Moments that made 2008: Champions League final
Manchester United v Chelsea, 21 May, Moscow: Abramovich endured the mother of all wedgies from the football gods and there was nothing he could do about it
It is the lesser details of the great games that begin to elude you as the months and years go by, the little things that give the big occasions their character, and in Moscow on 21 May 2008 there were so many of them. The Champions League final was a hell of a lot more than John Terry's penalty miss or Didier Drogba's red card – it was an epic of blood and rain and a Russian billionaire with his head in his hands. It was a bloody great game.
The things that come back to me from that match are not always the obvious moments. Like Rio Ferdinand's karate-kick style challenge on Joe Cole with four minutes to go that should really have been a penalty had Cole not been too honest to go down. Cole stayed on his feet and this great tumultuous piece of theatre just kept on going into extra time, into the next day in fact. They started on 21 May, they finished on 22 May.
Remember Ryan Giggs' shot headed over the bar by Terry in extra time? In that split second, as Giggs took aim, it seemed obvious – this was how this game was supposed to finish, decided by a goal from the most successful footballer in the history of English football. Then Terry somehow got it away and the narrative ploughed on. To the point when Terry had a penalty to win it and at last you thought some kind of pattern had been imposed on events. Except it hadn't, so there was another twist, the ending elusive right up to Nicolas Anelka's penalty being saved.
No one would try to argue it was a beautiful game, but it was a brilliant game. A rapturous celebration of English football in the rain, given a gritty edge by the fact that Moscow had felt like a pretty dangerous place to be all week: hotel lobbies full of cigarette smoke and the guests getting frisked for weapons. Then Roman Abramovich, who must get practically whatever he wants in his home town, had to watch while the football gods gave him the mother of all wedgies – and there was nothing he could do about it.
Another great moment? When Paul Scholes got a bloody nose from Claude Makelele, dabbed at it with a tissue and came back on. Or when Terry pretended to wipe his mouth on his sleeve so the referee could not see him giving Carlos Tevez a mouthful of abuse. Manchester United dominated the first half, Chelsea came roaring back after the break.
It is not often that you see a game like that because it is not often that two teams have the character to keep picking themselves off the canvas to have another go.
After United had won and were lining up to receive the trophy you could see Sir Alex Ferguson talking to Edwin van der Sar, making a point about something, jabbing the air with his finger. He seemed to be saying, "I told you such and such would happen," and watching him, I thought to myself: "Does this bloke ever stop?" It was Ferguson's triumph, above all: five years after Abramovich arrived in England with his billions and he had seen the Russian off in his own backyard.
I came home on a United club flight with Fergie's sons and grandchildren – a charming bunch – who sang United songs all the way home. You could see then that Fergie's natural energy is obviously written in the genetic code of his family. The rest of us piled out of the aeroplane at Manchester airport shattered but asking the big questions. Will we ever see a match like it again? What was Peter Kenyon doing collecting a medal? Can we do it all over again next May?
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