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Published: 16 March 2000


by MUTV MasterFan Paul Hinson

The warm afterglow of last nights excellent win against Fiorentina is with many Reds today. For the first time in ages, we played to a standard that is too good for many teams in Europe. Our best is superior to the Violas best, that is for sure.

Having said that, United fans are used to adversity, Batistuta's breathtaking goal brifely rocked the composure but what a riposte! The deadly finishing of Andy Cole, the ruthless pursuit of another opportunity to play in an Champions League Final pushing Roy Keane into goalscoring overdrive, the confidence regained of Dwight Yorke, but most of all, the searing pacy runs of Ryan Giggs. Torricelli had no answer to him, and not many defenders around do when he is fit and in the mood.

Fiorentina at Old Trafford brought the wheel full circle for me personally. I was first taken there in 1968 as a young boy, I had pestered my Father and Brother to take me for ages, but by the time I was perched on my Dad's shoulders in the United Road Paddock we had already been crowned Champions of Europe for the first time. I didn't even get to see our unsuccessful defence of the trophy, having to rely on the radio for commentary of AC Milan's visit when the Lawman had a shot cleared from over the goal line, and the Reds bowed out in the Semi-Final.

Little did I know then that the decline would see us go from the best in Europe to Division 2 in six painful years. So, my wait to see European opposition at Old Trafford was extended until March 1973. United were battling against relegation, and as a diversion entered the Anglo-Italian Cup. Fiorentina were like us, mediocre fodder, and the 1-1 draw only made me yearn for real action, when the ground would be full, the pulses race and two quality teams graced the stage.

A slapstick friendly against Red Star Belgrade in 1975 apart, (eight goals shared and Jim Holton injured in the warm up when he twisted his knee when a shot hit him in the face) the real goods arrived in September 1976, when Ajax, 3-times European Champions hit town in the UEFA Cup. We had lost 1-0 in Holland, but this Ajax, shorn of the class of Cruyff and Neeskens who had defected to Barcelona, were unable to stem the tide of effort, enthusiasm and all-out endeavour of the Docs young side. We triumphed 2-0, but the next round saw our demise. Juventus, cynical and calculating, soon realised the danger of Coppell and Hill, snuffing out the two wingers and though losing 1-0 in Manchester, ripped us to shreds in Turin 3-0.

The following season we were in the Cup Winners Cup, and after seeing off St Etienne in Plymouth (United were banned from Old Trafford after rioting in France) we were drawn against Porto. Now, someone cocked up big style here. On the eve of a massive away trip, the players were given Cholera jabs so that they could take part in a meaningless friendly in the Middle East at the request of the government. Result, a shoddy, tired team hammered 4-0, and tie all but lost.

We assembled for the 2nd leg, noisy and expectant that at least we would give them a fright, and so we did. Faced with an impossible task, the Reds went on all-out attack, and after just 8 minutes Steve Coppell opened the scoring. On a breakaway the deadly Seninho equalised after half an hour, but the Portuguese began to get flustered, and Murca sliced a clearance into his own goal in the 34th minute.

Right on half time Jimmy Nicholl blasted in a long range shot that beat Fonseca, and so at 3-1 the aggregate score was 3-5 with 45 minutes to go.

Leaving Buchan on his own at times in a desperate effort to turn the tie around, the Reds piled on the pressure, but the visitors held out until the 65th minute, when Coppell grabbed his second of the night. Just one goal behind, the 51,831 crowd willed United forward en bloc, but Porto broke away with 5 minutes left and Seninho killed the contest with an away goal. In the 90th minute Murca turned in his second own goal to make the final score 5-2 and 5-6 to Porto over the two legs. A magnificent effort by the Reds ended in glorious failure.

A more successful turnaround was of course the remarkable 3-0 victory against Barcelona in the Cup Winners Cup in 1984. Driven by Bryan Robson, those there will always remember the vibrant atmosphere, sadly missing sometimes. In more recent years the 4-0 demolition of Porto in 1997, with Giggs flying and Eric orchestrating, the frenzied 3-2 win against Juventus also that year, the pulsating 3-3 draw with Barcelona, on the road to the Nou Camp and our reclaiming of the biggest prize of all, after a 31 year wait.

The magic of European nights at Old Trafford, the drama, the cut and thrust, the passion, the memories. We should all savour it whilst we are bracketed amongst the elite.

- 1999 MUTV MasterFan Paul Hinson

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