There was a shade of carnivallike atmosphere around Old Trafford Monday night. With City having lost at Spurs on the Sunday, most people expected to celebrate the title. Not overjoyous, but still a feeling that it was not just an ordinary match. I don’t know the usual price for black market tickets for homematches, but out of curiosity I asked one of the ticket touts. £ 150 was the price, that is roughly 3 times face value, indicating that the interest was not too great, although I did see Asian tourists buy from the touts, partly hidden behind the urinals in Railway Road.
From early morning the souvenir grafters had been queueing up in the forecourt in front of the ground to sell their “Champions 20” stuff, in fact a lot of it had been on sale for a couple of weeks. A bit too premature for my liking.
The crowds in the pubs seemed a little bit more vocal than usual, but although I had thought I would go to one of them, I was put off by the many Scandinavians queueing up outside. When you go to other grounds, people seem to respect you, because you have come all the way from Scandinavia to watch the match. And it used to be like that, when I travelled to Manchester throughout the eighties. But not anylonger in Manchester. Many locals seem fed up with footballing tourists. When I interviewed former United star Paddy Crerand, he remembered how a couple of Scandinavians turned up at the local pub before a match in the eighties. They came back every year, bringing more Scandinavians with them for each year, until the pub was virtually taken over by Scandinavians.
It seems that the Scandinavians are keen to do it the right, Mancunian way, compared to the Asians. Wearing the gold and green scarves, going to the Bishop Blaize, being up-to-date with the songs. But perhaps because of that, I trace a scepticism among the Manchester fans that I don’t notice in other places. And it makes me avoid fellow Scandinavians.
Walking down to Old Trafford daily for a month has also changed my feelings when entering the forecourt. I always want to take a photo of my son there, when we go. But now I don’t really feel comfortable in the forecourt among the tourists taking photos.
I have my pre-match fish ‘n chips, take a photo of the house in Railway Road where Enoch West used to live, one of the United players banned in the matchfixing scandal in 1915 – whose ban was not lifted till after the World War, the second that is. He lived litteraly a goalkick from the ground.
After that, I go inside the ground to have a drink watching the MUTV interviews on the screens. There is no real tension as there is in big matches – so hardly a chant before the players enter the field. Whereas many other teams have sing-along tapes to start the noise, it does, however, flow freely from here at the Stretford End, where I am seated, once the players have entered. And the guy next to me seems quite up for it, clenching his fist, punching my shoulder, saying “YEEAAHH, AWESOME” and things like that. He doesn’t look like Eric Idle, but somehow reminds me of the Monty Python “nudge nudge” scetch. But then, everybody really gets carried away by the opening 15 minutes. Exploding stuff. If anybody had any fears or doubts they are expelled within 90 seconds, as United play some great stuff and take an early lead.
The second goal in particular is breathtaking. From my seat right under the roof in the NorthWest Quadrant, I have a perfect view of Robbie van Persie shaping up for an unstoppable bending volley and I can follow the ball’s trajectory just inside the post. One of those split seconds, where you somehow still have the time to think “Oh, no. This is too brillant to be true – it will hit the post and bounce out” but then realise it is a goal and go absolutely mental. I can’t take a photo, as my neighbour hugs me and punch my shoulder.
It is, however, a bit like a party with fireworks, where you find out that you have fired all your best crackers right at the start, and nothing after that really can live up to it. So much noise, so much singing, such great goals, such breathtaking stuff in the opening 20 minutes. And gradually things recinds into a normal level. That now feels a bit flat. But once we enter the final 20 minutes, the celebration proper gets under way, with homage being paid to everybody from George Best over Cantona and Jaap Stam to Wesley Brown and John O’Shea.
After the final whistle, the players do two laps of honour with about half the ground staying behind singing and applauding. Again, nice and in good spirit – but not exuberant as you perhaps would expect.
Afterwards there is lot of singing around the ground – which there rarely is for ordinary matches. A rush of stewarts and police on horses towards the forecourt indicates that some incidence has taken place, but it is over before it has started.
As usual, a big crowd gathers around the players entrance, hoping to get autographs. I opt for the directors’ entrance, looking for former players.
After about an hour the crowd at the players’ entrance is dispersed – all of the players have apparently left. But about 20 minutes later, as I decide it is time to go home, I hear shouting down there and go to have a look. Robbie van Persie is just getting into his car – after signing autographs for the approximately 15 fans who have stayed behind. “My son will kill me, when he hears, I missed out on this” I say to one of them. He feels sorry for me, and as he has managed to get 4 van Persie autographs in the melé, he gives me one of them for my son. They stay behind as Alex Ferguson’s car has just been driven inside the players tunnel, where it is waiting for him with the engine running. I decide to join them to be able to add an Alex Ferguson autograph from the night he won his 13th premiership title to the van Persie one.
But he takes his time. His assistant Mike Phelan leaves and shakes hands, poses for photos, but still no Sir Alex. More than an hour passes, before he finally at 1 AM gets into his car. A security guy tell us, that as long as we don’t push or take any photos, Sir Alex will sign for everybody as the car rolls by – and indeed he does. I get the opportunity to congratulate him on a night when Old Trafford at times really was rocking in celebration.