Even on dark days, Old Trafford remains a theatre of dreams
Published 04/01/2014 | 02:30
We were in the family section of the Stretford End for the Manchester United-Tottenham game on New Year's Day. The atmosphere was sporting, boisterous and friendly. Mostly. We had our people stationed in three different parts of the ground. The verdict was unanimous. There were no nightmares in the Theatre of Dreams, yet there was a sense of anger at sections of those present. This is not Disneyland.
Emmanuel Adebayor stood to attention at the corner flag and saluted the fans in the Stretford End. He had just scored a spectacular headed goal, rising vertically from 0 to 3 metres in one second. Spurs were one up at Old Trafford and the mock salute didn't go down at all well. But Adebayor was responding to standard racial and personal abuse. Adebayor's humour and spectacular goal was the perfect example of the Jesse Owens method of beating the bigots.
The Spurs supporters down to our right were ranting about Sol Campbell, who wasn't even playing. Campbell left Spurs for North London neighbours Arsenal and was branded a traitor by the Spurs fans at Old Trafford. By the way, Campbell left Spurs for Arsenal only the bare 13 years ago.
The wicked screeching from the extremists on both sides was clearly audible. This was not an isolated occasion. The scenes are replicated at every club in the Premier League.
There wasn't a word of censure from the TV commentators or pundits. Nor was there anything in the numerous match reports. It seems to me then there that there is a conspiracy of silence.
Maybe, in their commercial reasoning, the people who run the game deem that paying customers are allowed to behave badly. I wonder if the Glasgow Celtic fans were engaging in such behaviour would they have got off as lightly?
Would I advise parents to bring their kids to Old Trafford? Yes. Definitely, I would, but you'd want to give them a little pre-game counselling. All you have to do is look into the eyes of the boys and girls when they see Old Trafford for the first time. It really is a stadium of dreams. The sparing up and the travelling are worth it all. Sad to say, there is no perfect place in today's world.
It was the first time we had managed to get tickets for the Stretford End. For the most part, the majority of the supporters spent their evening cheering for Manchester United rather than against Spurs.
The stadium, the perfect pitch, the theatricality make for a sporting occasion that brings us back time and time again. There is a sense of family in the micro as well as the macro. Many of those present were using presents from Santa. The love of the United way is handed down. We cannot give custody of a family heirloom to the unworthy. Bring your kids. The good by far outweighs the bad.
There was a disconnect of sorts in that the overseas United fans didn't know the words of the newest songs. Yet this is also part of the magic of the place. The sense of global community is based on a shared love of a club with a history of playing attacking football and a back story that includes the Munich air disaster. We met two Japanese ladies from Osaka who cried before the memorial to the fallen in the Munich tunnel. Football has made Manchester and is the new cotton.
The United megastore was as full as a supermarket giving out free turkeys on Christmas Eve. The visitors spend a fortune at big games with most staying overnight. The overseas United fans bring respect and knowledge with them. They are not mere day-trippers, but pilgrims.
Even referee Howard Webb got off lightly enough from the fans, who were still brim full of Christmas goodwill. Mr Webb had a terrible game. Manchester United were denied a definite penalty when Ashley Young was crash-tackled right in front of us and Adnan Januzaj was booked for diving when clearly fouled.
Januzaj and Young were booked in previous matches for diving and the young Mr Webb's favourite bed-time fairytale must have been 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf.' As the bashful referee walked off via the tunnel under the Stretford End, the only booing from the family section came from a prawn-brained eejit in a corporate box.
United were badly wronged, but this team only goes at full pace in patches. An injured Wayne Rooney was trying to play in the backs, midfield and forwards, but, along with Adebayor, he was the classiest player on the pitch. Januzaj was very skilful and, if United can play 90 minutes like they have been doing for 20, then the Champions League is no forlorn hope in what is a very weak year.
At this time last season the goals of Robin van Persie were responsible for over 20 of United's points total. His injury absences are the single difference between last season's romp to glory and this year's descent down the table. The ineffective United strikers failed to make even one run to the near post. I have no doubt, but that if Van Persie was playing, he would have scored a couple on the short side.
The much-criticised midfield will be fine if they can play at a sustained, faster pace and if the fresh subs are brought on earlier to keep up the tempo. There is a dire need, though, for faster full-backs, who can stay with flying wingers and bolster midfield. Seamus Coleman has United written all over him.
I know the game has a massive money-making ethos but at United you always sense the eternal flame in the Munich Tunnel will burn brightly long after passing millionaires go their way.
As for the horrible people who try to spoil the game for the good people, we will sentence them to the awful punishment of their own company.
We will share with you now the New Year's blessing we gave our loved ones on the Stretford End. Go mbeimid go leir beo ag an am seo aris -- that we might all be alive this time next year.