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Fan’s Tribute: An Evening With The Man United ‘OG’

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It took 25 years to have this moment all for myself… 25 years to the electrifying evening that got me hooked on to football and Manchester United – or Manchester United and football, not sure about the order – forever.

Whoever he was, that ‘baby-faced assassin’, changed my life that May 1999 evening when he poked the ball into the roof of the Bayern Munich goal.

From 0-1 down in the 90th minute to 2-1 up with just 43 seconds of injury time left, this man Ole-Gunnar-something gave Manchester United their second Champions League title in 31 years, stunned Bayern and the world and inscribed his presence in the footballing world, my heart and my mind, for eternity.

How did you pronounce that name? Ole Gunnar “Solazkar, Solzker, Solskjaer…  “

There were no Google translators back then, no YouTube commentary recordings to learn from, and no friends so familiar with the English Premier League.

Watching United play more was the only way to find out.

ESPN ran mid-game shows and trivia around his name, asking fans how to pronounce it. They even tried putting together audio clips of how different commentators pronounced it.

It’s ‘Soul-cher’ if a Norwegian has to say it, ‘Soul-chair’, if they’re calling his name in the United Kingdom.

As much as I tried wrapping my head around what made Sir Alex’s United so special, OGS always stayed at the back of my mind. After a point, the pronunciation probably never mattered.

Like in that press conference in 2014, when he first arrived in Cardiff and they asked “how do we pronounce your name?” and he said – “Ole. Just call me Ole”.

Ole is who I met in Mumbai two days ago. It had taken 25 years since that evening at Camp Nou to shake hands with him, and get his autograph on a very special “92:17” jersey I had managed to lay my hands on, with the man’s name on it.

His eyes lit up when he uncapped a pen to scribble his signature on it, and so did my smile.

Back in ‘99, I couldn’t quite understand the magnitude of the win that Ole had brought about, nor the importance of how big the Champions League trophy was, and what it meant to football globally. That a super-sub won the match only added to the excitement of what I was watching. A fan was taking birth.

Since that night, I’ve been in love. In years to come, I did get married by a decade into it and my better half does have an idea of what happened that evening in 1999. She understands.

I gradually started following “my club” with all the seriousness it took. I followed Ole as a player and was amazed at how many “Fergie Time” winners he had scored. Out of his 126 goals for United, 26 goals were scored coming on as a substitute. He was truly a Super Sub and to the greatness of the man, he never complained about being one.

Ole has given me so much joy over the years, not just for those goals scored but also for being a true role model on and off the field.

Post Fergie era, no manager has given me as much happiness in watching United play, as him. His teams carried the united DNA and played scintillating football. Watching United play the way they did helped me through the difficult COVID Lockdown.

I will never forget the best Away Record that his team created, “Ole’s at the Wheel” and “Hills are there to be climbed” are the two things that will be forever etched in my memory.

So, when the news broke that he was going to come to Mumbai for a fan event, I was over the moon. I arranged the passes, picked up my ’92:17’ and was there ahead of time.

The moment was a surreal one, one I shall never forget. “You’re the reason I fell in love with football,” I told him. He smiled, but did I blush?

I asked him if he was returning to United. “You never know in football,” he said, leaving me hoping that United’s glory days will be back soon.

It was time to leave. Ole got busy with more fans – and there were plenty – and I hopped back into the car, humming “You are my Solskjaer, my only Solskjear… You make me happy when the Skies are grey… Oh, Alan Shearer was F****** dearer.. so please don’t take my Solskjear away!”

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author recounting his personal experience)

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