It Was Twenty Years Ago Today
From the moment of the final whistle on May 26th in Barcelona, me and thousands more, would be looking back for the rest of our lives.
Instant nostalgia – this was as good as it was ever going to get.
Twenty years on from the most memorable night in Manchester United’s history, memories still ebb and flo.
I remember getting there –
flying from Liverpool to Nice.
Remember being told that there was a block for 5,000 fans at the stadium kept back especially for those without tickets – and actually believed this was true.
I haven’t a clue how we got home.
Our group of eight made it there via Liverpool, Nice then Salou but up to recently, I could only name six of them.
This hazy recollection of events, could be partly down to the personal coke stash unwittingly transported Barca way.
It was a time when the devil’s dandruff was an integral part of any social occasion, so bringing some over for the trip wasn’t the galling prospect it is now.
One for each night away seemed about right, in separate pockets in case I forgot.
We met on the 25th at noon in The Waldorf, near Piccadilly approach, prior to getting a minibus to Liverpool Airport, which was in the early stages of the expansion to what it’s become today.
Temporary walls and bollards lined the way from the check in desk, which led directly to an annexe prior to customs.
This was when it dawned why the walls were lined with mirrors, and that the gear was still where I’d left it – in my jacket pockets.
The intention was always to hide it but being swept up in the pre trip excitement, went completely out of my head, and as the queue was crept nearer to the uniformed officers carrying out body searches there was no time to stash it down boxers or socks.
“Arms out lad”
Assuming the position, the three pints downed earlier began seeping from every pore as I was working out how to justify possession of a class A substance prior to leaving the country, to a Scouse customs officer.
I wondered if the law actually covered taking drugs out of the country, and it was only bringing them in that was bad.
“Yous goin’ the game?”
Nodding compliantly, I could smell the cigs on his breath as my two chest pockets were unbuttoned and probed in a simultaneous windscreen wiper motion.
I expected to open my eyes to the sight of a bag of coke being triumphantly waved in my face.
“On yer way lad. I hope yous get beat!”
How did the silly cunt miss it?
I went straight to the nearest gents, and locked the door as a wave of relief washed over me.
Being a pessimist is a thankless task, with any small victories in life being painfully short lived.
Flipping seemlessly from gibbering wreck to Howard Marks, I saw it only as an opportunity wasted.
If it was that easy to get through maybe if I should’ve brought more through and made a few quid knocking it out over there.
We all met back up at the Departures lounge bar, where I confessed to Marsy what had just happened.
He was the unofficial organiser of the trip, and brought the 8 of us together.
“Fuckin ell mate, whatever you do don’t tell any of these”,
he said, nodding towards our companions.
“They’ll do the lot in before we land –
Keep it quiet, and me and you can have it at the ground”.
We were indeed a tight bunch.
Page 10 of the 1999 UWS summer special, paid compliment to, ‘the ingenuity of United fans getting tickets for non United areas in Camp Nou’.
The fact it was hardly ingenuity, more desperation doesn’t come into it, but it did mean i’d have a clearer recollection of Carsten Jancker hitting the crossbar than any of Utd’s goals.
Around KO time, entrances to the Utd sections were akin to the fall of Saigon as ticket holders and the ticketless scrambled towards the lottery of getting through the Camp Nou turnstiles.
Marsy and I shared a moment, parting ET and Elliot style, as I was fucked off by security.
We’d bought snide tickets off the same guy earlier in the day; he’d got lucky and I didn’t.
Marsy clung to the turnstile gate, watching me battle through the oncoming hordes, coming the opposite way, appearing a lot more upset about me not getting in than I was.
An army of police and security patrolled the high perimeter fence hoovering up those who made it over , or through, or under.
I thought of Ives.
Ives, the soft spoken Scotsman from The Great Escape, driven to despair at he and Steve McQueen’s latest failed escape attempt –
making that fatal scramble up the perimeter fence , only to be gunned down, clinging to the wire in full view of his distraught camp mates.
Climbing the fence seemed a bad idea.
I skirted the permeter of Camp Nou, and came to the more civilised German trunstiles.
The Euro replaced the much loved paseta in January 1999, so when a German man accepted €100, for his spare 20 minutes into the game, both of us parted relatively happy, and took my place one row below the huge Camp Nou scoreboard amongst the Bayern faithful, wincing on entry at the ‘0-1’ displayed high above my head.
Still wired from the days earlier intake, these surrounding Germans simply became friends I’d just not met yet.
The joy on their faces as I introduced myself to my new pals would stay with me all these years later, they just hid it really well.
I felt so popular, even making my way back along the row to shake the hand of one Bayern fan I’d missed on the way to my seat the first time.
A raging thirst came over me, resorting to asking the young lad in the next seat for a mouthful of his bottle of coke, and took his dad’s animated gestures as a signal that this was ok.
I only realised how strong the beak was as it began to wear off.
This plane was crashing fast, and swore my new German mates were in fact Bayern’s main firm, waiting for the right moment to pounce; the Status Quo jackets were just a clever disguise.
We were getting hammered with Bayern turning the screw and breaking through Utd at will, so toyed with the idea of leaving and finding a bar to soften this crippling comedown.
As Janker’s goal bound volley, rattled the crossbar leaving Schmeichel rooted to his goal line, I made sure all of my German friends were in no doubt, they’d deservedly got the game in the bag.
I’d show these Status Quo fuckers, I wasn’t arsed if we lost – that’d do their heads right in.
They could sense victory was imminent and coked up platitudes from a non German speaker appeared to be falling on deaf ears and i was deteriorating fast.
In the distance I saw the net bulge.
A wave of noise hit a nano second later as the ground beneath my feet shook.
I didn’t even know Sheringham was on the pitch.
Single chutes of celebrating reds popped up along the top tier, connecting with raised fists across a sea of bowed heads.
The anglo German charm offensive went on hold, urging whoever was taking this late corner to take their fuckin time in order to run the clock down.
We couldn’t be any worse in extra time than we had for the last 90 mins.
The net bulged again.
Fifty thousand disbelievers held their breath in unison, then as one, screamed.
The induced stupor, somehow transported me to a kneeling position in the aisle, joyously reaching skywards expecting guidance as to what the fuck had just happened, only for the exiting hordes of distraught Bayern fans to interupt before any connection was made with the almighty.
I didn’t know who or how but me and thousands of others had witnessed as near to a footballing miracle as we were ever going to get.
I found my newly adopted family to tell them how unlucky they’d been.
I was still dying of thirst but the request for another swig of the lads coke was met with a disappointing, “Arschloch!” from Dad.
I was convinced the United players had been aware of infiltrators behind enemy lines and had come over especially to recognise these lone wolves during the obligatory lap of honour, but shouts from the top tier fell on deaf ears.
On reaching the Gol Sud they politely lowered their applauding hands, before scuttling back to bathe in the hysteria down the other end as David May’s impromptu guard of honour went into full effect in the distance.
The memory is a strange phenomenon, leaving you with stuff you don’t really want, and letting the good stuff drain away.
On return home, a revisit of events on TV had Clive Tyldesley’s “..and Solskjaer has won it”, followed by the camera panning to two rugby shirt clad buffoons wearing kilts, looking like they’d been dropped in from another planet.
This wasn’t how it was, so better leave it to the myth makers.
I still don’t know how we got home.
Legend has it involving a strip club, being witness to a hotel getting robbed off two blokes on a motorbike and an interview by Granada Reports in a multi story car park.
The route back to Nice is anyone’s guess.
The fairytale of that final two minutes may only be there in the form of hazy flashbacks, but enough to remember the disbelief, the joy and a good reason not to take drugs anymore.