The real-life tales of a football writer
The trip to Rome was great… apart from the last 80 minutes of the match.
I bumped into Paddy Crerand the night before the game by the Olimpico pitch.
I’d sent him and Noreen a postcard from Tristan Da Cunha in February, informing them that while the island only had 280 residents, 270 of them were members of a Glasgow Rangers supporters’ club.
It wasn’t true, but he was keen to find out if it was.
I was going to explain that they’d opened an orange lodge with a 10,000-seat main hall, but Paddy was already quietly seething about a perceived injustice.
Maybe because the temperature was too high, or the final was being staged in Rome rather than his back garden or the sun was setting into his brilliant blue eyes - I can’t remember which it was.
“Anyway, tell me something I don’t know,” Crerand said. “Something I can tell the smart-arses who’ve been spending days researching.”
“Pep Guardiola had a trial with Manchester City,” I replied.
“Did he?” smiled Crerand. “Did he really?” He later said it on television.
As we talked, a UEFA official told us to move. A flash of anger, such as those which frightened many opponents on the field, enveloped Crerand’s face and he challenged the official, asking him who he was.
He even questioned if he was a former leader of Italy notable for his lack of democracy. Mr UEFA backed down.
"Try it, Bremner"
Amid the hefty hacks watching training and Mihir “My sources tell me” Bose talking surreptitiously into a mobile phone, a stunning female journalist stood out like Maldini in a midden.
The Manchester United players spotted her too and Ronaldo pinged a ball in her direction.
Despite wearing Christian Louboutins and skin-tight jeans, she picked up the ball and volleyed it straight back. For Manchester United’s players, that was the best thing that happened on Olimpico’s pitch.
"Any chance of a rub-down, love?"
Any city struggles to cope with 80,000 visitors for a European Cup final. From Barcelona in 1999 through Manchester in 2003 to Rome in 2009, each airport recorded its busiest ever day.
They struggle to cope with the influx if visitors, many of whom are unfamiliar with the city and soaked in alcohol.
Delays are inevitable, but Rome did well and the weather was glorious. However, there was chaos in the accreditation centre before the match as the system went down.
The frustration and one-hour queue aroused many hacks’ hackles, with one imperious voice announcing: “I am Hugh McIlvanney of The Sunday Times.” McIlvanney got his pass.
I was sat next to the perceptive Kevin McCarra of The Guardian, who remains a very pleasant individual, despite calling United by the loathed ‘ManU’.
Steve Bates of The People collared me. More on him in the next blog. He’s a United fan from Manchester and I interviewed him for my video diary last year.
“Let’s keep tradition,” he said, hoping for a United win. It didn’t come.
Barça were brilliant and United weren’t. I was stunned at how one-sided the game was and floored by the result.
I’ve loved watching the likes of Iniesta and Xavi for years and have been lucky enough to interview them, but it was horrible watching them dominate against the team I support.
"In your face, Mitten"
I was caught up among the happy Barça fans after the game. Given that the fans had been in the sun all day, the atmosphere was laced with as much body odour as joy.
Olimpico doesn’t have a metro stop within three miles. With no transport and roads gridlocked, I walked for an hour after the final before finding a taxi. The mood was sombre at the hotel. I emailed an article at 1.30am and slept for four hours.
As I left my room, I saw a drunk sleeping on a chair by the lift. Clearly British, he’d covered his head with curtains. 12 hours later, I discovered it was my brother.
I saw familiar faces sleeping on the floor at Termini station and woke some so that they could catch the 06:30 to Florence. The train was full of shattered United fans who slept, but I had another 450 words to write.
I managed to file them from Pisa airport, where I bumped into Patrick Harverson, the former director of communications at Old Trafford who now works with William and Harry Wales.
Imagine being named after a country: Dave Italy or Brian Burkina Faso. Or is his real name William Windsor?
I don’t actually know, but being named after a town wouldn’t be too bad. Andy Andover. Margaret Margate.
"Play Michael Owen up front!" "No."
Prince William had been in Rome at the game, a late decision by the FA who felt it was right to have such a figure there with England bidding for the 2018 World Cup.
William had texted Harverson after the final to say he had been less than impressed with events on the field. Harverson should come back to Old Trafford to improve communication between fans and the club – once good, now wretched.
Anyway, I hope Harverson replied “William, it was really nothing.”
Having left it so late to attend the game, the prince must have jibbed in the ground with some of my mates. That’d explain those royal flushed cheeks.
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Andy, good job you didn't decide to take the tram back to Flamini station after the game. Bloody nightmare, surprised someone wasn't injured with the free for all disguised as organisation at the tram/bus stops. Gutted by our lack of a performance on the night (bar the first 10 mins). We just didn't turn up and let the Barca midfield away with murder which as good sides do, they took full advantage of. Anyway, far from a bad season for us, number 18 in the bag and if I had my pick it would always be the league first. Here's to Madrid next year anyway.
Nice Smiths reference. Great work as usual Andy.
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