Large crowds of Taiwanese soccer fans savored what some said was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to pay homage to the Premier League trophy and meet Ronny Johnsen and Quinton Fortune, two stars from the Manchester United treble-winning dynasty of the late 1990s.
In their two public appearances in Taipei yesterday, Johnsen and Fortune were surrounded by exuberant fans, most of them clad in the Premier League champions’ red jerseys, seeking autographs and pictures with the former Red Devils stars.
As two designated “football goodwill ambassadors,” Johnsen and Fortune were affable and happily obliged nearly all requests by Taiwanese United supporters at the events in front of the National Theater at CKS Memorial Hall and the plaza in front of Taipei 101.
“It was an amazing reception. We were greeted by hundreds of enthusiastic fans. I was quite surprised by the passion of the crowd; there were kids, grown-ups and all kinds of United supporters. It has been a fantastic experience for us here in Taipei,” Johnsen said.
The Norwegian centerback was at the heart of the Red Devils’ defense in partnership with Dutchman Jaap Stam during the memorable treble-winning season of 1999.
Fortune also made important contributions to title-winning campaigns through his career with Manchester United from 1999 to 2006.
When asked about Sir Alex Ferguson, Fortune said: “We were fortunate to have played for him. Ferguson drove his team to become winners. He keeps players on their toes, with his demands for consistency and getting the best performance out of the team for every match.”
The two stars were in Taiwan on Manchester United’s Asia tour of the Premier League championship trophy, which the Red Devils won last season under Ferguson for a record 20th time.
The crowd, estimated at about 500 fans, relished their up-close encounter with the trophy, with many of them touching the silverware.
A female fan at the event, who gave her name as “Fish,” said that she follows Manchester United “because their games are very exciting and thrilling to watch. Then I learned more about game tactics and the club’s history of winning championships. These kept me motivated to enjoy football with friends,” she said.
Another Red Devils fan called “Tatsu” said: “I’m so happy to meet the United players. It is a dream come true for me today, for this chance in my lifetime to see the Premier League championship trophy in person. It was a very special feeling to touch it.”
At the two media sessions in the afternoon, DHL Taiwan and Federal Tyres, the local sponsors of the Asia Trophy Tour, presented gifts of soccer balls to young players from Tienmu Elementary School and donations to help the local development of the game.
After Taipei, the players and the trophy are on their way to Seoul, South Korea, and then to three cities in China — Shanghai, Guangdong and Hong Kong.