Thursday 21 May ~
Recycling bins everywhere will already have been full to the brim with Champions League previews, all the daily papers, broadsheets as well tabloids, having produced pre-match supplements. Now there is the post-match analyses to cram in too. Any Man Utd fans who want to keep mementoes of what the Sun saw as the “Battle of Premlin” will be spoilt for choice. The Times, the self-styled newspaper of record, now also an outlet of English football's paymasters, News Corporation, had a thumping 12 pages in their sports section devoted to the match with another 16-page supplement to come tomorrow. The Mirror helpfully stuck a “Souvenir” banner on their front page next to the score. In among all the torrent of analysis, we have been shaken by the fact that one of the most pertinent comments on the match appeared in a column by Jeff Powell in the Daily Mail.
Powell reflected on the view expressed by many neutrals in the build-up to the match that it wasn't so much a final as a fixture: “This was English football's risible and rejected 39th game slipping thorough the back door to Russia.” Rather than a contest to decide the best team in Europe, the 2008 final was a parochial event, one that could not have happened in the old European Cup. When one country was represented by both holders and champions they would always be drawn against each other at some point before the final – notably in the Real Madrid v Barcelona second-round tie of 1960-61.
Such is the financial power of the top four in the Premier League that there is every prospect of more such finals to come, although they will at least take place closer to home. Aside from the inconvenience of Moscow as a venue for fans of both clubs, aside from Chelsea's owner and his thousands of friends, there had also been concerns about the prospect of violence involving local hooligans and the state security forces as well as travelling supporters. But it turned out that the biggest outbreak of trouble occurred in west London.
According to a report in the Mirror, the worst incident seems to have been triggered by a Chelsea fan being accidentally hit by a police car, “near a pub where Prince Harry was watching the game”. The Man Utd-supporting prince “was not involved in the violence”, however, just in case anyone should have imagined him standing in the Kings Road asking commoners if they wanted some.