United's Historic Triumph: For those remembering in black and white, this was our finest hour

Click to follow
The Independent Online
OH WHAT a joy it was to be alive and to be in Barcelona was very heaven. William Wordsworth, I'm sure, would have been a Manchester United fan last night. He came from the North- west after all and there's not much poetry in Barrow or Workington Town these days.

If truth were told, there was not much poetry about Manchester United last night. After a mainly limp display, they won the European Cup with two goals in injury time, scored by their substitutes, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. No poetry but extraordinary melodrama to complete a fantastic triple of FA Premiership, FA Cup and European Champions League.

Manchester United won the treble. I claimed a modest double. Like many others in the crowd, judging by the ages of the tremendous Manchester fans, I was also there in 1968 when United last won the European Cup.

I've been a Manchester United for 44 years: ever since my father took me to see the "A" team, including several future Busby Babes, playing a local cloggers' eleven, Ball Hey Green, in a park in my home town south of Manchester.

My bleakest memory of childhood is the sickening feeling in my stomach as an eight- year-old when I heard someone say that the Manchester United plane had crashed. As a teenager, I watched the great United team of Charlton, Law, Best and Crerand home and away from 1965 to 1969. I went to the 1968 final because I'd earned the right to do so. I queued outside Old Trafford with my grubby sheet of tokens from home games and my dog- eared collection of away programmes.

Thirty years on I have clear but surreal memories of the 1968 final (unlike most of the games I saw in that era, which have faded into a red and white mist). Did United really play in all blue that night? Did Bobby Charlton really score with a header (the only time I ever remember him using that bald pate except for thinking)?

Thirty years from now, if I'm spared, I will have equally surreal memories of last night's final against Bayern Munich. Did Manchester United really out-German the Germans? Did they score an equalising goal (after letting in a soft opener early in the game) when Peter Schmeichel, playing his last game in the United goal, came up for a corner in injury time? In the confusion that followed, did Teddy Sheringham, mostly injured and ignored this season, put the ball in the Bayern net? Seconds later did Solskjaer do the same?

At the risk of infuriating United fans who were not there last night - and the legions who were locked out last night I have to admit that I had no right to a ticket for the European Cup final. It was five years since I had seen a United game in the flesh. Working in France, with a wife and three children and with United tickets difficult to come by I had become a Radio 5 Live and Sky TV armchair fan. And yet I've suffered as many joys and heartaches, and heart attacks, as any Old Trafford season ticket holder in this extraordinary season.

I got the ticket through a friend who lives in Barcelona who has a friend who has a friend ... Suddenly I was watching a live match again and remembering how much better a football match looks when you can see the whole of the green baize cloth and all 22 players.

Suddenly I was seeing, physically for the first time, my new young heroes David Beckham, Gary Neville and Nicky Butt, who had not been born the last time I regularly watched United in the early 1970s.

It was also wonderful to be once again among the enormous family of Manchester United fans. Okay, they didn't all come from Manchester, there were banners from Swansea, Oxford, Scotland, Rugby, Sri Lanka, Holland, Malta, Carrickfergus and Tamworth. But who complains if the audience at Covent Garden doesn't come just from Soho? Or if the audience for the Royal Shakespeare Company does not come from Warwickshire alone?

For long periods in the game it seemed like David Beckham was playing 11 6ft Germans on his own: David versus the whole team of Goliath.

As I get older, anxiety about my team has reached almost psychotic proportions. I spent the quarter-final second leg against Inter Milan pacing the streets of Paris, unable to watch the game on television. A friend kept me in touch with the score by mobile phone. Does my wife think I'm crazy? Of course she does.

As a younger fan I hardly worried about the result of games. But there's something more than that. All through this season I and millions of other United fans have had a sense of something exhilarating and special in the making. A wonderful young team, a team built around a core of local boys and United fans since boyhood, was rising to the level, perhaps beyond the level, of great United teams of the past.

Strangely enough, I felt no anxiety - or no crippling anxiety - last night. I was resigned. Disappointed. I though United had played poorly and lost. Time to pack up our troubles in an old kit bag and try to smile, smile, smile.

Then came the melodramatic ending and, despite my advancing years, and portly shape, I jumped so high that my mobile phone flew out of my pocket and down three rows in the stand.

With the treble completed, is there anything else for a Manchester United fan to dream of? Yes. Please come back to the final again next year, lads, and play like we know you can.