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A football miracle in Barcelona – in their own words

The much awaited European Champions League quarter final which brings together old rivals Manchester United and Germany’s Bayern Munich is finally here and if it only manages to produce a fraction of the drama that was seen on that May night in Barcelona 11 years ago we are in for a hell of a cup tie.

Anyone who was fortunate enough to be at the Nou Camp or watched that final elsewhere will never forget an occasion which provided positive proof that miracles not only can but actually do happen in football. Everyone have memories that will never be forgotten from that night including the main players who were centre stage of such wonderful theatre. These are their recollections.

‘I PRACTICALLY HAD THE CUP IN MY HANDS’ –  OLIVER KAHN The beaten goalkeeper

I believed I practically had the Cup in my hands. The whole dream just burst apart in the space of a few seconds. After the final whistle I felt empty, an unconfined emptiness welling inside me.
From Nummer Eins (Droemer)

‘IN THE END WE WERE TOLD TO STOP CELEBRATING’
– NICKY BUTT – Anchor of the United midfield

We were crap. I thought we’d lost the game. After they went ahead they hit the bar and the post. When Teddy scored the equaliser, I could only think, ‘I’m knackered and now we have extra time’. Then Ole scored. We went nuts. We stayed on the pitch for an hour after the game celebrating in front of the fans. I knew that all my mates and family were in there somewhere because I remember having to write out 50 names and addresses of all the people who wanted tickets. In the end, we were told to stop celebrating and leave the pitch so that the fans could start to leave.

My brother turned up at the party with three or four of his mates. They tried to stop him coming in at first but then they were allowed in. It was amazing. I didn’t sleep for two and a half days. To this day I’ve never watched the game. I’d love to see it.
From Glory, Glory, by Andy Mitten (VSP)

‘AFTERWARDS, WE HAD THE BEST PARTY EVER’
– MARKUS BABBEL – Bayern defender
When I saw Schmeichel come up the field for the corner, I knew the game must be very nearly over. Then, with that first United goal, I just thought, ‘I can’t do this any more’. It wasn’t the body saying that, it was the mind. I had pushed and pushed myself for an hour and a half and then suddenly it hit me: It’s all in vain! Something faded in me, in the whole team. The truth is that right then, at that moment, at 1-1, I knew we would lose.

Afterwards our general manager Uli Hoeness told us that, despite the disappointment, we had to go the post-match party in our hotel, because there were a thousand guests invited there. And it turned into the best party of my professional career. None of the celebrations I’ve been at for winning titles was as much fun as what was supposed to be the funeral wake in Barcelona. Perhaps a psychologist can explain why our greatest defeat was followed by such a great party. I can’t explain it.

‘MY LEGS FELT LIKE JELLY’
– JESPER BLOMQVIST – Replaced by Sheringham after 76 minutes

I didn’t sleep very well the night before the game. I hadn’t played for three weeks so I wasn’t feeling so sure of myself and I was the type of player who needed to feel the support of my teammates and coach, but I could understand if they were a little uneasy because I’d not been playing. In the hotel I made a list to coach myself: ‘You can do it’, ‘You are in good shape’, ’You are faster than the rest’. I was not relaxed because I felt too much pressure. I looked around the Camp Nou and my legs felt like jelly. Then I had a half-chance, our best chance to score. But I didn’t. Bayern were the much better team.
Glory, Glory

‘I THOUGHT, “ONLY GOD KNOWS WHY” ’
– SAMMY KUFFOUR – Bayern defender left banging his fists into the turf at the final whistle

Later, I was just left thinking, ‘This is what God wills, and you have to give Manchester United the credit’. But at the final whistle time I just thought, ‘Only God knows why this has happened’. We had done our best, everybody saw that. We had hit the crossbar and they had been lucky even to equalise. We had our revenge later, I suppose, by beating them twice in the quarter-final in 2001, and that was a great feeling, against players like Beckham and Giggs.

‘I SAW THE TROPHY AND THOUGHT “I’M HAVING THAT” ’
– DAVID MAY – Who wanted to be in the picture

My dad always said, ‘Make sure you are near the trophy’. I saw the trophy on a chair and thought, ‘I’m having that’. So I picked it up, and the rest is history. I ended up in half the pictures. Although I didn’t play in the final, I was proud of my contribution to the Treble. I’ve been criticised for getting in the trophy photos and part of me regrets doing it now.

But then another part of me thinks, ‘F*** ’em’. What would people do in the same circumstances? The lads joked about it with me. I didn’t kick a ball in Europe all season, so the medal doesn’t mean anything to me, it’s in the bank and I don’t even look at it. But I played in the FA Cup final and in some of the league games at an important part of the season. Without winning the league and the FA Cup we wouldn’t have won the Treble.

The party afterwards was a brilliant night. Simon Le Bon couldn’t get in and Ryan Giggs had a fight with Martin Edwards’ son and sparked him. I could relive that night every other night for the rest of my life. Everyone was singing away, everyone was with their families. It was brilliant.
Glory, Glory

‘I WAS CROSS. I MADE A GESTURE’
– THOMAS HELMER – Who wanted to be on the pitch

I was annoyed at the substitutions Bayern made. We had a 1-0 lead, Lothar Matthaus comes off and, as usual, the coach brings on Thorsten Fink for him. Look at the goal Sheringham scored. If you take Lothar off you need a strong defender in his place. We needed a defender on, who could head the ball clear. I was Bayern captain. I was cross. I made a gesture [inset] towards some people I knew in the crowd. And I never played again for Bayern after that.

