After swearing last season that I would never set foot in Rome for another match again, the pull of United became too strong as we found ourselves heading back there for our quarter final, first leg clash with Roma.
Our day had rather an auspicious start as we were awoken by hammering on our front door. Drowsily, hubby reached over for the alarm clock and swore loudly. He had set the alarm clock for 3.45pm instead of 3.45am so it failed to go off! Luckily, my father in law was giving us a lift to the airport and it was his banging on the door at 4.15am that woke us up! If we had been making our way ourselves, I don't know if we'd have even woken up in time!! I was a little regretful that I never knew how my dream panned out (I was dreaming about having a conversation with Fergie, during United vs Liverpool at Old Trafford, about Ruud van Nistelrooy!) but had no time to ponder it further as I flew round the house trying to get ready as quickly as possible! Luckily, we live pretty close to the airport and we made it there just before the 5am check in time. Phew!! We spotted Keith our program guy there straight away, so we went over to say hi. He was full of angst as he was missing a member of his party- he said he was sure he must have overslept too! After we checked in, we headed straight through security and spotted a lot of familiar faces- 'That Couple', 'Let's go home to Daddy' and 'European Away Guy' to name but a few although as ever with these trips, there were so many more people that we recognised from other trips. After having a wander around the shops (hubby even buying me a perfume at Duty Free!) and our obligatory breakfast at Starbucks, we headed to our gate. There, we had a long chat with European Away Guy about United's prospects for the match and the possible pros/cons of Barcelona and Moscow if we were to get there. He said he was having a difficult job trying to pacify his wife about this month as there was Roma away then Middlesbrough away, Blackburn away, potentially Barcelona away and Chelsea away. I reminded hubby how lucky he is to have a wife like me and his smiled wryly. Not sure what that was supposed to mean lol! We then all boarded the plane which left on time, which made a nice change from our last trip to Rome where we were very delayed at Manchester because of a 'techinical fault'. As I looked around, it struck me how many different people were there. So many religions- Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Catholic...men and women, all ages, all creeds, shapes and sizes. It really was heartwarming to think that a football club could bring so many different religions and cultures together. The flight passed fairly quickly although the low point of it had to be the breakfast. I have never in all my life tasted anything so horrible! It was allegedly sausage, bacon, beans and potatoes but bore no resemblence to any of those items at all. The bloke behind me hadn't even realised that he'd been eating a sausage as he thought it was black pudding! To the right of us, a bloke struck up a conversation and asked us if we had been on many European aways so we told him and compared notes from our previous trips! We also had a chat about the domestic away ticket situation at the club so that passed a fair bit of time! Soon, we were landing in Fiumicino Airport and I peered out of the window to see if there were any riot police on the tarmac as there was last time. Not this time though, so I took that to be a good sign. We were then shuttled from the plane to the terminal and passed through the most indifferent passport control ever. They had a total lack of interest in doing anything proper like scanning our passports and indeed, barely looked at them as we were waved through! We then made our way from there to the exit where the coaches were waiting and this is when we started to see some riot police. A couple of them began walking up and down the lines of people with sniffer dogs and as we got to the doors to leave the terminal building, there were rows of police with batons in hands and guns in pockets. Intimidating enough for us but I felt sorry for the poor people who had just arrived for a holiday or just arrived back from one. I'm sure the last thing they wanted to see was dozens of police, poised in an aggressive manner! We boarded the coaches and after being sat there for a little while, we were off and heading into the city centre under police escort. Once again, I'm not convinced that it was the most direct route into the city but at least we were going faster than last time and the journey was a lot shorter!
