This one is by me, The Chairman; David Yaffe-Bellany, editor of In For The Hat Trick.
The rain glistened off his head. Sparkling like the cosmos, the gloriously bald Nicolas Anelka took his first tentative steps. In the slightly blurred background, Van Der Sar beat his hands together looking, presumably, to inspire a last bout of energy. Twenty fellows anxiously waited, millions more consumed excitedly, all were transfixed by the action unfolding.
I had always been a sucker for penalty shoot-outs. The sheer, almost manufactured drama inherent in these most ultimate of deciders is an addictive drug – pure, unadulterated adrenaline.
But here something was different. The grown men covering their eyes with scarves were my men, the sweat soaked victims of football’s fickle executioner were my players. Everything was distinctly more personal.
A neglected, fast cooling box of pizza lay discarded in the corner, beside it, an untouched pitcher of water. ESPN’s transmission lit up a rather morbid setting, even Tommy Smyth’s inept analysis was met with no complaint. Laying prone on the couch was a rather unattractive lifeform, its steely gaze fixed on the television – as the nostalgic elderly might have it, a quintessential twenty-first century human.
As Anelka strode nervously to the penalty spot, the slumping figure straightened to attention. Expectation began to prevail, hope usurped negativity. Dressed in marvelous green, Van Der Sar looked the part. His arms waved menacingly, daring Anelka to score, daring him to deny United a third sojourn into European nirvana.
Such is the all consuming nature of penalty shoot-outs, that everything which had preceded the duel was forgotten. Ronaldo’s magical leap and Lampard’s opportunistic finish were suddenly only the means to an end; an end fast approaching.
It really wasn’t a particularly brilliant save. The penalty was struck at mid-height, with no great pace and to a location clearly telegraphed. The save was easy. Sprawling to his right, Van Der Sar’s palm made healthy contact with football, propelling it safely wide.
An atmosphere of tension quickly morphed into an impromptu party, pizza box slung across the room and water jug upended, champagne would have flowed had not the sole host been underage. Derek Rea’s unyielding rhetoric, offset only by Tommy Smyth’s unyielding stupidity, was drowned out by the obligatory blasting of Queen and a first of many odes to John Terry.
Champions of Europe, Champions of Europe!
Since then, I’ve seen it milked it to the last. The JT banana skin t-shirt, the Champions of Europe scarf and the official Moscow match ball have all been featured prominently on fan websites, while the morally reprehensible “Without Killing Anyone” sweater even made the papers. For all the obnoxious chants at Stamford Bridge, the endless array of clothing, and video upon video of cup celebrations though, it will always be moments that define United’s Russian adventure. Terry’s miss was a worthy appetizer, Van Der Sar’s save very much the main course – both were part of a feast of euphoria, one that remains untainted by a heavily commercialized dessert.