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)

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Long, Cold And Dark November Nights – Manchester, 19th Of November 2011

Two long, long weeks of of no club football but a couple of international friendlies for England, a storm over poppies, Sepp Blatters blarney and an embargo on transfers ’til January mean newspaper journalist get ever more desparate to fill their pages. The day after United beat Sunderland, a frenzy was brewing up over FIFAs refusal to allow England players to wear poppies on their shirts for the forthcoming friendly against Spain. Amongst the usual knee jerk reaction of political correctness gone mad and such forth (waddya mean you’d forgotten about it ??). Exactly six years to the day before England played Spain, England played against Argentina without wearing poppies, there was no clamour for the team to wear poppies, can anybody tell me what’s changed in the last six years ? By sheer coincidence, prior to the poppy furore, England skipper John Terry, had been accused of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers centre half Anton Ferdinand. This allegation had taken up a lot of column inches in the national press and the FA, with admirable common sense had decided to adopt an innocent ’til proven guilty stance. I wonder why they didn’t take that stance with Johnathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer in 2001 or with Rio Ferdinand in 2003 ? The problem the FA have with the John Terry allegation is that, like badly pasted wallpaper, the bubble gets pressed down, only to resurface, just as bad, pretty close by. Still the poppy fury sold a few papers, got an awful lot of people wound up about something they’d forget about a week later and ended up with the farcical gesture of players having poppies painted on their boots to circumnavigate a ban that had never existed in the first place.

Continue reading Long, Cold And Dark November Nights – Manchester, 19th Of November 2011