Nights that made United

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The Independent Online

With just two days to go before Manchester United take on Chelsea in the Champions League final in Moscow, Sir Bobby Charlton and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer tell Ian Herbert how Europe's premier club competition was won in 1968 and 1999

Sir Bobby Charlton recalls the humid Wembley evening when Sir Matt Busby's side became the first from England to rule Europe

29 May 1968: Manchester United 4 (Charlton 54 98, Best 92, Kidd 95) Benfica 1 (Jaime Graca 78) AET. Score at 90 min: 1-1. Wembley 100,000

The heat and humidity is the memory that stays with me most. I can't ever remember such humidity in an English day as there was in the last hours we counted down to the match. It made the last day a mighty long one. It was Derby day and it was a mercy that we could at least watch Lester Piggott win on Sir Ivor on television. It was certainly a distraction.

But there was no getting away from what was up ahead; no way Sir Matt Busby could take our minds off it – not with Jimmy Murphy, his assistant, around. If he saw you in the lift, he'd be talking about it. And what had happened on the runway at Munich, 10 years earlier, was all around us, of course. It's the past. You can't just forget it. It's there.

The adventure of going into Europe was different in those days because you were playing sides you'd never seen or heard of. But the Benfica side we met on that May evening were different. We felt we knew them. You have to remember that at least half a dozen of them had played for Portugal in the World Cup semi-final two years earlier at Wembley. We'd also played them many times over the years – in a friendly in Los Angeles and in different Uefa competitions, so there was a healthy respect. There was no place for nods or eye contact, mind. Normally yes, but that night was different. I think Benfica felt the same.

We knew where the threat came from. Eusebio, of course – Nobby Stiles was asked to mark him and do for us what he had done for Sir Alf Ramsey in that semi-final – but also the mighty, tall striker Jose Torres, who was deceptively clever and had six inches on our Bill Foulkes. The danger Torres posed us would have swung things away from us, had it not been for Bill's mighty performance that night. For all my nagging worries that something might go wrong, we had the greater flexibility and I struck a goal early in the second half. With 10 minutes to go came Torres' one decisive moment – him heading the ball down for Jaime Graca to race in and score for 1-1. And then came the moment from the match came which has lived with me above all the others.

For reasons I can't altogether fathom, Benfica's Antonio Simoes managed to push the ball through for Eusebio, who was bearing down on Alex Stepney's goal. I just remember thinking as I watch things unfold: 'Bloody hell, one of the greatest marksmen in the game going through one on one.' There was maybe only one man on earth – Pele – that you would rather not see in that position. I expected him to thump the ball to Stepney's right but instead he struck the ball before he had steadied himself properly. Alex had great hands, he was a great line goalkeeper and his positional strength was great and not only did he stop the ball, he held it as well. When that sort of thing happens, you start thinking: 'Well maybe we are going to do it.' The game went into extra time, which, I always think, with the way we train, the English game breeds players for. It only took George Best two minutes to put us ahead again. But it was after Brian Kidd's goal – our third – that a sense of what we were about to achieve first hit me. It was some feeling after all that had gone before in the last 10 years. We were just trying to make sure we kept our heads and kept possession when I got the fourth goal when I probably least expected it.

What a feeling when the whistle sounded. At Wembley you don't see the crowd because everything's dark under the stand, but I sensed for the first time that instead of people not wanting Manchester United to win unless they supported them, everybody was behind us. It was a national thing.

Undoubtedly, the best player was neither Best, Stiles, Foulkes nor me but John Aston, who played the game of his life. He might never have been classed as one of the great left wingers but when he was on song Aston was lethal and he made the night a desperate one for their right-back Adolfo Calisto. He was giving the player maybe seven or eight yards and was still past him before he realised it. It was typical of the fair way Benfica played that he didn't try to foul Aston. That's why we have always respected that side so much.

