The draw for the group stage of the 2006-07 Champions League gave me some excellent options with Benfica, Celtic and FC Copenhagen coming out of the pot. All three played in top cities to visit but as the father of a young child I could only do the one. I dismissed Copenhagen as I’d done it before and it was expensive so it was a straight choice between Glasgow and Lisbon as I’d never been to either city before. Everyone was mad for Celtic and with cheap flights from Bournemouth to Glasgow on offer, so my mind was made up. I booked the travel and then foolishly left One-Puff to arrange the accommodation.
Fish also joined me and One-Puff on the trip with Shipo and Voodoo due to arrive on the morning of the game from Bournemouth and Manchester respectively. Wills, Mooner, Adie and Tyso were also on our flight so we had a good few going up.
The flight was brief and uneventful and we soon arrived at Glasgow Airport. We jibbed the train into the centre and headed off to dump our bags at the establishment that One-Puff had booked. It seemed incredibly reasonable (£12 per night) and upon arrival it soon became clear why – it was shite! It was the most run down and skankiest place I’d ever stayed in by a mile, nowhere else even comes close. Our room consisted of kids’ bunk beds and a wardrobe with no doors on it. The room did have a door, which actually closed, but above the doorframe was fresh air all the way up to a high ceiling. Anyone who wanted to get into the room could just climb over the doorframe. Fish’s dormitory had loads of beds, but no door, and the bathroom was just a few bogs with no doors, plus a couple of sinks with no running water! Thankfully, we did find a sink in another dormitory. Obviously, our first impression of Glasgow was not good!
We headed into the city centre to meet the others in the pub. The area of Glasgow that our hostel was in was shit, proper rough and rundown but as we neared the city centre things improved. The centre of Glasgow is very smart and up together with plenty of pubs and impressive buildings. The others who had booked into far more deluxe accommodation were obviously delighted to hear of our shite hostel and spent the rest of the trip laughing at our expense. (Me and One-Puff were to get our revenge a few years later in Milan.)
After grabbing something to eat and visiting a few bars we bumped into a few United but nowhere near as many as I thought there’d be. Fish had arranged a date via the internet and was heading off to meet his local beauty in a bar, and so me and One-Puff headed off to King Tut’s, which I’d heard of in the past as it seemed to be some sort of legendary Glasgow music venue. The Bluetones were playing and I was keen to see them even though I’d seen them earlier that week in Bournemouth (yes, I’m a big fan). After a half hour walk we found the venue, which wasn’t at all what I was expecting, and walked into what was a pub downstairs and got a beer. On chatting to a few folk at the bar we learned that King Tut’s was upstairs and that the gig was sold out, although we believed that wouldn’t be a problem for a couple of experienced jibbers like us. We downed our beers and headed up the stairs.
The entrance was up a very narrow flight of stairs and at the top were two very large doormen. Pushing past these two was not going to happen. I tried to blag the guest list and on failing gave it the old sob story about being ‘The Tones’ biggest fan and that I had flown up from Bournemouth, especially. Unfortunately, they’d heard it all before and told us to “piss off”. We retreated down the stairs and back to the bar. Whilst at the bar, a lad came up to me and said that he had overheard my conversation and might be able to help. It turned out that he was the lead singer in the support band and was impressed by the lengths we’d gone to in order to try and get in. He had driven up from Reading that morning with his band and they had their own guest list with no one on it – result! The lad shot off and returned a couple of minutes later to tell us it had all been sorted. We thanked him and headed back up the stairs to see our friends, the doormen, who refused to believe that we were on the guest list until I persuaded him to look again. To their horror, the doormen discovered that we were on it and they had to let us in. We bumped into the support band singer again later and bought him a beer before being introduced to the entire band. When they played we felt obliged to stand at the front and applaud enthusiastically, but could only manage the first three songs as they were rubbish.
Anyway, The Bluetones played a great set to a packed and very lively Glasgow crowd. A group of lads there sussed that we were English and asked if we were United fans. We stuck to our massive Bluetones fans story and bounced around with our new Jock friends. After the gig, we went back to the centre and met up with the others, including Fish who was gutted that he hadn’t managed to stay the night with his date, although this wasn’t due to any lustful feelings but more because he wanted to avoid our nightmare accommodation.
After a surprisingly good night’s sleep, (we hadn’t been stabbed, robbed or buggered) we splashed some water onto our faces from the one sink that worked and headed into the centre. The plan was to meet up with Wills and the others, along with Voodoo who was flying up and Shipo who was on the rattler from Manchester.
