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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Moscow 2008 – Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Merseyside, have a look, we’re in Moscow, are you f*ck, with a nick nack paddy wack give a dog a bone, we’re bringing number three home.

So heard in Hard Rock café on the day of the game. Without doubt 2007/8 will go down in the annals of history as one of United’s greatest ever and the fact that it took us one of each closer to the old enemy made it even sweeter. Every time I see a picture of Fergie, Ronny, Edwin etc with old big ears I grin from ear to ear. There really isn’t a more beautiful trophy in World Football than the European Cup, both in appearance and in terms of the mystique and glamour that surrounds it. And there isn’t a greater sight in World Football than United lifting said trophy. And I’ve been fortunate to witness this twice in my lifetime. Oh to be a Red.

It nearly wasn’t so though. Has there ever been such a difficult final (or even Euro Away) to get to? Has there ever been so much agonising over to go or not to go? And have United ever failed to shift 21,000 tickets for a Cup Final before, let alone a European Cup Final? The morning after the night before and the Euphoria of beating Barcelona in one of Old Trafford’s best atmosphere’s in years was beginning to give way to the harsh realisation that Moscow was going to cost the bones of a grand, no matter how you did it. Typical United, spend nine years missing out on the likes of Glasgow and Paris before taking us to bloody Russia!

It was immediately decided there was no way we were paying £950 for a club day trip and even a £750 day trip with the independents was baulked at. That left us with two options. Send the tickets back (which I’m not ashamed to say we seriously considered and unfortunately, two of our party did) or a marathon journey that Steve Martin and John Candy would be proud of. A friend had suggested flights from Stansted to Riga for only £100 a week before the Barcelona game. Unfortunately we didn’t have the balls (or confidence in United) to take a chance and so found ourselves paying £369 for the same flights a week later, out Tuesday morning and back Friday night. Feeling smug, we reasoned we’d saved £400 and were getting a four day holiday with two Cities for the price of one…

Next challenge was securing train tickets from Riga-Moscow, easier said than done when none of the sites actually sell them, they merely take an ‘enquiry’ and get back to you at their leisure! Needless to say I was fearing the worst at this point and began looking at other options, hire car, bus, yak ride…Eventually I received an e-mail from a Russian gentleman named Peter, and against my better judgement replied with my credit card details and all three of our names, DOBs and passport numbers. In fairness to good old Pete, the tickets arrived via DHL the following day. Although looking at them they could’ve been anything!!!

And so it was that after another couple of weeks, stressing over visas (would we, wouldn’t we), trying to find accommodation and trying to explain to partners that there would be no summer holiday this year, we finally left Manchester at midnight on Monday to begin our 36 hour trek to Moscow. The drive down to Stansted was fairly uneventful, save for loads of Truckers flashing at us, with their headlights I hasten to add, due to the United scarf we had out of each window. Reds are here and all that. Before long we were having the obligatory 4am pint in the airport and waiting to board our flight. At this point I was straining my neck trying to clock who was who, but it soon became apparent, even on their ‘manner’ that Reds were going to be outnumbering Blues from this point on in the trip. Obviously all the Hoorah Henrys have more money than us and were forking out for Chelsea’s alleged £1300 day trips…

A pleasant day was spent in Riga, drinking in the sunshine and admiring the local talent. A text was quickly despatched to a Scouse friend at work, informing him of my whereabouts and politely enquiring how his day was going. In a rare display of bone fide Scouse wit, he replied that he had just tipped off the Latvian Special Branch of the kilo of hashish he’d stashed in my bag “so hurry up and finish that beer lar”. Not wanting to take any chances where a Mickey was concerned we heeded his advice and headed off to the train station. At this point, more worries as to whether our cabin would be occupied by some retired Head-hunter, or worse still, a hairy arsed Russian with a penchant for Young English boys began to kick in. We needn’t have worried as the train, like Stansted and the flight before it must’ve been 80% Reds. A merry time was had by all until we reached the Russian border, when it was squeaky bum time once again! A word of advice here; if you ever cross the Russian border in the middle of the night, don’t take a picture. And worse still, don’t walk away and sit back down on your bed, playing dumb when they start shouting at you. It makes them angry. Very angry!

