Saturday, June 07, 2008

Did God really play a part in United's Moscow Champions League victory?

If you want to thank anyone for our amazing and dramatic victory, please thank me – the guy sat/stood in Tribune B, row 53, section 6, seat 53 of the Luzhnniki Stadium, Moscow. Never let anyone disrespect or, more importantly, disbelieve in the power of prayer ever again.

I’ve not turned into a religious nutter or anything like that, but when Terry came walking up to the penalty spot, like many others, I prayed. However, I prayed with intensity and fervour, not so much “Sermon on the mount”, more like “The forty days and forty nights in the wilderness” condensed into the ten to twenty seconds as John Terry embarked on that long walk. Such was the intensity of my prayer; I’m convinced I was developing the first signs of Stigmata.

Stood praying with one hand, clinched fist, over my mouth, the other hand clutching my beloved United badge, the badge I’ve worn with pride at every game I’ve attended since I bought it in 1974. That badge and I have been through a lot together throughout the intervening years.

This was the moment that meant so much to me, even though I’d followed the Red’s with a passion since 1969, this was my first European Cup Final.

Why was a fifty-year-old school teacher praying like a little kid that desperately wants a bike for Christmas? A few reasons, firstly I was too young in 1968 and, to be honest, it was only years later I fully understood just what an honour the title “Champions of Europe” really meant. As a ten year old I was confused as to why my father, normally the most placid and laid back man in the world was jumping up and down and going wild in front of a ridiculously small black and white television set. I was so embarrassed, what would the neighbours think? Me? I thought, “Great, we’ve won the Cup, a Cup, any Cup, they were all the same to me. I distinctly remember having exactly the same feeling when United won the Daily Mail five-a-side tournament on Sportsnight with Coleman a few years later. Such are the joys of being an innocent and impressionable young teenager.

Wind the clock on twenty one years. The 1999 Treble winning season was different. I was now an experienced “Euro-Awayer” and had been to numerous countries supporting United in all European competitions (does Wrexham count?) and pre-season friendlies. I was actually one of the few hundred Reds at Lodz, Poland for the qualifying round at the beginning of that momentous season.

The day after our mammoth win over Juventus in the Stadia del Alpi (still United’s finest away performance in Europe, in my opinion) in the second-leg of the Champions League semi-final, I went to my head-teacher, a glorified, over officious little “jobsworth”, he was also a Leeds fan who regularly attended City games as he got free tickets. A dangerous combination if ever there was one. I approached him and asked for permission to have ONE DAY off to attend the final. Even though I told him I didn’t mind losing a day's pay and was even willing to pay the cost of a supply-teacher to cover my lessons and despite protestations by a number of colleagues and staff members, he refused my request. Believe it or not, I didn’t take it personally at the time – he was a t**t to everybody.

Example: - I coached the school's Year 10 (old 4th year) football team and, remarkably they managed to reach the Stockport School Cup Final at Edgeley Park. He banned our star player from playing because of his “excessive haircut” – a number two all over with a zig-zag parting. What psychological damage this had on this lad later on in life, I’ve no idea. The head-teacher obviously didn’t care (we ended up losing 4-2 for anyone who does). He wouldn’t budge and I had to accept my fate and miss Barcelona and what I’d envisaged to be the best day of my life.

Footnote to this sordid affair. A few weeks later the same head-teacher gave a female member of the PE staff and entire year off to tour the World. Double standards at its absolute worse. On hearing this I immediately began applying for other positions at other school. I managed to find one at a Catholic School in the North Stockport/South Manchester area. There were other issues surrounding my decision to leave, one major one, but all the students from that generation will always remember me as the Red Fanatic teacher that left because he couldn’t go to the 1999 European Cup Final. I’ve never had the heart to tell the entire truth but the hero status I receive to this day is always welcome.

Unfortunately, for this final there was no need to go cap in hand to request permission from the Head teacher of my current school, I’m certain she would have found a way to accommodate me anyway, she’s that type of person i.e.: Human. I’m on long term sick leave.

After the disappointment of losing to Arsenal on penalties at the Millennium stadium in 2005, our mini-bus left Cardiff full of Czech Lager and copious amounts of Vodka. This still proved to be insufficient. We stopped at a pub in Ross-on-Wye and nearly drank the place dry. What I was thinking of? Drinking and vainly trying to keep up with the younger generations? My hangover lasted for days, my stomach was in turmoil. After a few days of this I, reluctantly, decided to visit my doctor who’s not adverse to give out bollockings along with prescriptions. I fully expected both – binge drinking with a group of twenty-something-year-olds at my time of life, indeed.

