Old Trafford – The Theatre of Dreams – has been a home to many epic battles over the course of its 100 years in existence. The seventy five thousand fans in attendance make it a coliseum like none other, and the ear splitting noise that reverberates from the terraces of Old Trafford, when United are attacking towards the Stretford End, can’t really be comprehended in words. The cacophony when Man United scores seem to roar out of the television and transport to homes across two oceans and several lesser seas.
It’s not always the same though on every other weekend, as United fans usually save their voices for the big European nights. There aren’t any prawn sandwich eaters in attendance on such monumental occasions, where fans up the ante and make the opposition bow down into submission. Win or lose, such European nights are the ones savored by every Red Devil around the world, as ‘Fortress Old Trafford’ is at its intimidating best.
As this season Champions League campaign reaches its most exciting phase, Sir Alex and his men would once again look towards the supporters to save their voices for now and then eventually scream their lungs out on the fateful night against the visiting Londoners. This is what ‘home legs’ in a European competition are meant for; it shouldn’t feel like XI against XI; this is the time for the proverbial “12th man” to make his presence felt.
Sir Alex Ferguson after the First leg:
“It’s halfway, we’ve got an advantage but the biggest advantage is Old Trafford and the support for next Tuesday will be absolutely fantastic, so I’m banking on that.”, concluded Ferguson.
We look back at some of the famous European nights at Old Trafford – nights where legends were born, moments that linger on decades after they happened.
1) Man United 3-0 Barcelona (1984) Europen Cup winners Cup :
The stars came out in their numbers, none bigger than the legendary Diego Maradona. However, even the God himself couldn’t stop the Red Army on a night where Maradona was no match for ‘Captain Marvel’ Bryan Robson. No one in their right mind gave United a chance, as the Reds were 2-0 down after the first leg in Camp Nou; but what transpired must have felt like a dream for those in attendance at the Theatre of Dreams. Make no mistake, it was hardly a vintage United eleven, the lineup reading as Gary Bailey, Mike Duxbury, Arthur Albiston, Ray Wilkins, Kevin Moran, Graeme Hogg, Bryan Robson, Arnold Muhren, Frank Stapleton, Norman Whiteside, Remi Moses; this team was no match to the might of Barca on paper. However, driven by the passionate Old Trafford crowd, the one ‘Robbo’ produced arguably his best performance in a United shirt, and the rest as they say is history. At the end of it all, Robson was carried off the field by delirious supporters. It was a night when the legend of OT gained further strength and momentum. To those lucky enough to be present at Old Trafford on that epic occasion, it would undoubtedly rank as a night to savor and narrate in folklore, one of those rare moments were they can proudly say “I was there.”
2) Man United 7-1 AS Roma (2007) UEFA Champions league:
United had waned off considerably on the European front for the last couple of seasons, and Ferguson was rebuilding his side for another assault on the prized European Cup. United were beaten 2-1 away in Rome in the first leg, and the skeptics were out in numbers as nervous energy floated all around the stadium. However, as soon as Michael Carrick curled in United’s opener as early as 12th minute of the game, the crowd responded, and so did the men on the field. The outcome? A stunning display of attacking football that bordered on the ridiculous to the unbelievable. No one believed it to be possible to treat an Italian club quite like this – seven goals, all of rare quality and precision. The Rooney – Ronaldo dual act was in full bloom and probably a sign of things to follow for years to come. Mesmerized and shell-shocked, the Italians had no answer to United’s blitzkrieg. The fans made their appreciation known with chants and songs that rocked Old Trafford to its core. To all those in attendance, the phrase “seventh heaven” got a literal meaning.
3) Man United 1-0 Barcelona (2008) UEFA Champions league:
The two most dominant teams in Europe that season met at the semi final stage. The fixture was every neutral’s dream duel, promising a plethora of attacking football in display. The leading lights of world football squared up against each other, and it was built up as the Messi v Ronaldo show; however, the supporting cast more than made their presence felt. After United had held off a powerful Barca display at Nou Camp without any harm, the two sides locked horned at Old Trafford for the second leg of the much anticipated semi final. United needed a win to progress to the finals, for the first time in almost a decade. As the players stepped onto the pitch, they were greeted with placards of B.E.L.I.E.V.E and European cups which were never seen before at Old Trafford. It helped creating the sense of belief amongst players as Ryan Giggs later admitted of thinking – “I couldn’t see us losing.” Belief was the motto of the night, as a place in the European Cup final hung in the balance; dressed in a sea of red, Old Trafford chanted, danced and screamed all along, as Sir Alex’s Red army fought every inch of the football pitch. Paul Scholes produced a wonderful strike that settled the issue, befitting of the occasion as the crowd lost all its sanity and went wild. Promise land achieved once again, as the Reds went marching on to Moscow to compete in their third European Cup final. History was made, as United won another European cup to commemorate 50 years of the Munich air disaster.
4) Man United 4-0 A C Milan (2010) UEFA Champions league:
The second most successful side in the history of the competition A.C. Milan were the visitors, opponents that could intimidate the best of sides by the sheer pedigree of the names on their side. To make matters worse, the Reds had never beaten the Italian super powers in a knockout tie over two legs. However, United had already done the hard part well by securing a win at San Siro, of all places, scoring three away goals in the process. This tie nevertheless had an edge attached to it, the home coming of the one David Beckham. United’s prodigal son, the fans heartthrob and an eternal hero to one and all, Becks was back albeit in opposition colors. The season was also special in one other aspect – the Green and Gold campaign was in full flow and had added to the color and the aura of the already glittering arena. Fans voiced their disapproval of the Glazer regime with various retentions of ‘Anti- Glazer’ chants that filled the atmosphere with consummate energy. On the football pitch, the Red Devils produced a scintillating display and dispatched the mighty Milan with a 4-0 drubbing, with Wayne Rooney in the thick of things once again. However, the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for the returning hero David Beckham, as he stepped foot on the hollowed Old Trafford surface once again; the ovation was so magnanimous that even Becks couldn’t help but shed a tear, as he was clearly overcome by the love showered on him by United fans. Every touch by the man was met with an ironical ‘boo’ as Beckham tried his best to salvage Milan’s night. Beckham ended up on the losing side but gained love, affection and untold admiration. The message was clear – for all United fans there is only one David Beckham, and he is still a red. Beckham added to his charm and aura by picking up the Green and Gold Scarf, tied it across his neck and walked off, probably lending his support to fans’ cause against the Glazer regime – an iconic gesture by a legendary footballer.
5) Manchester United 2-0 Internazionale (1999) UEFA Champions league:
United, after years of disappointment and despair, were finally looking good, Sir Alex had built a strong squad to get the elusive European Cup back to Old Trafford. Standing in their way was a formidable Inter Milan outfit; United had to travel away to the daunting San Siro for the second leg, all the more incentive to make the first leg at Old Trafford count. The home support was expectant; the volume was pumped up, as United surged on to attack and attack. The Great Dane Peter Schemichel had an epic night as he saved virtually everything, and whatever little got past the big man was mopped up by Henning Berg. Dwight York, Paul Scholes and David Beckham led the way, as United pilled up the pressure and the miserly Italian defense finally gave in. A Dwight York brace gave United a two goal lead, which United managed to hold on to after the second leg. United went on to win the historic Treble that season, as Ferguson finally managed to capture his holy grail- the European Cup. An abiding memory of that unforgettable night against Inter Milan is the reminiscence of Zamorano walking backwards into Stam only to go bouncing back in his place. Old Trafford had once again proved to be the difference, as they sucked the ball into the Italian net via sheer belief and passion.