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)

On the day of the match, 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 two day 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)

Commentary by Clive Tyldesley and Ron Atkinson

For obvious reasons, I sought out the Bayern 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)

The game was terrible. United were being easily taken care of by a typically well organised Bayern side. As pissed as I was, watching this was a rapidly sobering experience. Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke, a partnership that had terrorised the cream of Europe that season had played one game too many. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Cole in the 81st minute and immediately forced Oliver Kahn into a near post save from a diving header. Looking back on the commentary, Ron Atkinson prophetically said to Clive Tyldesley about Solskjaer, “he only needs ten minutes”. While the TV commentary was encouraging, the atmosphere around me in the ground was souring. No two ways about it.

The clock turned 90 minutes and Bayern continued to play with their expected precision.  Stefan Effenberg hooked a Gary Neville cross over the touchline to give United yet another corner. Peter Schmeichel went on one of his kamikaze runs. If you look back on United’s equaliser, there’s four Bayern players surrounding Schmeichel as David Beckham takes the corner. This definitely freed up space for United players. As Ryan Giggs mis-hit a shot in the direction of the Bayern goal, Teddy Sheringham also did the same but guided the ball low past Kahns’s right hand side and 36 seconds after the board had gone up, United had equalised. I swear there was a split second gasp before an eruption of noise which would have scared thunder. The Bayern players were devastated, in a way I had never seen from any football side before or since. Some of them were on their knees, others just stood static still. They had this game won and now out of nowhere, they had another 30 minutes to play.

Official UEFA pitchside footage of the last three minutes. The reaction of the Bayern players on 2:35 says as much as the reaction of the United players

Everybody in the United end was ecstatic. The reaction was of such naked ecstacy, no pretence of cool or anything like that; the celebration was almost violent in its insane relief. All the United subs, clad in their white tracksuit tops came sprinting over to celebrate with Sheringham. Our kid later said to me that I nearly ripped his head off when Sheringham equalised.

A view from the centre of the second tier (photo courtesy of Mel Moore)

There was no worry of Bayern going upfield and getting a winner with time left, à la Arsenal in ’79. We could see it in their body language, Ottmar Hitzfeld had the job of his life rousing this lot when the inevitable extra time team talk came.

Soon after, Samuel Kuffour grabbed hold of Solskjaer’s shirt as the ball came in from another Beckham corner. Seconds later, Kuffour was wishing he had kept hold of it as the Norwegian hooked his right foot onto a Sheringham header to put United 2-1 up. There was 102 seconds between the goals. Scattered around the Bayen penalty area, Kahn was lay face down, Mehmet Scholl was sat with his back to the post, Effenberg was flat out and Kuffour was punching the grass. Referee Pierluigi Collina had to rouse them up and tell them there was still a game to play, he’d have been as well off blowing full time then.

Amateur footage from the United section, seconds after Sheringham’s equaliser

Getting a train or taxi back to town was out of the question. Shanks Pony was the only way but the three and a half mile walk didn’t seem so far on this wave of euphoria.  Las Ramblas was a sea of Red, celebrating long into the night. I remember seeing Bryan Robson and Viv Anderson near the Robin Hood bar on Las Ramblas. Robbo was plastered, Viv less so. As the night wore on, there was a slew of people who’d fallen asleep in the street on this balmy night, something the Guàrdia Urbana wouldn’t normally tolerate, but the sheer scale meant they cocked a blind un. The local chief of police was at pains to praise the behaviour of United fans, he also said how ugly we all were and we all laughed joyfully as we were Champions of Europe – he could’ve said what he wanted to about us.

This was originally published in the September 2015 edition of Red News, to subscribe to Red News, click here

8 thoughts on “Oh What A Day…Barcelona 1999”

  1. I left Manchester on the Monday with £50.00 in my pocket. Jibbed the rattler from Madrid to Barcelona, then slept in a store cupboard in a hotel on the Tuesday night. I got fuced off by all hotels on wednesday morning, so I went for a smoke with a random chap on Montjuic ’til about 4/5am. He asked, “where do you want a lift to?” So i said the ground! I got in and wrapped myself up in my flag behind the winning goal. I woke up as they were brushing out the terraces and genuinely thought they were preparing for the match! I was scared that I’d dreamt it all, I then went in that cafe across the road from the Camp Nou to be greeted like an old friend by the staff and randomly the coppers. The coppers even bought my breakfast.I remember them showing me all the morning papers with all the pics. They told me it was one of their greatest days policing and watching a match so they had to thank me! I realised it was the highest high I’ve ever experienced. Mental week.

    Was there not a 100 a side match going on in the square at some point too?

  2. Murphy

    If the pressures of writing this blog ever being too much I like to take over from you. The offer is there Mon ami, I think you feeling pressure if you writing about a match from the double saison in 1994.



  3. Happy, happy days, top write up, plus I have a photo of the bloke with the shaved chest on the Ramblas!!

    I know Melissa’s broom cupboard story to be authentic as it was situated in my hotel, a hotel equipped with a VERY angry cleaner, who ejected her.

    No such problems in the penthouse suite I’d rented for the week! Plus we had several spare beds cluttering the place up.

    Murph isn’t dealing well with the season being over, 5 days gone and he’s already written Euro reminiscing blog…

    Keep’em coming Murph, & compliments of the season to Buckscanary (good luck down there), regards to all the Villa fans, especially Pete and Paul – we hope we angered you as much as intended.

    Not forgetting Leicester, fingers crossed you get relegated next season and can use your discarded cardboard clappers to keep warm as you hitch a lift to Norwich and Villa.

    Boom dia & obrigado.

  4. I’m a Leicester fan. After supporting Nottingham Forrest for a few years l can say, this is where belong. Watching them scoring goals against the big teams is really exciting. No it’s Leicester for me now.

  5. Nice one Murph, great write up. You too, Melissa. Love hearing the tales and adventures of this day.

    My own story involved queuing over night at OT with the token sheets, and doing the day-trip with the club. This was my only option, as had to be back for a Geography GCSE the next morning.

    The ramblas was amazing, ‘taking over Barcelona’ all the way on the underground, and i didn’t want the post-match dancing about with the cup by the players to end.

    Airport was chaos, we ended up on the very last flight to Manchester. Touchdown was 8.30, quick dash to school, changed in the car and strolled into the exam hall for 9.15. Easy. Meant i missed the parade down Deansgate tho as i was asleep!

  6. Thanks for sending this Murph. I remember thinking when the equaliser went in “We can win this in extra time” Then seconds later Solskjaer puts it in, ecstasy! 🙂

  7. The bloke with the shaved chest is my son and this is the only photo of him I’ve seen. He was born and bred in Salford and has been a Red since he was 8rs old.

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