We were dropped off in Villa Borghese park which was the central point for most United-related activities that were happening (pick up/drop off points, ticket collection for independent fans and free shuttle buses to the ground). The first thing that hit us was the gorgeous sunshine. After it being so dreary at home, it made such a nice change to be in warmer and sunnier weather. Almost instantly, people were peeling off layers!! We made our way down into the centre and as it was lunchtime, decided to eat first. As ridiculous as it sounds, we actually went to Hard Rock Cafe for lunch instead of going for pizza (like we had last time) or pasta. The main reason for that was that we knew it would be our only proper meal for the rest of the day so we thought we'd be best off filling up on a big meal, that would keep us going. So, we had a good lunch in there (surrounded almost completely by American tourists in there- guess there really is no place like home!) and then carried on to do a bit of sightseeing. Although we had managed to get around a lot of sights last time, we didn't get to spend much time at them or indeed see everything, so we were quite happy to have the chance to partake of some unfinished business!! On the way to our first sight, we noticed that a lot of the streetside cafes and bars were serving alcohol, but others weren't. The ban was supposed to be in effect from noon until 11pm but clearly, it wasn't working out quite like that! We arrived firstly at the Trevi Fountain and vowed not to throw any more coins in there! Apparently, if you throw coins into the Trevi Fountain and make a wish, you'll return to Rome one day. When we did it last year, we were thinking more about a weekend there one day in the future not expecting us to be there for another Roma vs United match almost exactly a year later! So now you all know why we drew Roma again- it's totally my fault! After taking a few photos, we then carried on to The Pantheon. We decided to go on the recommendation of Tall Bloke who said it was a magnificent building as we didn't get to see it last time. He had also told me that all the Yorkshires would be camped out in a bar near there all day. So, I half expected to bump into them there as we had our chance encounter at the Trevi Fountain last time. Alas, it wasn't to be but we enjoyed the trip to The Pantheon nevertheless!! Our next stop was then The Forum and en route to there, we stopped off for the most divine gelato. Despite the fact that my pistachio cone looked radioactive, such was the brightness of the colour, it was still absolutely delicious and it helped to cool us down a little in the pounding Roman heat. Usually on European aways (especially at those grounds with the holes in the floor for toilets), I refuse to drink anything all day because of my fear of the stadium toilets but it was totally unavoidable on this day as the weather was just too warm. So we also made several stops for bottles of water along the way too. After taking some photos at the much less tourist filled Forum, we finished off our sightseeing with a trip to the Spanish Steps which were absolutely crammed full of people sunbathing!! We just sat there for a while, soaking up the atmosphere before heading back to the coach. Now, we had all been told by our guide on the bus to be back for 5pm but we knew from past European aways, that the buses virtually never leave on time. So, we sauntered up to Villa Borghese and arrived at probably 5.15pm to find that our coach wasn't even open, let alone ready to leave! So, the hundreds of us (at least) that were congregated there had an impromptu sing-song which was good fun. Eventually, the coaches were opened up but we weren't allowed to board them until we had all been searched by a member of the riot police for knives (I asked them if I looked like the kind of person who would carry a knife and they just shrugged their shoulders!!), glass bottles or cigarette lighters!! Obviously that all took a while so by the time we all left under police escort, it was well after 6pm. Not that any of us were complaining much though- the less time stuck in the ground before kick off the better, as far as we were all concerned! The short journey to Stadio Olimpico under police escort once again was standard Euro away fayre- lots and lots of singing! One bloke in particular was leading it all and totally off the cuff, made up a song about Tevez. It went, "Our Carlos Tevez he is f*****g dynamite, He scores goals with his left foot and he scores them with his right, Oh Carlos Tevez, Carlos Tevez, Woah". As the bloke was quite drunk, the tune was totally unrecognisable and it's very unlikely to be catching on around Old Trafford any time soon but on our coach, it did! So in the end, we all somehow found ourselves singing this mad Tevez song and laughing about it at the same time! It's little things like that which happen on a Euro away that are the kind of things that keep drawing you back to them- the random spontanity and fun, and seeing everyone smiling and laughing together.
