Sam Pilger's account of the game and the
celebrations that followed.
When Mehmet Scholl drew back his foot and chipped over
Peter Schmeichel we expected the net to billow, but it didn't. When Carsten Jancker met
the ball with an overhead kick, we expected his shot to confirm Bayern as European
champions, but it didn't. United were staring defeat in the face, but somehow destiny
wouldn't let it happen.
High up on the second tier my focus altered between the
pitch and the clock above the two benches. When it reached 40 minutes I feared the worst;
when it stopped ticking over and the fourth official held up the board indicating three
minutes of injury time, I accepted it was all over. Consulting his own watch Alex Ferguson
believed the same, as his thoughts had already turned to the post-match press conference.
I thought of praying, but decided that was too
melodramatic. While not a religious fellow, I decided I might want to save my prayers for
something more important, like health. I overheard a father telling his young son to pray
to a different kind of force, Sir Matt Busby: "Go on son, ask Sir Matt if he can do
anything for us."
Twenty two seconds into stoppage time United won a corner.
Peter Schmeichel ran up the pitch for the corner. Schmeichel didn't touch the ball, but he
caused enough confusion in the Bayern box for the ball to make its way back to Ryan Giggs,
whose off-target shot was steered back on course by Teddy Sheringham. I say steered, but
it was more of a scuffed shot, the most important miskick in the history of Manchester
Like any great or crucial goal, there was a second of
silence as the United fans took it all in and checked for a linesman's flag, before all
collapsing on each other in a massive bundle, the kind usually reserved for the school
While United fans thanked the heavens and found their seats
and looked forward to extra time, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won another corner. Beckham rushed
over to take the corner, swung it in, Sheringham beat Linke to glance it on and there was
Solskjaer, breaking free of Kuffor's grasp to toe a shot into the roof of the net.
The United bench emptied onto the pitch, the substitutes
ran on and flung themselves on top of the celebrating red mound of United players. Behind
me, a tough looking man with leathery skin had tears streaming down his face. He looked
inconsolable, but had probably never been happier.
Four Germans were still lying on the turf when the referee
wanted to restart the game. The Italian referee Perluigi Collina had to haul up Stefan
Effenberg. Bayern staggered to their feet only to collapse again 12 seconds later. They
lay there in 4-4-2 formation, like grey blemishes on a green carpet. Overcome with rage
and agony, Samuel Kuffor looked like he was having an epileptic fit.
Bayern Munich's players were inconsolable. Mario Basler
left the pitch without taking his medal, Samuel Kuffor had to be helped on to the platform
to collect his medal while Lothar Matthaus wrenched it from his neck seconds after it had
been hung there. Once the Bayern players had walked across the platform to collect their
losers' medals, most slumped to the floor on the side, unable to summon the strength to
leave the pitch. The Bayern players trudged to their coach in a daze.
On the pitch, the United players didn't want to leave the
scene of their triumph. Forty five minutes after the final whistle, half the stadium had
emptied, leaving the United players and fans to savour the moment together. Sheringham and
Solskjaer staged replays of their goals, probably in the hope that it would help them make
sense of it all. Beckham and the Nevilles stared up into the crowd and looked for family,
while others sat in a circle on the turf with the Cup in the middle.
It was then that David May stepped forward to take charge
of the celebrations. He put his finger to his lips and asked for quiet from the crowd.
Within seconds, for the first time all evening the stadium was silent, and in the palm of
May's hand. He placed the Cup at his feet then yanked it above his head to an almighty
roar from the crowd. Like a gatecrasher whose tricks keep the party going, May then
summoned each player from the pack to copy him. Fifteen times the crowd bit their tongues
before unleashing another roar as a hero in red trust the Cup at them. Some players added
their own touches; Yorke did a calypso wiggle, Cole did a dance and Schmeichel fooled the
crowd by pretending to lift the Cup and receiving their cheers all the same.
The crowd then realised that Keane and Scholes were not
part of this special moment. They were to be found ambling on the halfway line like shy
teenagers, staring at their shoes and feeling left out of it all. They wore suits, but
longed to be in sweaty shirts and shorts. The call went out for them to join the party.
The players formed a guard of honour with the trophy at the end for Keane and Scholes to
The players then spent an hour celebrating in the dressing
room, polishing off crates of beer and champagne. "The party just didn't stop"
remembers Schmeichel. "We're all kids, we're like the fans. We sang terrace songs and
laughed at each other."
"We were out of control with delight in the dressing
room" recalls Gary Neville. "I don't think anyone could really take it all
in." What we had done actually meant something. It had affected people's lives."
"I've hurt my mouth smiling." was all Dwight
Yorke could say.
The middle of the dressing room was turned into an
impromptu dancefloor after one of the players had found a tape of dance music. Most of the
players got up and had a go, with Schmeichel, Yorke, and Johnsen having the most
David Beckham left the dressing room party for a second to
get a picture with the Cup on the pitch, but discovered the floodlights had been turned
off. On his way back to the dressing room three burly Spanish policeman pleaded for a
picture with him and the Cup like star-struck teenagers, making sure the photographer had
their address to send on the photos.
The players didn't want to let the Cup out of their sights.
Sheringham, Cole and Yorke even took it into the bath with them. Suited and booted, the
players the players spoke to the media out in the tunnel before boarding the coach which
took them to their post-match party at the Arts Hotel down on the waterfront.
In a huge ballroom the players partied with their family
and friends until 5am. At the height of the fun, like in that famous scene from Grease,
the players formed a circle around the edge of the dancefloor with the European Cup in the
middle and took turns to go and do a jig alongside it.