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A mythical night at Wembley

26th May 2011 - Steve Newman

Jacket image for Shankly My StoryIn football, history doesn't exist; instead it's all about the mythology, those moments that are passed from fan to fan, from generation to generation.

On-loan goalkeeper Jimmy Glass's last minute goal for Carlisle to keep them in the league, Gordon Banks save against Pele in the 1970 World Cup, the whole of Bill Shankly's tenure at Liverpool: these are just some of the events still talked about with awe or cynicism. They're widely remembered, if not always accurately. Shankly, for example is not just one of the most quoted managers of the game but also one of the most misquoted, but it doesn't matter because he is part of that mythology and always will be as long as there is a Liverpool Football Club.

Sometimes you know when myths are going to be made. This Saturday Manchester United meet Barcelona at Wembley in the final of the UEFA Champions League. Something is going to happen, nobody knows what, but it'll be something memorable because the two teams are facing each other have both been building their own legends. For Barcelona to win the competition would reinforce the idea of their being Catalonia's national side and the greatest proponents of the modern game. These are the two great myths that underpin FC Barcelona in 2011, the former by the city of Barcelona's second club, RCD Espanyol, the latter by people who think that attractive football can be played in more than one way.

Jacket Image for Football Bloody HellFor Manchester United to win would reinforce not just the myth of the club but of a man called Alex Ferguson. The only two moments that fans remember of Manchester United's last European triumph in 2009 are John Terry's penalty miss and Alex Ferguson's quote 'Football - bloody hell!', which has become so ubiquitous that when Patrick Barclay published his biography of Ferguson recently that's what he called it.

The real mythos for both club and man concerns how intertwined the two have become. Ferguson's days as manager of Aberdeen have been forgotten, certainly south of the border. Yet he was the last manager to win a Scottish title with a team that wasn't from Glasgow. United spent over 20 years in the wilderness wondering when the next league title was going to come from before their man was to come along and it would be another five years, a close call with the sack and a change from First Division to Premiership before United could call themselves champions again.

On Saturday Ferguson's years with Aberdeen and United's time in the wilderness will be forgotten when they play Catalonia's national side, the team that plays perfect football. And something is going to have to give, because that is the nature of the game. Somebody will step up, score the overhead kick, pull off that save or miss the penalty. It's the same at Wembley as it is on Hackney marshes. Every club from the giants to those in the Essex Senior league have the players and the moments that make the myths. That's what the game is about.

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