I wasn’t prepared for the prognosis. After being examined I was rushed into hospital with a perforated appendix. Forty seven and a half years of being totally fit and healthy, well not always fit, but you get my point, had come to an abrupt end. I had to have an emergency operation the following day. Worse than this, my first ever night in hospital just had to be the night Liverpool came from three down and lift the European Cup. I’ve certainly had better days.

Three months later, I was called back into hospital for I thought was going to be a “follow up” appointment. I received some devastating, life changing news. It transpired it was much more than a perforated appendix. The offending little organ had contained a cancerous tumour and had spread into my bowel and abdomen. I’ll spare you all the gory details but after a further three years of operations and different chemotherapy treatment, I’m still suffering and unable to work – I’m not a malingerer – I’ve been back to work a few times but during the later months it became abundantly clear, it was causing me distress. Regrettably and reluctantly, I’ve had cease doing the best job in the world and a job I love.

Every dark cloud has a silver lining as the pathetic old cliché says. I was in Christies hospital during the semi-final stages. I watched the first leg standing in the impossibly packed Red Lion pub, Withington, complete with Nasal Gastric tube up my nose, held in position by a huge white plaster and the aspiration bag, full of mucus and general bodily shite discretely concealed in a Marks and Spencer bag. This ensured some strange but ultimately sympathetic looks from the hundreds of fellow Reds in the boozer cheering the team on.

Manchester United versus Barcelona, European Champions League Semi- Final, second-leg at Old Trafford. Sounds good, doesn’t it? So good, I was determined not to miss this one. I managed to convince the doctors to allow me to go the game. As one of the Oncologists was himself a huge Red, permission was granted on the proviso I would have a lift from door to door and no alcohol. It seemed a pretty good deal to me.

So I was there on that unforgettable Old Trafford night, I just had to be. Thirteen minutes gone and Scholesie scored his customary scorcher, during the immediate celebrations; my cannula was dislodged and ultimately fell out, leaving my hand bleeding profusely. The nurses would have a field day later on. I will always remember this game for the atmosphere, probably the best ever, it’s not often that Old Trafford Shakes to the foundations, but without exaggeration, it did that night. In addition to this, wasn’t it sweet to see NO ONE leave early? When did that last happen? I will also remember it as the game that had the longest second half in history – it didn’t of course, it just felt like it.

After the game and the subsequent celebrations, my friend dropped me back off at Christies. I’d been locked out. The (very) large security guard took some cajoling before I was back on ward. On seeing my cannula, or more the lack of one, the nurses went berserk. Another one was inserted in the utmost painful way. I felt no pain, not on this night of nights. The following day, I’d be booking for Moscow – I couldn’t have been happier. I’d been guaranteed a match ticket as I’d been to Kiev during the group stages – as it happened, the panic over tickets never materialised.

A stroke of luck. I was on the Internet in one of Christies waiting rooms, just about to pay a staggering £940+ on one of the clubs day trips. This had risen from the original £740 for the first couple of flights. Even though we were still in the early hours of the morning, they were now taking bookings on Flight No 11. I was actually filling in the field with my credit card details, when a friend phones me and puts me in contact with the Blackpool branch of the supporters club. I’d travelled to Zagreb with this branch before and therefore trusted them. The price? £740, thanks Danny, that £200 saved would come in very handy. Everything was booked and confirmed, all from the comfort of a hospital bed.

Wednesday 21st May 2008, a date now permanently etched in the psyche of United fans. It was also the day when me and my friend took a taxi to the airport driven by a man who had to be shown the way. How can this be possible? Surely a prerequisite for the job, basic knowledge of the area. “I’ve only lived here for three months” was his excuse.

So limited time in Moscow beckoned. Our flight was delayed for an hour but made up the time en route, only to have to circle Domodedovo Airport for over an hour before eventually landing. We caught the free buses to the stadium and the amazing metro into the city centre and, of course, Red Square. The obligatory photo-shoot and search for bars – we would, in total, visit three city centre bars and each one ran out of beer and had young kids, running, relay style, to and fro to the nearest supermarket for extra supplies.

The metro journey back to the stadium was as atmospheric as any journey I’ve ever encountered. The ornate, some palace like Metro stations have to be seen to be believed. Internet images certainly don’t do them justice.

