I don’t know exactly how he got the tickets. Maybe I don’t want to.
He said something about a deal with a guy he bumped into on a train to London, some stranger he got talking to about a week before the final who just happened to have some spare. I don’t trust that story. My Dad doesn’t usually talk to strangers – but my stepmum makes friends everywhere she goes. Has one of those faces, my Dad says, that cries out: Talk to me! It’s okay! So maybe they were together on that mystery train, picking up three tickets for an amount of money I’ve never actually been told. Maybe I have her to thank for my best ever football memory.
Now United have been in the Champions League final three out of the last four years, it doesn’t even seem like a big deal – isn’t that terrible? I don’t really appreciate the success. This year I just shrugged and instantly accepted I wouldn’t be able to afford to go see us get beat by Barca. When my brother got a single ticket for 2011 I told him to shout on behalf of the whole family and then forgot about it. But in 1999 Manchester United hadn’t won the European Cup for over 30 years and we were willing to spend crazy amounts of money to be there. The whole family had kept season tickets at Old Trafford since the 1940s and the whole time I was a kid, United were rubbish. We were convinced the good days were coming to an end. Though it seems ridiculous, I remember my Uncle saying: Fergie could retire in a couple of years. This might never happen again in our lifetimes! So when we managed to get tickets for everyone, with me, my Dad and brother all together on one side of the Nou Camp, it felt like an omen. I don’t believe in omens, but football can do funny things to you.
I don’t remember too much about the game. Only that the sides of the stadium were so steep, it felt like you could fall at any second. And that the atmosphere was flat for virtually the whole game – that sense of anti-climax, where you’ve kidded yourself that everything just has to go right, just because you and everyone you know needs it to go right – and then it doesn’t. It was 1 – 0 to Bayern Munich for most of the game, and we weren’t even playing well. It seemed inevitable that we were going to lose. I don’t get to spend much time with my Dad or brother any more, we live in different countries, and because of that, it seemed like United were being rude by not winning. Crazy, I know. Then, the turnaround, and the eruption. We screamed until we couldn’t hear anything, and I remember really clearly how my Dad’s new glasses got knocked off his face in the madness of celebrating United’s injury-time winner. I remember, they were pretty expensive, but he didn’t even go after them. Just kept celebrating.