Interview

Elevator pitch

There’s nothing worse than missing a crucial goal – apart from missing two at the end of the most dramatic of finals while squeezed into a lift with UEFA’s president. We go behind the scenes with Craig Thompson

WORDS Dan Poole | ILLUSTRATION Raj Dhunna

The 1999 Champions League final. Yeah, you know the one. Basler after six minutes. Bayern hit the woodwork twice. Sheringham scuffs the equaliser. Solskjær sticks a leg out. Kuffour pounds the ground. Schmeichel does a rubbish cartwheel. The trophy heads to Manchester. All that stuff.

Drama of the highest order. A story for the ages. But like any good tale, it has subplots. The Camp Nou is a big place and there were thousands of people packed in that night, all with different assignments and subsequent anecdotes. The players had their jobs, of course; management and support staff too. The fans were then to take it all in and, as we are all too aware in these strange times, be a crucial part of the spectacle themselves.

Then there were the people who were there to grease wheels, spin plates and keep spanners out of works. The organisers, facilitators and coordinators responsible for match operations, beavering away in the background to make sure that everything in the foreground was fireworks and flawlessness. Craig Thompson was one of those people.

In fact, the American occupies a special place in the history of the Champions League: he was a key part of the management team that came up with the concept that launched in 1992. Seven years later he was at the home of Barcelona in the VIP area, surrounded by celebrities, politicians and football’s top brass. “We were working the entire time and there was a lot of pressure,” he says. “We were minimising problems before they got bigger and believe me, whatever can go wrong around a final does go wrong.”

Thompson takes up the tale with Bayern München leading Manchester United 1-0, a few minutes before the end of normal time. “I had to get Lennart Johansson, the then president of UEFA, down to the pitch to present the cup,” he says. The Swede obviously concurred with the logic of vacating his seat early: he commiserated with Bobby Charlton before heading off. Bayern were clearly going to emerge victorious. Indeed, another star of the United side that won the 1968 European Cup final, George Best, was already in a taxi speeding away from the Camp Nou by this point.

One of Thompson’s colleagues was Paul Bristow, who also played a role in the formation of the Champions League and, on this particular evening, was in charge of hospitality in the VIP area. “At the end of the match we wanted to serve all the guests champagne in glasses engraved with the logo of the winning team” he says. “So we had 250 glasses with the Manchester United logo and 250 with the Bayern logo. About five minutes before the end of the match I thought, ‘Right, time to get everybody ready.’”

Meanwhile, Johansson and his chaperone were preparing for descent. “The VIP room in Barcelona is very high and they had this tiny elevator,” says Thompson. “Lennart Johansson must have been a good 275lbs and about 6’5. He was a big guy. There was really only room for the two of us. This was not an easy journey.”

As the lift began its voyage, Bristow was proceeding with his sparkling scheme. “This was a military operation; if you've ever tried to pour champagne at a party when the candles are already lit on the cake, you know that you don't want to be doing it in a hurry,” he says. “We unpacked the Bayern Munich glasses, corks were popping, champagne was spilling everywhere, people were mopping it up… but we were getting there.” 

Thompson was counting down the seconds until the lift doors opened, consoling himself with the knowledge that he’d have the president pitchside in plenty of time for the trophy presentation. And that was even allowing for a lethargic lift. “This elevator was super slow. We finally came out into the tunnel, from where it was another 100 metres to the pitch. Then we hear this huge roar. Obviously, somebody had scored, but we couldn’t see anything. So Lennart sped up a little bit and we made it out to the pitch. Everybody’s celebrating.”

Of course, the celebrants were United: Teddy Sheringham had just scored in the first minute of injury time to draw the scores level. Thompson and Johansson were speechless. As the latter later said: “I thought, ‘It can’t be: the winners are crying and the losers are dancing.’”

Up in the VIP area, Bristow was rethinking his strategy based on the now all-but-assured prospect of extra time. “Was the champagne still going to be fizzy after 30 minutes? No. Luckily we hadn’t poured everything so it was a case of, ‘Stop, stop, stop!’ Then: ‘Do we put the glasses away?’ ‘No, because Bayern may still win.’”

Thompson carries on the story from the side of the pitch. “Lennart looks at me, I look at him and, you know, what were we going to do?” At this point things went from bad to worse. “Lennart said, ‘Well, extra time – we’d better go back up.’”

