Piccadilly rail station, 10.25 AM and it is deserted as the Euston bound trains were going out to Stoke for this game. I have never seen this arterial train station so quiet. Gradually some hungover reds turned up. They were saying variants of goodness gracious* as for the second time in a week, they’d had an early kick off imposed on them by the whims of live TV. However, compared to getting to Tottenham for a midday kick off, this was a doddle.
Ryan Shawcross losing Phil Jones in the 2nd minute. Seconds later, he put Stoke 1-0 in front
Old Trafford wasn’t overcome with confidence pre match tonight. Sure we all knew that United could and should beat Olympiakos, but after the first leg and the shambles on Sunday, it was a cautious crowd walking down Warwick Road.
The crowd were frenzied early in the game. The noisy contingent of Greeks in the upper tier of the Scoreboard End were drowned out by the fervour of United fans. This isn’t always the case for home matches in Europe but a comprehensive defeat in Piraeus three weeks ago had rallied the Old Trafford crowd in the hope of rallying the team.
This was the first of only four seasons where there was to be two group stages in the European Cup. United had cruised through the second group stage without too much problem, beating Girondins de Bordeaux home and away and losing at Fiorentina just before Christmas, partially due to a rare Roy Keane mistake which gifted Gabriel Batistuta the first goal in a 2-0 win for the Viola. This season saw European football at saturation level. On the 21st of March 2000, I was high up in the almost vertical Estadio de Mestalla watching Valencia and United play out a 0-0 draw which was very convenient for both sides. I didn’t know it at the time but exactly two weeks later, I would be back in Spain watching United play 200 miles from where I was at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. Back in Manchester on the Friday after the Valencia match about Midday, the news came through that United had drawn Real Madrid in the Quarter finals. Huge mobile phones were abuzz with all kinds of excited phone calls and text messages flying about with plans to go. I remember being sat by a computer on the Easyjet website ready to book flights from Speke to Barajas and it went swimmingly, return flights booked for four at a grand total of just under £350.00. Sitting there feeling very pleased with myself, we all went to the pub for an all dayer in good spirits. The first sign of worry came when we heard later on that day that the match at the Bernabéu was on a Tuesday night. We’d booked flights to go out on Wednesday morning and as everybody knows, once a flight with Easyjet is booked it’s cast in Moses tablets and impossible to change. We found flights going out of Gatwick on the Tuesday morning with Air Europa which cost us just over £100.00 apiece that did have the consolation of the fact that we could smoke on the flight (in those days, a very rare privilege, nowadays illegal).
They were former team mates at Nottingham Forest but Roy Keane and Alf Inge Håland were never friends. The real trouble started at Elland Road in September 1997 when a Roy Keane foul on Alf Inge Håland resulted in Keane acquring a career threatening cruciate ligament injury. Soon after with breathtaking callous indiference, Håland stated that Roy Keane had deserved the injury that he’d acquired at Elland Road that day, a sentiment like this was not going to be forgotten. After Roy Keane had made his infamous comment regarding some United fans and prawn sandwiches after a fraught European Cup victory over Dynamo Kyiv at Old Trafford in November 2000, Håland couldn’t help but stick his oar and criticise Keane for comments made that had absolutely nothing to do with him, the club he was skipper of or the fans of that club. Talk about pulling the tigers tail? City fans mistakenly and conveniently blame Roy Keane for ending Alf-Inge Håland’s career for that “challenge” in the Old Trafford derby in April 2001. When Keane done Håland, whether he meant to or not, he struck a blow for all United fans that afternoon. Håland had in his days as a Leeds United player, referred to Manchester United as “Munichs” and “scum” on his own personal website. When Håland joined newly promoted City in the summer of 2000, he was described as “articulate” by the easily impressed City correspondent, Chris Bailey in the Manchester Evening News (he who’s now head of PR at City). I can only imagine that anybody whom is bi-lingual is articulate in Bailey’s eyes.
Roy Keane in the process of injuring Alf IngeHåland so badly that Håland gets up two minutes later and finishes the game. Håland retired from football two years later with an injury to his LEFT knee
Walking down Stretford Road on the way to Old Trafford tonight, I had a gut feeling that the game I was about to witness was not going to be a classic. The smell of the doughnut van parked up on the junction of Stretford Road and Chester Road has left a stronger and more pleasant memory than anything I witnessed on the pitch. Halfway through the second half, the 700 or so pre-pubescant kids that were congregated in the L stand were engaged in a chanting competition with the Cluj fans. It was by some distance the most entertaining occurence on a night of football so indescribably bad and on a night so cold that it is believed that Vladimir Lenin was shivering in his Mausoleum. After the full time whistle I felt more inclined to applaud the kids in the L stand than anybody wearing a red shirt on the pitch. Cluj won with a fantastic 25 yard shot from Luis Alberto on 56 minutes but were knocked out of the Champions League due to Galatasaray’s win in Portugal. On 75 minutes, stadium MC Alan Keegan announced a crowd of 71,521 to laughs of derision from all around me. I don’t believe there was any more than 55,000 in Old Trafford tonight. Years ago, in the days of pay on the gate, squeezed in the Stretford Paddock and knowing there was at least 52,000 in the crowd, the crowd was sometimes underestimated to something like 45,000 and you knew somebody at Old Trafford was on a collosal fiddle. Nowadays it’s the other way round. Whoever came up with that crowd figure for tonight must’ve been the same person whom over the summer made the risible claim that United have 659 million fans worldwide. One more thing I learnt tonight was that with United avoiding a draw, it is now, According to Man United magazine columnist Steve Bartram, Uniteds longest run without a draw since 1896 (26 games). I bet that you really wanted to know that.