90 minutes, 8 goals and a passion to last a lifetime
I harbor a few confused and hazy memories of the FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany, owing to the weak and fragile nature of an 8-year-old’s memory. I vaguely remember fighting sleep and stifling yawns as Zinedine Zidane was sent off and Italy went on to win the trophy on the grandest stage of them all. Manchester United vs AS Roma on April 10, 2007 was my first vivid memory of being exposed to pure football. I remember being alone at home on that fateful night. Insomnia led me to the television in the hall. An interesting caption – “Enjoy Responsibly” led me to Ten Sports. And fate led me to the Beautiful Game.
“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”. - Bill Shankly, former Liverpool manager.
I settled down on my sofa and watched with growing interest as the players walked out of the tunnel onto the pitch at Old Trafford while the Stretford End chanted, “United! United! United!”. It was a mesmerizing sight at the Theater of Dreams, and one that I am unlikely to ever forget. Roma had an aggregate lead over United having won the first leg of the tie 2-1. They began the second leg positively and threatened with a few early chances. I will never forget Francesco Totti’s first shot at Old Trafford. That 25-yard rocket inspired me to start playing football. In the 12th minute of the tie, Michael Carrick found himself in a yard of space and pulled the trigger. The ball sailed into the back of the Roma net. It was a sight to behold as Old Trafford rose as one and celebrated.
I marveled at the pace and fluidity with which United manoeuvred the ball. Rooney, Heinze, Carrick and Brown exchanged some quick passes and got the ball out to Ryan Giggs. The veteran slotted through Alan Smith with ease and fluidity. The latter passed into the back of the net to hand United the aggregate lead. A couple of minutes later, I found myself at the edge of my seat anxious for more of this wonderful action as the commentator narrated, “Here’s Ronaldo on the ball, running past De Rossi, running past Cassetti, finding Giggs. Rooney and Ronaldo waiting in the centre. Here’s Giggs with the cross. ROONEY!!” Wayne Rooney coolly slotted in from six yards out after a mesmerizing passage of counter-attacking play from United to make it 3-0 on the night.
United continued keeping possession and creating chances throughout the first half. In the 44th minute, the evergreen Ryan Giggs found Ronaldo on the right flank, who did what he did best and ran at the Roma defense. The charismatic winger got past one defender and smashed it past the goalkeeper into the bottom right corner. United went into the half-time interval firmly in control, with an aggregate score of 4-2.
Roma began the second period in similar fashion to the first, with Totti blasting a free-kick wide. However, just 4 minutes later, Giggs slotted a delicious ball across the penalty area. Alan Smith’s lunge just missed the ball, but Ronaldo judged his run to perfection and slotted in at the back post to make it 5-0 on the night. A little over 10 minutes later, Michael Carrick was once again presented with a yard of space. A wonderful first touch and an exquisite swing of his right boot ensured that the back of the net was found for the sixth time in sixty minutes. It was just glorious to watch as the Stretford End roared its approval. Roma finally broke their goal-drought through Daniel De Rossi, as the latter’s volley found the back of Edwin van der Sar’s net.
However, United were not done yet. They poured forward, with substitutes Ole Gunnar Solskaer and Patrice Evra exchanging a flurry of passes. The latter found himself in a yard of space on his left foot and pulled the trigger. The slightly scuffed shot wrong-footed the goal keeper and found the back of the Roma net for the seventh time. The final whistle was greeted by cheers from across Old Trafford as the United players walked off the field after a good day at the office. I found myself chanting with the Stretford End, “United! United! United!”.
It is but human instinct to support the winning team when first introduced to a sport. April 10, 2007 was the day I began to support Manchester United. I have continued to support Manchester United through the ups (Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal) and the downs (Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City), through the highs (2008 Champions League victory) and the lows (The day the “Blue Moon rose”), and will continue to support Manchester United no matter what. Such is the greatness of football as a sport.
“What makes Manchester United strong is not history, not trophies, not our squad. But our passion and loyalty.” - Edwin van der Sar, former United goalkeeper.
Since that fateful night in summer 2007, I have had some of the most wonderful moments of my life thanks to football. Having played for almost six years, I won my first piece of competitive silverware for my school along with the rest of the under-14 school football team on February 12, 2013. As we exchanged our passion for glory on that fateful afternoon, all we could do was bow our heads in humility and respect for the Beautiful Game.
As a Manchester United fan, I have been exposed to many nail-biting encounters which have demonstrated the never-say-die spirit, resilience and defiance of the dreaded final whistle that defines this great club. Over the years, I have watched United tear apart many a tough opponent on the field while marvelling at the beauty of the game. I have delved into United’s past – the Munich Air Disaster in 1958, the European Cup victory exactly a decade later, the Eric Cantona era and the 1999 Treble winning team – where examples and incidences of the club’s resilience and tenacity lie.
After the Munish Air Disaster in 1958, people believed that United would fold and waste away into the pages of history. However, it was not to be, as Sir Matt Busby returned a year later and rebuilt the United team that would eventually go on to redeem its pledge of winning the European Cup a decade later. At the Nou Camp in 1999, on Matt Busby’s birthday, United came from behind in stoppage time to snatch the Champions League from Bayern Munich with a 91st minute equalizer and a 93rd minute winner. United became the first English team to win the Treble. Such is the fragility of life and the beauty of the Beautiful Game.
I may never get a chance to witness Manchester United play at Old Trafford first-hand, but I will always support the Red Devils. More importantly, I will always love the Beautiful Game for all the wonderful opportunities and experiences that it has provided me.
“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. Football. Bloody hell.” – Sir Alex Ferguson, after the 1999 Champions League final.