As with the rest of the afternoon Reds' and Chelsea fans mixed quite cordially. I personally never witnessed any animosity between the two sets of supporters- I just wish they had more than two songs – “Care free wherever you may be” and the rectal evacuating “ Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea etc” to the tune of the Sutherland Brothers “Sailing”(I’ve always preferred the original to Rod Stewards version).

A huge group of us managed to blag our way into a hotel next to Sportivnaya Metro station. Here the fun and excitement started. The loudest cheer was reserved for the announcement of the team – nothing against Ji Sung Park, but for many supporters Hargreaves simply had to be included in the starting line-up. Thank you Mr Ferguson.

If the atmosphere outside the stadium “crackled”, inside it buzzed as if each supporter had brought their own share of the National Grid.

There’s no need for a comprehensive match report, everything that needed to be added has been said. My biggest disappointment is that Petr Cech saved that Carlos Tevez diving header, in so doing, robbing of us of what would have been one of the greatest goals ever and one that would have ranked alongside Carlos Alberto's masterpiece in 1970 for Brazil in the Mexico World Cup. In denying Tevez, Cech pulled off a truly world-class save and he remains the only member of the current Chelsea team I’d welcome to Old Trafford with open arms.

So penalties it was, with Drogba off for the most ridiculous and pathetic crime – just what was he thinking of? At least Vidic didn’t go down like a Serb in the siege of Sarajevo caught in sniper cross-fire.

Oh Ronaldo! You were so, so close to being the subject of a million and one cyberspace jokes –you need to thank me the guy sat/stood in Tribune B, Row 53, Section 6, Seat 53 of the Luzhnniki Stadium, Moscow.

My praying was intensified with every step John Terry took towards the area – this was not only the most important penalty in English football - Bollocks to Chris Waddle in Turin, Italia '90, Gareth Southgate at Wembley '96, or even David Batty two years later in St Etienne (what was he doing wearing an England shirt in the first place?). This penalty was a test in faith – my entire Catholicism was at stake – strange, but my Redness would never be in question.

The celebrations, the relief, the wild screams of delight, the hugs from total strangers, even tears from some around me. I looked up to the sky and thanked the “Big Man”. I was now convinced I had helped United win the Champions League.

It just goes to prove beyond any doubt that there IS a GOD and what’s more, he’s a UNITED fan.

After Terry missed, the knots in my stomach miraculously untied and unwound, I was now supremely confident; after all, God was on our side. Three successful conversions later, up steps Anelka, did anyone have the same feeling as me? He just didn’t look right did he? Body language or something, even from the distance of Tribune B, Row 53, Section 6, Seat 53 of the Luzhnniki Stadium, Moscow. It appeared obvious something was amiss. Now let’s not have too much sympathy for Anelka, here’s a guy that plays for Chelsea and previously played for Arsenal, Liverpool, City and Bolton, he only needs Leeds for the set.

Anelka steps forward and strikes the ball, a nano-second later and Edwin van der Saar is immediately elevated from a shrewd Ferguson signing into a living Red Legend.

The intensity of the Red celebrations just proved how important this victory was. After a few minutes of leaping around, hugging and wailing, I sat down in Tribune B, row 53, section 6, seat 53 of the Luzhnniki Stadium, Moscow in quiet reflection and total satisfaction.

The journey home was eventful; Domodedovo Airport just wasn’t equipped to handle the volume of Red traffic. Our plane loaded up excruciatingly slowly. For a country that doesn’t exactly welcome tourists with open arms, they certainly made it as difficult as possible to leave.

Once the 550+ Reds on the flight had finally settled down and one would expect drunken merriment all the way home. Nothing of the sort, all I recall is 550+ different tones and volumes of snores and farts. On landing though, there was a spontaneous, rousing chorus of “We’ve won it three times, without killing anyone”. This continued through custom control and the exit.

Greeted by local and national news cameras I realised news of my role of divine intervention had leaked out and numerous reporters were ready to pounce. Remarkably, I managed to dodge them them all.

So, after thirty nine years as a match-going supporter, I’ve finally reached the Holy Grail of football. The first time I witnessed success (with the exception of the 2nd Division Championship – which doesn’t count in my book) was the wonderful Scouse-busting of 1977 – we celebrated all summer long. At the time, I didn’t think that feeling could possibly be beaten. A European Cup, ten Premier League titles, countless more FA Cups, European Cup Winners Cup and a host of other honours later, the ’77 FA Cup victory, has long been consigned to the memory-shelf only to be removed when extremely drunk and nostalgic.

