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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Memories of Rome trips...

From Aberdeen to Rome

This was not the happy ending to the season we had all envisaged and hoped for but at the end of the day we were well beaten on the night by a better team. We could discuss forever what happened on the night but simply for whatever reason we did not turn up. Hopefully next season we will come back better and wiser for the experience. Anyway enough about the game, I would prefer in this instance to concentrate on the positives of the trip.

A group of us regular travellers decided to take a gamble on a cheap flight a while before the final to ensure that we were not ripped off once we qualified. As it did last year this gamble paid off and we had 2 nights in Rome from Manchester in a decent hotel for well under £300.

It was early start as we had to fly via Paris but we were in the centre of Rome for mid afternoon on a glorious sunny day and spirits were high. As we had passed the Coliseum in the taxi from the airport I told the lads that was the sightseeing done for the trip!!

We had a few leisurely beers in the afternoon, first by the Termini station area then by the Spanish Steps (which are just a load of old steps for anyone interested in the sights of Rome!). The mood was good, natives seemed friendly enough and there was no sign of any Barca fans.

After a quick shower and brush up, we met up in a restaurant bar near our hotel which was a stones throw from Termini station. After being fed and watered in there it was off to Campo Fiori the area of bars where the Foreign office keep telling us not to go due to fear of violent attacks from the Ultras. This was to be a honeypot for a lot of Reds as there was little chance of the Ultras turning up with so many lads in town. It is a really good area of bars and we would have seen the night out there until the bars were closed at 11 ish by the old bill. This was not before Mr Burgess gave his rendition of Viva Ronaldo using a megaphone which was actually switched off at the time—see youtube for the hilarious results!

Having been to Rome on the Utd’s 3 previous visits we had a few ideas for a late drink and we were soon topping up in a small bar round the back of Via National and when this this closed we headed to a bar that served us until 6am although by that time the owner was gettng a little tired of our singing and the antics of a certain greek red who kept trying to sing whilst dancing on a table full of drinks then would promptly fall asleep again. One of the lads fell asleep outside a bar and woke up and his shirt had been stolen off his back—there is no truth in the rumour that Malcolm Glazer was seen in the area at the time. When you wake up after a night like that you really wish that there would be a blanket alcohol ban across the whole city!


By midday a large group of us had plotted up in a bar restaurant near our hotel thanks to a hospitable owner who could see nothing but euro signs in his eyes as he could not cope with our thirst for alcohol. Big Jim reported that a new bed had just been delivered to our hotel in replacement of the one he had managed to break during the night—say no more! The word going round was that tickets would cost upwards of £800 on the black market and that was if you could actually find someone with a spare to sell! In the whole time I was in Rome I wasn’t offered a single ticket at any price which was amazing considering the amount of people I had seen or heard from. There were rumours of fakes and also I heard some sad stories of at least 4 reds I knew being pick pocketed for their wallets and tickets. In those situations you cannot help but feel but sorry for the people involved.

We spent most of the afternoon in this haven of good Italian grub with wine and beer flowing. We then decided to visit a bar near the Vatican (the Popes house as referred to by one of our crew!!). This bar we had visited on each of our previous visits to Rome and the head barman was named by us Mr Millwall as he had told us on each previous visit his love for Millwall FC. He was a knowledgable guy and we knew he would serve us beer! Four of us took the 15 minute taxi ride and it eneded up taking an hour as the driver thought we were off to the ground—dickhead! We were stuck in the worst traffic I'd ever seen!

Anyway after a couple of beers with Mr Millwall we walked along the road up to the Olympic stadium. All seemed rather calm in the area—however there were no directional signs saying which way to go so we wasted 25 minutes walking round the ground to the right turnstiles. We were there early but still there was a worrying queue which didn’t move too quickly. By the time I was 3 from the turnstiles they were all locked and the police and stewards didn’t know what was happening. Slight panic set in behind us and I was worried that I wasn’t going to get in at 1 stage. However after a few minutes one of the turnstiles opened again and they just scanned everyone through it using what appeared to be a master ticket, so after all that effort to get one I didn’t actually use my ticket. Obviously this was a jibbers paradise as many got in without tickets or tickets that had been passed back. The result of which you could see in the Utd end as all gangways were full and more than one to a seat. I was just glad to get in to be honest. Earlier on the stewards were actually checking passports which would have been fun at the time I got there.

The teams came out to an amazing sight of ‘For Sir Matt’ and hats off to the people involved in that. We started like a house on fire and the rest is history. The fans did there best considering we didn’t have a lot to shout about and it was all over without us giving it our best shot.

I left before the presentations and walked towards the Vatican before getting a taxi back to termini and a bar again near our hotel. The mood was strange as no one seemed that gutted as we had been well beaten. As you can imagine there was plenty of heated debate about what had happened but we reflected that we were still league champions and champions of the world so let's not forget what a great season it had been.

We ended up pissed up again until 6am before sloping off for some much needed sleep not before being accosted again for the second night running by some very dubious ladies of the night charging a mere 20 euros for a service! Unfortunately when I woke up at 10am we had still lost the night before. A quiet journey home again via Paris and another long season was over which started 46 weeks earlier at a cold and windy Aberdeen.

