First trip to the Theatre of Dreams

It was 2010, I was 21, I had never been to Old Trafford, I know you thinking what sort of fan is that, but being from the west of Ireland and from a relatively poor family my opportunities were limited to say the least. I grew up with my neighbours going to Man United games every year, the Liverpool fans going to Anfield, the real lucky ones going to Man Utd V Liverpool games, I could only dream what it would have been like to be there. Every great win that would go by I could imagine what it would be like to have been there. It wasn’t to be, well for me at least.

Come March. Im on the phone to a friend of mine, a fellow Man Utd fan – his friend has a season ticket, his friends brother also has a season ticket, at the time I’d didn’t realise they weren’t right beside each other, they happened to be one row behind the other, the further back being one seat to the left as well – In the now SAF stand, 2nd tier at the halfway line. He tells me they aren’t going to the champions league quarter final, I said “that’s mad id be there if I could!”, he says “well I could ask them for you”. Wait. What? Is this happening? “Yes definitely”, please, class, wow I thought. He rang back later, I was with my girlfriend at the time, the tickets were mine if I wanted them, face value, yes! Its going to happen, I’m going to Old Trafford, I dreamed of this day.

I get off the phone, “who will I ask to come with me” I say to my girlfriend, “well can I come?” she says. It never crossed my mind, its football! Haha but as soon as she said it I thought why not, its still a break away for us, I was looking forward to it, we booked the flights, Ryan Air, it was official no going back now!

April comes around I get a phone call off my mate, I’m expecting to arrange a time to collect the tickets. Not so. “Sorry bud” he says “but the guys with the season tickets have decided to go”, so apologetic he was, it wasn’t his fault after all, what could I say. Id didn’t know what to say. I didn’t say much, “ah, sure nothing you can do.. thanks anyway..” I said.

I was in shock, we had flights booked and a hotel in the middle of town too! Sure feck it, I’m disappointed as hell now but we are going to Manchester for the couple of days either way now and I have never even seen Old Trafford so at least I can do the museum tour or something… but deep down I was thinking we were both students so this trip was only happening because we got good deals, now for what…?? We were missing the whole point of it..

He rings back… April Fools!! He shouts! I could have decked him.. with the buzz in my head about the whole situation he completely blindsided me on the 1st of April, I didn’t see it coming, but at this stage I certainly wasn’t complaining!

We got the tickets, again call it my naivety but I wasn’t expecting them to be credit card type things, they were cool, I immediately thought about the day I will get my own, it will happen!

A few weeks before we go my girlfriend has to go up to the passport office and get hers renewed, guess what there’s a backlog, the biggest in the country’s history would you believe, typical, but after a long day queuing they tell her they will have it ready for the day before we leave guaranteed, you see we had the flights booked so that kind of helps things along in these situations…. We drive up the day before to collect it, smaller queue this time, the guy at the counter says your passport isn’t here, he denies the fact that anyone would say it would definitely be ready for this day, they could never gaurentee that he says. Shit. What do we do now?? “its not what you know its who you know” that’s what makes the world go around. Phone calls are made. Her aunt happens to be good friends with the Taoiseach’ wife (Taoiseach=Irish Prime Minister) so they call his office, explain the emergency, I’m not sure what exactly they told him, but he was a Man United fan too so maybe this helped!! Haha, meanwhile I’m ringing a couple of my mates who are big Man United fans, explaining the situation, and seeing if she can’t get her passport sorted would they want to come, one of them says he cant afford it, the other who had never been to Old Trafford either said yes before I even finished the story!

I know I’m dangling the carrot in front of his face but was else could I do…either way by the end of the day they had arranged an emergency passport for my girlfriend while many others were missing holidays etc. because they didn’t foresee the delay, we said nothing, take what you can get my dad always says! I rang my buddy and let him know, I could tell he was a little disappointed but what can you do (little did he or I know at the time but I would have these tickets again in 2011 and he was first in line for consideration after the situation I put him in this time)

Anyway the day comes. I’ll skip the boring parts. Bus. Airport ( one thing I will say about Dublin airport is when I got there with every corner I turned I could find a Man United jersey somewhere, maybe I was just more clued in because of my trip but I could sense I wasn’t the only one travelling, far from it and it was a good feeling, almost family like with these people I had never met, you might catch someone’s eye or a quick nod, we both knew where the other was going, a quick smile and on we walk on. Then Seeing other united jerseys getting on the same plane, great to see how wide the united support is, and that’s just Ireland!) we flew to Leeds-Bradford (cheaper). Train. We are in Picadiliy. I can smell the atmosphere already, I see a Bayern Jersey, I see united jerseys. Not a city jersey in sight.. I like this place, I think to myself. I immediately think about how all my neighbours and people I went to school with had experienced this when they were 5/8/10 years old etc. look what I missed. My time had come, we got to our hotel the day before the match, it wasn’t great, but it was cheap and it had a bed, and like I said we were students, what more do we need.

Waking up the next day, all I can hear is singing, sounds like its coming from across the road, it was, I get excited for a second, then I realise its German.. had we just booked the hotel right in the middle of the away fan central haha looked like it, but feck it I didn’t care, we soaked it up, we got up and went across to the bar, jerseys on we didn’t care, it was banter, or at least that’s what I thought, but as soon as we got in I could feel them all staring, not in a hooligan sort of way but still, I wasn’t there to cause trouble I don’t think they wanted any trouble but something told us that maybe us being there wasn’t maybe the norm so we left them to it, and made our away about town, it was still early yet, she wanted to shop.. and so we did, and lets be fair, she isn’t in to football, she is there for me, so lets give her some shopping time. Shopping centre. Sports store. Im there. I see the yellow and green scarf I get two, one for me and one for her little brother, he like many of my neighbours growing up had been to Old Traffod numerous times.. (for his birthday recently, they got him a trip to Man United V Liverpool, but never told him, they woke him at 4am in the night to get him up and go on the day of the game! I don’t know if any of yee have every experienced anything like that but id have given an arm and a leg for something like that as a kid, jealous wasn’t the word!).. he wasn’t even bothered about the scarf in the end!! But that’s a different story, my childhood jealousy came back to me for that one! For me the scarf was always about history, not Glazers, I love knowing the heritage and I love embracing it..

