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

Oh How We Suffered – Manchester 26th December 2014

This could’ve been tricky. Newcastle have a lousy record at Old Trafford but on their last visit here, just over a year ago, they beat United at Old Trafford for the first time since 1972. The protests that were raging against Alan Pardew’s incumbency a few months ago have gone somewhat muted in recent times as Newcastle had built up a good run of results which included beating this seasons likely champions Chelsea, a few weeks ago at St James Park. Such was the revival in Newcastle’s fortunes that paper handkerchief manufacturers were in serious danger of laying workers off due to the fact that Geordies weren’t crying in the stands, their broon ale or threatening to burst the banks of the Tyne with their relentless squawking after a bad result. A last minute goal from Adam Johnson the other day for Sunderland and United’s eventually easy win today should see normal service resumed for Kleenex pretty soon.

United players celebrate Robin van Persie’s goal in the 53rd minute (photograph courtesy of Neil Meehan)

Without dominating play, Newcastle made a lively start. Continue reading Oh How We Suffered – Manchester 26th December 2014

Took One For The Team – Manchester 28th September 2014

In the summer of 1982, Ray Wilkins was chosen to be the skipper for both club and country, following the respective stepping down of Martin Buchan and Kevin Keegan. Fate decreed that a broken cheekbone for Wilkins, just weeks after his appointment by Ron Atkinson and Bobby Robson, led to Bryan Robson being appointed the skipper of club and country instead. This was a position he kept long after Wilkins left United and retired from international football. Wilkins was unlucky that he lost his position so quickly due to an injury but, ultimately, it was best (certainly for United) that Robson was skipper. Probably for England too if I’d have cared enough.

Wayne Rooney could find himself in a similar position to Wilkins but in completely different circumstances. Continue reading Took One For The Team – Manchester 28th September 2014

Every Cloud Has A Leaden Lining – Manchester 2nd February 2014

The transfer window provided the opportunity for the eternally talentless Jim White, of SKY Sports News, giving us a helium-fueled night of tedium on what is understatedly called, DEADLINE DAY (please shout this out loud as you read it.) Rarely has a man with so little to say, said so much. On Friday night, he had even less to say than usual, but still said too much, too loudly with all the reserve and control of a five year who’s been given carte blanche to drink Red Bull.

Staying cool: Jim White alongside Simon Thomas on DEADLINE DAY™ 2009

David Moyes said last Summer that he’s “more than happy with what we’ve got. I’m very happy with my squad and the options we have”.  Continue reading Every Cloud Has A Leaden Lining – Manchester 2nd February 2014

The Statues At The Liberty – Swansea 19th Of November 2011

On the 7th of November 1990, Alex Ferguson took his United team just over the Welsh border to Wrexham for a European Cup Winners Cup second round, 2nd leg match for a 2-0 win that would be the last time United played a competitive match in Wales until today. I remember that night well, with it being my first “Euro away” watching United, it was an efficient and dour performance with United doing just what was required and nothing else. Today, twenty one years, one hundred miles south in distance and the same place in quality of performance, United did enough to win a game against a team who have a manager who believes in having his team playing good football, but a team that United should have been out of sight of by half time, but for some sloppy final balls/passes. It’s becoming a recurring theme this, but United have yet again got away with winning a game when not firing on all cylinders. At this rate, I’ll be happy for United to stay in contention for the title by January where I’m hoping that Alex Ferguson spends some of that Ronaldo money which he insist is still there and get a midfielder who can pass a ball accurately, tackle and take control of the game. If he doesn’t, then I think we can forget about the title.

Despite Swansea City’s admirable attitude to playing football, they are a mediocre side who whilst having periods of dominating possession never really looked like scoring, save for a glaring miss by Scott Sinclair on 23 minutes. Most teams, losing to United by a goal with, lets say ten minutes to go, would go on kamikaze attacking mission against which would normally result in United breaking on the counter and scoring, occasionally a siege can develop and United will concede. Swansea today played the closing stages of the match like a team seeing out a draw. There was no urgency or frenzy from them. It was a strange approach from a home side. All through the game United’s defence had Swansea well under control, Phil Jones once again outstanding. On 11 minutes, the time defying Ryan Giggs hustled the ball off Angel Rangel to set up Javier Hernandez to stumble the ball home.

After that, there was an abundance of opportunities for United to extend the lead only to lay off a casual and sloppy final ball. Wayne Rooney was playing too deep, attempting the lung bursting playing style of Bryan Robson and Roy Keane, at one point in the first half, it looked like he was trying to play a twenty five yard pass to himself, such was his vigour. I love that sense of commitment and desire that Rooney has, but his union card says he’s a goalscorer and one of the best in the world too, hopefully his time in midfield is as a makeshift, in lieu of a new midfielder signing in January.

One statistic I heard after the match was that United have the most clean sheets in the Premier League. This is after the statistic being bandied about in early October that said United had given opposing teams the most shots on goal up until then. This means to me that far from being a calamity, United have, with David de Gea actually signed a good keeper. Odd that nobody in punditry has pointed that out after the glee that greeted his mistake at Wembley or the Hawthorns. Where’s Mike Summerbee when you need him ? Humbug !

As for the atmosphere in the ground, the Welsh, southern Welsh in particular, are famous for their love of singing and they didn’t let anybody down today. A noisy and raucous crowd finally seemed to lose heart after about sixty minutes when I could hear United fans singing songs about Andy Cole, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Paul Scholes. Take Andy Cole for example, my fellow reds are the only fans I’ve ever come across who sing songs celebrating a player who left ten years ago, whilst the match is playing. It’s a sign that if a player does good for us and behave honourably after leaving United (hello Mark Hughes), he’ll always be remembered and feted by Reds. It makes me proud to be a United fan but the truth also is that when United fans start singing songs in the middle of a game celebrating them players, it’s because they are bored. That’s fair enough, I’d rather United fans did that than do what the perenially unimaginitive do and start doing a Mexican wave. There’s nothing else in the world like being a red and tonight, I’m gonna be in the pub celebrating that, hopefully in true Manchester United style…