The Three Best Atmospheres You Never Knew
Every fan of every club has been there before. Everything comes together, the occasion, the team, the fans, to create an atmosphere in the stadium that becomes a part and a fabric of that club’s history. As a Manchester United fan, I was brought up on tales of Barcelona in ’84, Ajax in ’77, Maine Road in ’85. As I got older, I got to experience some of those moments myself, Porto in ’97, Inter in ’99 and of course, Bayern Munich in the Camp Nou.
These are all obvious, well worn stories and well known games that will be remembered by all connected to the club, not just for the attitude on the pitch, but the attitude off it. It didn’t happen that often, but when we, the fans, were “up for it”, it was a truly memorable time. But what about the other times? Times that for varying reasons the atmosphere was fantastic, but may have just been quietly forgotten, unless you were there. We’ve all been there, we’ve all got them, and here, in no particular order, are my top three.
Crystal Palace vs Manchester United
Selhurst Park,27th April 1998
Let me set the scene. That magnificent Arsenal side with Overmars, Petit, Vieira and Bergkamp are on the verge of taking our title. The race is over and in the ground we all know it, are we gutted? Of course. However, this is our first time to play Palace at Selhurst since “that” night – hence several loud airings of “He’s Red, he’s white, he kicked the Cockney shite, Cantona, Cantona”.
So the atmosphere is already tense before we scored two goals in the first 10 minutes, effectively relegating Palace and it becomes party time. Songs from the 70s, the 80s, even the 60s are all given raucous airings. To much hilarity, Macclesfield Town have won promotion to Division One, where they will meet the soon to be relegated Man City.
We let the Bitters know it as well – “City versus Macclesfield” and “Oh Sammy, Sammy” in honour of Macclesfield manager and United old boy Sammy Mcllroy. The singing didn’t stop and we could even forget our title pain for 90 glorious minutes as well. Oh, and to top it off Tomas Brolin ‘played’ for Palace as well.
West Ham vs Manchester United
Upton Park, 22nd August 1998
David Beckham was sent off for England in the World Cup that year and they lost the game to Argentina on penalties. A scapegoat was sought and by hanging an effigy of Becks from an East London pub, West Ham fans made it known who they felt responsible. Personally, going to this game, Beckham was the least of my concerns. In the same game last season, 80 United fans had gone “ballyed up” along West Ham’s main street and the Hammers were rumoured to be seeking vengeance. Fortunately I avoided the thugs and enjoyed another classic.
Beckham was booed, he “let his country down” and had various songs sung about the then Miss Adams, now Mrs Beckham. All this to be honest was child’s play compared to what Manchester’s finest arrived with. There had already been an uneasy mistrust between United and England fans and it was about to be blown wide open. An Argentina flag with the legend “Boca Juniors Reds” was unveiled to an equal measure of bewilderment and disgust from the West Ham fans to both sides.
They were then informed that they could “Stick their f**king England up their a**e”, before the ultimate, a long and slow chant of “Ar-gen-tina”. The blue touchpaper was well and truly lit for the rest of the game…
Leicester City vs Manchester United
The Walkers Stadium,September 27th 2003
On paper this looked like a fairly straightforward game and on the pitch it was. Ruud van Nistelrooy atoned for his penalty miss against Arsenal the previous week with a hat trick, and even Eric Djemba-Djemba looked half decent. This match is not remembered by any United fan present for this reason. In fact, it has taken on an almost mythical 90 minutes for the tomfoolery going on off the pitch.
The first half was spent baiting the Leicester fans as much as possible. Anti-England songs and songs about the morbidly obese fan with his top off – simple yet stunningly effective. The fans were so irate that at 3-0 down at half time, they were trying to kick down the steel gate segregating the fans.They didn’t manage to.
An early RVN goal in the second half killed off the Leicester fight, and that is where the fun really began. A few playful promptings for Leicester to “give us a song”, were ignored. The routine “Can you hear the Leicester sing…” also ignored. All of a sudden the United fans on our right (we were allocated a corner section of the ground), start up “Come on Leicester”. Now it’s on.
My section of United fans retort with “Who the f**king hell are you?” at our United comrades, their reply of “Do you come from Manchester?”, is met with a loud, ironic “In-ger-land”. More of the same follows, a Leicester goal from Frank Sinclair is celebrated as one of ours would be, and the Leicester fans have an expression, that they don’t know what has happened, but they don’t think they like it.
Happy days, friends, happy days.