Manchester United
1999 The Treble


An Archive of the Manchester United 1999 Treble Season.

PRESS AND FANS

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 United.

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 playground.

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 charge down.

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 impressive moves.

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.

 


1999. No part of this site may be copied or reproduced in any format without the prior written permission of the authors. This site is not part of Manchester United.