We pulled up outside the ground and my stomach started to form knots. For once, I wasn't thinking about the game but just recalling what had gone on there before. I prayed with all my heart that things would go well. We were let off the coaches and were held in a big group outside the turnstiles and let through, about 10 at a time. To my right, was a total dickhead who was clearly pissed but getting horrible with it. He was singing stuff about Adebayor, Eduardo, the Second World War....you name it. People around him were telling him to shut up and stop acting like such a knob but he wasn't listening. Contrasting starkly to the fun we had on the coach on the way to the ground, this guy was the kind of thing that would put you off going on Euro aways as there seems to be a new breed of 'fan' (using the term loosely) that are starting to appear on these trips. They're usually young lads maybe late teens, early twenties who view the trip as an excuse just to get totally pissed and asked like idiots. For example, I saw a couple of lads drinking out of a wine bottle with a smashed top and jagged glass sticking out! I don't think it's a United-specific problem but it does seem to mirror society today in this country a bit. Anyway, we went through the first checkpoint and I had my bag searched. We then went through the actual turnstile where we had to scan the barcode of our ticket and once again, I had my bag searched as well as a body search. I was pleased in a way that security was good but I doubted that it would be quite so stringent for the Roma fans! Once we'd passed there, we then made our way down the path (with a large fence separating us from the Roma fans) and to the ground. Just before we reached the concourse, I saw a bottle flying from a United 'fan', over the fence into the Roma area. I looked through the gap in the fence and saw that thankfully, it didn't hit anyone. Not only was it dangerous (the bottle was also half full, so pretty heavy) it was definitely inflammatory and could have caused trouble. I looked around to see where it had come from and wasn't in the least bit surprised to see that it was from the Adebayor/Eduardo/WW2 singing knobhead from before. An English policeman (actually Mancunian I think), had him up against the wall as soon as he saw it and made the bloke hand over his match ticket as well as demand that he apologised. The policeman was really upset (and rightly so) and clearly was working hard to ensure that everything went smoothly. I don't know what happened to the knobhead whether he was arrested or not, but I know that I never saw him again.
In the ground, the first thing I did was hit the concourse. As well as the toilets being primitive (United's words!), the food kiosks were not much better. I managed to get some water and a small tub of Pringles-esque type crisps of some incomprehensible flavour before it all ran out and some lad stood next to me started randomly talking to me (this is what happens when you get widespread drunkeness!). I had my hands on the counter and he said, 'Did your boyfriend propose to you here today or something?' (despite the fact that the ring he was looking at was on my other hand!). I said 'No!' and showed him my other hand with my wedding ring on it. He swore blind that I had my wedding ring on my wrong hand and I said to him that clearly he hadn't proposed to many women before! He looked at me and said, 'No- I've got United'. Simple as that. I can imagine that's how a lot of people on the trip must be too. We headed into the seats and I got a really big flashback to last time. To the left, was the more hardcore Roma fans (although not as bad as the last time) and to the right, we were the less hardcore Roma fans who generally, seemed pretty harmless. We were separated from both sides by a tall perspex fence. Seeing this, a bunch of the young lads thought it was clever to sit right up against the hardcore Roma side, and start mouthing off. We mused that they had probably not gone on the trip last year as it was unlikely that they'd be doing that if they had. We then picked our usual seats (about two thirds of the way back in the centre of our section- safe territory) and found that Keith had done the same. So we went over and sat with him and his friends (nobody ever sits in the seat given on the ticket on Euro aways) and found to our amusement, that he knew 'That Couple' as he was sat with them too! So the eight of us all sat together and had a really good chat. We told each other what we had been up to that day in Rome, reminisced about past trips we'd been on and the woman from 'That Couple' and I, spoke about the pitfalls of being a female on a Euro away. She told me that when they went to Rotor Volgograd, she wanted to find the loos so asked a policeman in the ground who took out a rifle, jabbed it into her back, shouted 'woman' and pushed her into a room which she said was like a black pit- no doors, certainly no actual toilets, nothing. Just a pit. I thanked my lucky stars that I was a bit too young at the time to go on that trip!! We all carried on chatting for a while, sharing crisps and chocolate and trying to think of things to do to pass the time. Over where the perspex fence was to the left, things were already getting a bit heated. The Roma fans were mouthing off and things were getting thrown over the fence- and we weren't even anywhere near kick off! However, the young lads on our side weren't helping things much either by shouting things like 'Lazio' and 'Paolo Di Canio' at them as well as returning the odd bottle back over the fence. I said to Keith that these lads think they're being funny but they'd be the first ones to have a go if the Roma fans sing 'Liverpool' or 'Steven Gerrard' at us! They were clearly a bit giddy and I'm sure that once they've done more trips, they'll learn. Of course the MAJOR difference between this time and last time was that there was no riot police in our section and there were stewards in both the United AND Roma sections along the fence. This meant that the police weren't there to overreact and lash out violently and that having stewards both sides could calm things down before the got our of control. And indeed, it seemed to work as that potential flashpoint was averted and peace reigned for a little while longer. Time still seemed to be crawling along but soon Kuzsczak and Van der Sar came out for the warm up (accompanied by whistles from Roma) followed by the rest of the squad, who were subjected to even more boos and whistles! On their big screens, we saw the United team and although the formation and system raised few eyebrows, the inclusion of Park certainly did. I think after having been on so many trips and seen so many terrible results, we all just decided to adopt a 'Que sera sera' attitude and put trust in the manager. As kick off approached, the stadium announcer played a Roma song (which they obviously play before every match) which all of the Roma fans sung along to whilst holding up their scarves. Over at the other end of the ground, the 'Ultras' were setting off fireworks and lighting flares. It made for quite a backdrop and soon, the teams came out to a roar of excitement from all parts. The ground was now almost full and everyone ready for kick off. Everyone that is, except the Yorkshires who made a sudden and very random appearance up the steps to the seats! Tall Bloke, Little Guy and Ginger Bloke (who makes very infrequent appearances, but mainly on Euro aways) all greeted me with a big hug and kiss and then playfully scolded me about not meeting them at The Pantheon. I told them I had been there and they didn't believe me until I showed them the photo on my phone! They decided to let me off then lol! They then beckoned me across the aisle to stand with them for the match so I did, and it was just like being at home except that Tall Bloke was on my left side, instead of my right!!
