Today I am off to the football. Not the biggest fan of team sports in general, and having missed the last 7 or so matches, it has been not-so-subtlety suggested that this morning I get my ass in gear, and spend the day with my father at the game. Coat and gloves on, I head out early so we can grab a hearty breakfast before making our way to Old Trafford. Tea consumed, and my meal is served, although the eggs are overdone (I refer you to a previous blog post entirely dedicated to my love of eggs, so you can imagine I was not best pleased by this…). Could it be some sort of omen? I ponder, and I really am hoping that this afternoons match puts on a better performance than my decidedly lacklustre brunch.
We head over for the tram, and the city centre is heaving. There’s a manic buzz in the air, like everyone is anticipating some auspicious occurrence, and we all pile aboard as our driver gives a jovial ‘toot toot!’ to announce our departure.
Alighting just shy of the grounds, we follow the droves of footie-shirt clad fellows on their pilgrimage towards the stadium, the smell of fried goods wafting through the streets, and cries of ‘match day scarves-only a fiver!’ ringing in my ears.
I have my token football chat at the ready to whip out over the course of the next 90 or so minutes, with staples such as ‘referee?!?’ ‘that were never off-side that weren’t!’ and the particularly thoughtful commentary of ‘well, that was a game of two halves wasn’t it?’ (Said whilst stroking chin pensively).
Despite having had an early start, we somehow manage to miss kick-off due to my father swearing blind it all started at 3pm (it didn’t). I’m super annoyed, mainly because I’ve missed the bit where they announce the players’ names so then I know who the heck is kicking the ball around. Damn those overcooked eggs.
The atmosphere is one of eager excitement, as the players run back and forth, the last of the afternoon sun throwing shadows in shards across the pitch.
Play is ambling along nicely, and it’s only not even half an hour in before the home-side have scored. The stands erupt like a mighty cannon, as if a million fireworks have just gone off all at once. it’s an excellent goal, and I find myself punching the air as the team celebrate the success of their 18 year old striker.
The ripple of appreciation has only just died down, when the same wonder-kid is back in the box, planting another goal firmly in the back of the net. This is seriously happening. If it was wild the first time, then the raucous screams and cheers for this next offering send the crowds mood firmly into the stratosphere. What a match!
Only his second game appearing in the starting line-up, and the fans are regarding this fancy-footed sorcerer with awed reverence. He’s enchanting and the stands are electric in response. We feel invincible, unstoppable, victorious! And…oh no. They’ve scored. Bugger.
The contrast as the volume flips from deafening cheers to absolute silence is marked, as if someone has just hit the mute button. We demonstrate solidarity and mourn our team, with just the faint cheers from the away seats permeating the quiet. We are stoic and resolute.
The whistles goes for half time, and it is with relief that we keep hold of the lead, and grab a quick drink, reviewing our performance in microscopic detail (insert ‘referee!?!’ type comments now).
15 minutes, and we take our seats once again, all the more determined to triumph. Play commences, and the second half has ramped it up a notch or two. Maybe there was something in the players half time orange segments (NB: I imagine this is what sports people do-unconfirmed as to whether it actually happened or not), as the gloves are firmly off in this fight. There’s plenty of challenges, and players dropping like flies in over-animated dives and exaggerated reactions to tackles. There’s copious amounts of wild gesturing, and you don’t need to be in earshot to imagine what profanities might be being hurled the referee’s way. The crowd are equally het up too, and they boo along with pantomime hisses when they disagree with what’s going on below.
There certainly seems to be more arguing than football being played at this point, and chants of ‘same old Arsenal, always cheating’ start up as we regard our adversaries with disdain. Fortunately, its only 20 or so minutes before we score again-yesssssss! This time I’m jumping up too, as grown men embrace around me, and it’s high-fives all round.
We can’t celebrate too long though, as our opponents chase our goal with one of their own, closing the gap on our lead. On TV, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, the ball literally trickles across our line in slow motion, to be met with more silence from the home-crowd, and an unenthusiastic announcement from the commentator, who may as well have been telling us our train is 3 hours delayed.
It’s more frantic now, with yellow cards being issued willy-nilly, and the chorus of ‘same old cheaters’ starts up again for its encore performance. The crowd are restless as we surge towards the last quarter, a sea of flesh-coloured spheres bobbing up and down, willing our advance to be kept.
It’s nail-biting, and the chants from the fans are getting more fiery, laden with enough curses to turn the milky sky a dark blue. There’s a standing ovation as a substitution for the double goal-scorer comes in the closing ten minutes, and we pay our respects to this departing glorious achiever.
Anxiety mounts as the concluding minutes are ebbing away… it’s nearly time! We can just snatch the win if we can keep them away from our net. More volleying of the ball and last-second substitutions, and we can hardly stand the tension. Disbelief comes, as the extra 5 minutes of added time have us all hanging off edge of our seats.
The whistle gives a shrill blow and it’s over- finally! The relief and joy ricochets throughout the stadium, as ‘Glory, Glory, Man United!’ blares out of the speakers, and we all sing along with passion and vigour.
75 thousand fans all pile out at once, bursting with pride, congratulating our boys on a job well done. It’s been a fantastic match, and despite my lack of sporting proclivities, I can’t deny the palpable exhilaration that comes from watching a win. It’s infectious, and I am bounding along, singing with the rest of them.
A brisk walk back into town is enough time to play-over those glorious goals, with ‘did you see it when?’ and ‘I couldn’t believe it how…’ being bandied about zealously.
Despite the ill-fate of my earlier eggy incident, today’s match turned out to be a stellar one, and on the train back home I realise I might finally just understand the feeling of camaraderie that accompanies these moments. Sharing a triumph with your fellow supporters, a brotherhood of thousands. One team. United. All of us laughing, smiling and simply revelling in a delight that really only comes with the love of the beautiful game.