The 1999 Champions League final. Yeah, you know the one. Basler after six minutes. Bayern hit the woodwork twice. Sheringham scuffs the equaliser. Solskjær sticks a leg out. Kuffour pounds the ground. Schmeichel does a rubbish cartwheel. The trophy heads to Manchester. All that stuff.

Drama of the highest order. A story for the ages. But like any good tale, it has subplots. The Camp Nou is a big place and there were thousands of people packed in that night, all with different assignments and subsequent anecdotes. The players had their jobs, of course; management and support staff too. The fans were then to take it all in and, as we are all too aware in these strange times, be a crucial part of the spectacle themselves.

Then there were the people who were there to grease wheels, spin plates and keep spanners out of works. The organisers, facilitators and coordinators responsible for match operations, beavering away in the background to make sure that everything in the foreground was fireworks and flawlessness. Craig Thompson was one of those people.

In fact, the American occupies a special place in the history of the Champions League: he was a key part of the management team that came up with the concept that launched in 1992. Seven years later he was at the home of Barcelona in the VIP area, surrounded by celebrities, politicians and football’s top brass. “We were working the entire time and there was a lot of pressure,” he says. “We were minimising problems before they got bigger and believe me, whatever can go wrong around a final does go wrong.”

Thompson takes up the tale with Bayern München leading Manchester United 1-0, a few minutes before the end of normal time. “I had to get Lennart Johansson, the then president of UEFA, down to the pitch to present the cup,” he says. The Swede obviously concurred with the logic of vacating his seat early: he commiserated with Bobby Charlton before heading off. Bayern were clearly going to emerge victorious. Indeed, another star of the United side that won the 1968 European Cup final, George Best, was already in a taxi speeding away from the Camp Nou by this point.

One of Thompson’s colleagues was Paul Bristow, who also played a role in the formation of the Champions League and, on this particular evening, was in charge of hospitality in the VIP area. “At the end of the match we wanted to serve all the guests champagne in glasses engraved with the logo of the winning team” he says. “So we had 250 glasses with the Manchester United logo and 250 with the Bayern logo. About five minutes before the end of the match I thought, ‘Right, time to get everybody ready.’”

Meanwhile, Johansson and his chaperone were preparing for descent. “The VIP room in Barcelona is very high and they had this tiny elevator,” says Thompson. “Lennart Johansson must have been a good 275lbs and about 6’5. He was a big guy. There was really only room for the two of us. This was not an easy journey.”

As the lift began its voyage, Bristow was proceeding with his sparkling scheme. “This was a military operation; if you've ever tried to pour champagne at a party when the candles are already lit on the cake, you know that you don't want to be doing it in a hurry,” he says. “We unpacked the Bayern Munich glasses, corks were popping, champagne was spilling everywhere, people were mopping it up… but we were getting there.” 

Thompson was counting down the seconds until the lift doors opened, consoling himself with the knowledge that he’d have the president pitchside in plenty of time for the trophy presentation. And that was even allowing for a lethargic lift. “This elevator was super slow. We finally came out into the tunnel, from where it was another 100 metres to the pitch. Then we hear this huge roar. Obviously, somebody had scored, but we couldn’t see anything. So Lennart sped up a little bit and we made it out to the pitch. Everybody’s celebrating.”

Of course, the celebrants were United: Teddy Sheringham had just scored in the first minute of injury time to draw the scores level. Thompson and Johansson were speechless. As the latter later said: “I thought, ‘It can’t be: the winners are crying and the losers are dancing.’”

Up in the VIP area, Bristow was rethinking his strategy based on the now all-but-assured prospect of extra time. “Was the champagne still going to be fizzy after 30 minutes? No. Luckily we hadn’t poured everything so it was a case of, ‘Stop, stop, stop!’ Then: ‘Do we put the glasses away?’ ‘No, because Bayern may still win.’”

Thompson carries on the story from the side of the pitch. “Lennart looks at me, I look at him and, you know, what were we going to do?” At this point things went from bad to worse. “Lennart said, ‘Well, extra time – we’d better go back up.’”

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Back down that long tunnel. Back into that cramped lift. Back to staring at the floor as time stands still on the rumble back to the top. Back ready for another 30 minutes of football. Only…

“Then we emerged,” says Thompson. “And the VIP room was going crazy.”