The game kicked off, and I thought United started well. Like I said, I have seen United put in some absolutely inexplicably awful performances abroad over the years so any kind of performance where we're not totally battered and we have actually touched the ball a bit, is deemed good in my eyes! Tall Bloke and I spent a lot of the half chatting, as we usually do at Old Trafford too! He told me what they'd been doing all day and he that admitted that they hadn't taken the free shuttle bus to the ground like he promised me they would so I shouted at him about that! They had ended up taking a taxi and had been dropped off the other side of the 'notorious' bridge. He said it was really dodgy and saw someone who had massive slashes all down his face which had apparently been caused by a Roma fan attacking him with a broken bottle. I was disappointed to hear that there had been more trouble but I think, it would have been impossible for there to have been no trouble whatsoever. In the stands, there was lots of singing going on. 'Viva Ronaldo' was obviously the current favourite but Anderson's song, Rooney's song, Park's song and loads of other United songs were being sung with passion and fervour. The Roma fans responded by whistling at us, and one bloke waved a City scarf at us which caused more hilarity in the United section than anything else! As the game progressed, we were all pretty happy that we had gone over half an hour without conceding until Vidic went down injured. We weren't happy then, I can tell you. Predictably, the Roma fans were whistling at him but we all knew that if Vidic had stayed on the ground, then it must be bad. Seeing his agony continue after being driven off the pitch (yet another stupid UEFA rule), panic about not only this game but the rest of the season began to kick in. The word 'cruciate' was humming around our end and I hoped that it wouldn't be as serious as that. O'Shea came on his place to a rendition of, 'When Johnny goes marching down the wing' but it was tinged with sadness at Vida's departure. I then took a step backwards up a step, to get a better view of what was going on. Soon after, Ronaldo then put us in front with a salmon-like leap into the air to put a magnificent header into the back of the net. We all went wild and the Yorkshires and I had a big group hug. They then told me to stay on the step as it had obviously brought us good luck! I ran back across the aisle to Hubby and gave him a massive hug and kiss too. 'Viva Ronaldo' was making our section absolutely rock and Tall Bloke looked down at everyone singing and said, 'This is what makes me proud'. I called him a big softie but I understood perfectly what he meant. The Roma fans replied in the only way they knew how- by throwing stuff over the fence. I rolled my eyes. Soon, the half drew to a close and we applauded the players off to a highly satisfactory half time score. We then all looked to the big screen to see a replay of Ronaldo's goal and they typically cut half of the move out. Obviously too painful for them! I said to Tall Bloke that his goal wouldn't hurt his chances of being European Player of the Year and he agreed. At this point, I thought it would be a good idea to see how Hubby, Keith and everyone else was doing seeing as I had ditched them so I nipped back over to them! I explained to Keith who the Yorkshires were so he understood and Hubby seemed happy enough!!
