AS Roma (Italy) (a) UEFA Cup Third Round, First Leg
Half time: Roma 0 Newcastle 0
Marco Delvecchio carried the ball into the left hand side
of the United area, and seemed to be heading away from goal when a mistimed
lunge from Laurent Charvet sent him tumbling.
Sir Bobby said:
United's European Tour continued with what for many was a dream
pairing, albeit one which was widely expected to mark the end of our involvement in
the UEFA Cup for this century.
One stress-free flight later, complete with obligatory oohs and aahs as we passed over the Alps (and obligatory free gin and tonics courtesy of the lovely Heidi), a calm descent was made to a sun-bathed Roma. Train transfers to the city were accomplished without problems, and following a swift disagreement over which way up the map was, the pre-booked hotel hove into view.
Early suggestions of a cultural interlude at some old ruins or other were quickly dismissed, as sustenance was required urgently. One quick stroll and gawp at a church later, and the entourage was shoehorned into a small restaurant, much to the bemusement of the staff.
As time marched on towards our appointment with the local police and some pre-arranged transport to the stadium, an executive decision was made to yomp towards our pickup point, via strategically placed refreshment stops. It was at this stage things, which admittedly had been far too normal up until this point, started to advance into the land of the strange...
Firstly, a well-dressed middle-aged local woman approached us, accompanied by a small child. Half expecting a tirade of abuse, we were totally unprepared for the instruction that we "must break the arse of the Roma" - obviously a Lazio fan still smarting from their recent 1-4 derby humiliation.
Next, our boarding point was reached, which turned out to be
in the middle of a dimly-lit park, away from the bright lights and bottle
openers of Roman drinking dens. Or so we thought.
Refreshed, our gallant boys made their way back to the park, stopping to water the trees en route. Buses were boarded, and the jaunty police-escorted cavalcade made its way towards the stadium, onboard singing and dancing bringing curious locals on to the streets to witness the procession.
Once at the ground, two things immediately
First impressions of the stadium were breathtaking. At 82,000 places, not the biggest ground our European excursions have brought us to in the 1990's but the symmetrical curved nature of the single tiered stands was mightily impressive, as were the gigantic steel struts that held the roof up without the need for vertical pillars. Yon big TVs were canny an all, like.
The usual backless bucket seats were in our section, adjacent to a corner flag. Aforementioned friendly constables also allowed the now-familiar draping of flags over fences and the unoccupied front rows of seats, while some supervised exchanges of scarves were allowed with home fans.
As kickoff time approached, we were treated to a televised
double act via the big screens at each end of the ground, featuring Roma's
answer to Jim Carrey alongside what looked like a cross between Rula Lenska's
daughter and a nightclub hostess, complete with spangly frock.
With the crowd continuing to build, but
obviously well below capacity, the noise level increased as the teams were
announced, and then a firework display signified their arrival on the field.
Brief impressions of the match were that there wasn't a lot in
it barring the unfortunate penalty. The home side had more chances but never
looked dominant, and the Roma fans were very quiet for long periods as Bobby's
boys broke up a succession of attacks with no little composure and tenacity.
Following the final whistle, Barton tossed his shirt to the masses, which spurred on Pistone to do likewise. Unfortunately the Italian lacked the necessary finesse to actually clear the security fence and had to take a second go. By contrast, England's number one/nine wended his weary way off the pitch with yet another swapped shirt to add to his collection.
As expected, the ground emptied quickly and we were held inside for what turned out to be slightly less than the expected hour. Free buses were again provided to ferry us back to the city (although one or two of our number elected to walk, observing what turned out to be a circular path, which brought them back to the deserted ground some 90 minutes later....)
Inevitably, prolonged post-match discussions took place, glass in hand, in a bar masqueraded as an ice cream shop and mini disco. The mood was predominantly one of optimism tinged with relief and unlike Zurich, there were no reports of trouble - either with the locals or between ourselves.
Come the morning, and the inevitable sightseeing was
accomplished (through half-closed eyes in some cases), before retracing our
steps to the airport and on to Gatwick Only the landing was worthy of
note, our pilot looked to be attempting a victory roll seconds before hitting the runway.