In the first of a new series, Alex Mott, co-founder and editor of Get the Mott and Buckett, looks back on his favourite game: the 1999 Champions League semi-final, second leg between Juventus and Manchester United.
I'd flirted with Chelsea and Newcastle in previous seasons - being seven at the time, I think I'm exempt from the inevitable criticism - but it was the Treble winning United side that ignited a fire inside me that has not since gone out. I was unsure about the game before them. It never really interested me. France '98 the previous summer, just seemed like an excuse for my dad not to take me to the park. I remember watching England vs Argentina, and not being that bothered by David Batty's missed penalty. So why Alex Ferguson's men struck such a chord with me, I do not know. Perhaps it was the unhinged intimidation of Peter Schmeichel. Perhaps it was the bombastic runs of Denis Irwin and Gary Neville. Perhaps even it was the immaculate flowing locks of David Beckham. All of these are possible, but it was more likely the partnership between Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole that cemented my love.
I'd love to say, as a child, Ronaldo or Batistuta were my heroes; that the mystique of football on the continent entranced me into playing. But that would be a lie. What made me want to play the game was the telepathic connection between two men; one from Nottingham, the other, Trinidad and Tobago. Two people who had never previously met, and yet managed to strike up the greatest goalscoring partnership British football had ever seen. This game, it transpired, would prove to be its crowning glory.
The first leg at Old Trafford had ended in a 1-1 draw. Ryan Giggs with a last minute goal for United, which, if truth be told, they barely deserved. A midfield triumvirate of Conte, Davids and Zidane completely out-manoeuvred United's British quartet; an away-goal was the least they merited. Advantage la vecchia signora.
The stage was set for the second-leg. United would have to score. Juve were going for their third consecutive Champions League final. And as luck would have it, they were the masters of the 1-0 win. It would be a cagey affair; typically Italian. Or so it was thought.
The atmosphere was electric, not only at the Stadio della Alpi but in the Mott household. As far as I was concerned, this was the most nervous I'd ever been. As the flares went off in Northern Italy, I prayed for a United goal. Six minutes in: disaster. As Zidane played a short corner, his teasing cross came all the way across the six-yard box and was met at the far-post by Pippo Inzaghi. 1-0 on the night; 2-1 on aggregate.
As if I wasn't inconsolable enough, five minutes later, Juve made it two. Conte on the far-hand touchline made a cutting ball into the box. Inzaghi had his back to goal. Jaap Stam marshalling him tightly. Then, something that hadn't happened all season: Stam was turned. With that extra half-yard of space, Inzaghi got his shot away. It looked tame, Schmeichel would save. But an inexplicable deflection took the ball over the giant Dane. 2-0 Juventus; 3-1 on aggregate. Just as I'd found my love for football, it seemed a tiny Italian would be the one to take it away. How could it be this cruel?
Game over. I was ready to give up. Thankfully for me, Roy Keane wasn't quite ready to abandon the cause. It may have been the Cole/Yorke combo who made me want to play, but it was this Roy Keane performance that showed me how. A mere mention of Keane and Turin to United fans would make them - those who are usually stoney-faced at a funeral - go misty-eyed. On 24 minutes, a Beckham corner was met at the front-post by the Irishman, and flcked past the flapping Angelo Peruzzi. Unbelievably, United were back in the game. From then on, Keane's hypnotic passing and tireless energy dragged the Red Devils up from the abyss. Juventus looked into his eyes and saw only an absolute certainty that United would go through. They would have been less scared if Pol Pot had of walked onto the pitch.
At 2-1, Keane was booked for a cynical foul on Conte. It meant he would be banned for the final. Such was the character of the man, this only spurred him on. 10 minutes later the strikers' telepathic connection come to the fore. Andy Cole on the right-hand side put in a pin-point cross towards Yorke. Mark Iuliano was caught flat-footed. The smiling Tobagan flung himself at the ball: 2-2. Astonishing.
Half-time came, and at the point where my dad would normally send me to bed, even he realised this was something special. I was allowed to watch the second half. Half-past-nine on a school night; I couldn't believe my luck.
The second half was a blur; a mixture of tiredness and nervousness. Fighting to keep my eyes open, Inzaghi had a goal ruled out correctly for offside. Moments later, Denis Irwin went on a mazy run down the left flank and caught Peruzzi unawares with a rasping shot. As the ball flew past the 'keeper, it looked for all the world as if the hideously underrated Irishman would score the goal to confirm United's passage to the final. It hit the post.
Six minutes to go, and United were going through on away-goals. It was a tightrope perilously close to snapping. Inzaghi was still being a thorn in Stam's side. Zidane was, as always, pulling strings. A Davids' shot was saved by Schmeichel. He pumped the ball forwards. Hanging forever in the air, Iuliano tried to clear first time. The ball rolled towards Dwight Yorke, 25 yards out. With one touch he took it towards the central-defensive pairing; with the other he skipped through them. Both players falling flat on their backs. Striding towards goal, Yorke took the ball round Peruzzi, only for the 'keeper to bring him to the ground. Penalty! No. The referee had played advantage, and the onrushing Andy Cole tapped the ball into the unguarded net. 2-3 United. 3-4 on aggregate. The English champions had made it to their first European Cup final for 31 years.
As Fergie sprinted along the touchline, I joined him in my living room.
I could have picked any number of games as my favourite of all-time: Hungary 6-3 England for its lasting impression on football in our country; AC Milan 4-0 Barcelona for it being the best performance in a European Cup final; Brazil 4-1 Italy for the same reasons, only on the international stage. But I didn't. I chose this match because, ultimately, it's the match that made me love football.