Wednesday, September 19, 2012
'Welcome to Hell'
One of the worst welcomes in football's history was witnessed in November 1993 as Manchester United arrived in Istanbul to face Turkish giants Galatasaray in the Champions League for the first time. The Turkish fans, known for creating a hostile atmosphere, lived up to their billing and unfurled a banner proclaiming: "Welcome to Hell". It had the desired effect, as a 0-0 draw saw United's hopes of winning the trophy ended.
In 1993, the Champions League was in its early stages. A rebrand from the famous European Cup saw Milan claim the first trophy under the new name and the second season saw English champions Manchester United qualify for the first time.
In the inaugural stages, only the champions of a European league were allowed into the competition and there were no byes to the group stage. Instead, all the teams had to play through the first and second rounds before making it to the two groups - the winners of which would contest the final.
United, boasting the likes of Eric Cantona and Bryan Robson - but with only Ryan Giggs of the young stars who would come to prominence in the years ahead - were becoming a force to be reckoned with on the European stage. Easing past Hungarian side Kispest Honved thanks to the unusual goalscoring exploits of Steve Bruce in the first round, they were drawn to face Turkish giants Galatasaray in the second.
The first leg proved to be something of a shock as Galatasaray pulled off a shock 3-3 draw at Old Trafford. United went into a two-goal lead in the first 13 minutes as ''the crowd sat back and waited for the exhibition'', in the words of Daily Express writer Steve Curry. But, soon, the Turks set about their opponents "as if they had been visiting the part-timers of Macclesfield" and wiped out the deficit, taking the lead and putting United's 37-year long unbeaten home record in Europe under threat. However, Cantona, with nine minutes left, would force a late draw.
The English papers were amazed. 'Square bashing for Fergie's 'orrible lot' read the headline from the Daily Express, which suggested that they had been given an earful from the Scottish boss. But the overriding feeling was that United would have to put in the performance of a lifetime if they were to overcome the three away goals and pick up a win in Turkey.
But by the time the return leg rolled around, there was a palpable feeling of fear among the English side. Stirred up by media reports that overused the word 'hostile', there was a worry - albeit not among the poker-faced players or manager - that United would not be able to deal with the cauldron of Istanbul.
Joe Lovejoy in The Independent wrote of the welcome: "The atmosphere was everything Istanbul had promised, United needing protection from a phalanx of riot shields to get on to and off the pitch. 'Welcome to Hell' proclaimed one huge banner; 'RIP Manchester United' another. Right both times. Flares, fire-crackers and the usual variety of non-combustible missiles rained down."
While Sir Alex Ferguson recently revealed that "our fans don't need reminding about Galatasaray", veteran Manchester United midfielder Ryan Giggs told The Independent: "I remember it vividly. It will always stick with me. I was 19 and, when we arrived at the airport, there were all the banners and fans. Thousands of fans screaming at you.
"There were things being thrown at us when we were driving away on the coach. Outside the hotel their fans were chanting all night, making sure we didn't get any sleep. People were phoning the hotel room. Prior to the game, the manager told us to go on the pitch and sample the atmosphere.
"The fans had been in the ground for hours and hours. The atmosphere was buzzing 90 minutes before kick-off. We were stood in the middle of the pitch watching the fans chant. It was one stand to another."
Steve Curry, a journalist who was at that game, reflected on what it was like inside the ground that night for the neutrals.
"Turkish sides have a reputation for creating hostility within their stadiums and this night was to be the most frightening of my 45-year career," he said. "The intimidation started at the airport as the team arrived. The ground had been full two hours before the game and the noise reached a crescendo by the time the teams took to the pitch. Sir Alex Ferguson was to suggest the police were more frightening than the crowd. He should have been in the press box where we had rubbish and antagonism raining down on us."
The game itself was a relatively dull affair in the 90 minutes as a 0-0 draw proved enough to knock out United on away goals. United's passing was described as "predictable when it needed to be inventive, inaccurate when it had to be precise", and they were left to rely on the brilliance of Danish goalkeeper Schmeichel to twice keep out Hakan with fine reflex stops. However, as Lovejoy wrote: "All the drama came after the final whistle."
With United out, the combustible Eric Cantona ran up to the Swiss referee, Kurt Rothlisberger, and made an insulting gesture that met with an immediate flourish of the red card. With scuffles on all sides, the Frenchman and his captain, Bryan Robson, were involved in a clash with Turkish riot police that left Robson with a gashed hand; Robson, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister all had to restrain 'King Eric' before he brought criminal charges upon himself.
Ferguson revealed afterwards: "A policeman punched Cantona in the back - we have filmed evidence of that. Another one hit Robson with a shield and cut his hand [which left him in need of two stitches]."
Cantona, handed a four-match ban by UEFA, would later claim to L'Equipe that: "I am certain referees have been bought in the European Cup and I ask myself whether Mr Rothlisberger had not also been bought." But - regardless of any allegations of foul play, which were never proven - United's first trip to Turkey proved too much to overcome.
What happened next? United were out, but they met Galatasaray again the following year in the group stages. A 0-0 draw in a less eventful match in Istanbul was followed by a 4-0 hammering at Old Trafford that saw goals from Simon Davies, David Beckham, Roy Keane and an own goal from Bulent Akin to right the perceived wrongs of the previous year.