10 years ago, how time flies. How much has happened in that time?
10 years ago I was on cloud nine heading to Manchester via Blackpool and Warrington, for a match I was sure was just not possible in modern football. Rangers in a European Cup final.
I’m sure every Rangers fan has their own tale to tell about just what it was like for them but for what it’s worth, this is mine.
When exactly I thought it might be a possibility I can’t remember off the top of my head, what I can say is that I vividly recall heading back for a drink after the semi-final with the thought of, we have done brilliant, remarkable and were a true team in every sense but Scottish teams just don’t beat Italian sides on their own patch.
I was not in Florence for the second leg, so as always for any big match, my dad had a gatherering at his. We previously had a Porto party night a few years earlier. Nobody wanted to miss this match, his living room was crammed for hours before ko, soaking up the pre-match build-up. Now in 2008, the internet wasn’t quite what it is today and just in case the unbelievable happened, I had saved a few travel lodges and hotels all ready to go.
After a game where we clung on at stages, Weir and Cueller playing at a level never surpassed by either before or again I thought, and having to face going a man down after Daniel Cousins’ sending off (one that I feel cost us a real shot in the final), the match went to penalties. What a roller-coaster of emotions, Nacho Novo stepped up and set us on our way. In my dad’s living room it was carnage, beer getting spilt everywhere.
That was it up to my desktop pc and the only place I could get was a Travelodge in Warrington. Booked. My two mates and I who I attended matches with were going, tickets or not.
I was one of the lucky ones getting a ticket in the first ballot via the club for £25, the best money I’ve ever spent. My two friends were lucky as well so full steam ahead to Manchester.
Arriving via train after parking up at our hotel in Warrington, the sight before my eyes was something I will never forget. Never mind the blue sea of Ibrox, this was an invasion, and it was only 10am. Manchester had been truly taken over.
Heading into a pub, we got our first real sign of things to come, when in the toilets a policeman came in shouting on his radio that there was just so many people, more than they ever expected. Unprepared is an understatement. We tried in vain to secure any sort of booze that was on offer but the shelves of every shop, high end to low end, were sold out, nothing left at all.
Having visited the stadium previously for a concert I then instructed us to head out that way in the hope of finding some beer, our 3 tickets were sown into the leg of one of our friend’s jeans, only to be ripped open as and when we reached the ground.
Finally, like a mirage in a desert, we came across a Chinese supermarket serving beer and duly picked up a case. Following drinking what could best be described as soup, we came across a few locals while walking through a housing estate, challenging them to a 3 on 3 game of football, first to 3 goals wins. The less said about the goals my intoxicated friend let in the better. Next up was a pub close to the ground and it was surprisingly empty, with most people still opting to soak up the outside weather.
The final walk to the ground is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life, every step I felt like pinching myself. Rangers in a European Cup final, it can’t be true. Once inside it was even better, no 50/50 split, no this was bears’ country, only a small section of Russian fans could be seen.
The game itself is something I’m not to clear on, I have never watched it back and even today I don’t like watching Manchester City play at home. We had half chances, that’s about it. In all honesty, we were beaten by a better side, pure and simple. There is no shame on that. I, like the majority of the Gers’ support, staying behind to applauded our heroes, whilst showing our victors respect.
I have never felt so dejected at one result, I was shattered both physically and mentally. Even a night out in Warrington in a club that took your photos of your ID in case you stabbed someone did nothing to raise my spirits.
On the drive up the road, we were deflated, the M6 like a car park in parts with Rangers fans heading back up north, flags and scarves still hanging proudly out of the windows.
Looking back now I feel nothing but pride, this is a Rangers side that were a true team in every sense, falling just short at the final hurdle. No help was given by the governing body, a sign of things to come. Just how was that sporting integrity or tour of Japan ?.
Manchester 2008 may have ended in disappointment but you can never take away my or any other of my fellow supporters’ memories of a day that was quite simply the best.