It was mid-afternoon on Wednesday, May 26, and Cari Rosen was sat at a bar in central Barcelona.
It may sound innocuous. In many respects, this was innocuous – a woman on holiday with her family and friends in one of Spain’s most salubrious and attractive cities.
The weather was scorching. The skies were blue. The place was buzzing. A city buoyant with character and saturated in years of history.
But this was no normal afternoon.
What brought Cari – and thousands of others – there that day was more than a desire to get away and spend a few days in the sun. It was more than a chance to immerse themselves in the innovative artwork of Gaudi, more than an opportunity to potter down La Rambla and experience the chaos, more than a short-term escapism from the almost inevitable rainfall back in the UK.
This was about something different, an occasion that transcended social boundaries and united all those present in a common sense of belonging.
This was about football.
“We travelled there one or two days before,” lifelong United fan Cari, who was a TV producer at the time, told MM.
“There was a group of us staying in Sitges at a bed and breakfast type of place. We all met and hung out on the beach.
“We got the train into Barcelona on the day of the game. I’d forgotten my shirt, so I bought a knock-off United shirt on La Rambla.
“We were sitting in a bar, in the sunshine, just with all these people I’d known my whole life and who have followed United all our lives.
“It was incredibly exciting – something really, really special.”
BACK OF THE NET… TWICE
Manchester United were playing Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp that night. The stakes were high – the Champions League final in which a win would seal a remarkable treble for Sir Alex Ferguson and his squad.
If they were to achieve such a feat, it would be nothing less than a footballing miracle.
And into the cauldron Cari went, accompanied by 40,000 other red and white foot soldiers who had made the admirable trip to Catalonia. Ninety minutes of football stood between them and sporting immortality.
“The atmosphere was amazing,” she said.
“They scored first, and we were desolate. I turned to my Dad and said: ‘Even if we’re going to lose this we could have just scored and had something to celebrate after coming all this way.’”
All of a sudden, however, with the clock rapidly ticking towards United’s despair, things started to shift.
“Then, the ball was up at our end, and it was in the back of the net.
“I think there was a silence because we couldn’t quite register what had just happened, and then we all just went absolutely mad.
“We were celebrating so much, that nobody noticed that the game had kicked off again.”
Then, something even more peculiar happened, a moment of pure sporting theatre that posterity will remember for generations to come.
“Suddenly the ball was at our end again. And then somehow it was in the back of the net.
“There was a spilt second of absolute silence where everybody just thought: ‘Did that really happen?’
“And then we just went nuts. Dad was crying, we were crying and screaming. It was just the most incredible atmosphere.
“We just couldn’t conceive that this was real. I’ve been going to football my whole life, and I’ve never experienced anything like that moment.
“The next day, I went back to Sitges and met up with my friends – we bought all the papers known to man and sat in a cafe by the sea, just reliving everything that had happened the night before,” she recalled nostalgically.
‘I JUST DIDN’T IDENTIFY WITH MY TEAM ANYMORE’
The scorer of that winning goal? Who else than Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, United’s baby-faced assassin who has pertinently just signed a three-year contract to become the club’s permanent manager.
This Tuesday night, he will take his side back to the Nou Camp as they face Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals, seeking to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit and recreate that famous triumph of two decades ago.
Despite the result at Old Trafford last week, Cari, a proud Mancunian, is delighted with his appointment.
“After Fergie left, one by one, with each subsequent manager, it felt like the team we knew and loved had disappeared.
“Under Jose Mourinho, I just didn’t identify with my team anymore. When Solksjaer came back, it became our team again.
“Soljskaer is United – he is the Champions League Final. He’s a really decent bloke who understands football from the grassroots level and understands the team from the inside,” she said.
The memories of 1999 are clearly so fond for Cari, a truly loyal follower of United: she was also a at Wembley for their FA Cup triumph over Newcastle United on May 22 and her grandfather was Mayor of Manchester in 1958 during the aftermath of the Munich Air Disaster, going on to become good friends with Sir Matt Busby.
In many ways, it seems just fitting that Solksjaer was the man to inherit the power vacuum left at United following the departure of Mourinho in December.
It makes his heroics of 20 years ago even more evocative, bolstering his legacy and rendering those memories of the Nou Camp even more resonant.
If he can go there and get an equally miraculous result this week to take his team into the Champions League last four, his status in United folklore – and in the eyes of true fans like Cari – will only intensify further.