As Killian Mbappé hit PSG’s second goal to seal victory over Manchester United, flares illuminated 3,500 French fans cavorting in the away section at Old Trafford, many of them topless.
I could contain myself no longer and cheered wildly, which is a major mistake if you are a Frenchman forced to sit in the Stretford End for a big Champions League game.
Several Mancunians looked on sternly, and the guy next to me asked ‘Who do think you are?’ I casually pretended to have had a £50 bet on Mbappé scoring the second.
‘Why am I not with them?’ I thought, gazing at the massed ranks of PSG supporters raucously enjoying one of the best nights of their lives.
After all, I had paid £150 for my seat, so having to keep quiet as my team ran out 2-0 first-leg winners – over Man Utd! Away from home! – was a frustrating experience.
Still, what a night…
Arriving at Old Trafford, smoke bombs and firecrackers were going off everywhere and an enormous cloud of red smoke rose into the air.
Determined to attend the game, I knew my expensive seat wasn’t in with the away fans, but my heart still skipped a beat when I realised it was in the midst of United’s most hardcore followers.
I was a little nervous, but the excitement levels on my first visit to the Theatre of Dreams trumped all else.
‘How you doing?’ asked the guy next to me. I smiled and tried not to sound too French, and although I pretended to be on their side, the fans sitting around me quickly saw through this flimsy deception.
As the players emerged from the tunnel and the Champions League anthem blasted through the stands, I had shivers up and down my spine.
I opened my eyes and ears wide and tried to record all the images and senses as a souvenir of the occasion.
The fans, their chants and songs, the roars, the cheers and boos — there is no better place to watch a game than Old Trafford.
Over in the away section, the Parisian commitment was huge, and the drumbeats of war could be heard. It was tribal, electrifying, a non-stop assault on the senses.
A few minutes before kick-off, the knot in my stomach served as a reminder of the game’s importance, and I joined in with the Mancunian applause as the announcer hyped up the home crowd.
‘The feeling of remaining discrete, whilst observing your team dominate at Old Trafford, surrounded by thousands of Manchester United fans, was very satisfying’
As the match got underway and both teams dared to play, the United fans never stopped cheering their team on. Although I was with the ‘enemy’, I could not help being swept away with the camaraderie.
After a well-balanced first half, where both side played really good football, PSG central defender Presnel Kimpembe scored to give the French giants the lead.
It was the first time I had gone to see PSG play and not be able to cheer them freely but, in a strange way, it was unexpectedly enjoyable.
The feeling of remaining discrete, whilst observing your team dominate at Old Trafford, surrounded by thousands of Manchester United fans, was very satisfying.
As the optimism of the home fans – buoyed by their team’s great run under interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – began to evaporate, insults greeted every period of PSG possession.
On the other side of Old Trafford, scarfs were being swung as PSG songs rang around the famous old stadium.
The excitement among the Parisian hordes was palpable, with everybody hugging each other and sweeping away the gloomy atmosphere created by the English fans.
As the final whistle sounded, a huge smile crossed my face. I clenched my fists – discretely, of course – and felt relieved. Whilst every PSG player honoured the support of their fans, I sat down and admired their excitement, feeling left out and envious.
To remedy that feeling, I joined some of my fellow PSG supporters outside Old Trafford. While the youngest yawned and rubbed their eyes, the older Parisians’ enthusiasm and elation resonated through the grey suburbs of Manchester.
A significant number of them returned to the city centre to continue their celebrations, and the remainder of the evening promised to be an exciting one…