One of my oldest friends’ parents have season tickets for United and his parents opted against seeing United play Liverpool in the Europa league. Liverpool won the first leg 2-0, so it would be a fairly historical evening for United to get through. And this United team are far from a historically good side. Still though, a tonne of positives to take 2 days off, meeting up with some old friends, have a few drinks and watch some football.
Plenty and plenty of positives.
I got the Virgin train up. It was a bit of a steal also. Only about 55 quid return. I was going up on a Thursday and back on the Friday, so I was avoiding the main rush. It was not as relaxing as I was hoping it be, there was some stress;
If I could give any advice to people, I would recommend getting more long train journeys. There is something incredibly peaceful and enjoyable about sitting on a train with a coffee or a beer and a good book or your laptop. I love typing on a train. For whatever reason, I love writing while on the train. By train I mean big proper trains, not the train from Ashtown to Leixlip. I manage to get a load of work done be it for my day job or my website. Productivity overload. All my 2016 holidays look already planned but I think in 2017, I am going to just hop on the train from London to Paris and just train around Europe for a few weeks. I can begin my book;
“Do Tigers Roar? Do Giants Cry? The Chronicles of the Dance Floor.”
Anyway, so I arrived up in Manchester and met my pals, Joey and Neil. It was great to see them. I am very lucky to have a wide group of friends, but there is something different when you hang out with your oldest pals. We do not know as much about each other as we used to but the same old in jokes are always there and we would spend hours talking about different things that were relevant back then. Neil’s parents have VIP suite season tickets, which was the best.
We walked into the VIP suite and Neil (who is a few months older than me) was asked for ID while being searched. When it came my time to be searched, I was not asked for ID. The VIP suite is an odd place. Don’t get my wrong, it is great, but it is weird. Essentially, it is a big room with plenty of tables. As we entered, we were handed some champagne and ushered to our seats. This is slightly different to my experiences of Dalymount, watching Bohs. I opted for the lentil soup with a meat pie. It was phenomenal. As I was finishing my second pint and waiting for my second course, I figured, that this is not a bad way to watch a football match. When GOD16 (Roy Keane) would complain about the “prawn sandwich brigade”, I would always agree with him. But now, I feel Roy should maybe opt for the pie instead of the prawn next time.
I may have missed the natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights in Iceland (I was busy dancing in a Gay Bar, obviously), but I managed to witness a different kind of phenomenon, the ex-pro dinner chat. In the hallowed VIP section, an ex-pro will walk around and chat to people. As they eat. So, as you are tearing your pie to pieces, you will have some chap telling you about the time that he took a foul throw against Charlton Athletic. I wonder how they feel about it? Being St. Patrick's Day, we had two ex-Irish international players, Gerry Daley and Frank Stapleton. I must admit, they did not particularly excite me. I am sure they were both super players but well before my time. I was aware of Frank Stapleton but more so for his character on Apres Match. Gerry Daley & Frank Stapleton must have been used to playing in front of thousands of adoring fans and scoring big goals for United, but now they spend their evenings chatting to a bunch of tossers. I know that may be harsh but we were all a bunch of tossers guzzling down as many free pints as possible. One of my friends, Joey, was wearing a Deadpool T-shirt and is a Liverpool fan. United legends surely deserve better. It is tinged with a layer of tragedy but I say this not knowing how much money they get paid to do it. Also, they probably love it. I assume it is great for people to ask you about your accomplishments and talk football. And get paid for it. We avoided them as we felt too awkward, and we were also trying to piece together a strategy that will allow us to get additional free pies.
I could not keep my eyes off the ex-pros as they made their way around table to table. Having idle small talk. How does the conversation start? Do they ask you about your food? Do they jump right in with a reference;
"That chicken reminds me of the FA Cup semi final in 1972 against Arsenal.....tough"
Do they pretend to care about our insignificant lives? If I played for Ireland, I wouldn't care how your flight to Manchester was or that your wife is pregnant and always moaning. Also, this is all happening during dinner. How awkward. Talking to someone who is standing over your table does not lend itself to a natural conversation flow. I will also, almost definitely, spill gravy on myself. These United legends deserve better.
Our seats were brilliant. Such a good view of the pitch. Despite the team being brutal and managed by a horrendous chancer, the atmosphere was great and we were beginning to believe. The game started great, from a United point of view. Watching a game in the flesh is such a different experience then watching it on TV. You see so much and can really appreciate how bloody good some of these footballers are. Unfortunately, when you play poorly in the flesh, it also looks a million times worse. United’s Uruguayan right back, Varela had an absolute shocker. Seeing Anthony Martial in the flesh was a real experience. The chap is pure class. Martial has obviously been great this season but when he see his movement off the ball and how often he takes on his defender, it is a joy. Anthony Martial also scored the first goal with a penalty.
The stadium began to rock. The comeback was on. United began to dominate and created some really super chances. It was enjoyable to watch United actually play enjoyable football as this season has been very grim at times. Seeing a United in full flight in person is truly a joy. Now, United were far from the Ferguson era but they were passing the ball forward. Beggars can’t be choosers.
The sucker punch came just on the stroke at half time. Countinho scored a lovely little goal with seconds left in the half. Gutting. United now needed another 3 goals to go through. Even for the most optimistic of supporters, that would have been a stretch. Thankfully, I had a fresh pint os Singha waiting at my table inside at half time. It eased the pain. The atmosphere in the suite was very different. Very quiet and solemn. I had a feeling that everyone in the suite was feeling and thinking the same as me;
“Ah, that sucks that we are going out. But free food and booze is great fun!”
Frank Stapleton walked around and chatted with a few punters. I think I saw him shrug his shoulders more than 10 times. We downed the rest of our pints and headed out for the second half. The atmosphere was completely different. The away supporters were singing louder or appeared much louder as Old Trafford sat in silence. It is a bit disappointing that it was so quiet as I remember anytime United were struggling under Fergie, the place would still rock but a very different team now. And the tie was completely dead. There were a few half chances throughout the second half but nothing much.
The atmosphere was beginning to get quite nasty. There are some genuine chants that I heard that made me feel uncomfortable. Football fans are so weird. Grown men screaming at each other. Grown men holding up signs. Do these people sit at home the night before, on the ground, and create these posters?
"What is Dad doing?"
"He is working on his Louis van Gaal Out poster, dear."
I am unsure if you heard about it but United fans presented a "Murderers" banner over a bridge for Liverpool fans to see upon their arrival into Manchester. I do not see the "Banter" or funny side of this at all. I am sure Liverpool fans are just as bad with the Munich song but the whole thing is so classless. There was a guy behind me, who was wearing a suit, and before the game gave off the impression that he was a normal upstanding citizen. However, throughout the game he was screaming curse words at the "Scouse Scum". There did not seem to be an ounce of "banter" in his voice, just pure hatred. It was quite pathetic really. The whole thing was pathetic, apparently hating a group of people because they support a different team in red AND United had no bloody chance in getting through the tie anyway.
The full time whistle blew and United whimpered out of another tournament. Thankfully, another fresh pint of Singha was waiting for me inside to ease the pain. Despite it being a poor performance and an exit out of the tournament, it was a really enjoyable evening with some old pals. My actual friends. This current Manchester United team are no friends of mine. We began to sink a few more Singha’s as we were supplied a post game pie, for some reason. At this point, I am fit to burst. I just cannot refuse free food and alcohol. Being Irish, and classy, on our way out, we grabbed a few pies from some other tables for our breakfast. It was incredibly optimistic to think that we would wait for the morning to consume more free food.