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The weekend saw United travel to the Midlands to take on the Wolves and I was one of the lucky few able to get a ticket and support the team. As a way to spend the time on the coach constructively (well more constructively than reading the Sunday papers) I decided to pen a little diary of the day…
I was originally unsuccessful in the ballot for the game (like most games this season) until I got a phone call Wednesday teatime saying they had got some returns and was I still interested in going?
Well the Pope is a Catholic and I’m sure bears still crap in the woods so of course I was still interested. The only catch was that I had to pick up my ticket from the Old Trafford before 1pm on Saturday.
Working and living on the other side of Manchester during the week meant the only time I would be able to pick up the ticket would be Saturday morning before I went to referee my usual youth football.
As I arrived at Old Trafford on the Saturday morning I saw the words that strike the fear of God into any self respecting human being…
‘X FACTOR CONTESTANTS – THIS WAY’
In a scene reminiscent of Jurassic Park, as I approached the ground the water bottle in my car started to shake as the beats of the music rocked the ground and the car.
In a perfect example of Glazernomics the car park was charging the contestants £10 each to park up, this made me smile. Due to the vibrations on the floor that the heavy bass of some popular music was creating I was in and out of Old Trafford as quickly as possible. On leaving I could hear the MC trying to gee up the crowd for some shots they were filming by saying ‘Manchester is the best place we’ve been!’ (How long before we get the stadium announcer trying this on a matchday?)
Next morning I arrived at Old Trafford at 9:45am ready to board the coach for a 10:00am departure. The last coach I had taken to an away game was to Norwich which left at 6:00am so I should be refreshed and ready to go for this trip in comparison. This was not the case however, as I had been unable to sleep and stayed up all night watching Red Dwarf.
As I sat on the coach the remnants of the previous days X Factor visitors were still around. This got me thinking as to what songs United players would audition with…
Tom Cleverley with a Johnny Cash version of ‘Hurt’?
Nani in a Michael Jackson tribute of ‘Bad’ to fit in with his recent form?
At this point I regained my common sense and thought this was something that is a twitter # tag, not something for me to be contemplating on less than 3 hours sleep!
Whereas the Norwich coach was packed and I ended up sat next to a guy that can only be described as suffering from personal hygiene issues, this time the coach was only two thirds full leaving me to acquire the whole back row for myself (school habits never die).
It seems these coaches pull in an interesting mix of fans that are going to the games. You get the clear regulars who seem to do this trip frequently; these can be seen in the way they act as if they own the coach, the younger fans usually making their first trips away and the more ‘sensible’ fans that are not part of a supporters club.
As I go to away games on my own and am not really into the matchday culture of having a drink etc I like getting these coaches as you can easily keep yourself to yourself.
The discussions that people were having as we set off were dominated by the back pages, Muamba, Rooney and Glasgow Celtic moving south.
One ‘fan’ on the coach was very clearly a ‘Top Red’ – in his late 40s and decked out head to toe in the finest MUFC merchandise. From his ‘Champions 19’ home shirt with Champions League badges on the arms, to his club tracksuit and baseball cap covered in badges. He was the pinnacle of what every true Man United fan aspires to be. He seemed to be in charge of starting the topics of discussion for the front half of the coach who seemed to enjoy nothing better than sucking the life out of football by analysing it to the Nth degree (copyright @Herzogschild for that line).
The first discussion was a simple starter for ten – who do you think will start today?
‘Top Red’ was first with his team, he couldn’t see Young and Nani not starting today along with Rooney and Berbatov up front to compete against the strong Wolves backline. In midfield he wanted Cleverley and Scholes as he doesn’t rate Carrick and Jones at RB. Like I said… ‘Top Red’
Sat a few rows behind ‘Top Red’ were two guys who I christened Statler and Waldorf, they were a very pessimistic pair who seemed to find a problem with every United player mentioned (unfortunately I was unable to find out their Twitter names). They also got into discussion about Wigan and Bolton’s problems and reckoned they needed young managers like Brendan Rogers to improve them. I wanted to mention that Owen Coyle and Roberto Martinez were not exactly collecting their pensions yet but thought better of it.
