Rome, Rotherham & Ronaldo in his pants

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I booked my flights from Manchester to Italy before the semi-finals.

Given that I’m a Manchester United fan who writes about Barcelona and watches the Catalans around 25 times a season, I figured that one of the clubs would reach the final. 

I used to dream of seeing United in Rome - before 2007 the club had never a competitive game there. The European Cup final on May 27 will be United’s fourth appearance in the eternal city in two years.

And it’ll be my sixth trip to Rome since 2007. I’ll be there again next week to do a rough guide to the city for Channel M. Next season, I’ll wish for Rotherham over Rome.

United fans in Rome (again) 

In Manchester and Barcelona, all talk is about tickets and travel to the final. My £140 return flights have now shot up to £420 – and they are only as far as Pisa.

My phone has not stopped since Wednesday night. I thought it was busy when the two clubs met in last year’s semi-final, but this time will be another level.

I’m not complaining. I’m made up that United have a chance to be the first club since the great Milan side of Baresi, Maldini and Van Basten to retain the European Cup. I’m delighted that it’s a United vs Barca final, the most eagerly expected in memory (though Liverpool fans may disagree).

And in Rome too, a fantastic place. I’m looking forward to seeing mates from United and Italy, though I won’t be able to stay up all night like they will - at least before the game, because I’ll have more work than a McDonald’s junior manager.

There will be irritants. Spanish radio will ring five times a day, hoping to pick my brains for free. I assume the journalists calling also work for free and that they have no bills to pay. They’ll say things like: “Can you get us an exclusive one-on-one sit down interview with Cristiano Ronaldo in his underpants?”

One station rang me eight times in Moscow. “Look,” I finally said testily, though I’m not sure of it sounded like that in Spanish. “This trip has cost me €700. I’m working for three different companies here and they are paying.

"It costs me a pound-a-minute to receive a call from you in Russia. It’s not fair on the people who are paying me that I work for you for free. And I’m certainly not paying for the inconvenience.”

I should bin my Spanish phone - Wire style - by throwing it off the Baltimore waterfront. The British radio stations like Five Live are much more professional, but the best one is Newstalk in Dublin. They’ll regularly give an interviewee eight or nine minutes and go into real depth on a subject, asking difficult questions.

One group I will do work for free for is the Football Supporters’ Federation. Their honcho Kevin Miles was on last week about getting some articles for a magazine they will give away for nish as part of their fans’ embassy in Rome. The work they do is never fully appreciated.

My dad called too, at 7.15am.

“We f**king destroyed those Cockney ***** last night,” he said, the morning after the Arsenal away victory.  “Did you see the face on that **** Wenger?”

It’s all or nothing with my dad. He wanted the whole United squad to be sold after “those Scouse *****” beat United 4-1 in March. 

"Look at his face, just look at his face..." 

“What we doing for Rome?” he went on as if we go to every United game together. He meant: ‘What are you doing to get your dad to Rome?’

“Tickets will be hard, dad,” I explained. “It’s not like Moscow last year, Rome is easy to get to. Then there’s the flights, connections and hotels.”

“Oh,” he said meekly, like a little boy deprived of a car in a toy shop, having realised that I wouldn’t be able to fix him a seat next to Sir Alex Ferguson on the Olimpico bench and a post-match pint with Pep Guardiola.

And even that wouldn’t be enough – he’d also want Francesco Totti’s wife Ilary Blasi to show him around Rome before the match.

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