“At this point I’d nipped off to the loo,” says Bristow. “I came out and this hostess approached me: ‘They’ve scored, they’ve scored!’ I said, ‘Yeah, I know they’ve scored.’ ‘No, they’ve scored again!’”

Ole Gunnar Solskjær, three minutes into injury time, had just stabbed in the goal that completed one of the most remarkable and dramatic turnarounds in European club competition history. The president of UEFA? He’d just missed the whole thing. “He was livid,” says Thompson. “He looked at me and said, ‘Craig, I’ll never again leave the VIP room until the game is over. I will never, ever do this again.’”

Bristow probably wasn’t planning on being in charge of hospitality again any time soon either. “So there we were with about 50 glasses filled with champagne and 200 more on the trays. Cue a mad frenzy of glasses being put back in boxes–”

Paul drank about six of them,” interjects Thompson.

It was absolute bedlam,” sighs Bristow.

Things didn’t go so well for the two men who were on trophy detail either. Before the United comeback, Mark Jörg, the head of marketing for UEFA at the time, needed to tell his colleague Martin Kallen, that the UEFA president was on his way down for the presentation. That’s because Kallen, UEFA’s then head of operations, was in a side room off the tunnel, looking after the trophy. But, as we know, there was no room for Jörg in the lift, so he had to run down the stairs instead. “Martin came out with the trophy and, as was usual practice before a final, it had the two sets of ribbons on it,” says Bristow. “That meant all anyone had to do was take off one set and go and present it to the winning team. So, of course, they took the Man United ribbons off.”

Then that Sheringham goal went in, so the trophy was put back in the trophy room. Then that Solskjær goal went in and the trophy needed to come out again – but Kallen was nowhere to be seen. Finally he was tracked down, the ribbons were changed and the trophy was ready.

So could Johansson now go and actually present the thing? Um, not quite. “At the end of the game the Bayern players were so distraught that they were scattered all over the pitch, crying,” says Bristow. “The UEFA guys had to go around the pitch consoling them – and then drag them up to the podium to get their loser’s medals. That delayed everything massively.

“So Johansson, in fact, would have had plenty of time to get down from his seat and present the trophy well after the final whistle had blown.”

“And,” adds Thompson, “Lennart never even got a glass of champagne.”

Artist Raj Dhunna explains the process behind creating his Elevator Pitch illustration and more HERE.

The 1999 Champions League final. Yeah, you know the one. Basler after six minutes. Bayern hit the woodwork twice. Sheringham scuffs the equaliser. Solskjær sticks a leg out. Kuffour pounds the ground. Schmeichel does a rubbish cartwheel. The trophy heads to Manchester. All that stuff.

Drama of the highest order. A story for the ages. But like any good tale, it has subplots. The Camp Nou is a big place and there were thousands of people packed in that night, all with different assignments and subsequent anecdotes. The players had their jobs, of course; management and support staff too. The fans were then to take it all in and, as we are all too aware in these strange times, be a crucial part of the spectacle themselves.

Then there were the people who were there to grease wheels, spin plates and keep spanners out of works. The organisers, facilitators and coordinators responsible for match operations, beavering away in the background to make sure that everything in the foreground was fireworks and flawlessness. Craig Thompson was one of those people.

In fact, the American occupies a special place in the history of the Champions League: he was a key part of the management team that came up with the concept that launched in 1992. Seven years later he was at the home of Barcelona in the VIP area, surrounded by celebrities, politicians and football’s top brass. “We were working the entire time and there was a lot of pressure,” he says. “We were minimising problems before they got bigger and believe me, whatever can go wrong around a final does go wrong.”

Thompson takes up the tale with Bayern München leading Manchester United 1-0, a few minutes before the end of normal time. “I had to get Lennart Johansson, the then president of UEFA, down to the pitch to present the cup,” he says. The Swede obviously concurred with the logic of vacating his seat early: he commiserated with Bobby Charlton before heading off. Bayern were clearly going to emerge victorious. Indeed, another star of the United side that won the 1968 European Cup final, George Best, was already in a taxi speeding away from the Camp Nou by this point.

