As a fierce Manchester United fan, I find myself incredibly fortunate that I was able to be present at the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final in Barcelona as we squared up to German giants Bayern Munich. For 80 minutes, the game was pure frustration, pure torture. I watched as we went 1-0 down and struggled to even get the ball in their penalty box. David Beckham ran ragged but to no clear effect and it was clear that United were missing influential midfielders Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, who were both suspended. Andy Cole had a couple of close-range chances but the Bayern defense was strong and United found it impossible to penetrate.
It was not until the last portion of the match, that the fun started. As many of the travelling United fans began to sink deep into their seats, admitting defeat and contemplating avoiding the crowds by leaving the ground before the final whistle, I knew that we still had something left in the bag – it was not in our nature to let the game go before the final whistle was blown. The red devils were about to make one of the greatest comebacks of all time, and as super-sub Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sprang onto the pitch just 10 minutes from time, it was clear that anything could happen, especially when he forced a save from Bayern keeper Kahn only seconds after coming on.
The game crept into the last five minutes and the United fans were on tenterhooks, looking to the heavens for help. The tension was almost unbearable, and as Sheringham and Solskjaer pounded the goal with a series of volleys and headers that were subsequently stopped by the impressive Khan, it was hard to believe that we would ever break through the Bayern defense. As the board went up to indicate three minutes of injury time, both the players and the fans knew that it was now or never. Sink or swim.
United won a corner and the crowd inhaled, holding their breaths in unison. As was standard for Peter Schmeichel, and appropriate considering it was to be his final game for United, he ventured up to the penalty area, keen to finish his career with a bang and an equalizing goal for the team he loved. Beckham swung it in, missed his goalkeeper, and it rebounded around, as if in a pinball game, eventually finding Giggs on the edge of the area. His shot was weak, but helped on by Sheringham, it found its way into the back of the Bayern net, bring an equalizer.
It seemed as if United had forced extra-time and the crowd was rapturous, but there was more to come. Another corner, again by Beckham, saw the ball poked into the roof of the net by Solskjaer, who was quickly mobbed by United players, subs and even the coaching staff. The most overwhelming, yet blissful lions roar sounded from the fans around me. United had, against all odds, taken the lead on the stroke of 92 minutes, just seconds before the final whistle would sound, making them Champions of Europe for the second time in their history. Being a United fan since birth, and until the day I die, this was certainly one of the best moments of my life and one that I won’t forget in a hurry.