Still, once that scare was survived, a much needed nights sleep was had and as if by magic we woke up in a grey and rainy Moscow. The next challenge was negotiating the Underground for the first time. With a map in English. When all the station names are actually in Russian. We tried this first of all by following a group of Reds who looked like they knew what they were doing, but soon confessed that they didn’t and got off to try and walk to Red Square. This left us knowing neither what station we got on at, nor what station we were now at. The Russians were friendly enough but few of them spoke any English. One saw the scarves we were now wearing and insisted on taking us to the stadium, even though it was only 9 o clock in the morning. We eventually managed to decline and find the right station for our digs.

On arrival at the hostel, which had charged us two nights, even though we were only ever staying one, we found that it had been overbooked and the owner had f*cked off to Spain (presumably on our money), leaving one of his staff to sort the mess out. As a result, we found ourselves sharing the Kitchen floor with three other Reds from Blackburn! A quick shower and change and we met up with some mates who’d arrived the day before for a bite to eat on Old Arbat. It wasn’t long before the Russian media were moving in for interviews and asking us to “Sing songs” and “Why we were not clashing with Chelsea fans?” We tried to explain that we respected their country (and certainly their police force/army) and that we weren’t that bothered about Chelsea, but the woman was having none of it and spent about ten minutes trying to insight us into violence. We’re all pacifists, so no cigar!

After that a quick drink in Hard Rock turned into all day when the heavens opened and our walk to Red Sq was put on the back burner. My plans to stay relatively sober were also scuppered when Big Phil (Tony Soprano) bought two bottles of vodka and me and Robbo just couldn’t say no! Long before ‘Viva John Terry’ took hold in the early hours of Thursday numerous new verses to ‘Viva Ronaldo’ were already being aired:

Viva Louis Saha
Running down the wing
There goes his hamstring
Viva Louis Saha

Viva Silvestre
Sitting on the bench
Looking rather French
Viva Silvestre

Viva Wayne Rooney
He’s a f*cking Scouse
And he’ll rob your house
Viva Wayne Rooney

And of course the O’Shea one, which I personally think is out of order.

The journey to the ground was a bit of a blur, due to the excessive amount of vodka (cheers Phil!) but I soon sobered up on arrival when I couldn’t find my ticket. Title run ins? Pah. Russian border police? A doddle. Spending 36 hours and the best part of a grand travelling to Moscow to momentarily loose your brief? Forget squeaky bum , try soiled trousers. By the time I found it in my coat pocket, I was pretty much stone cold sober, which was good because I do actually remember the game. You’ve all seen it so I won’t go into too much detail. We bossed the first. They bossed the second. Extra time came and went and so to the dreaded penalties. Every time a United player stepped up I was convinced he was going to miss. Every time a Chelsea player stepped up I was convinced he would score. Credit to United though, Ronny aside, every penalty was impeccable and the practice obviously paid off along with a huge amount of bottle. Even so, as Terry stepped up, I like everyone else though it was good night Vienna and the unthinkable defeat. He missed. We celebrated. And then realised it was back to Square one. Finally Edwin saves and the place goes ballistic. Absolute bedlam. Hairs on the back of my neck are standing up just writing about it. Champions of Europe once again. Worth every penny and every hour spent just to be there for that moment. F*cking Yes! We were then kept back for an hour to allow Chelsea to disperse, which in the circumstances was probably a wise decision and we didn’t see any at all after the game. In fairness to our hosts, the whole thing had been very well organised and the Stadium was spot on.

After the game we dodged the Spartak fans out on Old Arbat and headed back to the Hard Rock for a victory party that began slumped in a chair drinking Coke but finished at 7 am and a numerous beers later as everyone got a second wind, largely thanks to the Indonesian gentlemen (anyone remember the Apollo rally?) who led us through a few United classics. Let’s go Oriental indeed. Viva John Terry and the new Owen Hargreaves songs were definitely the songs of the night though. And so it was we crawled onto our Kitchen floor in the daylight. Just like nine years ago in Catalonia, tired but happy, with a warm glow that will last all summer. Manchester United FC. Champions of Europe.

The next day we had a wander up to Red Square to do the sight seeing and it has to be said that although I won’t be rushing back to Moscow the main sites are up there with anywhere in the world. Unfortunately for a History buff like myself, both Lenin’s tomb and the Kremlin itself are closed on a Thursday afternoon but we managed to have a gander round St Basil’s Cathedral (the Hansel & Gretel one), which is much more impressive outside than in. After purchasing the standard issue Russian Hats and dolls we headed back to the station for the long journey home, which would have been a hell of a lot longer had John Terry kept his footing. Thank god, he slipped.

Ben Galvin

Thanks to Karl & the other Ben for a brilliant trip.


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