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Saturday, May 27, 2006

26th May 1999

from Paul Windridge writing for the 100th issue of Red News

Basic instinct - or how a few seconds can change lives forever

I was thinking about the longevity of Red News and how far Manchester United had come during the period that spans its 100 issues, and came to the conclusion that I should pick a single event to write about. let's face it - the 100th issue is so massive that there could only be one game that matches its massiveness, and that1s 26th May 1999.

It doesn't take a genius to know that a game can become legendary for a mere few seconds of action, and that night in the Nou Camp was legendary for just that - a mere few seconds. But probably fewer seconds than you may imagine - 58 of them to be exact. That's how long the ball was in play. That was all the time it took to break the hearts of every Bayern supporter and every ABU - and, as we know, that's a lot of hearts! It's not that the rest of the game wasn't significant in any way, just that the really meaningful part happened right at the end - in fact when it was supposed to be all over.

From where I was, stood behind the goal, the 90 agonising minutes went by faster than for any other game I can remember. In fact we were into the three minutes of added time, before everything changed. Bayern were lording it. But not for long. We were desperate for something extraordinary to happen, when it did. As Matthaus sat smugly on the touchline thinking about how good he would look holding up the big jug, United snatched it from his grasp.

During the few minutes before the smash and grab I had begun to wonder. Bayern hit the post and the bar. They came so close that their confidence was way too high. They thought they had every right, but they should have known better. Time was fast ticking away and they were a goal to the good - yes - but they were playing Manchester United. And there had been one or two notable last minute come-backs that season.

I looked up to the night sky for a sign because I had a weird feeling that it wasn't over. We couldn1t have come so far and achieved so much and then lose as ignominiously as that could we? And, to top it all it was Sir Matt's birthday. I knew it was totally illogical. We were 1-0 down, the 45 minutes were up, and the Germans always win. But those wearing Manchester United red were mindful of the fact that a few seconds can change lives and football matches - it had become basic instinct.

How do we react to a potentially life-changing moment when it happens in a split second? Invariably by making an instinctive decision. The instinct is usually based on knowledge and experience, but it is non the less, instinct. And it's just the same with football. It's whether you recognise the possibilities and then how you deal with them that counts. And this often happens when there is no real time to think. You have no other choice than to act instinctively. I have denied my instinct on a few occasions and have always regretted doing so. I am sure footballers would say the same.

So, the stadium clock was stuck on 45 minutes - the game was up when the ball went out for a throw in down by the corner. A large United supporting Hungarian caught it, held it aloft and muttered something unintelligible then kissed the ball before giving it back. Giggs rushed over and took it off him mindful of the precious seconds ticking away. The ball eventually went out for a corner which Beckham took. The Cup was already being carried down draped in Bayern1s colours as Schmeichel forsook his goal-minding duties and instinctively headed for their box. There could be no doubt that he caused problems as he went for the ball which finally made it's way to Giggs from a poor clearance. Giggs scuffed a shot goalwards. There was no way it was ever going to beat Khan until Sheringham stuck out his leg and swept it into the corner.

On the touchline, Steve McClaren immediately wanted to revert to 4-4-2 from the 4-3-3 all-out attack. The Wizard argued. He understood. By this time Manchester United was etched into his soul, and he knew what we all knew by then - that we were going to win. There was no doubt in any of our minds. 'Hang on a second' he said, 'something's going on here.' McClaren didn't get his way, and in any case there just wasn't time! Almost from the kick-off United were right down Bayern's throats going straight for the jugular.

45 seconds of the 3 added minutes remained when Beckham stepped up to take the second corner. Bayern were stunned. They just couldn't believe it. The ball left the foot and we held our collective breaths. Sheringham helped it on its way to Solskjaer who extended a leg and my head exploded with the noise I was making. 58 seconds of play and basic instinct won us the greatest prize in club football and gave us the most momentous time of our football lives. Nothing will ever be the same again.

Paul Windridge

Of all the fabulous memories I have of following United, I don't think anything will ever rank with the 1998-1999 season and the city of Barcelona. Whilst the whole Champions League campaign that year was one great roller coaster ride for those of us who went to all of the games, my memories of Barcelona were not only of two fantastic games, but also of what went on before and after them.

