United seize glory in photo finish

As mentioned in my “Name on the Trophy” blog on 21st September, where I’d recently discovered three e-mails from 26th May 2004 from my old work e-mail address in London to my hotmail account. It was something that I had completely forgotten I’d done, but now I’m glad I did as it’s been a fascinating read that I’d like to share with you.

The e-mails were entitled “Name on the Trophy!!! 26/05/1999 (1), (2) and (3)” and it was a load of quotes from the world of TV commentary from the day, as well as various newspaper reports from the days after the event. Below is another one of those reports and I have many more to come, enjoy reading them. I certainly have.

A THOUSAND flashbulbs recorded the moment. When the final whistle went last night, they lit up the Nou Camp here as though it was noonday in the Barcelona sun and froze the Manchester United players with their arms in the air. It was the instant they passed into legend. 

In two astonishing, almost surreal, minutes at the end of the last European Cup final of the 20th century, the gilded youth of the most famous of clubs left excellence behind them and found the greatness they have been searching for.

The treble is theirs now, as well, something unprecedented, something that even the great English sides of the past have always fallen short of. It is unlikely that it will ever be repeated. 

By coming from behind to beat Bayern Munich with two goals in the final minutes, by transforming what seemed like certain defeat into glorious, glorious victory, this United side escaped once and for all from the shadow of Sir Matt Busby and the team that won the trophy in 1968. 

The problem for future United teams, for future teams of all nations for that matter, will not be in trying to recreate the magic of George Best and Bobby Charlton, it will be in the impossible task of trying to surpass the unsurpassable, of bettering a finish that could not be imagined. 

The game had already entered its final minute of normal time when the comeback began. It had seemed that United had fallen to a tame defeat courtesy of a sixth-minute free kick from Mario Basler. They have developed a reputation for conjuring comebacks in Europe this season, but this time, against the resilience of the Germans, the match seemed to be out of reach.

Instead, Teddy Sheringham, who had been ridiculed this season for being a loser, scored in the ninetieth minute, just as he had scored in the FA Cup Final last Saturday. As Bayern were trying to adjust to that, Sheringham nodded on a Beckham corner and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had only been on the pitch for eight minutes, hooked it into the roof of the net.

A few seconds later, the final whistle went and the Germans threw themselves to the floor as if they had the falling sickness. Carsten Jancker, who had hit the bar for Bayern ten minutes from the end, sobbed uncontrollably. Most of his team-mates looked stunned.

United were, of course, the souls of jubilation and wild celebration. As they stood in front of their supporters, Sheringham mimicked the action of sweeping in his equaliser and Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole danced a samba of delight in the centre circle. If there was any poignancy among the English, it was sympathy for Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, the men who had missed out because of suspension.

Yet the triumph was perhaps sweetest for Alex Ferguson, the United manager. He has suffered in Busby’s shadow more than most, but now he can retire in three years knowing he has found the fulfilment that he deserves. It was he who took the gamble of playing Beckham in central midfield, he who risked everything by throwing on Sheringham and Solskjaer. It was his triumph more than anyone’s and he admitted afterwards that he could hardly take it in.

“You cannot deny the most important fact of all,” Ferguson said, “and that is the spirit and the will to win that exists at this club. That is what won the trophy for us tonight.

“It is the greatest night of my life. I was prepared to risk and if you risk in a game of football you deserve to succeed. Sheringham and Solskjaer are goalscorers and they are good at their job. They are terrific substitutes.

“I am proud of my heritage tonight. I am proud of my family. I was starting to adjust to defeat near the end, I kept saying to myself: ‘Keep your dignity and accept it is not your year.’

“It is a fairytale. It would have been Sir Matt Busby’s birthday today and I think he was doing a lot of kicking up there in the last couple of minutes. I suppose you could say we have come out of his shadow now, but, with all the team has achieved this year, they could not have had any question marks against them.

“This team plays the right way. They embrace every concept of football that I like. What they have achieved is unprecedented. Nobody has ever done it. They deserve it.”

When Ferguson had finished, he got up to leave. The room erupted in applause and the flashbulbs started flashing again.

#5 United seize glory in photo finish – THE TIMES
Oliver Holt on the moment Alex Ferguson’s team passed into footballing legend

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