It’s party time

Manchester United fans celebrate the victory of their team.-AP

Some 350 Manchester United guests — players, the manager Sir Alex Ferguson, wives, and hangers on — partied through and beyond the early hours. The team celebrated their Champions League victory in a first floor reception room of the Crowne Plaza hotel, writes Luke Harding.

It was 3 a.m., and the Manchester United players had just arrived back at their Moscow hotel, following their dramatic 6-5 penalty shootout victory over Chelsea. Looking exhausted but exhilarated, the players trooped upstairs to their 10th floor suites. They got changed.

And then began football’s biggest party — a triumphant seven-hour knees-up, involving singing, drinking and Rio Ferdinand serenading fans with an impromptu chant of “Manchester, la la la”. Some 350 Manchester United guests — players, the manager Sir Alex Ferguson, wives, and hangers on — partied through and beyond the early hours. The team celebrated their Champions League victory in a first floor reception room of the Crowne Plaza hotel.

After a quick breakfast, the players, some unshaven, most bleary-eyed, but all in team suits, arrived at the airport, the silver trophy — red ribbons still attached — eased into a customised flight case.

Back at the hotel, the clean-up began. “It was a great party,” Sergei, 18, a waiter, said, after the players had finally checked out and set off back to Manchester at 3 p.m. local time.

“There was a live three-piece band. We had a disco, with a mixture of 80s and modern songs. I was pouring the wine. The players danced and sang. We also laid on a buffet.”

How did they look? “They were clearly very tired. But they were happy. And there was a lot of dancing.”

Workmen were removing the dance floor where the United players had strutted their stuff. The band had left behind the lyrics to one of their party songs. Given the nerve-jangling nature of United’s victory, the words seemed appropriate. They read: “I don’t wanna work today/Maybe I just wanna stay/Just take it easy cause there is no stress.”

Yes, it was, that most traditional of post-match celebrations: a team singalong to French tribal house DJ Laurent Wolf’s No Stress. It was not entirely clear what Sir Bobby Charlton made of it.

Fans staying in the five-star hotel — just next to the Moscow river, and a short walk from where Boris Yeltsin stood on a tank — said the players were in great spirits. “We were there when they arrived. They all looked fairly tired but delighted. Rio Ferdinand was limping,” Al Williams, 22, a United fan from England, said.

“We went out to Red Square. When we came back the party was still going on. Rio appeared on the balcony and started clapping and cheering the fans. He was chanting: ‘Manchester United are champions. Manchester la la la’. All of the players were wearing their winners’ medals.”

A few players — including Darren Fletcher — ventured down to the lobby, to chat with fans. “Fletcher was there with his dad. He was wearing his medal. His father was as pleased as punch,” Williams said. “The players weren’t drunk. They looked sober but very happy of course,” Claus Bloch, a Danish fan and a United supporter since 1977, said.

The party went on and on, staff said. While most of the team headed off to bed at 7 a.m., a hard core kept going until 10 a.m.

Team officials suggested that they set off from the hotel later than scheduled because their plane to the UK was delayed. In reality, after finishing the match at 2 a.m. local time and partying through the rain-sodden night, nobody was capable of getting up.

The hotel laid on what it called a UEFA Champions League late late breakfast: smoked salmon and caviar and a traditional English fry-up. There was more champagne and vodka.

But United’s penalty shootout hero, goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar, proved himself a man of more simple tastes, piling his breakfast plate with a banana and two boxes of Coco Pops — an unlikely breakfast of champions. “It was just a little party,” said Daniel Welback, 17, a member of United’s reserve squad, as he wandered somewhat forlornly round the hotel lobby. The coach had apparently left without him for the airport half an hour earlier, whisking away a winking Cristiano Ronaldo, and a mute Wayne Rooney.

Why did he miss the bus? “I just woke up five minutes ago,” Welback confessed. And what were the celebrations like? “Obviously we were really happy,” he added, before going off in search of a driver.

Hotel staff left with the task of clearing up said United deserved their victory and knew how to party. “We removed a whole trolley full of bottles,” Vyacheslav, a hotel employee, said. Next to him, bin liners had been filled to the brim with beer bottles and empty cartons of apple juice. Nearby, workers removed wilting floral decorations, in Manchester United red. “You Brits drink a lot,” Vyacheslav suggested. “But we Russians drink more. You should have seen what it was like here after New Year.”

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008