The day after the thrilling 3-3 draw with Barcelona, four of our party were still in the city and at a loose end after having overdosed on alcohol, that is, until a trip to the club museum at the Nou Camp was suggested. Whilst feeling tired and relatively bored walking around the museum, we reached the area where the public is allowed out onto the stadium viewing platform. As there seemed to be a lack of stadium staff around and with the tour lacking any real zest, three of us decided we would clamber over the barrier and take a casual walk down the stands to have a look at the dugout. After a couple of minutes sitting around, talking and taking photos and waving back to our other mate in the stands who kept telling us we were going to get nicked, the expected frantic club officials still hadn't appeared. Being ever more adventurous and probably never having the chance to do something most United players have never done we had a jog into the centre circle of the Nou Camp to imagine the sound of a full house and admire the awe inspiring view. I just sat down in the centre circle and soaked it all up whilst one of the others called his mate back home to tell him where he was stood. As I stood up, I knew I just had to have a run out as I took my imaginary ball down the wing of the Nou Camp pitch, cut inside, and then buried a shot in the top corner of the goal. Cue celebrations in front of the goal where 6 months later, the winner in the European Cup Final would be scored and the entire United team would be celebrating. We took a couple of penalties just for good measure before it got kind of boring arguing about whether it went in or not. As we made our way back to the bench I noticed one remaining unexplored area, the tunnel. Only two of us decided to walk up the tunnel after noises were heard emanating from inside. From what I can remember of it, it is divided into two sections, probably to stop the fisticuffs at half time, with one side housing some kind of chapel. As we got to the top though, we both nearly shat ourselves as somebody came walking up the corridor, walked past us and simply ignored us to our utter surprise. With a new found sense of bravado, we argued about who should step out first and open the door to the visitors changing room, half expecting players to be in there getting a rub down. As we slowly nudged the door open, we found ourselves in a dark dingy changing room, not too different from what you might find at a local sports centre. The lockers were small; the medical bench pretty poor (I couldn't even fit my legs on it) and the whole place dull. We still managed to pilfer a souvenir that a rather forgetful United player had left behind in his locker though. With a feeling of now overstaying our welcome and our pockets filled, we decided to leave the rest of the Nou Camp to future expeditions and made our way back out and back up through the stands to the museum.

It was only 6 months later that I would return to Barcelona for the Final, ticketless, and with £180 in my pocket in the hope it would get me somewhere. First look at the stadium was that it was hopeless. Three levels of security, a perimeter barrier, a large internal perimeter and a ticket scan on the gate. I went back into town in a sour mood to have a few drinks with the Red News lads. I returned to the stadium a few hours before the match to get past the first barrier, but it was absolute bedlam. I
eventually got through by quickly opening and closing my hand and flashing a fiver. I couldn't for one minute though see how I would ever get by the huge perimeter fence on the other side and spent about half an hour on the grass contemplating my next move. As I did, I noticed a large crowd gathering in front of an entrance to the fence and knew something was about to happen. I quickly jumped up and made my way down to the entrance, just as the crowd seized the gate and began rocking it. As it burst open, I arrived just in time to follow a horde of reds through before a series of police vans blocked it off within seconds. As soon as I was inside the police were going for anyone still running so I immediately stopped to walking pace and took my mobile phone out and headed for a calmer area. Time was running out as the match was now due to kick off and I was outside the ground without a ticket desperately trying to get other reds to pass tickets back to me so I could join the queue to get in. Unfortunately most wanted them as mementos and didn't want to miss any of the game, however one guy had just had a ticket passed back to him and said I could have it as soon as he had used it. Thankfully, he was true to his word and as soon as I got in the ground, I felt as if we'd already scored. I joined a huge throng of reds on a stairwell and the rest is history. However, not everything in life is free; my £180 was stolen from my wallet by a young Spanish kid in McDonalds after the match.

Paul S


Blogger Gar said...

Magic memory. It brought it all back for me too...

11:53 pm, October 22, 2007  

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