The Day I Met The King

By The Way - Weekly Columns


By Harvey Waywell My hat-trick of European ventures with United started when the internet was still in nappies and if you had a Nokia brick you were at the forefront of mobile technology. Although it had taken 21 years of my life for United to win the League, the holy grail of a European Cup win still eluded Fergie and his boys. However, in 1999, that all came good when Ole made history at the Nou Camp on that infamous late May evening. Me and my mate Stuart sadly never made it as we had spent all our beer vouchers on a trip to see Paul Scholes break Italian hearts at the San Siro a couple of months earlier. It was only a day trip and although Milan as a city was stunning, the stadium was a complete shithole and certainly not how I imagined it when I saw James Richardson and all those Serie A golazos on Channel 4 back when I was a spotty teenager. As we celebrated wildly with seemingly half of Manchester, avoiding the piss filled water bottles that were thrown from the upper deck that St. Patricks night, we were already planning our next Euro away the following season. Unbeknown to us it would be as holders.

The new millennium rolled around and after dispatching the giants of Valencia, Bordeaux and a Batistuta-led Fiorentina in the 2nd group stage, we were finally through to the knockout stages. So, the quarterfinals beckoned and who would we draw out of the hat? In the end it was choice of Chelsea, Porto or the 2nd best club in the world, Real Madrid, as Bayern had beaten them to the top spot in their group. Realistically I wasn’t going to have 2 days away on the Fulham Road, so the Iberian Peninsula beckoned and luckily out came Real although I’m sure Oporto would have been lovely too. I worked in travel at the time, so I had already held all the flights on all the possible days to either Spain or Portugal. A modern-day equivalent of this is tweeting loads of transfer rumours and then deleting them all bar the one that actually happened! Then when it came to a hotel room I put a few more contacts to work as I wanted to stay somewhere decent and in town. After getting slightly creative with my job title I blagged some discounted rooms at the plush Sofitel near the Plaza de Espana. Flights and hotel organised, now all we needed were match tickets…..

This was where Stuart came into his element. He worked as a Golf pro (and still does) at a very nice club in the home counties…Think Sean Connery and a short guy in a bowler hat and you are not far off! Knowing most of the members on first name terms he realised a few were United fans more than willing to help in exchange for the odd lesson or freebie in the club shop. In the end he managed to secure 3 tickets in the lower tier at the Bernabeu..Therefore who to invite and complete the trio? In the end we plumped for the mobile stag do himself, my younger brother Christian. Back in those days, his reputation preceded him wherever he went. In fact through most of the previous years I was often referred to as ‘You're Christian Waywells brother aren’t you?!’ rather than Harvey. He was certainly a value-add and, of course, mad keen on United like me. Before you all ask why we support them our late father was Manchester born and bred and went to see United from about 1948 to 1970 before we moved south…so there!! Anyway, the 4th April 2000 finally arrived and we rocked up bleary-eyed at Heathrow Terminal 2 for an early start to Barajas Airport, Madrid. After a smooth flight, we checked into the hotel and, after a quick brush up, made our way down to the hotel bar. This is where things got interesting. Some people say the best pint is the first pint on a trip away...Then again, the first one at the local curry house just after you’ve texted the missus to say the takeaway is delayed is equally as refreshing. So, as we supped the first Estrella of the trip, Stuart leaned over and said to me ‘Don’t turn around Harv but you’ll never guess who is sat at the table behind you’. As the title of this story suggests it was a King, but not Juan Carlos of Spain. It was someone a lot more important than that. It was none other than my favourite player of all time. Eric Cantona. The same Eric Cantona who had suddenly retired from the red of Manchester and all football just 3 years earlier. With no urge to check-in on Facebook or tweet the news Eric was in town for the game, we downed our pints and went over to meet him. All three of us agreed we were not letting this opportunity pass up. This is a good point to mention that a friend of the friend of Stuarts that had gotten us tickets was now with us too. (The old guy next to me) He was a great fella to be honest and he explained that he’d been in town a couple of days already with his wife. She arrived a few minutes later and we quickly explained the news about a legend in our midsts and that we wished we had a camera to capture the moment. She nonchalantly replied ‘No worries, I’ve got a camera up in the room’. Without hesitation and before I even had time to introduce myself, I told her quite firmly to get up the stairs sharpish and grab it. She duly obliged and as you can see from the photo below Eric looks more Madame Tussaud waxwork, but I can assure you it was him in the flesh. He spoke, I spoke, and he warmly shook my hand. He was a true gent and as it turned out the Sofitel hotel we’d booked was French-owned hence the reason he was there. I must thank my travel agent when I see him next!

Harvey Waywell

Note - My brother is now claiming he spotted him first...It certainly wasn't me!

As you can imagine the rest of the day was a blur as only a thumping away win could brighten our moods any further. We all got bladdered and called everyone back home we knew on Christians new mobile phone. I later found out it cost him a fortune but who cares. That evening the game, fortunately, ended 0-0 as I was so drunk I can barely recall anything. I think the normally hapless Bosnich wore a yellow keepers top and that’s it! To finish the story off nicely - when we woke the next day this amazing wife of the lad on the trip had only managed to knock it out of the park for a second time by developing the photos overnight. So there in front of us was a memory that would last forever. I still happily tell this story to anyone that listens including other parts of the trip which were almost as great (my bodged scarf-swap the highlight) of the day in my life when I met Eric the King. PS The following year we headed to Munich but that is another story altogether!