The other notable person on the coach was a lad sat in front of me who appeared to be only 16/17 years old and travelling to his first away game (the phone calls to his parents every 15 minutes gave this away) He seemed to have taken the Dom Joly, loud person on the phone shtick to new levels as he was the loudest person on the phone I’ve ever seen. The pinnacle of his conversations came with a discussion about an incident he’d witnessed at an Ice Hockey game the previous night, apparently the Plexiglas around the rink had smashed in a collision and part of it had been embedded in a lad’s leg. The detail he then gave on the blood and gore was not what was required whilst I was trying to eat.
We arrived at the ground not long after midday and got off the coach for a pre-game wander. Molineux is currently undergoing redevelopment and this is reflected in the amount of construction and mess around the ground. With not that much to see outside (other than the Asda next door) I decided to get into the ground and see where I would be sat/stood.
Normally you get the away fans tucked into a corner or generally plonked somewhere no one else would want to sit; however, I’m not sure if it was to do with one stand being half finished, but we had the whole bottom tier of the Steve Bull stand (is this like Old Trafford having a Ruud Van Nistelrooy stand?). Having the away fans right next to the pitch seems to allow the away team to hear its support better so is detrimental to the home team, no?
Anyway I had a tremendous seat on the halfway line giving a top view of both goals and as the players came out to warm up they jogged towards us in a manner you could only describe as ‘casual’. The player who stands out by a mile is the beast of a man Antonio Valencia, as he faced us I gave a shout towards him, and, in a shrieking female boyband fan kinda way, I waved at him. He looked up and gave a small wave in my general direction, causing me to make a sound so high pitched I never thought I was capable of! It’s fair to say that this acknowledgement from Tony V made me swoon and I needed to sit down for a minute or two.
The United lads filled up our stand and the game kicked off with Anton Ferdinand stood behind me (apparently watches Rio any chance he can). A few songs were sung and a couple of United fans behind me insisted on calling Rooney a ‘fat scouse bastard’, you’re never totally forgiven, Wayne. Rafael provided the highlight of the half with a sliding tackle that resulted in his left short leg basically ending up stuck-up his arse in a ‘Short Shorts’ style. His reluctance to sort this wardrobe malfunction out ended up with the United fans singing ‘Rafa, Rafa sort your shorts’. When he finally did sort them out he proceeded to have his worst patch of the game… related?
Half time was over and with the game all but decided due to the quick fire double before the break, the second half was more about winding up the Wolves fans and vice versa. Chants of ‘Just like watching Bilbao/West Brom’ were exchanged and the sight of the Wolves fans trying to start a Mexican Wave summed up the feelings of the home fans. Amusingly, United were mocked for only scoring 5 goals as well! The feelings of anger towards the Wolves board was clear to see and hear; however, from a personal point of view I don’t see how chanting like this really helps the home team.
The final whistle went and the United players clapped the fans and we clapped back, a very efficient performance against poor opposition. We made the short walk back to the coach and I reclaimed my back row for some much needed sleep (up all night watching Red Dwarf, if you remember). As the lad in front of me boarded the coach you would think we’d just won the league, same could be said for ‘Top Red’ who claimed he’d got the team right and it was always going to be a big score.
I asked him but he declined to tell me which United blog he wrote for…
On the way back I struggled to get much sleep as the lad in front was phoning every number on his phone to say how good a day it had been. I love how football can still make people feel this way and ‘Top Red’ was giving running commentary on the Liverpool v Stoke game he was listening to. He was convinced that Stoke would win… then Liverpool scored the winner. The highlight of the trip back to Old Trafford though was the conversation between Statler and Waldorf as we passed a lorry with a picture of cheese on toast across the side. They started to discuss what the right way to have cheese on toast was. Waldorf was convinced that you shred the cheese and place it under the grill to melt whilst Statler enjoyed the cheese unmelted on the toast. The young lad piped up at this time and agreed that you couldn’t melt the cheese, he’d tried this with Dairylea and it just doesn’t work.
Luckily at this point the coach pulled into Old Trafford and I was able to get to my car, making the drive home to sleep.
I didn’t go straight to sleep however; thanks to Statler and Waldorf I had some cheese on toast. It was melted into the image of the day’s messiah… Antonio Valencia.