I missed the celebrations in London. I fainted with dehydration when we got back to the hotel to get ready for a reception – and I think Pat Crerand did, too. Two or three times I tried to get out of bed and my wife had to pick me up and I said: 'You go down, I'll come later if I fear better.' I just fell asleep.

So now here we are again, eh? Alex Ferguson is very much aware of where this moment fits into United's history. It means his players are quite aware too. They know what if would mean if they could win it on Wednesday. It's their history, now.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remembers coming off the bench to score the goal that sealed a dramatic triumph for Sir Alex Ferguson's side

26 May 1999 Manchester United 2 (Sheringham 90, Solskjaer 90) Bayern Munich 1 (Basler 6) Nou Camp, Barcelona 90,000

"Thanks for the best night of my life in Barcelona. Please don't tell my wife, but it even beat my wedding night...!" You wouldn't believe the number of complete strangers who have wandered up to me and said words to that effect since May 1999, and after a while you maybe start believing in what they're saying. I didn't realise it at the time – I just played a game, won a game and you're just so focused when you're in the middle of it that you don't consider the consequences for other people – but now, all these years on , I do realise how big a moment in Manchester United's history that night against Bayern Munich was.

You have to be honest and say that Bayern were the better team – or they were for 85 minutes, at least. We just rode our luck as they hit the post (through substitute Mehmet Scholl's delicate 20-yard chip) and hit the crossbar (when Carsten Jancker crashed in an overhead kick inside the last 10 minutes). That's what I saw from the bench, of course. At half-time, with us 1-0 behind, the manager had a little chat with Teddy Sheringham to say that he was going to put him on. I'm just in the background at that stage, hoping that he comes over to me – to have a chat with me. He didn't. He just said that no one should leave the stadium with regrets. "If we walk out of here losing, you have to walk past that cup without touching it," he said. "You can't touch it. That's the worst feeling you can have in a football game. Just don't let yourselves down." I waited through the second half for him to give me the nod, too. I was warming up, warming up; waiting, waiting; trying to catch his eye. (I became quite good at that, after a while.) I wouldn't say I was frustrated but I was thinking, "Why don't you put me on?" because I'd come on and scored the season before at Liverpool and Forest. And I genuinely did have a premonition I was going to do something that night.

I can't really explain it. At 2 or 3pm in the afternoon – when Jaap Stam, my room-mate, was snoring and I couldn't sleep – I phoned my best mate, a nurse, back home in Norway. "You have to watch the full game," I told him. "Something big is going to happen." But he had a night shift. "No, I can't. I have to leave before full-time. I won't see the last half-hour," I remember him telling me. So I made sure he made sure someone stepped in for him.

Looking back at the tape of me being sent on, in the 81st minute, I can see I'm "springy" when I run on to the pitch and that's always a sign for me that I'm on good form. Teddy's equaliser [just after the fourth official had indicated three minutes' injury time] gave me the chance to show it but I was preparing for extra time. If you look you'll see that when Teddy scored everyone ran over to him, celebrating – except for me. I ran straight back to the halfway line because I was concentrating on playing half an hour extra time in a Champions League final. "This is something I'm going to savour, remember and learn from," I told myself. You might say I ruined that when Teddy nodded David Beckham's corner down and I scored one of my ugliest goals off my big toe. I paid for my celebrations with a medial ligament injury, sustained in the way I slid, though let me say now that the injury had nothing to do with one, on the same knee, which forced me to pack up football this season. A myth has somehow grown up that it has.

A great night though 1999 was, I've never seen the entire game on tape. I've seen the goal thousands of times because they're always showing it, but I've only watched the last 15 minutes once, with my dad when I went home on one occasion. That's just the way I am. I'm not the kind of guy to look back.

But if that night taught me one thing then it was that you should never sulk about not playing. There were a couple of times in friendly games when I didn't do my warm-up properly. That made me lethargic. I made a pact with myself that whenever you play, play 100 per cent and told myself that otherwise there s no point in being here. It's carpe diem, isn't it? If you sulk on the bench and you're called on, you are not ready because there's something going on in your head.

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