Matchday Diary: Milan Mauling

Wednesday morning and it’s AC Milan time, you just got to love these days. Today will be a long one. I leave the house about 11 in the morning and head for Rathmines to collect tickets for a friend who is already over there. The demand for this game is huge and for some reason, I have found myself in the situation where I will have to meet 12 different people today with tickets. Be it swaps for this game or bringing the season cards back for Sunday’s Fulham game, it is going to be a busy day too.

My travel companions are Eoin (I know it is getting boring now, but I have to repeat, we still have a 100% winning rate!) and Simon. We are flying via a 2.00pm flight to Birmingham from Dublin. The normally reliable Air Coach is running 40 minutes late, but we arrive in enough time to have one pint at the departure gate. I am relaxed about today, the 3-2 win in Milan should see us through, but you never know. Defeat would be a disaster, this is a position we should not and I think will not lose. The flight is full, with the majority of them heading to the game. My resident stalker Mr. Soft is on the flight along with four or five other lads that can be seen regularly on trips. Birmingham is starting to become more and more popular for games.

Fast forward and three hours later, following a smooth flight and a two hour train trip, we are in our normal pre match position. Outside the offies just beside the ground. Tickets have to be distributed and I am haunted, as everybody arrives at pretty much the same time. It all goes smoothly and is a massive weight off my mind. Time to relax now.

Colin, Emmett and Damian join us but the Old Bill are on a mission today and that is to hand out £50 fines to anybody caught drinking on the streets, which is thousands of people. This is the first time ever we have seen this and it is very very strange. First comes a warning, then a confiscation and then a fine. Colin hits A.S.B.O. level two and the Cavan man has his wife-beating Strongbow taken off him. He is not impressed, but the rest of us are luckier and save for a few dirty looks from the cops, we are left alone.

As we head to the ground, the must have and now well patented dirty bridge burger is consumed and it is all systems go. We are moved today to the East Stand, due to the advertising needs of UEFA. It is a load of s*ite and we would all love to be back in our normal Stretford end seats, but there is nothing we can do. The stewards are even worse than at our end, asking us to sit down every two minutes, citing the woman behind us not being able to see the match. United begin very well and Rooney has an effort just wide. Ronaldinho heads inches past the right hand post soon after. Close call. Milan grow in confidence and I am starting to get edgy.

Moments later, the tie is over. The much maligned Gary Neville sends in a glorious cross and Rooney nods in. Milan never raise a gallop after this. The rest of the half is fairly tame. I honestly cannot recall anything happening at either end. Two things are noticeable however, Park Ji Sung is having a cracking game through the middle and Gary Neville is also doing well, for once!

Within seconds of the restart it’s 2-0. Nani plays Rooney through after the Milan defence is sloppy and Rooney knocks home for his 30th of the season. Gary standing two seats away from me proceeds to somehow head butt me during the celebration, almost breaking my nose. I ensure that I am well away from him when Park knocks in number three a few minutes later, from Scholes crisp pass. It’s 6-2 on aggregate now and it is party time; David Beckham is warming up and is now getting more attention than the other 22 players on the pitch. The ‘Love United, Hate Glazer’ anthems are taking off big time also.

Between this and the Beckham love fest, the game becomes a sideshow. As he enters the fray, he gets an unbelievable reception, too good. I join in but I will not be singing his name, there are players in the red shirts that need supporting first, sentiment can wait for another time. How much of a farce the game becomes is shown by the fact that some United fans around us are urging him to shoot every time he gets the ball. They appear disappointed when he goes close, but fails to score. I cannot understand it, but as Fletcher makes it 4-0, those lads do not get their wish. News is filtering through that Madrid need two goals to go through and as we leave the ground, it is confirmed that they are out. Sweet, tops off a terrific night.

Tickets (all United season tickets are swipe cards and not paper tickets) are re-exchanged after the game and we sprint off into town to make the last air coach up to Liverpool airport. We get an offer at the stop of an eight seat cab for 80 euro and four Milan fans join us. We have good conversation on the way up and the Italian lads feel that United have the best team in Europe. High praise indeed. They are in a state of depression about the future of their club; you can see where they are coming from.

Tonight’s accommodation is being provided by the airport floor. It is about midnight as we settle into our beloved prayer room and while it is not exactly the Ritz, it will do the job for a few short hours. As the night progresses, the crowd in the tiny yet sacred room grows and come 4am, the place is full of Irish lads, all United fans. My sleep time is over as the chorus of snoring is unbearable. We head off to the departure lounge. Our flight is boarding soon anyway so all is not lost. A bunch of Irish lads make idiots of themselves by discussing Bob Geldof, Ethiopia and the like within earshot of half the airport. Flight boards on time and its homeward bound. We are all due in work, but we do not mind, it is easy to face a day’s work when it is a victory.

As I hit the LUAS home after the Air Coach, another successful trip is coming to an end. Next Sunday is the big one. After last year’s disaster, this one better go our way. Until then, L.U.H.G.

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Ed Diggins

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