Viva Ronaldo... and a lift with Lawro

I write this from my hotel room in Rome, having watched United beat AS Roma 2-0 with one of the most impressive away performances in the club’s history.

Events appeared to conclude peacefully off the pitch and the Roma fans were remarkably sporting, singing about their team even though they knew the champions of England had outclassed them. Thousands on their curva applauded the United heroes as the 2,800 travelling fans sang ‘Viva Ronaldo’, the latest Old Trafford terrace anthem to the tune of, er, ‘Forza Roma’.

Cristiano heads home sparking renditon of 'Viva Ronaldo'

After the game, I got a lift back to the hotel with Mark Lawrenson and the BBC commentary team. He played here for Liverpool in the 1984 European Cup final against Roma and recalled stories of Bruce Grobbelaar’s bendy legs during the penalty shoot out and the after-match party in a villa he reckoned was owned by the Mafia.

I’ll be glad to get back to Barcelona later and sleep in my own pit, having stayed in 10 different beds in the last two weeks. Much as I love travel, I’m exhausted.

It has been fun, though. This week started with David Sadler, the former Manchester United European Cup winner who shared digs with George Best growling: “I’ve been waiting to catch up with you Mitten. I’ve spotted a mistake in your last book. You listed the United players who had played in net during a game after the goalkeeper was injured. Well, I played in goal one year at Highbury.”

I’m glad Sadler noticed. A lot of former players don’t love football and wouldn’t dream of buying a book on it, let alone reading it. After I apologised and promised to rectify the omission, Sadler and I talked all things Red for half an hour in the studios of Channel M, Greater Manchester’s own television station.

Media proliferation has seen our screens covered in below par football spin offs, but Channel M are as serious about their coverage of the grass roots game and fan culture as they are covering the four Premiership clubs in Greater Manchester. That will soon be three.

I’d arrived in Manchester on Sunday after witnessing the Old Firm match on Saturday (an incredible experience and not because of the football). Then, as the Mancunian rain was washing out the new issue of United We Stand around Old Trafford (fewer fans stop to buy a fanzine when it is lagging down), I watched Falkirk 0 Kilmarnock 0. 

The latter was the worst game I’ve seen since Coventry beat United earlier this season; though I’m sure Coventry fans will disagree. I was sat between two Falkirk fans hurling abuse at each other and almost coming to blows over the merit of the Bairns’ number 6, when I heard an accent that was unmistakably Mancunian.

“Arnau said you were coming,” said a suited man on crutches, whose foot was in plaster. It was Dean Holden, the injured Falkirk defender who has played for Oldham and Peterborough. I’d never met him before and didn’t realise that he was a United fan.

“Next time I see you outside Old Trafford I want a free United We Stand,” he said. He can have as many damp copies of the current issue as he likes. Holden was sound; a journeyman professional who has boots and has travelled.

Arnau – or ‘Riera’ as Falkirk call him – has just returned from another injury and played the final 17 minutes. Unlike his team-mates, he didn’t misplace one pass, yet his endeavours earned him a bewildering ‘3’ out of ‘10’, the lowest mark of any Falkirk player in the News of the World the following day.

Arnau – or ‘Riera' – back in action for Falkirk

On Sunday I flew to Manchester and watched my 13-year-old brother Sam play away in Denton. The decent football genes bypassed me, the only person in the family who has never been paid to play.

Sam is the captain of his club side, school team and has scored 40 of his side’s 59 goals this season – in spite of our dad raging on the sidelines when he doesn’t release the ball early enough. On Sunday, Dad admonished ‘Sambrotta’ for having a shot from 25 yards. A minute later he scored from 25 yards, his second in a 6-0 win.

The game was in a working class area, yet the players of both teams wore fancy boots in a variety of colours that cost over £80. “Their mums put their boots before food for their little Ronaldos,” observed one spectator.

There was something sad about it, but with a performance like last night, you can see why kids want to copy him running down the wing and hearing United sing ‘Viva Ronaldo!’

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