Welsh Phil

As soon as Ronaldo scored the free kick at the Emirates to seal our trip to Rome I should have been on looking for flights, but as it was I left it to half-time (kept thinking what if Arsenal get one back) meaning Big Jim and I were facing an interesting trip for our first European Cup final - tickets already secured thanks to Jim. Belfast-London-Bologna-Rome. We set off from George Best Airport (hoping this was a good omen) Tuesday night flying to Stansted stopping the night at a hotel near the airport as the flight to Bologna was at 07.10 on Wednesday morning. Say what you like about Ryanair but credit them that flights 9 times out of 10 are on time and we arrived in the heat of Bologna just before 10am local time jumping on the bus to Bologna Centrale train station for the 11.39 Eurostar to Rome. After 15 min delay we were off relaxed in the thought that we were on our way to Rome with time to spare. Plenty of Reds on the train as well and they managed to drink the train dry as many had been on it since Milan.

We arrived in Rome Termini just before 3 making our way down to the Metro to take us to the San Giovani stop near the B&B I had managed to secure. It felt great looking round seeing loads of United making their way around mixing easily with the Barca fans who were already singing heartily with no hint of malice what so ever. Then it all started to unravel. Firstly it took us a good 30-40 mins to find our B&B when it should have only taken 10. We knocked on the door to be greeted with blank looks from the male cleaner/receptionist who informed us in broken English that there was no reservation and basically that he didn’t really care either. Now I am not the most patient of people at the best of times but it took all my will power not to thump this idiot and his blasé attitude. Was this an omen for the rest of the day – “we are bound to lose now” I kept mumbling as if anything that happens to me can even remotely affect a football match involving United. Anyway we managed to bump into the lady who runs the B&B downstairs and although she had no rooms herself thankfully got us a room in a hotel she previously worked in near the Vatican.

An hour later bags dumped in room, shorts and sunglasses donned, ticket secured in wallet (with all the scare stories about Rome pickpockets the wallet was stowed safely in zip pocket of my shorts) and some devoured pizza later, we started looking at trying to get a beer to set us on our way. Ha no chance! We stumbled upon loads of Reds and Barca fans enjoying the sun with a beer in a bar in the middle of Via Crescenzio just off the Vatican. As soon as we tried to order a few the manager grumpily informed us “no more beer Police stop it”. To his right some plain clothes coppers were making sure that was it and he had to shut up shop. Cue more “we are going to lose” grumbles from me much to the amusement of Big Jim. It was now about 3 hours to kick off and with the queues for “32” bus to the stadium growing longer by the second, we gave up the beer search rather meekly and joined the line of both sets of fans. 40 mins later we finally got crammed onto a bus that made rush hour in Beijing look a breeze as the bus took another 20 mins to get to the stadium and felt like the inside of a hair dryer at full blast. So much for a well organised event and easy transport to the Stadio Olimpico.

At last yes we were there arriving at the Champions League Final thousands of United and Barca fans milling around looking for the stadium. When I say looking this is an understatement! No signage what so ever directing fans to the gate they would be entering the stadium at, just the local coppers/stewards telling us United fans right Barca left. Thing was our seats were in the “neutral section” and we had absolutely no idea where we going again due to the lack of signage. Now I must be mistaken in my thought that UEFA had insisted that all stadia used for European football should be clearly signposted with North, South, etc stands to allow fans ease of access/entry to games. Well not in Rome and we were not the only ones clueless as to where we were going as we had stories all night of people lost in the chaos. Eventually after being directed (sort of) by “stewards” (I use the term loosely as they did bugger all) and what felt like a 2 mile walk, we finally found the entrance for Tribuna Monte Mario. After 1 crush with all the Barca fans and 2 checks of the tickets later (so much for scanning them like we all had been warned about) we were directly outside the stadium facing another hike up to our section.

We were now after all the organised chaos in our seats in the “neutral section” (£181 each to be exact) which was easily 80% United anyway. I had to hike it back down to get a programme (am I right in finding only one stall for this part of the stadium?) over the red carpet section where I bumped into Gary Neville in his official suit looking desperately for some VIP entrance. Couldn’t catch him for a pic or autograph as he was off like a shot. He greeted all Reds who said hello with a thumbs up. Back in seat anticipation building I had to pinch myself to realise that I was living out my childhood dream of seeing and being there with United at a European Cup Final. I have watched United for 30 years through good times and bad reaching this stage to watch it was something I had never imagined would happen for me. Teddy Sheringham then ambled past us up the steps to the TV gantry with a confident grin.

Have to say the opening ceremony was quite tastefully done for once and then kick off arrived. We all know how the game panned out for United, only for the first 9 minutes did we see how we really can play. We can all debate about how we missed Fletcher/Hargreaves, formations, team didn’t turn up, etc. Fact is we lost and deserved to do so as Barca were by far the better team on the night, though I am still convinced on our day we would take them as we would never play so poorly again. I am still gutted but getting over it slowly as I know we will be back in the near future at this stage.

I left at the final whistle partly as I was so crestfallen and partly to beat the rush. Not that I dislike Barca (in fact quite the opposite having a soft spot for them since Hughes was there in the 80s) but I really didn’t want to suffer seeing them lift the cup. All in all a good trip (apart from the obvious result) and we got some wonderful sightseeing and €6 beers done on Thursday before making the same trip home. Roll on August and the first home game of the season back to my seat in the East Stand – Come on United!!



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