‘OUR PREPARATION WAS LIKE IT WAS A MILK CUP TIE’
– ANDREW COLE – Striker

The mood before the game at our hotel in Sitges was almost like the preparation for some third-round Milk Cup tie at some Division Three club. We didn’t do anything special, a rest on the afternoon then listening to the gaffer’s pre-match talk, which seemed to get longer and longer as the seasons went by. But we never turned up for the final. I was very disappointed with my performance. I had done well in that competition all season, we were the best team in that competition, but not in the Camp Nou. Ole and Teddy did it for us, no question.
Glory, Glory

‘EITHER WE CAN DROWN OURSELVES IN OUR OWN GRIEF OR WE CAN SHOW HOW WE REACT’
– OTTMAR HITZFELD – Bayern head coach

Two days later, I made the longest speech I have probably ever made as a coach, to the players. In it I said, ‘There are two possibilities now. Either we can drown ourselves in our own private grief or we can show how we react’. We won our last league game that weekend, and by doing that we pulled ourselves out of what would have been a dangerous hole. And in 2001 we won that European title.
Ottmar Hitzfeld, Die Biographie (Argon)

‘IT WAS ABSOLUTELY SILENT IN THE DRESSING ROOM’
– LOTHAR MATTHEUS – Bayern’s exhausted midfielder

After the game it was absolutely silent in the dressing room. Nobody accused anyone for any mistakes and it wasn’t an aggressive atmosphere.

Nothing was thrown around, as you might have imagined after such a defeat. Everyone just seemed to be with himself, just thinking about what happened. I can’t remember if Ottmar Hitzfeld said anything and I can’t even remember who was sitting next to me. Everybody was so stunned. Many experts say my substitution was the reason we lost and that brings me honour as it describes my importance for the team. But I think it wasn’t the only reason. United played excellent attacking football in those last minutes, they had nothing to lose and we just tried to protect our result, which was surely a mistake. You have to congratulate Man United.

I came off because we’d changed our tactics back then. I played in midfield and not as a libero in defence and in midfield you have to run a lot more. I felt exhausted and that’s why I gave Hitzfeld a sign I wanted to be substituted. But you never know. It could have happened on the pitch with me too.

‘I HAD THIS FEELING’
– OLE GUNNAR SOLKSJAER – Scorer of the winning goal

It was the afternoon. I was rooming with Jaap Stam, as usual, and he was taking a nap. I couldn’t sleep so I watched a bit of a DVD and then called one of my closest friends back in Norway. He couldn’t make it to Spain so I wanted to check if he was going to watch the game. He said. ‘Yeah, but I’m going to have to leave 15 minutes from time’. He’s a nurse and he had the night shift. I told him he had to watch the whole game. ‘Get someone to step in for you for an hour’. Because I had this feeling something big was going to happen to me. The feeling had just appeared. It’s hard to explain. It’s about positive thinking, maybe, you always visualise yourself scoring goals so perhaps that’s all it was. But it was a little bit of a stronger feeling this time. I don’t know why.

I didn’t play a single minute in either leg of the quarter final or semi final and played in just three group games. I hardly started a match all season apart from in the FA Cup and yet I was the one who got to score the winning goal … funny how it works out. That’s why, in many ways, 2002-03 was more precious to me. It was the first season I played myself into the position of being a first team regular and we won the title.

That season gives me more pleasure than that one goal in Barcelona … but obviously in terms of the club’s history Barcelona was more important. I used to find it difficult to even talk about 1999. Barcelona was much greater for my dad, seeing his son score that goal, than it was for me.

For me the next game, next training session, even, is the most important thing in my career. A dad can live on memories — I can’t.

The goal? There’s a long diagonal pass to the left wing. I run over from the right wing to reach it, Kuffour comes with me, I try to get past him with a stepover but he gets a foot in. It’s a corner. We run into the box. He’s got hold of me. He’s grabbing me all the time. The cross comes and it’s nowhere near us — it goes to the near post — so he lets go of me and looks at Teddy and that just gives me the half yard I need to move away from him. It’s one of those that you score one time out of five if you’re lucky, because you haven’t practised that finish.

You just do it. You just guide the ball on. More often than not it goes over the bar … and there’s a man on the far post so. There were so many things that could have gone wrong with that finish … it was just instinct. Perhaps I’d done that finish once when I was younger. Perhaps there was some muscle memory there.

‘THERE WAS CONFUSION’
– PETER SCHMEICHEL – The goalkeeper who to his manager’s horror, ran to the Bayern penalty area when United had their late corner

I actually didn’t see Fergie or hear him, but even if I had I’d have still gone up. Bayern had dealt with everything going into their box.

The only thing left was to go up and cause some havoc. I think in all his desperation, in that split-second, in Fergie’s mind he’d lost the game. I don’t think he was thinking straight. We needed to do something different. That was my contribution to what happened. There was confusion in there, guys were sucked to me, and Teddy was unmarked.

‘IT WAS JUST FATE’ – And the last word must to go to Sir Alex Ferguson

“It’s the most dramatic moment of my career, definitely. “Nobody will ever win a European Cup like that again. Every time a team is 1-0 up with three minutes left, they will keep thinking of Manchester United.

“How did we win it? Even now I don’t know – it was just fate. But, don’t forget, that particular team had kept scoring late that season, so it wasn’t an accident. But when you are 1-0 down and the fourth official puts up three minutes for injury-time, you can’t think you are going to win it.”

What memories do you have from the Nou Camp?

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