Tick tock tick tock, shopping done time to make our way to Old Trafford, to the Theatre of Dreams, getting the tram out, the thing is wedged, couple of drunk Irish lads singing united songs, I’m Irish myself so I just look to my girlfriend and nod at the boys singing, we are both thinking the same thing, Jesus us ‘Paddys’ don’t do much to help our own reputation haha.

The tram stops it’s time for the final walk to the stadium, people are coming from every avenue and alley, it’s a sea of red, green and yellow. We get up near the stadium, we have about 45minutes till kick off, I stop suddenly, the Munich clock catches my eye. 2In the hustle of thousands around the stadium, for a second it all goes quiet, a shudder goes down my spine. The realism of the clubs history has never been as real than at that moment. My girlfriend doesn’t have a clue what I’m looking at, shoe doesn’t even know about the Munich disaster, but it doesn’t take her long to understand the heroism of some of them men, no, giants, that played for this club.

We walk again to look for our entrance stile. We can’t find it, signs saying to go this way we follow, can’t find it, turn back, see more signs for it, still can’t find it!! Kick-off is approaching, as well as being a man, I’m an engineering student.. so figuring things out is what I do, I couldn’t dare ask for help, not yet… we find it and as we approach the stile I’m not even sure how to use the season ticket card, slightly worried the steward might realise the ticket is not mine and not let me in or something! but the steward is helpful, we are in Old Trafford, I’ve no time to enjoy it just yet, from the length of time it took us to get there the, the champions league music had already started. I had definitely planned on being in my seat for this. We rush up the stairs not sure where we are going but it’s not too hard… the noise is getting louder by every step. we get there I take my first look at the pitch, the teams are just getting in position for kick-off I can’t believe I’m here! As we walk to our seats it’s at this point we realised we are not together but quickly realise we are sitting pretty much one behind the other so it’s no big deal. I get to my seat, the place is full and so is my seat…I’m not sure if I got the wrong seat, but my girlfriend is in hers so it must be right.. “excuse me I think…”, the guy isn’t long moving and reckon his seat was further up and he was just grabbing a better view..

The match starts, I can’t believe I’m here. 3 minutes in, Goal! I go mental I can’t believe it, (we were 2-1 down from the first leg, now we had gone ahead already on away goals) 7 minutes in 2-0, this has to be a dream!! Trademark Nani celebration. I find myself turning back to my girlfriend to celebrate but I’m just going mad so I turn back just as quick, but she was included so it was all good, we came here together after all. 5 minutes left to half time, Nani does it again, I’m in dreamland, my phone is vibrating a lot at this stage, the two lads I offered to come here if my girlfriend couldn’t and the guy who got me the tickets are texting like mad – half delighted that I’m getting to witness this, half Very pissed off that they are missing it!! The chants going around the stadium are so loud some I don’t know trying to learn as I go and join in, it is immense! 2 minutes later, Olic, 3-1, back to reality, what was that about, that wasn’t meant to happen. I can see the front of the German supporters section up to my left, some of it is blocked by the roof of my stand, they are behind the goal, at this point the few thousand of them is making a hell of a lot more noise that the rest of us.

At half time we stay in our seats just taking it all in, from where we are sitting you can see right across to the edge of the roof on the other stadium but you just can’t see the sky, it is like being in a big indoor arena.

3The second half starts and Rafael had already been booked in the first half, he had made a couple of silly challenges, we are only 10minutes in a Ribery is about to make a break, not on Rafaels watch, Foul, Card, and he is off. Suddenly the atmosphere changes, I don’t know what It looked like for those watching on TV but I could see now that Bayern were controlling the game, the seemed to have an extra man or two waiting for every pass, it wasn’t pleasant to watch, I hadn’t signed up for this, for every kid that I had known to go to great games growing up, I forgot about the ones who went to the 2-1 losses to Blackblurn etc. not every game is a dream some are nightmares.. with 15 minutes to go Robben grabs a goal, long effort from the near side edge of the box. Good goal but I hated him at that moment more than I ever hated anyone. That was game over. We had nothing left to give. The final whistle blew and that was that. Bayern through on away goals. The Bayern team went to their fans and applauded them, there was three guys in the seats in front of me going mental, nearly ripping up seats, calling Bayern fans and players all the names under the sun, I was a bit shocked at this, like I get that they were upset but Bayern weren’t dirty and their fans didn’t boo or do anything bad in the game, give them a break I thought, its shit losing but they won fair and square and hey, at least we beat them in ’99!!

The next day we wake up and there is no singing this morning, not even German fans, it felt like the moment of yesterday disappeared, maybe it never happened, we went to a pub to get some grub and the highlights or should I say the lowlights were on the TV, I remember looking up and seeing the Robben goal go in, but it was all backwards, he scored from the wrong side, maybe it was a dream, but of course the TV cameras were on the other side of the pitch to me so it all appeared backwards, but seeing it that way without expecting it was strange I must say!! It wasn’t a dream. It happened, my first trip to old Trafford, it ended in a win technically but actually a loss because of away goals.

“At least they won on the night…” my girlfriend said to me.

Time to go home.

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