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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.

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!!