RoM gave away a copy of his book as a prize for the Cantona mask competition this week.
Mitten took some time out of his incredibly busy schedule at the moment to speak to RoM about his United experiences as well as the best bits about writing this book.
Most of us remember our first ever time at Old Trafford and from my own memories as well as so many other people I’ve spoken to, it is the brightness of the colours inside the ground that really hit you. It’s probably a different case today with HD but the colours of the grass, the shirts and the fans were so much more dull on telly compared with what they looked like in the ground. The feeling of walking up those steps before the bright green of the pitch came in to view got the hairs on my arms and back of my neck standing on end.
Mitten’s earliest memories are no different.
“My first game was against Ipswich Town aged ten,” he said. “My dad played semi professional football for 20 years and so I spent my youth watching him every week around the north of England. He was always more of a player than a watcher and so never took me to Old Trafford. My first game was for a schoolmate’s birthday treat. His dad took us and I couldn’t wait. We stood in the Stretford Paddock, but United lost. I’ll never forget the vividness of the green pitch – that’s what struck me about Old Trafford on my first few visits as a kid, the beautiful green pitch – even though it was sometimes far from beautiful. I got my first season ticket on the Stretford End at 13 when I was allowed to go with my mates and have held one ever since.”
For so many United fans when asked about their ‘favourite ever game’ it usually comes from the 1998-1999 season. Everything seemed magic that year and with every passing victory and every cup progression it just felt as though it was impossible for us to fail.
After Ryan Giggs had scored a late equaliser at home against Juventus in the European Cup semi-final we had it all to do in the away leg. In the two weeks between the fixtures we had the FA Cup semi-final and a league match to get through. The circumstances surrounding the cup matches were less than ideal preparation for the biggest game we’d played in under Sir Alex Ferguson though. After playing extra time with Arsenal we were forced in to a replay which also went in to extra time, 45 minutes of which we were playing with just ten men.
We travelled to Turin and just ten minutes in to the match it looked as though we were going to be made to pay for the gruelling Arsenal games, with Inzaghi putting Juve 2-0 up.
Mitten describes why this game, which of course finished 3-2 in United’s favour, is his favourite ever United match, and his own personal experience of being in the ground.
“I have never ever felt how I felt at that game – even in Barcelona a few weeks later,” he said. “It was the realization that Manchester United had beaten the best team in Europe away from home and the best ever individual performance that I’ve witnessed from Roy Keane. A ticket mix up meant that I sat in the main stand of the Delle Alpi, where I was surrounded by middle class Italians. I don’t look Italian and when United went two down, they offered sympathetic looks. With Zidane et al running the show, they were used to destroying all-comers. Then United produced a splendid masterpiece, a generation defining performance. After the final whistle, the home fans shook my hands and indicated that the best team won. Their friendliness gave me the confidence to run behind the home end in the hope of joining my mates among the 4,500 Reds in the United section. However, the next thing I knew I was lying on the floor, having been kicked side on by some Italian. At first I thought that I’d run into a bollard or something. As a steward held back a group of Italians, knobhead here shouted ‘Torino’ – as if I was trying to say that I was from Turin. Torino, of course, are Juve’s hated city neighbours. The steward said to me, well I thought he said to me: “I don’t care who the fuck you think you are, get running now.” I ran. I was still high hours after the match. Three hours later, when the adrenalin had thinned after a car journey to our hotel in Genoa, I collapsed after my leg gave way. It was nothing serious, but I had a belting bruise!”
Gabriel Heinze left United in controversial circumstances after trying to force a move to Liverpool. Somehow United managed to make a profit on the wantaway wannabe when offloading him to Real Madrid. Despite signing a four-year-deal he ended up staying for just two, before moving to Marseille, the hated rivals of PSG who he’d made more than 100 appearances for before signing for United. It should come as no surprise to you that Mitten was less impressed with the Argie when they met when Heinze still played for United.
“Gabriel Heinze was an arrogant prick,” he said. “I spoke to him in Spanish, but that made no difference. He didn’t want to be at United and it showed. I’ve seen him several times in Spain since and nothing has made me change that opinion. Most of the players are sound. They try to put their best side across when they are being interviewed and most are decent lads from a working class background who are just very, very good at football. The danger is that current players are afraid to say anything for fear of rocking the boat. Roy Keane never was though and interviews with him were always a joy. I found him a fascinating subject, even though we had cross words on a few occasions.”
Mitten’s book has received rave reviews thus far but it was much pleasure as it was business for him to write.
“Being paid to travel around Europe to see lads I’d idolized was a pleasure and I realize that I’m very lucky,” he said. “I honestly enjoyed all of the interviews because they were so different. Spending three days with Jesper Blomqvist in Stockholm gave me a real insight into his life – and what a life story he has. Driving to Marseille to meet Eric was a buzz. And there were surprises. Andrew Cole gave me a superb interview and really opened up. We still speak twice and week and I’ve got him a lot of work off he back of that interview he gave me. Nicky Butt was really frank, Jordi Cruyff too. And David May was full of laugh out loud laddish stories about pissing on people and being sick. In contrast, former United chairman Martin Edwards was serious and diligent. He was good enough to invite me to his home and we spoke for three hours. We didn’t agree on many subjects, but he fought his corner for the first time and I respected him for that.”
Mitten reveals one of the conversations he had with David May about his days at Blackburn, after he’d made début at Swindon away.
“The lads had told me to take some clothes as were going out on the lash after the Swindon game,” said May. “I very rarely drank and hated lager and cider, but we went out in Swindon. Another player, Steve Foley, said: ‘You’ve made your début as a player. Now make your début as one of the lads.’ He asked what I wanted to drink and the first thing I saw was an advert for Southern Comfort and lemonade so I ordered that. He got me a double and I was soon cabbaged.”
The Blackburn players progressed to a nightclub. “I was loving it, but turned round and all the lads had disappeared,” May continued. “I couldn’t believe it. Two minutes later they were all back and I was relieved, but then they went again. I was that gone that I didn’t realise I was stood on a revolving dance floor and they were all laughing at me. I then decided to order a pint of Pils and danced in front of a girl in a white blouse…until I vomited all over her. Howard Gayle, the captain, got me out of there and gave a taxi driver £20 to get me back to the hotel. The price included him cleaning his taxi as I was sick all the way back to the hotel. I was in bed all day the next day. A couple of other players came in my room to smoke joints. I felt awful and the smell made it worse. The manager told me that I wasn’t going to play at Watford a few days later as I was still pissed. I never told my dad the reason why I didn’t play because he would have gone mad.”
United sit comfortably in second place in the league at present during a season where the top four seem to be dropping points for fun. Mitten isn’t too concerned about what this might mean for our second though.
“We’ve just been beaten 2-0 at Anfield but I’ll stick my neck out and say champions again and the Champions League semi-finals. I have a tremendous amount of faith in Sir Alex Ferguson as a manager.”
But when Fergie retires?
“If he left today, then Pep Guardiola,” Mitten continued. “The man is a genius. Nothing fazes him. He’s cool as fuck, was a great, great player, is bright enough to be running the UN and has very clear principles about how beautiful football should be played. As we saw in Rome, he didn’t do too badly in his first season. Pep is as Barca as they come, but the Catalans are their own worst enemies. Their form of democracy operates using a political system and where there is politics there are problems and egos. I don’t think that the Barca model is set up to encourage longevity for coaches…which could be to the advantage of club with a more patient Anglo Saxon mentality like United.”
Mitten will be signing books with Andy Cole on Thursday – 1pm at Waterstones in the Arndale and 5pm at WH Smiths at the Trafford Centre. Glory Glory, RRP £17.99.