quelle surprise), and Continue reading Joined The Choir Invisible

Looking At A Bear – Manchester 9th May 2015

With City and Arsenal now assured of top four, Manchester United and Liverpool are now locked in a battle over who is the worst of the best. A sort of consolation prize that modern football and it’s obsession of finishing top four now sees as more important (financially at least) than winning the FA Cup. A contest that should’ve been all over now, is still in play, due to United’s infuriating habit of doing the hard bit, then ballsing up the relatively easy bit. At St James’s Park two years ago, there were pictures of the Arsenal side celebrating coming fourth with more vigour than how Liverpool celebrated their last title win in 1990 (if they knew what was to come, I’m sure they wouldn’t have been so blasé). With United beating Crystal Palace today and assuming that Liverpool somehow beat Chelsea tomorrow, United still need three points to be guaranteed top four. Should United get back into the Champions League next season, it will be good to see the reds back where I believe they belong. That said, having watched the Barcelona V Bayern Munich match the other night, United are a year or two off having a serious stab at winning the thing. Should the qualification happen (and it really should now), I don’t want to see any of triumphant photographs, à la Arsenal. It’s the minimum requirement.

At Selhurst Park last season, the literally untouchable Michael Oliver, Continue reading Looking At A Bear – Manchester 9th May 2015

A Long Road Back – Manchester, March 1st 2015

The most memorable moment of yet another dreadful first half at Old Trafford was when Jonny Evans passed the ball back to David de Gea from near the half way line in the 22nd minute. A wayward corner from Ashley Young ended up with Daley Blind on the opposite flank. He passed to Evans near the halfway line who in turn passed to de Gea. Evans had no choice, he couldn’t pass safely to another United played where he was so he did what any sensible centre half would do. The howls of disapproval, most notably from the K Stand, were the angriest I’ve heard Old Trafford since the anti Moyes banner flew around Old Trafford last April. Some people thought that the crowd were having a go at Evans, but I think it was more a case of a pissed off crowd who had seen far too many moves evaporate this season in this manner. That there was no outfield player available to Evans to pass to is more a problem for his team mates as a collective, than it is any culpability for Evans after an attacking position moments earlier fell apart. Not for the first time this season, United fans chanted attack, attack, attack-attack-attack, however to my ears, this was shouted with a bit more vigour than usual.

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Possibly the most terrifying image I’ve ever seen used to advertise a football match. Incidentally, Thriller by Michael Jackson is still available in all good record shops (while good record shops last)

A feisty Sunderland side who clearly fancied their chances Continue reading A Long Road Back – Manchester, March 1st 2015

A Litter Of Kittens – Manchester 29th November 2014

I’ll be amazed if United have an easier game again this season than today’s match. Hull City are, by a distance, the worst side I’ve seen at Old Trafford since.. Hull City last played at Old Trafford last May. Having looked at the match stats, (something I’m not usually that big on), I see that United had 77% possession. I don’t think Barcelona, even in their tiki taka peak of 2009/2011, ever enjoyed such a generous percentage as that over ninety minutes. Statistically, QPR have had the worst result at Old Trafford this season; they were so bad as to make a feisty pub side like Leicester City, who are now bottom of the table, look like the aforementioned Barcelona. As bad as QPR were, Hull were even worse. Continue reading A Litter Of Kittens – Manchester 29th November 2014