One of Thompson’s colleagues was Paul Bristow, who also played a role in the formation of the Champions League and, on this particular evening, was in charge of hospitality in the VIP area. “At the end of the match we wanted to serve all the guests champagne in glasses engraved with the logo of the winning team” he says. “So we had 250 glasses with the Manchester United logo and 250 with the Bayern logo. About five minutes before the end of the match I thought, ‘Right, time to get everybody ready.’”

Meanwhile, Johansson and his chaperone were preparing for descent. “The VIP room in Barcelona is very high and they had this tiny elevator,” says Thompson. “Lennart Johansson must have been a good 275lbs and about 6’5. He was a big guy. There was really only room for the two of us. This was not an easy journey.”

As the lift began its voyage, Bristow was proceeding with his sparkling scheme. “This was a military operation; if you've ever tried to pour champagne at a party when the candles are already lit on the cake, you know that you don't want to be doing it in a hurry,” he says. “We unpacked the Bayern Munich glasses, corks were popping, champagne was spilling everywhere, people were mopping it up… but we were getting there.” 

Thompson was counting down the seconds until the lift doors opened, consoling himself with the knowledge that he’d have the president pitchside in plenty of time for the trophy presentation. And that was even allowing for a lethargic lift. “This elevator was super slow. We finally came out into the tunnel, from where it was another 100 metres to the pitch. Then we hear this huge roar. Obviously, somebody had scored, but we couldn’t see anything. So Lennart sped up a little bit and we made it out to the pitch. Everybody’s celebrating.”

Of course, the celebrants were United: Teddy Sheringham had just scored in the first minute of injury time to draw the scores level. Thompson and Johansson were speechless. As the latter later said: “I thought, ‘It can’t be: the winners are crying and the losers are dancing.’”

Up in the VIP area, Bristow was rethinking his strategy based on the now all-but-assured prospect of extra time. “Was the champagne still going to be fizzy after 30 minutes? No. Luckily we hadn’t poured everything so it was a case of, ‘Stop, stop, stop!’ Then: ‘Do we put the glasses away?’ ‘No, because Bayern may still win.’”

Thompson carries on the story from the side of the pitch. “Lennart looks at me, I look at him and, you know, what were we going to do?” At this point things went from bad to worse. “Lennart said, ‘Well, extra time – we’d better go back up.’”

Elevator pitch
Interview

Elevator pitch

There’s nothing worse than missing a crucial goal – apart from missing two at the end of the most dramatic of finals while squeezed into a lift with UEFA’s president. We go behind the scenes with Craig Thompson

WORDS Dan Poole | ILLUSTRATION Raj Dhunna

The 1999 Champions League final. Yeah, you know the one. Basler after six minutes. Bayern hit the woodwork twice. Sheringham scuffs the equaliser. Solskjær sticks a leg out. Kuffour pounds the ground. Schmeichel does a rubbish cartwheel. The trophy heads to Manchester. All that stuff.

Drama of the highest order. A story for the ages. But like any good tale, it has subplots. The Camp Nou is a big place and there were thousands of people packed in that night, all with different assignments and subsequent anecdotes. The players had their jobs, of course; management and support staff too. The fans were then to take it all in and, as we are all too aware in these strange times, be a crucial part of the spectacle themselves.

Then there were the people who were there to grease wheels, spin plates and keep spanners out of works. The organisers, facilitators and coordinators responsible for match operations, beavering away in the background to make sure that everything in the foreground was fireworks and flawlessness. Craig Thompson was one of those people.

In fact, the American occupies a special place in the history of the Champions League: he was a key part of the management team that came up with the concept that launched in 1992. Seven years later he was at the home of Barcelona in the VIP area, surrounded by celebrities, politicians and football’s top brass. “We were working the entire time and there was a lot of pressure,” he says. “We were minimising problems before they got bigger and believe me, whatever can go wrong around a final does go wrong.”

Thompson takes up the tale with Bayern München leading Manchester United 1-0, a few minutes before the end of normal time. “I had to get Lennart Johansson, the then president of UEFA, down to the pitch to present the cup,” he says. The Swede obviously concurred with the logic of vacating his seat early: he commiserated with Bobby Charlton before heading off. Bayern were clearly going to emerge victorious. Indeed, another star of the United side that won the 1968 European Cup final, George Best, was already in a taxi speeding away from the Camp Nou by this point.

