Mardi Gras, Mecredi Fou
There’s often talk about the ‘romance’ of football, whether it’s an underdog turning over a giant in a cup game or simply remembering elements of a club’s history – such as Ole’s return to United and back to attractive, attacking football! What better then, than a trip to Paris, a city synonymous with romance and a chance to show what we’re about against the superstars of Paris Saint-Germain.
A win in Valencia would have seen us top the group, however it wasn’t a game to remember and the defeat left us in second place and facing one of the top teams. In this case PSG, for United’s first competitive fixture against Paris’ most successful team. For what is now deemed a top European club, PSG are still some way off being able to even claim they’re the best team in France, with Saint-Étienne (our last French opponents) having won the most Championships; 10 to PSG’s 7.
The club were also only formed in 1970, 2 years after United won their first European Cup. They’re a fairly dominant force now though, with 5 of the last 6 French league titles and Neymar and Mbappé to boot. They’ve struggled in the knockout rounds of the Champions League the past few seasons however, but a 2-0 home defeat made it a little bit more of a challenging task for United.
Travelling to Paris
As the group runners up we were due to play the away leg second, which still left a few dates for our game given this round is staggered (with both legs taking place over a five week period). Flights direct to Paris for either date were priced around £70 return, but as ever you had to move swiftly, as this quite quickly jumped to £140 shortly after the full draw was confirmed.
Thankfully delaying on booking wasn’t a problem for us this time as we’d been scoping out the Eurostar options from London. Like with the trip to Saint-Étienne, it was handy to have a friend working there as they managed to sort us return tickets for £59 (where normal price would have been well over £100). A £35 advance return (with a new 26-30 railcard discount) from Manchester meant that the travel costs were just £94, with a few added metro tickets on the other side.
The Eurostar is convenient for travelling from London, if not a little convoluted from Manchester, however it’s not a bad way to get to the centre of Paris. At just over 2 hours from St Pancras , a relatively easy check in and the convenience of being able to bring your own drinks on board, it has it’s advantages. Beware Brexit and French customs however…
The City of Paris
Paris is a city I’ve never really visited, with just a short day trip there 15 years ago, so it meant there was plenty to take in. Our accommodation was handily quite central, two stops from Gare du Nord in the Ibis in Sacré-Cœur. We spent much of our few days around the Boulevard de Clichy, home to the Moulin Rouge, top-eatery Bouillon Pigalle and the foothills of Montmatre.
Walking up the steps to Sacré-Coeur was worth it for the views, likewise the 422 steps up Notre-Dame bell tower. Both are incredible structures, Notre-Dame dating back to 1160, whilst Sacré-Coeur overlooks the city at the top of Montmatre. Visiting Paris at the start of Lent meant we were able to experience the gorging of Mardi Gras as well as Ash Wednesday service.
A day walking around the city, past the Pyramid of the Louvre, Luxor Obelisk and up the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, ticked off a few of the busier tourist spots. Our ticket collection point was handily on the banks of the Seine river, probably the most picturesque spot for a European away, under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
Whilst there was plenty of red wine, none cheaper than at Bouillon Pigalle, the price of a pint ranged anywhere from €7 at Notre-Dame to €11 at Place du Trocadero. Most of these were soaked up with french fries, which were available as a generous side at every bar, and a daring first taste of frogs legs helped to complete the cliché.
The 48,000 seater Parc des Princes stadium is located in the west of Paris, just 10 minutes on the metro from the city centre, whilst the larger Stade de France, the national stadium, is a little further out to the north. United had just 2,000 tickets, 4% of the ground – slightly short of UEFA’s 5% rule, segregated in the corner of the ground.
We were expecting the French police and stewards to be a big more heavy handed, but getting into the ground was actually relatively easy (unlike Juve), other than the excessive (at least 7!) ticket checks. Like Juve there was beer on sale to take into the stand, but it was questionable how alcoholic this actually was.
United has a mammoth task on their hands after the 2-0 home defeat. Ole had outlined how important the first goal would be and we made a perfect start as Lukaku took advantage of a poor back pass after just 2 minutes. PSG got an inevitable equaliser, and there was a spluttering of coins into our end from the home fans, but United kept on and got a 2nd after half an hour.
The half time feeling was whether we could hold out, or would PSG simply turn it on as they’d done in the second half at Old Trafford. Their fans, with Ultra groups behind both goals, were fairly loud throughout but our end kept on going and as the half went on there was a little bit more belief. Mbappé slipped when through one on one and the resulting shot hit the outside of the post. United just needed one chance.
At the clock hit 90 minutes, Dalot fired in a shot from outside the box and it deflected out for a corner. But no, the referee signalled a stop in play, next minute he was running over to the touchline to review via VAR. United fans were dumbstruck as to what was going on, we erupted a moment later as the ref pointed to the spot, a penalty in injury time! Up stepped Rashford, hearts in mouths as he drilled it beyond Buffon, and then one of those unforgettable moments of elation. The full time whistle blew a minute later and we’d won, more wild celebrations as the heavens opened to mark our victory.
Nothing beats a last minute winner, even better as underdogs and without a few notable players. The team all ran towards our corner at the whistle and the celebrations continued the whole way through our 45 minute lock in; Ashley Young came back out to applaud the fans with his family and friends sat at the back of our end, whilst Joel Pereira was in the middle of the fans too. One of the great European away victories, Ole guiding us into the quarter finals, and one I was able to celebrate in France with my family.
A final night in Paris to soak it all in, intensified by the torrential rain, but nothing can really spoil the feeling. Not even French custom officers striking and causing hours of delays for our return Eurostar journey. Thankfully ours was just over an hour late, but there were reports of up to four hour waits, which is a bit of an ominous sign for post-Brexit travel. The Eurostar compensation just about covered the cost of an extra train ticket, so not all that bad.
There was one unsavoury incident; although we had next to no issues with locals or the police, one United fan was stabbed by an irate taxi driver after the game. It sounded pretty serious but he’s recovered and made it back to the UK a few days later. Thoughts were already onto the next round, and with three English teams through there was a good chance that’d we have a short journey for our next game. The destination though not the worst place for a mid-April trip; Barcelona, the in-form team in Europe.
Total travel costs: £97
Miles travelled: 752
Accommodation: £108/night (shared room – £36pp)
Match ticket: £73 (€80)
Average cost of pint: £6.75
United allocation: 2,000
Result: PSG 1 – United 3 (3-3 on aggregate – away goals win!)
Match played 06/03/19