Chasing an equaliser, it became all too tangible that Manchester United may relinquish top spot at the crunch in 2008 against a resilient Blackburn Rovers. Until Carlos Tévez turned enragement into ecstasy.
Handicapped by overzealous stewards and a tourist infestation on the terraces, recreating carnage in the stands like they did yesteryear is supporters’ raison d’etre. When an occasion overwhelms you to such an extent that it feels drug, let alone beer, induced and you make Marco Tardelli look restrained, its importance is immeasurable.
Like Jez in Peep Show though, you can get ‘dangerously bored’ if you’ve won the league before Easter yet have been hopeless in Europe. Celebrating achievements is hard to replicate after the first sample, and if you’re a Manchester United supporter who was within the confines of Old Trafford on May 3 1993, it is perhaps unrivalled.
Which is why the most satisfying titles are the closest.
Swaggering into Ewood Park in April 2008, the soundtrack was dominated by one ditty. A month before when robbed in daylight by Portsmouth in the FA Cup quarter-final the Stretford End’s latest anthem got an airing; Viva Ronaldo.
‘Running down the wing, hear United sing,’ rang the chant. It was as recurring that day at Ewood as a Billy Connolly appearance on Parkinson. Aided by the Fenhurst pub accommodating the 7,000-strong United support with a marquee, it was so boisterous that it felt like a home game.
Deemed a dunce when he arrived at Liverpool in the late 90s, Friedel has a unique way of reminding United supporters he is anything but.
Some were clad in 70s retro chic in what was unfortunately a shade of the effort at the same ground four years previously. One guy who looked like Iggy Pop had a butcher’s coat on and wore stilts, avec ‘Doc’s Red Army’ flair sewn on to his attire.
What was a merrily auspicious occasion turned out to be a viscerally fraught afternoon however.
A buoyant Blackburn were at their zenith under Mark Hughes. Ewood Park would sell out, Roque Santa Cruz was prolific, David Bentley effectually dined off of comparisons to David Beckham and their bruise brothers Christopher Samba and Ryan Nelsen shielded the reliable Brad Friedel.
Brad Friedel. For someone who was deemed a dunce when he arrived at Liverpool in the late 90s, he has a unique way of reminding United supporters – especially United supporters – that he is anything but.
In 2004/05 United laid siege to the Blackburn goal chasing an equaliser, which eventually arrived courtesy of Alan Smith in the 93rd minute, but Friedel was hitherto invincible. It even took a Louis Saha handball to assist Smith and almost four years on, he and United were about to make the Alamo look tame.
One guy behind the goal stuck his middle finger up at Friedel out of sheer exasperation and fury that he had the gall to play possessed again.
A goal behind at half-time courtesy of an unfortunate mix up between Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic which Santa Cruz pounced on, déjà vu was in the air. Wayne Rooney’s belated fall despite being tripped should have brought a penalty whilst Ronaldo had forced a smart save from Friedel following a Ryan Giggs corner.
Giggs was enduring inarguably his worst spell of form at the club. ‘He’s got to take him off.’ quipped many. My dad instead lamented the ‘s**t pie’ I had bought from the kiosk. What else could go wrong?
Now attacking the United end, the second period was as one-way as a fight against Audley Harrison. Friedel tipped a Ronaldo effort on to the post and Brett Emerton evaded punishment after a handball in the penalty area. Carlos Tévez had an improvised shot denied by a brilliant one-handed stop by the American ‘keeper, with the ball trickling towards the line before he regained his balance to gather it.
One guy behind the goal stuck his middle finger up at Friedel out of sheer exasperation and fury that he had the gall to play possessed again. The agony in row two was compounded by plastic policemen taking exception to boisterous football fans (who’d a thunk it?). When not quarrelling with jobsworths we were cursing Friedel. There was also Rob Styles to consider, reliably unreliable as ever, intensifying the ferocity.
Even taking into account the copious amount of Carling necked prior to the tea-time kick off, the clarity of the crisis was patent. United faced Chelsea next week and if they lost to Blackburn and then to the Blues, they would trail their contenders by a point with two games remaining. Just one goal would suffice (due to the Reds’ demonstrably superior goal difference), even though the domination would have deemed it two points dropped.
Narcotics, alcohol and the release the Argentine had granted is a concoction to rival a Hunter S Thompson trip.
But the trauma continued. Rooney spurned a one-on-one – his Achilles heel that season – but the Platoon moment was yet to come. Nani floated in a teasing set-piece resurrected by Vidic, allowing John O’Shea to lash at goal, only to somehow be thwarted by the American antagonist. Even the Match of the Day commentator exclaimed ‘It’s in!’ At that point I can be seen trying to rip my head off.
Yet from the resultant corner, it happened. Nani’s cross was flicked on by Paul Scholes to the far post where Tévez altered his posture nimbly to nod in the equaliser. The throng burst into life a millisecond later and like a wave, swept up anyone who dared not to join in.
The pandemonium that ensued was unrivalled. After going ballistic with my father, grappling with and hugging him, it was time to head towards the first row. Narcotics, alcohol and the release the Argentine had granted is a concoction to rival a Hunter S Thompson trip. An ecstatic huddle with two strangers compelled the plastic police to force us upwards to ensure that there wasn’t a Villa Park ’02 pitch invasion.
Back in my row, it was more hugging strangers behind me, beside me and in front of me. Then, recalling the memorable image of one supporter from the 1976 Cup semi-final against Derby County, I punched the air. A simple gesture, but it alleviated the anxiety and fuelled the adrenaline. Anxiety returned briefly when I couldn’t locate my father (some supporters were being led away by the fuzz), who then emerged from the mass of bodies beaming, as I was, and we embraced once more.
Blood stained my adidas Originals, bruises began to appear and my head was spinning. Euphoria at a ground has never been so joyous. Overwhelmed with shock at John Terry’s penalty miss in Moscow, I was turned to stone, whilst Federico Macheda’s winner against Villa the following season was witnessed from exec seats. Ie. with plastics.
Always remember to tick that box to ‘no executive seating’. Standing on a terrace is peerless, kids.
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