One of Thompson’s colleagues was Paul Bristow, who also played a role in the formation of the Champions League and, on this particular evening, was in charge of hospitality in the VIP area. “At the end of the match we wanted to serve all the guests champagne in glasses engraved with the logo of the winning team” he says. “So we had 250 glasses with the Manchester United logo and 250 with the Bayern logo. About five minutes before the end of the match I thought, ‘Right, time to get everybody ready.’”

Meanwhile, Johansson and his chaperone were preparing for descent. “The VIP room in Barcelona is very high and they had this tiny elevator,” says Thompson. “Lennart Johansson must have been a good 275lbs and about 6’5. He was a big guy. There was really only room for the two of us. This was not an easy journey.”

As the lift began its voyage, Bristow was proceeding with his sparkling scheme. “This was a military operation; if you've ever tried to pour champagne at a party when the candles are already lit on the cake, you know that you don't want to be doing it in a hurry,” he says. “We unpacked the Bayern Munich glasses, corks were popping, champagne was spilling everywhere, people were mopping it up… but we were getting there.” 

Thompson was counting down the seconds until the lift doors opened, consoling himself with the knowledge that he’d have the president pitchside in plenty of time for the trophy presentation. And that was even allowing for a lethargic lift. “This elevator was super slow. We finally came out into the tunnel, from where it was another 100 metres to the pitch. Then we hear this huge roar. Obviously, somebody had scored, but we couldn’t see anything. So Lennart sped up a little bit and we made it out to the pitch. Everybody’s celebrating.”

Of course, the celebrants were United: Teddy Sheringham had just scored in the first minute of injury time to draw the scores level. Thompson and Johansson were speechless. As the latter later said: “I thought, ‘It can’t be: the winners are crying and the losers are dancing.’”

Up in the VIP area, Bristow was rethinking his strategy based on the now all-but-assured prospect of extra time. “Was the champagne still going to be fizzy after 30 minutes? No. Luckily we hadn’t poured everything so it was a case of, ‘Stop, stop, stop!’ Then: ‘Do we put the glasses away?’ ‘No, because Bayern may still win.’”

Thompson carries on the story from the side of the pitch. “Lennart looks at me, I look at him and, you know, what were we going to do?” At this point things went from bad to worse. “Lennart said, ‘Well, extra time – we’d better go back up.’”

Penalty Pedigree

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The 1999 Champions League final. Yeah, you know the one. Basler after six minutes. Bayern hit the woodwork twice. Sheringham scuffs the equaliser. Solskjær sticks a leg out. Kuffour pounds the ground. Schmeichel does a rubbish cartwheel. The trophy heads to Manchester. All that stuff.

Drama of the highest order. A story for the ages. But like any good tale, it has subplots. The Camp Nou is a big place and there were thousands of people packed in that night, all with different assignments and subsequent anecdotes. The players had their jobs, of course; management and support staff too. The fans were then to take it all in and, as we are all too aware in these strange times, be a crucial part of the spectacle themselves.

Then there were the people who were there to grease wheels, spin plates and keep spanners out of works. The organisers, facilitators and coordinators responsible for match operations, beavering away in the background to make sure that everything in the foreground was fireworks and flawlessness. Craig Thompson was one of those people.

In fact, the American occupies a special place in the history of the Champions League: he was a key part of the management team that came up with the concept that launched in 1992. Seven years later he was at the home of Barcelona in the VIP area, surrounded by celebrities, politicians and football’s top brass. “We were working the entire time and there was a lot of pressure,” he says. “We were minimising problems before they got bigger and believe me, whatever can go wrong around a final does go wrong.”

Thompson takes up the tale with Bayern München leading Manchester United 1-0, a few minutes before the end of normal time. “I had to get Lennart Johansson, the then president of UEFA, down to the pitch to present the cup,” he says. The Swede obviously concurred with the logic of vacating his seat early: he commiserated with Bobby Charlton before heading off. Bayern were clearly going to emerge victorious. Indeed, another star of the United side that won the 1968 European Cup final, George Best, was already in a taxi speeding away from the Camp Nou by this point.

One of Thompson’s colleagues was Paul Bristow, who also played a role in the formation of the Champions League and, on this particular evening, was in charge of hospitality in the VIP area. “At the end of the match we wanted to serve all the guests champagne in glasses engraved with the logo of the winning team” he says. “So we had 250 glasses with the Manchester United logo and 250 with the Bayern logo. About five minutes before the end of the match I thought, ‘Right, time to get everybody ready.’”