The treble year was, without doubt, the season of seasons for the vast majority of Reds; however, I cannot claim any part in that unbelievable injury time come back Nou Camp – due to a previously mentioned duplicitous, arrogant and hugely unpopular, bureaucrat – (and a Leeds/city fan to boot).

Now I’ve witnessed the Red’s claiming the “Ultimate” club prize, I can say “I was there”. In years to come after hopefully, overcoming our complete underachievement in Europe, with many more Championships, some may even forget about this one.

Please do not ever forget my role in this victory. I will always take pride in being the guy sat/stood in Tribune B, row 53, section 6, seat 53 of the Luzhnniki Stadium, Moscow who learned the power of prayer.

Petebug 2008


To all those who contributed comments on this wonderful post and to those who knew Peter, he sadly passed away on 20/06/2008 after losing his battle against cancer.

The Champions League Final in Moscow was Pete's last ever match, he had followed the Red Devils for nearly 40 years, throughout the decades his passionate support for the club never wavered. Peter was the epitome of a loyal Red; he was a season-ticket holder who rarely missed a home game. United was a very important part of Pete's life, he followed the club all over Europe and across North America when the club went on a summer tour in 2003.

Peter will be badly missed by his family and by all those who knew and loved him of whom there are many.

26 comments:

  1. Respect to a loyal Red who despite many personal problems managed to get to Moscow with all the expense incurred. Great blog.

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  2. "What a friend we have in Jesus and his name is Cantona! Ooh ah, Catona!..."

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  3. I enjoyed this immensely! Thank you for the treat!

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  4. One must never forget Arthur Albinston played GOD that fine day in may !!!!!

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  5. Haha, brilliant.

    I'm surprised you made it to Moscow given that it was apparently made extremely difficult and expensive to reach the venue this year.

    I know certainly that, when I come to Europe to study, United will be in such historic moments, and I might have the privilege to attend them.

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  6. I confess :Dont know much about football (the shame!)
    but I have learned lots here ! Wonderful x

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  7. Really enjoyed that Pete!! Glad to help you out, just as you would me!!!

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  8. an absolute treat to read.....as was the match itself

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  9. Great read that Pete. I remember the cheer that went up in the hotel as the team was announced and as they say the rest is history. Speak soon. Ed

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  10. What a fantastic tale. From one red fan (Liverpool) to another, I understand the passion and the personal determination to be there. Well done Pete

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  11. Great blog.

    Respect is due.

    Tribune B, row 53, section 6, seat 53.

    Cousin Phill

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  12. Hiya Pete, enjoyable read, good punctuation as well!!!!!! And we were all there together mate the "Stockport Reds", take care.

    Big Dave

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  13. "Did God really play a part in United's Moscow Champions League victory?" I think he did along with great support from top Reds like you. A very enjoyable account of an unforgetable night. Respect to you Pete. Regards from Gary Thompson

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  14. What a great read! Glad he made it to moscow! RIP Mr B! You will never be forgotten!

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  15. Pete was a much loved family member and a red through and through.I remember the heated football discussions between him and my father his Uncle Albert-lovely tribute to him and man u thanks c

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  16. What a guy. His love of united was only matched by his love of Springsteen.

    See you again one day

    James, form 11G, 1999-2004

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  17. I'm glad Peter made it to Moscow and see the reds lift the European Cup.He was a very courages person and what an effort it must of been for him all that way to the stadium.Well done Pete.
    Respect to a Good man.
    S.P.

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  18. What a fantastic blog, Pete really was the biggest red i have ever met! He was my teacher in 1999, was gutted when he left. So glad he made it to Moscow though. RIP Mr B x

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  19. R.I.P Mr B
    feel proud to have stayed behind after school to put the chairs up for beign a city fan
    it was all worth it
    oh and i finished SETA early so you know as you were always there
    Laureano 11A

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  20. I shed a tear for you Pete. May your spirit live on in Red heaven.

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  21. Good stuff Pete, glad you finally got to see ol' 'Big Ears'.

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  22. Its fans like you Peter who are are legend because you power the on-field greats with your love and passion. You'll never be forgotten. GLORY GLORY MANUTD!

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  23. Wonderful post. Peter can now be with the Babes in Heaven.

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  24. RIP my United brother.

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  25. RIP Mr B,Great piece of english work pete, was a great read, learnt lots about a team I love. You will be greatly missed and always remembered.A great person,Friend to many and bril teacher. Your spirit will live on in those you new and taught. See u again some day. Chels xxx

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  26. was a pleasure to read mr big-arse-ki

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