Twelve hours on Tuesday
12am: Make my way into a sunny Manchester. Shout Ã¢ÂÂVisca CatalunyaÃ¢ÂÂ (Forever Catalonia!) at a group of Barca fans stood outside where the Hacienda was. Manchester preserved the memory of this world famous club by turning the site into apartments. The Catalans look confused at first, but punch their arms in the air and cheer. 1pm: Get stood up for a pint by Mike Duff, the Bard of Blackley and ManchesterÃ¢ÂÂs finest poet. From 12,000 entries, he won the BBC Ã¢ÂÂA Poem for ManchesterÃ¢ÂÂ competition with this:
Ã¢ÂÂI don't care if you're black, chinese, white or tan, don't care if you're old, gay, a woman or man, you can sit down next to me, if you're mancunian.Ã¢ÂÂ
As I wait, I overhear a conversation between the organisers of the fansÃ¢ÂÂ festival for the forthcoming UEFA Cup final. Consider offering some pointers, but decide itÃ¢ÂÂs none of my business. I was impressed at the amount of thought that has gone into where the translator will stand on the stage.2pm: Get chatting to some Barca fans, including the goalkeeper of Europa, one of the 10 founder members of the Spanish league. Their stadium is in my barrio in Barcelona, which confuses him.
Pleased to see that they like Manchester. Meet Barca supporter Toni Gols, who plays for Manchester La Fianna. HeÃ¢ÂÂs a part time model and is on prime time Spanish TV most night for his bit part in a beer commercial. He waves his Barca scarf with pride and takes lots of photos. I tell him that itÃ¢ÂÂs best to conceal the scarf as weÃ¢ÂÂre going for a pint with the Manchester United fans who are known to the authorities.
Have a pint in the Stoat and Helmet, the finest pub in the world, with said fans. They welcome Toni and some even try their Spanish on him.3pm: Word goes round that the sun is shining and that pints should be taken outside to enjoy the weather. Toni is bemused as he is freezing.3.01pm: It starts to rain and we return to the warmth inside.4pm: Ã¢ÂÂManchesterÃ¢ÂÂs not so bad,Ã¢ÂÂ says Toni as I drive him towards Old Trafford. In the shadow of the Stretford End, we watch my 13 year old brother Sam play in a big cup derby game for his school Ã¢ÂÂWellacre HighÃ¢ÂÂ against Ã¢ÂÂStretford HighÃ¢ÂÂ. Sam is the team captain and his midfield sidekick Louis has already been picked up by Manchester United.
The two schools are only four miles apart, yet nearly all the Stretford lads are Asian or black and most of the Wellacre lads are white. Both teams are impeccable in their manners, calling the referee Ã¢ÂÂSirÃ¢ÂÂ and giving their all.
The game finishes goalless. I embarrass Sam by calling him Ã¢ÂÂSambrottaÃ¢ÂÂ, before he embarrasses himself by missing his teamÃ¢ÂÂs first penalty in a crucial penalty shoot out. Wellacre win said shoot out 2-1. ItÃ¢ÂÂs heartening to see both teams applaud each other. 1-0 to football and the Corinthian spirit.
SamÃ¢ÂÂs P.E teacher praises him, but tells me that Sam doesnÃ¢ÂÂt always attend training sessions for he has frequent appointments with dentist and doctor. This is news to me, his mum and dad.
Toni Gols (left) and Sambrotta fresh from penalty-shootout glory
5.30pm: Take Sambrotta to my dadÃ¢ÂÂs so that he can shower and get ready for the United game. Given that tickets are going for ÃÂ£300 on the black market, he doesnÃ¢ÂÂt realise how lucky he is to have one.
Discover that Gols doesnÃ¢ÂÂt like cheese as he rejects the pile of butties my dad has made. Father is horrified at the prospect that Silvestre may feature at some point in the game. Ã¢ÂÂIf I ever see him IÃ¢ÂÂd have to smack him,Ã¢ÂÂ says father, rather unfairly, especially given the FrenchmanÃ¢ÂÂs solid performance at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. 6pm: Pray that the rain holds off as we start selling the new issue of United We Stand outside Old Trafford. You can already hear the Barca fans inside the ground.
Get all kind of feedback from readers and really enjoy selling, plus catching up with fellow fanzine editor Barney from Red News and many of the contributors. A man introduces himself as the last surviving member of the Charlie Mitten fan club.
Everyone welcomes Toni Gols and he even sells a few fanzines. Although not to a man who has come to the stadium dressed like a United Christmas tree. Ã¢ÂÂIs that a programme?Ã¢ÂÂ he asks? Ã¢ÂÂNo,Ã¢ÂÂ I reply. Ã¢ÂÂYou can get the programme inside the stadium which is there (and I point to Old Trafford, whose vast hulk is but 50 metres away).Ã¢ÂÂ Christmas tree doesnÃ¢ÂÂt even realise that IÃ¢ÂÂm extracting the urine. 7.30pm: Enter Old Trafford. Watch ToniÃ¢ÂÂs face light up on his first visit. Find myself being more nervous than I have been watching a game for years. The atmosphere is staggeringly Ã¢ÂÂ and surprisingly Ã¢ÂÂ good. Fans at both ends hold up red and white cards. One end reads Ã¢ÂÂ68Ã¢ÂÂ and Ã¢ÂÂ99Ã¢ÂÂ, the other Ã¢ÂÂBelieveÃ¢ÂÂ.
Old Trafford inhabitants remember past European Cup triumphs
8.04pm: Paul Scholes scores the first goal of the tie. Old Trafford erupts. 8.35pm: Bump into David May, who wasnÃ¢ÂÂt shy when it came to getting in the photos the last time United won the European Cup. HeÃ¢ÂÂs in the concourse with ordinary fans. HeÃ¢ÂÂs a good lad, for someone who once claimed to be a City fan.8.36pm: Get a tap on the shoulder from Mark Molyneux, a local legend, semi professional goalkeeper and former minder to the Salford boxer Steve Foster (see my Goole blog).
Ã¢ÂÂI bet you didnÃ¢ÂÂt expect to see me here,Ã¢ÂÂ he says, wearing a UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs stewardÃ¢ÂÂs outfit.
As a City fan, I didnÃ¢ÂÂt.
Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂve changed,Ã¢ÂÂ he says. I hope not. 9.15pm: Memo to self that Lionel Messi is worth every plaudit that has ever been written about him. The boy is a joy to watch. 9.16pm: Remind myself that heÃ¢ÂÂs the main threat to UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs chance of reaching the final and the appreciation stops. 9.31pm: The final whistle. Life is beautiful. 9.32pm: Offer condolences to Toni Gols. But he knows as well as me that Barca have been very disappointing this season.9.43pm: Sell some more copies of the fanzine. Get smothered with a kiss from Mani of Stone Roses/Primal Scream fame, who is as happy as the other United fans. Most are happier than IÃ¢ÂÂve ever seen them and I feel the same. 10.20pm: Do an interview with Setanta Sports News. After a few cringeworthy experiences with them (a barking dog in the kitchen of another guest during one call, them getting my name wrong and asking questions that appeared to have been scripted by a toddlersÃ¢ÂÂ play group), theyÃ¢ÂÂre improving.10.50 pm: Go to bed. IÃ¢ÂÂve got a flight to catch in six hours. And more flights and a visa to organise for a trip to MoscowÃ¢ÂÂ¦