Meanwhile, Johansson and his chaperone were preparing for descent. “The VIP room in Barcelona is very high and they had this tiny elevator,” says Thompson. “Lennart Johansson must have been a good 275lbs and about 6’5. He was a big guy. There was really only room for the two of us. This was not an easy journey.”

As the lift began its voyage, Bristow was proceeding with his sparkling scheme. “This was a military operation; if you've ever tried to pour champagne at a party when the candles are already lit on the cake, you know that you don't want to be doing it in a hurry,” he says. “We unpacked the Bayern Munich glasses, corks were popping, champagne was spilling everywhere, people were mopping it up… but we were getting there.” 

Thompson was counting down the seconds until the lift doors opened, consoling himself with the knowledge that he’d have the president pitchside in plenty of time for the trophy presentation. And that was even allowing for a lethargic lift. “This elevator was super slow. We finally came out into the tunnel, from where it was another 100 metres to the pitch. Then we hear this huge roar. Obviously, somebody had scored, but we couldn’t see anything. So Lennart sped up a little bit and we made it out to the pitch. Everybody’s celebrating.”

Of course, the celebrants were United: Teddy Sheringham had just scored in the first minute of injury time to draw the scores level. Thompson and Johansson were speechless. As the latter later said: “I thought, ‘It can’t be: the winners are crying and the losers are dancing.’”

Up in the VIP area, Bristow was rethinking his strategy based on the now all-but-assured prospect of extra time. “Was the champagne still going to be fizzy after 30 minutes? No. Luckily we hadn’t poured everything so it was a case of, ‘Stop, stop, stop!’ Then: ‘Do we put the glasses away?’ ‘No, because Bayern may still win.’”

Thompson carries on the story from the side of the pitch. “Lennart looks at me, I look at him and, you know, what were we going to do?” At this point things went from bad to worse. “Lennart said, ‘Well, extra time – we’d better go back up.’”

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Back down that long tunnel. Back into that cramped lift. Back to staring at the floor as time stands still on the rumble back to the top. Back ready for another 30 minutes of football. Only…

“Then we emerged,” says Thompson. “And the VIP room was going crazy.”

“At this point I’d nipped off to the loo,” says Bristow. “I came out and this hostess approached me: ‘They’ve scored, they’ve scored!’ I said, ‘Yeah, I know they’ve scored.’ ‘No, they’ve scored again!’”

Ole Gunnar Solskjær, three minutes into injury time, had just stabbed in the goal that completed one of the most remarkable and dramatic turnarounds in European club competition history. The president of UEFA? He’d just missed the whole thing. “He was livid,” says Thompson. “He looked at me and said, ‘Craig, I’ll never again leave the VIP room until the game is over. I will never, ever do this again.’”

Bristow probably wasn’t planning on being in charge of hospitality again any time soon either. “So there we were with about 50 glasses filled with champagne and 200 more on the trays. Cue a mad frenzy of glasses being put back in boxes–”

Paul drank about six of them,” interjects Thompson.

It was absolute bedlam,” sighs Bristow.

Things didn’t go so well for the two men who were on trophy detail either. Before the United comeback, Mark Jörg, the head of marketing for UEFA at the time, needed to tell his colleague Martin Kallen, that the UEFA president was on his way down for the presentation. That’s because Kallen, UEFA’s then head of operations, was in a side room off the tunnel, looking after the trophy. But, as we know, there was no room for Jörg in the lift, so he had to run down the stairs instead. “Martin came out with the trophy and, as was usual practice before a final, it had the two sets of ribbons on it,” says Bristow. “That meant all anyone had to do was take off one set and go and present it to the winning team. So, of course, they took the Man United ribbons off.”

Then that Sheringham goal went in, so the trophy was put back in the trophy room. Then that Solskjær goal went in and the trophy needed to come out again – but Kallen was nowhere to be seen. Finally he was tracked down, the ribbons were changed and the trophy was ready.

So could Johansson now go and actually present the thing? Um, not quite. “At the end of the game the Bayern players were so distraught that they were scattered all over the pitch, crying,” says Bristow. “The UEFA guys had to go around the pitch consoling them – and then drag them up to the podium to get their loser’s medals. That delayed everything massively.

