Galatasary fans.

The fan whose first match was Galatasaray away!

For most aspiring young fans, a first sight of the famous Manchester United shirts arrives via a midweek League Cup game, or perhaps a reserves fixture to ease them in.

Very, very few Reds made their match-going debut at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium in Istanbul in November 1993, where United faced Galatasaray in the Champions League second round. 
 
In fact, it’s probable we’ve located the only one.
 
It was an infamous night, and one of United’s landmark European fixtures during the 1990s – a decade which saw Alex Ferguson’s side develop from an inconsistent force heavily affected by the three-foreigner rule to all-conquering Champions League winners in 1999.
Galatasaray fans, 1994.
Galatasaray's famously partisan fans hours before kick-off, ahead of our second visit to Istanbul in 1994.
United were greeted in Turkey by one banner that read: ‘Welcome to the Hell.’ Before they returned, Eric Cantona had been sent off, an opposition fan had told Paul Parker he would ‘die’, and we’d been eliminated from Europe.
 
But for five-year-old Luka Cvikl, clad in a crisp Cantona shirt, it was a first glimpse of his foreign heroes.
 
“I lived in Istanbul for four years, because my dad, Matjaz, played professionally for local club Zeytinburnuspor,”
he recently told us.
“United was something we had as a family hobby. Dad really admired their playing style, and also the young players like Giggsy and Neville that were already coming through.”
Originally hailing from the Slovenian city of Slovenj Gradec, Luka and his family left when he was two. He later moved to Zagreb and Dublin, before attending university in Manchester. But the memory of his first United experience remains vivid.
 
“I remember the ground shaking! When the big European teams came, they knew how to make an atmosphere. The flares, the smoke, the noise they made was surreal. It’s a good place to be, as long as you’re not an away fan!”
 
Fortunately, thanks to his father’s connections, Luka was in the home end. Not that he completely avoided the edgy atmosphere…
 
“It was crazy,”
he told us.
“We managed to get home quite quickly after the game, and people were parading through the streets in cars. It was shocking, a little bit intimidating – I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was so intense.”
Eric Cantona with fan Luka Cvikl.
Luka with United hero Eric Cantona in later years.
Luka was nine before he first tasted Old Trafford, but he now lives in the closest residential street to the ground, on Railway Road, and holds a Sir Alex Ferguson Stand season ticket.
 
United didn’t make many friends on that fractious trip, but for one young Slovenian, it was the start of a journey that would take him all the way to M16, to a home just yards from the Theatre of Dreams…
 
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