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Pub Football: Champions League Final

QUEENSTOWN SHOWS  UNITED FRONT

It may have kicked-off before seven and been wet outside, but that didn’t stop hordes of Manchester United fans cramming into Queenstown pubs first thing yesterday morning to watch their team beat fellow English club Chelsea in the final of the Champions League.

Having advertised that it would be showing live coverage of the game from Moscow, the Red Rock cafe on Camp Street was packed to the rafters.

Many punters explained they had set their alarms especially for the game, while others revealed –as if their dress, breath and posture weren’t telling enough- that they simply hadn’t bothered going to bed.

“We often show the football but this is as busy as it’s ever been” said bar owner Dave Ness. “Usually we sell more coffee at this hour but today it's beer.”

 With United being a team of global-popularity, the crowd in the bar was from a broad range of nationalities and decidedly in their favour.

A huge cheer erupted when Cristiano Ronaldo connected with a Wes Brown cross to give United the lead after 26 minutes, and only when Frank Lampard equalised in the dying moments of the first half did it become apparent that there was also a sizeable minority of Chelsea supporters in the room.

A hop, skip and jump across town at Dux de Lux, the bias amongst spectators was even redder. In fact there wasn’t a blue shirt in sight.

United fans here could also be grateful for considerably more elbow room. For as Chelsea gained a superior grip in the second half of the game, they preoccupied themselves with cooked breakfasts and rounds of tea.

With not so much to shout about on the field, the loudest cheer was reserved for the TV images of Russian soldiers at the game slipping Manchester United shirts over their uniforms.

Meanwhile back at Red Rock the atmosphere was approaching fever pitch. Deadlocked at 1-1, the game had moved into extra time and a minor altercation between players prompted much name-calling at the screen.

 Following Didier Drogba’s subsequent dismissal, a tuneful chorus of “cheerio” rang out across the bar.

Inevitably the stale-mated match had to be settled with a penalty shootout and the mood suddenly changed. These are the cruellest moments in sport and the tension in the bar became palpable.

 Vocal United supporters finally pursed their lips. “I can’t stand this,” said one of them.

Scalp rubbing, breath holding and teeth grinding followed. Then heads sunk into hands as Ronaldo stuttered his run-up, made a mess of his kick and gifted Chelsea the advantage.

But United came back from the brink when John Terry failed to wrap-up and Edwin Van der Sar blocked Nicolas Anelka’s attempt in sudden death.

In a way only they know how, United had taken their fans from near despair to victory and the bar swung back into full-life with fans jumping, cheering and whooping with joy.

“I’ve only cried twice over a football match: when United won the Champions League the first time in 1999 and now here” admitted Englishman Alan Shenton from Twickenham.  “I’m going to buy a bottle of champagne from the supermarket and then share it with both sets of fans.”

 “That’s the great thing about watching football at this time of morning,” he added. “I’ve now got the rest of the day to celebrate!”

 Queenstown (NZ), May 2008

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