By Chris Wright
Intense, fearsome, fevered, terrifying. Sir Alex Ferguson described Manchester United’s visit to Galatasaray’s Ali Sami Yen stadium for their Champions League second round second leg as his squad being ”exposed to as much hostility and harassment as I have ever known on a football expedition.”
After the first leg ended acrimoniously with Peter Schmeichel manhandling a Gala fan from the pitch, the Turkish side’s coach Reiner Hollmann made United the menacing promise that his minions would be ‘waiting at the airport for them’ come the second leg and waiting at Ataturk airport they were.
They waited at the airport, they filled the stadium six hours early, they baited and threatened United’s players both verbally and physically (a brick was thrown at Steve Bruce) during every split-second of every single moment that United spent in Istanbul.
It was two or three nights of utter intimidation and it worked like a charm…
Having drawn 3-3 at Old Trafford, United – who were flying in the Premier League at the time – were nailed-on favourites to see off Gala on their own soil and progress through to the group stages, though a combination of a pretty dire pitch, bouts of infuriating Turkish time-wasting and United wilting under the glare of the extreme atmosphere saw the tortuous second leg end goalless, with Eric Cantona utterly unraveling in the last ten minutes.
As one of Gala’s substitutes hesitated over returning the ball after it had gone out for a throw-in for the umpteenth time that evening, the red mist descended and Cantona hoofed the ball from his hands then floored him with a stiff forearm to the chest. Miraculously however, the irate Frenchman didn’t actually get his marching orders until after the final whistle, when he was sent off for accusing Swiss referee Kurt Rothlisberger of being bent as a nine-bob note.
Rothlisberger was later banned for life by UEFA after being found guilty of accepting bribes – though an investigation into his refereeing of the United-Gala game failed to compound Eric’s theory.
Here’s to more of the same tonight!