Into the second half, and things carried on much like before- the United end still singing proudly, the Roma fans still being moody and United riding their luck a little on the pitch. It was unbelievable how many chances they were missing and I said to Tall Bloke that you could see how badly they were missing Totti. 'Good' was his reply to that!! It was getting a bit panicky though and we were getting more and more tense as it seemed impossible that Roma wouldn't get a breakthrough imminently. Amazingly, it was us that made yet another breakthrough as Rooney kept his good form going to put us 2-0 up. We went absolutely crazy as Tall Bloke spun me around and everyone was just hugging and kissing random people! I ran across the aisle to give Hubby a big hug and kiss too. It was absolutely fantastic. The Yorkshires then told me that I would have to live on our now 'lucky step' and never move from it again!! The Roma fans were dejected and sent another torrent of bottles etc flying over the fence which was ending up like a glorified version of 'catch'! Amusingly to our right where the almost non-plussed (and certainly not 'Ultras') Roma fans were sat, one middle aged bloke got the real hump and started gesturing wildly, in that over the top Italian away as well as screaming at the top of his lungs! Of course, we couldn't understand a word he was saying and it took us by surprise that this guy had come from the sedate section and even the Roma fans who were sat there, looked incredulously at him! The more he was getting laughed at by United, the more wound up he was getting and he totally lost it in the end and had to be thrown out! That was accompanied by a kind 'Cheerio' from us, which I'm sure really made him happy lol! In fact by this point, the whole ground was quiet so we used it as an opportunity to sing, 'Can you hear the Ultras sing? No, no...', 'Are you going to Old Trafford are you f***' and 'We want 7' which got them really upset!! I don't think we could have had 7 but maybe 3 or 4 as we missed a couple of terrific chances ourselves, notably Carrick and Ronaldo. Still, we had very little to complain about. As the half wore on and the Roma fans were getting more and more frustrated with the host of chances their team had missed, they started to stream out of the stadium. As for us, it was party time! The songs never stopped and the joy and almost disbelief at the terrific scoreline was evident. The final whistle went to jeers and whistles from Roma and huge cheers and acclaim from us. The players then came over to applaud us and they looked delighted, especially Rio (as usual!). There was then an announcement made by somone from the club who told us that we would be kept in the ground for a while, which we knew anyway. He said that he really appreciated how patient we all were and then said what great fans were are, how amazing our support was and how the club was proud of us all! To be honest, we don't get told that very often so we were all surprised but very pleased to hear that. To keep us entertained, the United season review from last season was shown on the big screens and the Yorkshires and I mused how sometimes, we can draw total blanks on games, even ones we've been to. We wondered if people who went to most United games and have done for years, also have that happening to them or if it was just us! The conversation then progressed to first ever United home match, first ever away and first ever Euro away. It was pretty interesting actually, especially to hear how times have changed. Back on the big screens, the DVD had inexplicably got to November and reset itself, so we had to watch the DVD right from the beginning again! Despite being kept in for about an hour and a half, we never got to the end of the review and it was announced that we could now leave the ground and told once again how proud the club was of us (we could get big heads hearing that all the time!). I bid the Yorkshires farewell, getting a hug and kiss from them all. I demanded that they took the free shuttle buses back into the city and they agreed that they would. I wished them a safe journey which they reciprocated and told them I hoped to see them at Middlesbrough. We left the ground and found the exits surrounded by riot police but thankfully, just watched on and didn't start anything. We found our coach in amongst the dozens and after waiting there for a while, we were driven back to the airport under police escort. I drifted in and out of sleep on the coach and we arrived back at the airport to find loads of riot police there again. I couldn't really see the point of them being there as they were just stood around and not actually doing anything but nevertheless there they were although once inside the terminal, there were no more police which was better than last time where every single movement we made in the airport was tracked by them. After slowly making it through security, due to almost every single person setting off alarms whilst passing through the metal detector we then found our gate in amongst the three that were heading back to Manchester and pretty rapidly, boarded the plane. The flight passed fairly quickly, mainly due to the fact that I slept for a lot of it although I did wake up for our hot meal of sausage and mash, which was no blessing I can tell you. It was possibly worse than the breakfast and the 'sausages' used were definitely the same ones like breakfast! We arrived back at Manchester Airport at just after 4am and after making it through passport control, we were inundated with TV cameras, all wanted to interview returning United fans. I declined, imagining how hellish I must have looked after being up 24 hours and hardly wanted that to be flashed across British TV!
We arrived back home just before 5am and couldn't resist watching the goals and interviews from the game, before getting our couple of hours sleep then getting back up for work. Sometimes I wonder when I get home from a Euro away, why we all put ourselves through this torture. And then days like 1st April 2008 crop up, and it reminds us all why.
"We all agree, K-Stand is better than J-Stand"