We settled into a massive pub full of United. The usual mix of fans would be a few day-trippers with colours on, lads like us having a beer, and also your ‘Men in Black’ type characters. This pub had a more ‘men in black’ feel to it with a lot of Paul & Shark on show. (The ‘Men in Black’, for those of you reading who have not had the pleasure, are, how shall I put this?… some of United’s more active followers! A smartly dressed bunch who favour big black coats (even when I’m wearing shorts) and have been known to administer the odd slap when needed.) A few Celtic came in and had a look round, as did the local constabulary, but there wasn’t any trouble.
Most of the pub chat revolved around tickets or the lack of them. Me, Voodoo and Shipo were without, but seemed to be in good company as plenty in the pub were in the same boat. Snide tickets were all over the place and in the end I got one off a lad for a fiver. They weren’t the best fakes but I figured that even if they got me up to the turnstiles I would then have a great chance of getting in. We decided to get taxis to the ground, along with half the population of the city. The queue for a cab was huge and whilst waiting in line I looked across the road at a billboard with a headline that screamed “FORGED TICKETS”. My five-pound investment in a snide wasn’t looking such a good idea. As we travelled by taxi away from the city centre and towards the Parkhead area of Glasgow our surroundings got rougher and rougher. We jumped out of the taxi at a pub surrounded by wasteland. We saw Adie and a few Reds in the doorway and shoved our way in. It was mobbed with Celtic and the atmosphere was warming up nicely.
I had been to the home-leg back in September, which United won 3-2 thanks to a couple of goals by Louis Saha and one from Solskjær. Celtic must have brought ten thousand to Old Trafford, which was the biggest away following I had seen at United since the Eighties. They were all over Old Trafford and not shy either, wearing green and singing. This is what United usually do at away grounds and I was surprised/impressed by the Celtic fans that night. They were clearly a proper big club. That said, most of them were pissed up tramps and clearly used to taking the piss wherever they went.
Before the match, I went into The Railway Club (my usual boozer) and was surprised to find it at least eighty percent filled with Celtic. There were pissed up Jocks staggering about and flags draped all over the place. As time wore on, more and more United arrived and as the Jocks got even more pissed they started to become more annoying. A few verbals were exchanged with both sides singing and banter going back and forth. That was until they decided to sing, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. They sang it for about 20 seconds and then all hell broke loose with United steaming into the unwashed vagrants who then left fairly swiftly. They might get away with that sort of behaviour at Queen of the South, but not in Manchester.
Back to Glasgow… We walked towards Celtic Park, which appeared to be surrounded by yet more waste ground, and headed round to the United end which was heavily policed on all the steps leading up. They were checking tickets thoroughly and so this approach was not an option. I walked away from the steps and headed up the large grass banking, as with the light fading I felt it offered a good chance of avoiding the police. However, one copper was lurking about and spotted me and another Red, who turned out to be Shipo. Now, Shipo is a top Red who can drink for England but when it comes to jibbing he is about as useless as it gets. The copper stopped us both and asked to see our tickets. In the dark, and on my own, I’m sure I would have been fine but Shipo produced his ticket and said: “It’ll be just my luck that I’ve got one of those forgeries.” Fucking unbelievable! Why would you say that? The copper studied it very carefully and surprise, surprise, took it off him. He then inspected mine, took it off me and sent us both away from the ground.
Things weren’t looking good and loads of United were now hanging around near the away end without tickets. I headed around to Celtic Park’s main stand and decided to try my luck there, as I was sure the security would be less stringent. Whilst hanging around, I bumped into a lad I had met at a training course with my work a few years before. He was an Aberdeen fan but had managed to get some corporate tickets and was clearly very excited to be seeing the famous Manchester United. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any spares and wasn’t in any position to help me so we shook hands and parted company.
Time was moving on and I needed to get in whilst there were still people outside and going up to the turnstiles. I looked around and found a doorway with stairs leading up into the stadium. It was open but there was a slight problem as two stewards were stood 20 feet in front of the doorway. I tried a couple of times to see if it was possible to slip behind them but they were keeping a vigilant eye out. By now, Voodoo had appeared and he too was desperate for a way in. One of the stewards then walked back into the ground and disappeared through the door and up the stairs to the left. Our odds were shortening. I was slightly to the steward’s right, hanging around in the general mass of people who were scurrying to their entrances. A woman then approached the steward from his left and started talking to him. He was looking at her and was now side on to me. I shot forward and walked straight past him on his blind side and up to the door, straight in and up the stairs. I passed the second steward coming down the stairs and just smiled as he went past. Upon reaching the top of the stairs a wondrous sight opened up before me, the concourse.
I was right on the concourse and quickly got in a queue for a pie to blend in. After spending a couple of anxious minutes looking back at the stairway that I had come up, it was obvious that I was fine and hadn’t been spotted. I headed up into the seats, easily dodging the steward inspecting tickets, and with the place heaving went towards the back in search of a seat. The only spare ones were in an area that had been cleared for the TV cameras. I sat there for a minute to assess the situation. The United section was directly to my right but I couldn’t see any way of reaching it. During a lull in the pre-match chanting, I could make out a group of perhaps a hundred and fifty United singing at the front of the stand that I was in.
