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UEFA CHAMPIONS' LEAGUE 1999 FINAL IN THE NOU CAMP, BARCELONA : MANCHESTER UNITED V. BAYERN MUNICH - "ONE NIGHT IN HEAVEN"
Reviewed by DANIEL HARRIS
Alarm and dread are not the sentiments one would expect to find lurking in the psyche of somebody who has just witnessed the classic modern moment.
Nevertheless, with all due respect to any wife I might find in the future and any subsequent children who might follow, the awareness that at the age of twenty, I have already enjoyed the best night of my life, is slightly disconcerting.
Following United has never been easy.
From the club bureaucracy, to the Anyone But United posse, to the Mr & Mrs Merrywhether-Smythe and their son Tristran-type support, the club has a habit of placing stumbling blocks in front of itself and its supporters. So it was that it forced me to abscond from university in the week preceding my exams to watch the shirts win the European Cup.
As anyone who merited to be there will confirm, Barcelona '99 reached the pinnacle of life and then some, as sixty-odd thousand Reds gave it large like never before and never again.
It became obvious very soon after arrival in Barca that the pre-match entertainment, at least, was to be dominated by United. The lederhosen of our opponents were conspicuous by their scarcity, as we assumed instant vocal hegemony.
Tattoos, beer-bellies and large biceps were in abundance, as the Brits took advantage of the hot weather to reveal their unofficial team kit.
The huge amount of Reds present without tickets was the topic of many frenzied conversations, as it became clear that one tour operator, aware that its only means of obtaining tickets was through touts, had gone bust, after being quoted prices it was unable to pay. Added to this was those who had come in the hope of obtaining a ticket and also those who were in the Bayern end.
At this point, before righteousness begins to abound, I would like to, as best I can, describe the huge importance of witnessing what was guaranteed to be a life-changing and defining experience. Since United had last won the European Cup in 1968, they had endured a barren period, made worse by the fortuitous dominance enjoyed by all things Scouse.
Despite the occasional cup success, for every Robson, there was a Colin Gibson, for every Paul McGrath there was a Ralph Milne. The trophies won by Fergies teams had been beautiful, but in order to elevate a brilliant team to legendary status, the European Cup was required.
On top of this, the season had been one of unparalleled drama, tension and genius. The team had clinched the double, playing superb football and comprised players whose commitment to the cause equalled that of the fans.
We could win the Champions League again, but nothing would compare to that first victory. Wed still come in our droves, wherever and whenever United were playing, but the import and emotion generated by this first potential triumph could not be missed, whatever the opportunity cost.
So it was that unorthodox tactics had to be employed to gain access to the Red nirvana that awaited in the Nou Camp. Turnstiles were limbo-d under, doors were very carefully and gently removed and openly forged tickets were selling at £100 a go.
Press accounts vary dramatically and predictably made comparisons with Hillsborough, a repeat of which could never have happened in the open Nou Camp.
Nothing at this stage could affect the adrenalin-fuelled buzz on the concourse. Fuelled by a few shandies along the Ramblas, excitement had escalated to the stage where we simply could not lose. It was not a possibility.
The boys would win, that would be that and I was going to savour every last second of it all because I knew, and could therefore wait to watch it unfold in front of my eyes.
This optimism increased even further inside the ground, as United comprehensively outnumbered the Germans probably by more than 2:1 and clearly out sang them not a regular occurrence at Old Trafford these days and you were even allowed to stand up!
The usual Champions League nonsense merely heightened the expectation, the highlight of which was Monserrat Caballe being delivered onto the pitch by a small car to sing Barcelona.
Without wishing to sound too whimsical, the atmosphere was at fever pitch and the sense of pride felt as the teams walked out was probably similar to how my parents did at my barmitzvah.
And then the fun stopped and the game began. It didnt start well and it got worse. Well get it back. This hope was good for an hour. But we didnt get much better. We didnt even look like we were going to score. The Germans hit the woodwork twice. Arguments were brief were the tactics wrong? Should Beckham have played on the right? Should Schmeichel have saved the free kick? etcetera. Because it didnt matter. It was not like a normal game.
The fans remained staunchly vocal in their support most un-United-like. And the emotion wasnt the usual gutted feeling of losing a big game. It was a state of actual physical illness, terror and panic. It cant happen. I cant ever go back to university. Or see anyone.
The shouting was not the frustrated losing of temper that defeat can bring. It was a hoarse wailing, an uncontrollable, voice-wavering fear. Injury time approached. Marlboro Red consumption heightened even further. Another wasted corner. And wasted rebound. AND TEDDY SHERINGHAM HAS EQUALISED! Out of absolutely nowhere United have salvaged a draw and with it the lives of all the Reds in the ground.
Throughout the ground, wild-eyed fans were jumping on and bundling each other from the Tennants Super of moods to the Stella Artois, from Ricky Martin to Radiohead and from Lambert and Butler to Marlboro Reds all were enveloped in an intense buzz of pure happiness and remission in their horizontal positions piled up in the Nou Camp gangways. Remember a time when you were absolutely dying for a pee. For hours and hours. And then that joyous, glorious outpouring of relief. Multiply it by a million and youre still not close to the revoking of a death sentence that this goal signified.
United were level and had a corner. Now, many have excused themselves from attempting to share the moment as Ole scored, by going all misty-eyed and simply terming it as indescribable.
First of all, though, one must remember that seconds earlier, Teddy had rescued United from the forces of darkness, (who had staked first claim to the Champions League by rising before dawn and efficiently laying a beach towel on the seat next to it) and from the brink of disaster, both collective and personal.
The unthinkable had happened, a dream had in an instant been realised and 70,000 Reds devoured the single most ecstatic moment since Moses decided that walking through water was boring.
This wasnt just a goal in the European Cup Final. It was a winning goal which would not be equalised and scored in the most dramatic of circumstances. What had just happened was not only the most explosive and shocking end to a football match ever, but the single most unexpected event I have ever witnessed. And I was milking it, along with everyone else, in celebrations which continued for an hour inside the ground, with plenty of very manly tears in evidence.
In the mayhem of the airport which was returning participants of the largest ever airlift out of Britain, I stopped to phone my father and berated him for not having accompanied me. He argued that he had a job and could not take time off work.
I was forced to point out that there are other jobs. But therell never be another night like that.