'These lot are absolutely mad!'

Wednesday 06 April 2022 09:59

In 1993, Manchester United entered the Champions League in an attempt to lift the European Cup for the first time since 1968.

Alex Ferguson's recently crowned title winners were bidding to extend their success to the continent, some 24 years after last appearing in the elite competition, and overcame Hungarian side Honved to set up a two-legged tie against Galatasaray, with the victors guaranteed a place in the group stages.

The Turkish outfit were tough opponents and only an 81st-minute equaliser by Eric Cantona salvaged a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford and preserved our proud unbeaten home record in Europe.

My Story: Robbo recalls Istanbul '93 Video

My Story: Robbo recalls Istanbul '93

Bryan Robson recounts the most hostile of atmospheres at Galatasaray's Ali Sami Yen Stadium in 1993...

Bryan Robson had opened the scoring early on in the first leg and he captained the side heading to Istanbul for the most hostile of atmospheres at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium. United were greeted with 'Welcome to Hell' banners at the airport and it was an intimidating experience for some of the younger members of the squad, such as Gary Neville and David Beckham.

Even seasoned campaigner Robson admits it was a hostile environment which made life even more difficult for the Reds, with Galatasaray banking three away goals to only need a low-scoring draw to progress. In our fascinating episode of 'My Story', the midfielder recalls just what it was like entering the cauldron and, ultimately, seeing United's European dreams ends amid furore and controversy.

"I knew what Galatasaray was all about because  of the fans chant – which the Turkish fans seem to do – this jumping-up-and-down chant," said Robbo. "When there's only a few thousand it's nowhere near to what the effect is when you go to Istanbul. Outside the hotel, they were chanting and just trying to keep the players up all night and disrupt our rest.

"So it started off from there. From the hotel, we get on the coach and mud and flags and everything is thrown at the coach, trying to upset the lads and put them off, but that team was strong mentality-wise.

"Then, once we got to the stadium, we go inside and get prepared for the game and come out for the warm-up. We did actually mention the 'Welcome to Hell' thing, and you stand there going: 'These lot are absolutely mad!' It made an unbelievable atmosphere within the place.

United players look out of the team bus in Istanbul.

Some home fans had been inside the ground up to six hours before kick-off and the atmosphere hit fever pitch when the players came out to begin the tie.

"When you walk up the steps to come out onto the pitch, all you can see is smoke," said Robson. "Certain parts of the ground, you can't even see it because that many flares have gone off. You know, right up until kick-off. That clears as the game goes on but doesn't really intimidate you that much.

"It's really just the sort of aggressiveness towards you, from everybody surrounding the pitch, that is quite intimidating. If you want to be playing at the top level and win major trophies, you've got to be mentally strong to put up with that."

Galatasaray's fanatical supporters roar their side on.

The match itself was a largely forgettable affair. Safe in the knowledge that deadlock would see them through, Galatasaray ensured a stop-start game with play regularly broken up. Both sides had the ball in the net, only for the offside flag to intervene, while Peter Schmeichel saved superbly from Hakan Sukur and Ryan Giggs should have made more from a fine pass by Robson.

Incomprehensibly, very little injury time was played despite all the stoppages, which led to Cantona blowing his top when Swiss referee Kurt Rothlisberger signalled the end of proceedings. A red card was shown to the fiery Frenchman and, fittingly, all hell broke loose.

"Once the final whistle had gone, the first thing I noticed was Eric, because he was more or less the player on the ball when the whistle went," recalled Robson. "Eric got the ball and booted it away because he was in a temper. I could see it in his eyes: Eric was going to do something daft. That's why I ran to him. But before I actually got to Eric, this policeman or army guy got hold of Eric's arm – not aggressively, just walking with him. I thought I'd get on the other side of Eric and we went across [towards the tunnel].

"I knew the other lads would be calm enough to get back to the dressing room but, as soon as we got to the top of the steps, this supposed police or army guy punches Eric on the back of the head. The police come in and hit us with shields to push us down the steps. By that time, the rest of the boys had got to the top of the steps.

Eric Cantona seethes after the final whistle is blown.

"When I got hit by a shield, I fell against the wall and split my arm. I had to have eight stitches in my elbow. So there were a lot of inquiries by UEFA into how things had happened when the game had finished. But, yeah, I mean they were really aggressive to all our players right at the end of the game.

"The police were a big part of it; they more or less joined in. I'd been to Istanbul when England played Turkey and if you get beat, it gets even worse."

Things were so bad that, when Cantona was still raging in the dressing room and keen to seek retribution, even Roy Keane commented in his autobiography: "Normally, I wouldn't have backed off a fight, but even I wasn't up for this one! There were a lot of Turks out there!"

Yet the game stands out for Robbo despite his outstanding and lengthy career. "You've not had to prompt me about it, to a certain degree, because I more or less remember everything about the away game," he admitted. "Because it was probably the most intimidating atmosphere I ever played in. Would I repeat it over again? Oh yeah. We'd beat them this time!"