As the teams came out, the Celtic fans raised their scarves and they all started to sing, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. I was surrounded on all sides by pissed up lunatics singing that Scouse song (alright, Celtic may have sung it first). As much as I hate the song, it was really impressive and very loud. I headed down towards the United fans in the block at the front but stewards were blocking my way down and had surrounded the United lads. I pushed my way through and when asked for my ticket started banging on about how I’d been threatened by Celtic fans and how I felt unsafe. The stewards fell for my story and let me join the United fans at the front. I found a space in the second row from the pitch and to my left saw Terry Hall from The Specials. I was now proper buzzing as I’d jibbed Celtic Park and got into their end with a hundred and fifty other United who were all chanting and generally taking the piss. Celtic had got into our end at Old Trafford, so I guess United had evened things up.
United dominated the first half of the match and the gulf in quality between the two sides was obvious. The Celtic fans, after the initial few minutes of noise, were now very quiet and I was disappointed with the atmosphere. Everyone bangs on about the noise at Celtic Park on a famous European night but it was poor, very poor. To be fair, Old Trafford can also be a let-down on occasions and I’m sure that Celtic are very good at times but it was good to know that they too could have an off night.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, with United again in control but Saha missed a glorious chance when he appeared to assume he was offside. With 80 minutes gone, somehow it was still 0-0 but then Celtic got a free kick a fair way out and up stepped Shunsuke Nakamura who smashed the ball past Edwin Van der Sar. The noise really did kick in then and Celtic Park erupted with a deafening roar and for the final 10 minutes the whole place was rocking. This was what I had been expecting from their fans and had they scored early on I’m sure that would have been the case throughout the match. Saha had another opportunity to silence them but Artur Boruc saved his last-minute penalty kick.
I kept my head down as I left the ground on my own and had to put up with the Jocks celebrating and taking the piss out of United. It was an intimidating place to be until two large United fans came up alongside me and nodded ‘alright’. These two were game as fuck and discussed the match and loudly slagged off Celtic with no fear of the Jocks who were everywhere. I decided to stick with these two as we continued back to town.
As we got into a pedestrian shopping area, I started to recognise a few United who were walking back. Celtic were still celebrating and launched into a chorus of, “Who the fuck are Man United?”. At this point, it seemed like half the street fired up with “United! United! United!”. Celtic shut up very swiftly and a few got slapped before the police poured out of a side road and nicked a few Reds. The police were parked up in vans down side roads all the way back to town and were well geared up for any trouble. When we got back to town, a lot of pubs were shut but we all met up in a lovely pub with an open fire and stayed there until closing.
Shipo, being a useless jibber, hadn’t managed to get in and had watched the match in a pub but Voodoo had fared better. He had tried to follow me in but had been collared by the second steward and so hung around and spotted a smartly dressed bloke collecting an envelope from the ticket office. He asked the bloke if he had a spare, and as luck would have it he did, and I think he gave him £50. The only downside was that he was sat at the opposite end of the ground to United behind the goal and had to stay very quiet for the whole match. About 10 of us ended the night in a hotel bar full of Celtic fans from Ireland who were determined to make the most of the night. The TV kept showing the goal over and over again and every time the net bulged the place went mental. They were all friendly and we carried on drinking with them and ended up having a good night, even getting the odd United song in before being swiftly drowned out by half of Dublin.
All in all, my trip to Glasgow was another great Euro Away. I had jibbed the match and blagged myself on to the guest list at The Bluetones gig. I had been to Celtic Park, a ground that I had always wanted to visit, and survived with a few stories to tell into the bargain.
Taken from a chapter from ‘No Ticket Required – 30 years of jibbing with Manchester United‘, a story of jibbing the turnstiles and the trains to go to the match. Available from April 18th. From jumping the gate to simple pass-backs, elaborate scams and fake tickets. A roller-coaster ride following Robert and a group of mates from Reading to Rome, from Manchester to Monaco, from Bournemouth to Bristol. Crawling under a turnstile at Aldershot to full corporate hospitality at the Stadio Olympico for the Champion’s League final in Rome and a free flight to Barcelona. Our tale starts in the 70’s and ends in Stockholm on a memorable night in May.
As ticket prices increased dramatically over the years and they became harder to come by I had a decision to make. To stay at home or to go to the match and jib in. This is my story of how I have spent 30 years following my team and the lengths I have gone to in order to get in.
A great book if you love a trip down memory lane, standing on the terraces, 80’s casuals, Italia 90, overnight trains and transit vans. It’s not all about the match it’s getting there, the characters you meet, the strokes you pull, the occasional skirmish with the locals. An honest and often amusing journey at home and abroad with Manchester United.