UNITED’S PARADISE- A Fanboy’s Memory

Achuthan Manoj

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It would be easier for me to start this article with a quote, so that I need not say which match I have selected for this ongoing series, “Most memorable football match of my life.” “But mountains are to be climbed, aren’t they?”

As a diehard Manchester United fan right from childhood, this recent match had a big impact on me not only as a Man United lover but also as a football enthusiast. For those who are still not into this conversation, I am talking about the second leg of Champions league Pre-quarters, 2018-19, PSG vs Manchester United held at Le Parc des Princes in Paris. The game was won by Manchester United with a score line of 1-3, but the main highlight was how that win was achieved against all odds.

Living in a hostel with football fans across all spectrums, it was quite natural for banters of all forms and styles to exist among us. It is very tough surviving in such an atmosphere especially when your team is going through a bad phase and we, the Red Devil supporters, indeed had a sticky time. The team was having a bad season throughout, “The Special One” was sacked in December and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had just begun his reign as the caretaker manager. Things were going pretty decent till our first leg against PSG in Champions League, which ended up in a 0-2 defeat at our own home turf, the Old Trafford, which was incidentally the first defeat under Ole. Right from his first day in office, Ole neve managed to strike me as a manager who had the tactical nous to hold himself up against the other great managers of the contemporary game. But thankfully that particular opinion of mine would change forever on that fateful night in Paris.

With neither the score line nor the momentum in our favour, we waited patiently for the 2nd leg. Our worries were compounded by the fact that a good portion of our squad were out injured and our main man Paul Pogba was suspended after the double-yellow red which he received at the first leg. We were all at our hostel that night; the line-ups came with an all-star PSG squad, though sans Neymar, (otherwise PSG fans will hit me up) coming up against our team which was looking significantly poorer in paper, causing us to fear for the worst. Already we had heard enough from our friends, mocking us for losing at home and travelling to Paris with an inexperienced side to defeat an in-form team enjoying a two goal cushion. No team in the history of Champions League had successfully overturned a 2 goal home deficit and we knew for certain that a mammoth task was laying wait in front of the young team and its inexperienced caretaker.

The match kicked off and I was watching from my room alone. Lukaku came up with an early blow, capitalising on a defensive mistake but I was still not convinced due to the enormity of the task left at hand. To prove me right, PSG equalised straight away through Bernat in a silly let off which displayed the inexperience in the team. And then at around 30 minutes at the clock, Lukaku scored thanks to an uncharacteristic error by one of the greatest goalkeeper in the history of the game, Gianluigi Buffon and the Belgian striker who was struggling throughout the season quickly became our talisman at Paris. I could see WhatsApp notifications from “Red Devils” group popping and guess what; we were dreaming one of the greatest comebacks in UCL history. But soon yet another blow stuck us in the form of a struggling Eric Bailly who had to be replaced by Dalot, further piling on our concerns. The first half was done and dusted; I knew quarter final was just one goal away. The match resumed after the break and I was half sleepy throughout the first half since I had some overnight works due to the internals back to back and eventually fell asleep at around 60 minutes at the clock.

I woke up hearing some people banging at my door. As I opened the door half dazed, I was bewildered to see all my fellow Man United fans excited and yelling ‘PENALTY” and they right away pointed the live stream right to my face. The action that I saw from the ground after that 60th minute was Marcus Rashford at the penalty spot well set to take us to the quarters. Suddenly, I checked the scoreboard and it was still 1-2 and the clock was tottering around 93. I had no clue what was going around, and in between the tense chatters I realised that the penalty was the result of a Kimpembe hand ball. I have never seen Rashford taking the penalty for United in any competition, but suddenly realised that there was no other better set piece taker than him in this young team.  We had full confidence in him, for no specific reason, which made us celebrate even before the kick was taken. Finally the whistle blew and Rashford did no wrong with the trust millions of fans and his young inexperienced manager had placed on him. As he smashed it in beyond an out stretched Buffon, a new chapter in our history was written, and we didn’t even wait for the players to start celebrating. We started yelling and rushing through the corridors of our hostel, banged open the doors of our rivals who had mocked us and with their sleepy heads and made them watch how United made the improbable possible with their young squad. We were all singing, dancing in the hostel and some people opened the door to check what was going wrong at 03:30 am, but everything was going right for United and for us that night. I couldn’t resist my exhilaration which still gives me goose bumps even as I pen my thoughts down today. Soon our excitement levels were back to normal and then me and one of my fellow Red Devil took a bike ride to drop one of our seniors to his hostel on the other side of the campus. We were singing our traditional “Glory Glory Man United” through the empty campus roads on our way back.

The time was 4 AM when I returned to my room and I had classes in a few hours but the adrenaline rushing through my veins was not going to let me sleep for sure. Social media was flooded with messages and videos of how the football world and players were reacting to this unexpected turnaround. I watched the highlights repeatedly as I had missed almost half an hour and I noticed Chong, Greenwood and all playing their first ever UCL match in such a decisive phase of the match. The fact that Manchester United had Pereira, Fred and McTominay  playing in the midfield where Pogba, Herrera, Matic were supposed to play and still managed to score 3 goals away without the services of Martial, Sanchez, Mata or Lingard against a European behemoth was all still very inconceivable for me. I slept at 05:30 am that night (morning), and successfully bunked the morning hours, but that night have left an eternal hangover in me.

People say that, this is football and this is how it behaves, but no one can explain why and how we have produced this kind of football and these kinds of moments again and again. When all hopes are down and everything seems lost, Manchester United still finds a way against all odds and that’s exactly why we are called the “Comeback Kings”. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s motivational words which were taken as a joke by critics were substantiated in spectacular fashion by our boys. The game at Parc des Princes was not just a football match rather it was a sublime example of how spirit, passion, morale and resolve could do implausible possible. Even now, when I feel down on the dumps for some reason, it’s videos of that remarkable night in Paris that I turn to for motivation

This match further engrained the unwavering faith I had in this team, because I know that in the darkest of the days, however irretrievable the situation is, this club and the spirit it embodies can work miracles, for the TEAM, for the FANS and for US.

Forever a Red Devil

 

The writer is a Integrated Masters student in Physics at University of Hyderabad. This article is the fourth in the series “most memorable football match of my life” by our readers. If you want to write about your experience of watching your favourite match, you can contact us via footytimes.com@gmail.com. Let’s use this quarantine time to reminisce our football memories.

Achuthan Manoj

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