“So Johansson, in fact, would have had plenty of time to get down from his seat and present the trophy well after the final whistle had blown.”

“And,” adds Thompson, “Lennart never even got a glass of champagne.”

Artist Raj Dhunna explains the process behind creating his Elevator Pitch illustration and more HERE.

The 1999 Champions League final. Yeah, you know the one. Basler after six minutes. Bayern hit the woodwork twice. Sheringham scuffs the equaliser. Solskjær sticks a leg out. Kuffour pounds the ground. Schmeichel does a rubbish cartwheel. The trophy heads to Manchester. All that stuff.

Drama of the highest order. A story for the ages. But like any good tale, it has subplots. The Camp Nou is a big place and there were thousands of people packed in that night, all with different assignments and subsequent anecdotes. The players had their jobs, of course; management and support staff too. The fans were then to take it all in and, as we are all too aware in these strange times, be a crucial part of the spectacle themselves.

Then there were the people who were there to grease wheels, spin plates and keep spanners out of works. The organisers, facilitators and coordinators responsible for match operations, beavering away in the background to make sure that everything in the foreground was fireworks and flawlessness. Craig Thompson was one of those people.

In fact, the American occupies a special place in the history of the Champions League: he was a key part of the management team that came up with the concept that launched in 1992. Seven years later he was at the home of Barcelona in the VIP area, surrounded by celebrities, politicians and football’s top brass. “We were working the entire time and there was a lot of pressure,” he says. “We were minimising problems before they got bigger and believe me, whatever can go wrong around a final does go wrong.”

Thompson takes up the tale with Bayern München leading Manchester United 1-0, a few minutes before the end of normal time. “I had to get Lennart Johansson, the then president of UEFA, down to the pitch to present the cup,” he says. The Swede obviously concurred with the logic of vacating his seat early: he commiserated with Bobby Charlton before heading off. Bayern were clearly going to emerge victorious. Indeed, another star of the United side that won the 1968 European Cup final, George Best, was already in a taxi speeding away from the Camp Nou by this point.

One of Thompson’s colleagues was Paul Bristow, who also played a role in the formation of the Champions League and, on this particular evening, was in charge of hospitality in the VIP area. “At the end of the match we wanted to serve all the guests champagne in glasses engraved with the logo of the winning team” he says. “So we had 250 glasses with the Manchester United logo and 250 with the Bayern logo. About five minutes before the end of the match I thought, ‘Right, time to get everybody ready.’”

Meanwhile, Johansson and his chaperone were preparing for descent. “The VIP room in Barcelona is very high and they had this tiny elevator,” says Thompson. “Lennart Johansson must have been a good 275lbs and about 6’5. He was a big guy. There was really only room for the two of us. This was not an easy journey.”

As the lift began its voyage, Bristow was proceeding with his sparkling scheme. “This was a military operation; if you've ever tried to pour champagne at a party when the candles are already lit on the cake, you know that you don't want to be doing it in a hurry,” he says. “We unpacked the Bayern Munich glasses, corks were popping, champagne was spilling everywhere, people were mopping it up… but we were getting there.” 

Thompson was counting down the seconds until the lift doors opened, consoling himself with the knowledge that he’d have the president pitchside in plenty of time for the trophy presentation. And that was even allowing for a lethargic lift. “This elevator was super slow. We finally came out into the tunnel, from where it was another 100 metres to the pitch. Then we hear this huge roar. Obviously, somebody had scored, but we couldn’t see anything. So Lennart sped up a little bit and we made it out to the pitch. Everybody’s celebrating.”

Of course, the celebrants were United: Teddy Sheringham had just scored in the first minute of injury time to draw the scores level. Thompson and Johansson were speechless. As the latter later said: “I thought, ‘It can’t be: the winners are crying and the losers are dancing.’”

Up in the VIP area, Bristow was rethinking his strategy based on the now all-but-assured prospect of extra time. “Was the champagne still going to be fizzy after 30 minutes? No. Luckily we hadn’t poured everything so it was a case of, ‘Stop, stop, stop!’ Then: ‘Do we put the glasses away?’ ‘No, because Bayern may still win.’”

Thompson carries on the story from the side of the pitch. “Lennart looks at me, I look at him and, you know, what were we going to do?” At this point things went from bad to worse. “Lennart said, ‘Well, extra time – we’d better go back up.’”

Penalty Pedigree

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