Saturday 27 December 2014

The night when all hell broke loose on United

Tim Rich

Published 20/11/2012 | 05:00

There were many banners greeting Manchester United as they arrived in Istanbul. Some said it would be their last 48 hours alive. Others said: "RIP Manchester". The most famous proclaimed: "Welcome to Hell".

Nearly two decades on, Manchester United's goalless draw against Galatasaray still resonates. It is not just because they are back in Istanbul today, preparing to face the same opponents, albeit in a different stadium to the Ali Sami Yen, which in November 1993 created the single most intimidating atmosphere Alex Ferguson says he has ever endured.

It also matters because, eight years after the shame and horror of the Heysel disaster, it demonstrated that English fans could be victims. For more than a decade before, it had been assumed any violence abroad must have been instigated by Englishmen.

It was not just the police truncheon aimed against the back of Eric Cantona's head or the riot shield that gashed Bryan Robson's hand. It was the fact that 164 Manchester United supporters were arrested and flung into a variety of Turkish cells.

Many were detained on the flimsiest of pretexts, some were beaten, some had their possessions stolen. Very few actually saw the game. There were reports that in one plane carrying 209 fans back to Manchester, only eight had been allowed inside the Ali Sami Yen.

Compelling

Gary Pallister is back where it all began. Not in Istanbul but at Old Trafford. It was the first leg, a compelling, endlessly dramatic 3-3 draw that sowed the bitter seeds for what was to follow in Turkey.

Galatasaray had played brilliantly to overturn a two-goal lead and when Kubilay Turkyilmaz seized on a shot to score the third, the Turkish television commentator seems almost to be hyperventilating. "And towards the end of the game, they had two fans run on to the pitch with a flag," Pallister recalled.

"Peter Schmeichel got hold of one of them and ushered him off the pitch, if you like. Over the next few minutes there were threats made to Peter from the stands."

Nine minutes from time, Cantona equalised but when the cameras pan to Ferguson's face, the Manchester United manager is entirely unmoved, realising perhaps that the damage had been done but not in the way he might have expected.

"The second leg was very intimidating and I have never experienced anything like it in my life," Pallister said. "We were not then an experienced European team. We had won the Cup Winners' Cup in 1991 but this was almost our first Champions League experience away from home.

"Everything seemed as if it was allowed to be attacked. They let the supporters in at the airport with all the 'Welcome to Hell' banners. They could only have come in with the police's say-so. It was all about taking a team out of its comfort zone and, if you have done that, then you have won half the battle.

"I remember we were staying in this beautiful place on the Bosporus. It used to be a palace and had an absolutely massive foyer. I was the last off the bus carrying my kit and was maybe 30 yards behind the rest of the lads as they were checking in.

"One of the bellboys was standing by the door and I smiled at him. He ran his finger across his throat and I carried on walking, thinking, 'We are not safe even in this hotel'."

They were not safe on the two-decker coach that had its windows put through and they were not safe in the dressing-rooms. Schmeichel had his sleep disturbed by constant calls that were put through to his hotel room.

An hour before kick-off, Ferguson ordered his players on to the pitch to take in the atmosphere. They were not so much intimidated as astonished as the supporters in one stand chanted to those in another. "There were so many flares and so much smoke, it seemed the entire stadium was on fire," Gary Neville recalled.

"I must say inside the stadium it was, a great, incredible atmosphere," Pallister said. "It was just the shenanigans that surrounded the match that made it so unpleasant."

The match itself was the least memorable part of the whole story, a goalless draw that in Roy Keane's eyes saw Galatasaray "pull every stroke in the book, diving, time-wasting, badgering the referee," to obtain the result that would eliminate United on the away-goals rule. Then, in Keane's words, "all hell broke loose".

Most of it was directed at Cantona, who had been dismissed in the closing seconds for insulting the Swiss referee, Kurt Rothlisberger, who he was to allege, without providing any evidence, had been "bought". As the players descended into the underground dressing-rooms, Cantona was attacked by a policeman and so, too, was Robson as he tried to intervene.

"In the dressing-room, Eric went crazy," Keane recalled in his autobiography. "While the rest of us just wanted to get out of there, Eric was determined to sort out the rogue cop who had been wielding his truncheon.

"Eric was a big, strong lad. He was serious. He insisted he was going to kill that f***er.

"It took the combined efforts of the manager, Brian Kidd and a few players to restrain him."

The players were ordered to shower two at a time, so Cantona would not be left alone in the dressing-room. Then he was led to the bus, which was soon to have bricks put through its windows.

There was to be a coda. Ten months later, Manchester United found themselves back in Istanbul, at the same hotel, playing Galatasaray. Some players had money stolen from their rooms.

However, the sting had been drawn from the fixture by a Uefa announcement that, because of violence in Galatasaray's qualifier in Luxembourg, any further disruptions would lead to their expulsion.

Hell had lost some of its fire and when Liverpool faced Galatasaray some years later their fans carried a banner which drew on some of their experiences of the Grafton, described by those in the know as one of Merseyside's "low-budget, grab-a-granny nightclub".

"Welcome to Hell, my a**e! If you think this is Hell, try the Grafton on a Friday night." (© Independent News Service)

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