Why I thought Teddy was our two-goal hero in 1999
I was there in person to witness the most famous goal in Manchester United's history, yet I wrongly identified the scorer for several minutes.
Until somebody kindly corrected me on the matter, I was there in the Nou Camp thinking that Teddy Sheringham had claimed his second goal of the game. In my defence, I'll cite the sheer state of pandemonium around us in our lofty vantage point, high above the pitch.
I don’t think I’ve ever yearned for a goal more than when we were 0-1 down and the minutes were ebbing away with Bayern Munich edging ever closer to winning the Champions League.
Having supported the Reds throughout the comparatively barren 1980s, I would never consider myself greedy for success and late on that balmy May evening in 1999, it looked like we'd have to settle for 'only' our third Premier League and FA Cup Double in five years.
But after a long trek from England involving planes, trains and automobiles, I just craved the explosion of joy that one United goal in Barcelona would bring, let alone two. If we scored two, I'd be in dreamland - seeing my club lift Europe's most famous trophy for the first time in my life. (In case you were wondering... no, I wasn't born before 1968!)
I travelled with four friends and we had gone from Eurostar to Paris, stayed over in the capital and flown to Perpignan early in the morning. We then hired a car to drive into Spain and arrived in plenty of time to spend the day in Catalunya, soaking up the sun and mixing with the thousands of Reds. ‘Taking over, taking over, taking over Barcelona’.I’ve since been fortunate enough to watch United in Champions League finals in Moscow, Rome and London but this one, my first, will always feel extra special. When I arrived in the ground, as Montserrat Caballe belted out her famous hit Barcelona, originally recorded with Freddie Mercury, I found myself gazing at this incredible sea of supporters in one of the best stadia in the world.
When Mario Basler’s early free-kick for Bayern nestled in Peter Schmeichel's net in front of us, it felt to me like I was the first person to respond by shouting: ‘United, United, United’ – as was the general rallying cry whenever we suffered a setback. I’m sure I wasn’t but I was just feeling so optimistic about the whole occasion and determined to, at least in my mind, pass on some positive vibes!
Bayern created chances. They hit the woodwork. We survived. I remember we were still very much in the game and causing problems ourselves. But the clock was against us.
Schmeichel moving forward was always going to be seen as a last throw of the dice. Desperation. It was now or never. ‘Somebody make yourself a hero’, I thought to myself. ‘Someone seize the moment’. All I wanted was a goal but, probably for the first time that evening, I was now seriously doubting that it was going to happen.
Offside. He’s offside. Don’t dare look over to the linesman. Just celebrate. Celebrate like you’ve never celebrated before. Maybe if we all go so crazy, they wouldn’t dare chalk it off. Nobody could be that cruel. Everybody is going mental and it continues. It hasn’t been disallowed. We’ve done it, we’ve equalised.
Classic Match: United 2-1 Bayern MunichVideo
I allowed myself a primal scream of outpouring of emotion after jumping around with everybody else, hugging strangers as you only do at football. We weren’t even near our allocated seats. I regained my composure to see us being awarded another corner. On television, you could see Bayern’s players had gone, mentally, but I was oblivious to this and was certainly not prepared for what was to follow.
David Beckham swings the set-piece in and I see Sheringham, in front of my own eyes, win it in the air. I honestly have no recollection of those next few seconds. I didn't see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stretch out his foot to make the decisive touch. I just saw the ball in the net and, again, the whole place went absolutely crazy.
When a third huge adrenaline rush arrived with the final whistle, I felt like I was almost hyper-ventilating with excitement. Oh no, I’d celebrated the equaliser so much, I didn’t have enough in me for this most unexpected of endings!
No relief or exhaustion or smug satisfaction. Just pure elation. We’d done it. We’d actually won the European Cup, a trophy I’d have to see Liverpool lift time and time again in my youth. The players’ celebrations in front of us seemed to go on forever. Roy Keane and Paul Scholes being forced to take some of the acclaim. David May orchestrating a rendition of Sit Down, the anthem by Manchester band James, and capturing the moment perfectly.
This was a time to cherish and enjoy. At one point, as we were all stood on our seats watching the players, I noticed a little lad was unable to properly see from the aisle so I said to his father, I’d step down and let him get a better view to take it all in.And that’s when the enormity of the achievement hit me. ‘Forever and ever, we’ll follow the boys of Man United, the Busby Babes.’ I felt so emotional when that anthem belted out from the stands. This was it, fulfilment – something the club had been chasing since 1968. We’d conquered Europe again and won the lot.
I was only 26 at the time but it felt like I was right to take a step back, let others live this moment while I thought about just what it meant - to me, my father and every other United fan on the planet. It will never get better than this. Nothing in football could ever top this most dramatic of comebacks.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for that feeling of fulfilment to fade with more challenges emerging. Yes, it was a shame to miss out on the homecoming in Manchester as we stayed for a few days on the coast near Barcelona but, kicking a ball around on the beach the day after, I was still feeling on top of the world. This was perhaps surprising because we hadn’t been able to book a hotel so we’d had to grab only a few hours’ sleep in the car the night before!I’ve seen those two goals by Sheringham and Solskjaer hundreds of times in the 20 years that have now passed since that evening. Every time, without fail, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I have a physical reaction to it. It still feels almost surreal to know I was there watching it all unfold in front of my eyes. What a feeling, what a night!
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.
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