United fans were in full voice last weekend at Ewood Park. What’s more, the away end looked the part too, as Reds turned out in colours, swirling bar scarves aloft throughout the 90 minutes.
After Carlos Tevez’s late equaliser, Michael Carrick admitted the fans had played a part in “sucking the ball into the net”.
Now, with United’s Show Your Colours campaign gathering steam ahead of Barcelona’s visit to Old Trafford on Tuesday 29 April, we take a look at some of the best European atmospheres from down the years….
The Command Performance
Welcome to the first movement of the United European concerto: the utterly unexpected, almost absurd, dashing rout. Here we find Roma 2007, a superb side who’d taught us a bit of a lesson only days before, destroyed in a firestorm of Rooneyism. Ditto Porto in 1997’s quarter-finals. They were a formidable side, toting various unbeaten records, yet were picked apart within minutes, hammered 4-0 by Cantona and Giggs at their silky best.
The White Knuckle Ride
The flipside is a plunge into the pit of the polar opposite: the jaw-clenching, jugular-pulsing nerve-fest. Those games that aren’t going well, yet where everything remains at stake; and where the crowd is simultaneously seeking to support, criticise, howl in frustration, and vent spleens at smirking opposition. Hear us roar, hear us growl.
Go back to the Partizan semi-final in 1966. Ten minutes to go, still a goal down on aggregate, Paddy Crerand gets sent off. Busby’s face turns sheet-white, while the Stretford End’s visages burn red with frustration. There’s out-and-out, purple-faced fury too, which does wonders for your volume settings. Think AC Milan in 1969’s semi-final:
64,000 all on their feet, apoplectically raging as Paddy’s disallowed equaliser robs us of our crown.
Or Juventus 1976/77, complete with Giovanni Trappatoni’s almost comically stereotypical Italian assassins, harangued throughout for their animal cunning and sheer hardness. It can sometimes, though, work well.
Fast forward to Juventus again, but the 1999 vintage: we may have been outplayed for 70 minutes, but as long as OT was still ranting, grunting and bellowing, inspiration was there to be had. Ryan Giggs took it – and scored a critical, tie-turning equaliser.
Bloodied, but unbowed
Ah, the near-hopeless, yet exhilarating lost cause. And none better than Madrid 2003. Surely not even David Beckham, coming off the bench at his most manically committed to deliver two great goals, would truly have believed we were going to overturn a 3-1, first-leg deficit against the glittering royals. Yet all disbelief was suspended. Played like a ding-dong domestic cup tie, we gorged on a feast of seven goals, the original Ronaldo roused to his best and ovations for everyone, from everyone.
Find here, too, the second leg against Porto in the 1977/78 Cup Winners’ Cup. An injury-wrecked United, who’d been beaten 4-0 in Portugal, rose again to play as if the impossible didn’t exist. Stevie Coppell, ever the crowd favourite, ran the Portuguese screwy, inducing two own goals.
United won 5-2, and 51,000 supposedly money-wasting fools – kicking up a racket like a packed Maracana – just momentarily allowed themselves to believe. Eliminated yet elated: very United.
We’ve long known that sheer emotion can take you to nirvana. And Milan were beaten thanks to a large dose of it in 1958’s semi-final, Paolo Maldini’s dad crumbling to concede that late, winning penalty. Sadly, the comedown was equally strong as Bubsy’s exhausted troops eventually succumbed in Italy. Simple ear-splitting volume is another mighty weapon; Ajax in round one of the 1976/77 UEFA Cup is a perfect case in point. Poor ‘Punchy Piet’ Shrievers in their goal had clearly never heard anything like the Strettie in full roar before, so loud it distorted the later TV broadcast.
Escape To Victory
The ultimate remains the supposedly impossible fightback, conducted with all-out offensive verve, against top-rank opposition, to a chorus of off-the-meter terrace meltdown. And there remain two daddies of ’em all.
First up, Atletico Bilbao, European Cup quarter-final, 1956/57. United had lost 5-3 in appalling conditions in snowy Bilbao, having been 3-0 down-and-out at half-time. Billy Whelan’s late 40-yard snowdrift slalom and strike would prove critical.
In the return, played on City’s turf, a Tommy Taylor inspired United won 3-0 against a packed Basque defence, amidst utter bedlam. Two posts hit, two ‘goals’ disallowed for offside, and a climactic Johnny Berry winner with five to go at a never-more-fevered Maine Road.
The Daily Express, in those days quite a sober voice, gushed: "Women were shrieking, strong men wilted… hundreds in the crowd were patting their hearts… hats were recklessly thrown into the air."
Bilbao is pipped for the title by an indelible OT memory, one you can still feel shaking your bones: the Barcelona Cup Winnners’ Cup quarter-final, 1984.
A 2-0 defeat in the Nou Camp was the starting point. Scoring three against one of the most gifted, glamorous sides of the decade was near-impossible; any goal from the visitors would mean curtains.
Take your pick from the witness descriptions offered of the atmosphere that night. "Like planes taking off," one source said. "A 90-minute earthquake," reported another. We like: "Like Led Zeppelin live, in your bedroom."
The ground shook, literally: the Stretford End ‘shed’ felt in actual peril. The goals were perfectly timed to ratchet up the tension: Robbo’s 22nd-minute atonement for his Nou Camp errors gave us hope; his 50th-minute leveller took us to DEFCON 1; then to score a third within 100 seconds – how did we cope with it? Frank Stapleton’s strike came as we were still in full, goal-buzz throes: sheer sensory overload. And then we had just the mere 40 minutes to survive…