I wasn’t into English football when I was growing up rather I was an ardent follower of the Dutch Eredivisie, all thanks to my late uncle. The first “official” European match I watched was Ajax vs. AC Milan, Champions League final, 1995 where an Ajax team of youngsters captained by Danny Blind and coached by Louis van Gaal won the day courtesy of a goal by then 17 year old Patrick Kluivert. Ajax had the Van der sars, de Boers, Davids, Seedorfs, Witschges, Litmanens, Kluiverts, Blinds, Reizigers along with 2 Nigerians, Kanu Nwankwo and George Finidi in their ranks.
I fell in love with the Ajax team and kept on following the Dutch league but all I really cared about was the goals; I never missed an episode of Rothmans football show on NTA back in the 90s. I did not support any club until I watched the UEFA Champions League magazine show prior to the final between Manchester United and Bayern München at the Nou Camp in 1999.
They did the pathetic story of the ruin and rise of the club, Manchester United F.C. The Munich air disaster took place on 6th February 1958, when British European Airways Flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from an ice-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport in Munich, Germany. On board the plane was the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the “Busby Babes” along with a number of journalists and supporters. 23 of the 44 people on board the aircraft died instantly as a result of the crash. As I watched this documentary, I wept as one of the players, Liam Whelan actually said: “This may be death, but I am ready” shortly before take off! The manager, Sir Matt Busby read his last rites (prayers before death) twice on his hospital bed because his chances of survival were slim. But the death of their best players did not bury the club! To feeble minds that would have been the end of the story. I saw the Munich memorial clock on the south eastern corner of Old Trafford that permanently read “Feb 6th 1958.” I saw the “Munich Tunnel” in Old Trafford stadium that contains the names of all the dead players and the bold inscriptions under the crash victims’ pictures: Manchester United Shall Rise Again and that was the day I joined the club because that is the summary of life.
The club did rise again; Sir Matt Busby resumed managerial duties the next season (1958-59), and eventually built a second generation of Busby Babes including George Best and Denis Law, that ten years later won the European Cup, beating Benfica. Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes were the only two crash survivors who lined up in that team.
Thirty one years later (1968-99), United exorcised their Munich demons in a dream final at the Nou Camp beating the men from Munich 2-1 courtesy of late strikes from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær cancelling out Mario Basler’s opener. Basler had given Bayern the lead via a free kick in the first half only for Sheringham to head in a David Beckham’s corner with 2mins left to play. Deep into extra time, Beckham delivered another corner, Sheringham got a head to it and Solskjær who was at the back post poked it in. I was delirious, elated and ecstatic that I couldn’t contain my joy. Since then, the name Manchester United F.C has been encrypted in my heart.
There are only two clubs in England; Manchester United and the rest. If football is your passion, Manchester United is your brand.
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