IT was the journey to Hell that still brings a shudder to those who set foot in the Ali Sami Yen inferno.
The night which began with threats, descended into mayhem and madness and finished with the champions of England simply glad to escape in one piece.
Manchester United players had to be escorted from the pitch by police in fiery Galatasaray atmosphereCredit: Getty
Paul Ince pulled his shirt on as he emerged at the Ali Sami YenCredit: PA
Manchester United had ended the 26-year title wait six months earlier. Now the target was to emulate the heroes of 1968 and conquer Europe, in its new guise as the Champions League.
They didn’t get beyond the second round and three decades on November 3, 1993, still sends chills down many a Mancunian spine.
Galatasaray had shown they were no pushovers with a 3-3 first-leg draw at Old Trafford a fortnight earlier and an ominous message from manager Reiner Hollmann.
Vowing “they’ll be waiting for you,” for the return leg was a huge understatement. The “Welcome to Hell” banners at Istanbul airport were more accurate.
United’s coach was pelted with missiles en route to their plush hotel and even the walk to reception was menacing. Once there, a young bell boy drew a finger across his throat.
The Red Devils were not short of battle-hardened warriors. Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Paul Ince, Eric Cantona and Peter Schmeichel were all in the side.
But nothing they had faced before came close to the Ali Sami Yen Stadium. The match itself was a drab 0-0, which KO’d United on away goals. Yet that didn’t tell half of it.
A red card for Cantona, tunnel scraps with police and a Turkish mob that arrived five hours before kick-off baying for blood.
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Paul Parker had played in the biggest games of all, a World Cup semi-finalist with England. Little fazed a man raised in the East End — but that night did.
Parker recalled: “We stayed in a lovely hotel on the river and everyone was fine. The morning of the match, it all changed.
“The shoe shiners, the shops inside the complex, suddenly it was all very eerie. At the ground, the noise was incredible.
“I’d played at places where they really hated you, when it was their cup final, but this was quadrophonic, from all four sides — and they’d been in there for hours.
Then it all went off near the end with Eric, and then Robbo in the tunnel. Even Sir Alex had his jacket off ready.
“It was one of those games when you sort of knew it wasn’t going to happen but afterwards it was crazy. I was shoved down the stone steps at the top of the tunnel by one of their own police.
“Only the big goalie stopped me going over — Schmeichel blocked me or I’d have slammed straight down. It was really nasty.”
Cantona was hit with a police truncheon, Robson waded in to support and needed eight stitches in an elbow that was gashed when he was thrown against a metal hook on the wall.
Even Sir Alex Ferguson had his jacket off ready to defend his boys. Security? They were more up for trouble than the fans.
At 32, centre-back Bruce had been around the block more than most. Yet he had never seen anything like it — and never came close for the rest of his career.
Sir Alex Ferguson vowed never to return to the stadiumCredit: Getty
Bruce said: “It was pandemonium. The crowd was in hours before and never stopped. They were jumping up and down, screaming, the noise you wouldn’t believe.
“It started when we got off the plane and followed us all the way to the hotel on the bus. It was not very pleasant!
“When we came out of the tunnel it was another level and, for me, that is what pushed them over the line. It seemed all of Turkey wanted to beat us.
“Then it all went off near the end with Eric, and then Robbo in the tunnel. Even Sir Alex had his jacket off ready.
“He was saying to us, ‘None of my players have been fighting, have you?’ Then he went out and did the press conference. He always made it us against the world.
“We left that night and I often say I don’t know how we got out of Istanbul in one piece. Probably because they beat us!”
Fans even pelted the bus with stones and bricks. It was pure luck that no one was seriously injured.
NOT VERY PALLY
By Neil Custis
GARY PALLISTER knew Manchester United faced problems at Galatasaray when a hotel worker greeted him with a throat-slitting gesture.
The former centre-back still winces at memories of the ‘Welcome to Hell’ match 30 years ago.
Pallister, 58, said: “I was picking up my bag from the coach and walking through by myself.
“It was a beautiful place, a stunning hotel on the Bosphorus Strait which used to be a Prince’s palace, we were told.
“Most of the lads are 20-30 yards ahead of me and I walk past this bellboy pushing a trolley that carries suitcases.
“As I’m walking past him, I just said, ‘Afternoon’ and he went like that (throat-slit gesture).
“I just carried on walking but was like, ‘Wow, this is different’.”
Once inside their rooms, the unsettling tactics went on. Pallister added: “Brian McClair said he had banging on his ceiling.
“So him and Jim McGregor, our physio, went upstairs and found a cleaner sat there banging.
“He just looked at them and walked off.”
Parker added: “We had to drive through masses of people, they were throwing all sorts at us and there was no security.
“We were kept in the coach on the runway for ages.”
Fergie vowed never to return — but drew Galatasaray again in the next year’s groups, that time a 0-0 passed without incident.
Tomorrow United visit the Turks again — albeit in their new Rams Park home — and must win to keep their Euro dream alive.
Galatasaray beat them 3-2 at Old Trafford in October and Parker added: “If Galatasaray do the double over them, those players will become immortal.
“It isn’t as nasty as when we went but it won’t be any easier.”