Manchester United v Swansea City
Old Trafford / Premier League / 12th May 2013
There are not many occasions where you are there to witness true football history in the making. As one article on BBC Sport alluded to, the day Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement was a bit like my generation’s Berlin Wall moment: it was inevitably coming, but still shocking and unexpected nonetheless. I have known nothing but Alex Ferguson as Manchester United manager all my life, having been born just under 2 years after Fergie made the move from Aberdeen to Manchester. My local team these days is Manchester United (just 3.4 miles away from my house) and just like last season Swansea would be playing their last away game of the season at Old Trafford. It goes without saying that as a Manchester-based Swansea fan, I had bought my ticket to to join the Swansea fans at Old Trafford’s away end for the clash on 12th May. Only days after purchasing my ticket, Sir Alex Ferguson would announce his imminent retirement and history would have it that his last ever game at Old Trafford as Manchester United manager would be against the mighty Swans. I would be there. I would be there in the away end to witness Fergie’s bow from the ‘Theatre of Dreams and to see United lift their 20th League title – Fergie’s 13th as manager. Wow. I might just even forgive the great man’s recent snubbing of Lost Boyos on my trip to the Salford City Stadium to watch United’s U21s a couple of weeks ago; surely shunning having a photo for this blog will go down as one of the biggest regrets of his illustrious career.
I’ve already written one blog about Old Trafford (see the link at the bottom of this article) and this will be the first time I’ve written about a ground twice on this site. Two reasons prompted me to write a ‘revisit;’ article: one – was the fact that it was such a historic day and I thought it would be good to commemorate and document it in words; two – I wasn’t completely satisfied with my last blog about the famous ground. The last time I wrote about Old Trafford, I wrote about it as part of a Etihad Stadium v Old Trafford face-off and looking back I feel I was far too negative about the place, probably thanks largely to my preference for the Etihad (which still remains). Anyway, I felt Old Trafford deserved another shot.
The last time I wrote a blog about the ground City fan’s mockingly call ‘the swamp’, it was shortly before Swansea made their visit there last year, a visit which was to be my 5th trip to the ground. Since then I have attended another 3 Olympic Football games there and another two United U21 games there (both in the past two weeks). By the end of the month I would have been to Old Trafford 6 times overall: Manchester United U21 v West Brom U21; Manchester United U21 v Liverpool U21; Manchester United v Swansea; Manchester United v Liverpool U21 (again); Manchester U21 v Spurs U21 in the U21 Premier League final and finally Manchester United Legends v Real Madrid Legends (basically, £20 to see Zinedine Zidane play – enough said, even ignoring the whole plethora of other former stars on show). I do a bit of scouting for a Football League club in the Greater Manchester area, hence the regular U21 games. It seems that Old Trafford has become my football home away from home, as I’ve now visited there over 10 times; the most I’ve visited a football ground, apart from the Liberty Stadium.
If you want to read more about the history of Old Trafford then I’ll direct you towards my original piece once again, otherwise I’ll now get on with the summary of my latest journey to Old Trafford.
Like almost all Lost Boyos adventures in the North West, my day began at Piccadilly station, yet this time I was only here to meet people rather than hop on a train myself. The Jack Army were rolling into town at midday and on rendezvousing we headed to the nearby B Lounge.
The last time I had visited B Lounge was before Swansea’s first ever Premier League game, a game at City’s Etihad Stadium. This was also the week that I happened to move to Manchester and also the week following the UK rioting which greatly affected the city of Manchester. Of course, Manchester was on lockdown all week and away football fans were treated with contempt that week. It was the B Lounge that decided to house the away fans under the condition that we had ‘no colours’ on. Since that Monday night in August 2011, the B Lounge has been redeveloped and it is now a quite fancy (or ‘poncy as one Swans fan described it) bar/restaurant; once again, a ‘no colours’ rule was in force but for different reasons this time. After two pints whilst we waited around for other Jacks to arrive into Manchester, we decided that the establishment had become too ‘poncey’ and instead we made the ten minute walk via the Arndale centre to my favourite pub in Manchester city centre.
Sinclair’s Oyster Bar is immense (and no, Scott Sinclair didn’t move from Swansea to Manchester to open a pub – he moved for footballing purposes remember). It’s been my favourite city pub since I moved up here. The pub is located just between the Printworks and the Arndale Centre and quite close to the National Football Museum (highly recommend a visit if you haven’t been there yet). It is an old-school boozer with a typically traditional appearance, big beer garden and ridiculously cheap drinks, which all combine to make the Oyster Bar a superb pub. The pub’s best seller and my usual tipple is the £2.10 Taddy Lager and that would be my weapon of choice for today as we sat in the small upstairs area of the pub; there would be no beer garden today as the Mancunian rain had come out in force in the second week of May.
The next stop on our crawl through the city centre took us to a pub that I had never heard of, but which my Swansea gang assured me was a classy affair. Soon we were at Sam’s Chop House – another traditional boozer which apparently has a very good reputation for its food. The lads were spot on – this was a great pub. After discussing certain toilet etiquette relating to the current Cardiff manager Malky Mackay (apparently his Wikipedia shortly stated: “Malky Mackay thinks Skips are crisps and he stands to wipe.” I was in stitches for ages at this line) we moved onto discussing today’s game against the new Champions. The general feeling coming from our party was that Swansea would not be spoiling Fergie’s party today, but that us fans would make sure we had a good time nonetheless. And with that thought, we ventured out into the pouring Manchester rain in search of a taxi to the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ to witness Fergie’s Old Trafford swansong.
For those unfamiliar with Mancunian geography, Old Trafford sits just outside the city centre itself in the Trafford area of the city; contrary to many people’s beliefs, Manchester United Football Club is NOT located in Salford. The taxi made its way from the heart of the city, down Deansgate and out towards Old Trafford. My main concern was that with an hour until kick off that the amount of traffic heading there would lead to chaos, but it seemed my anxieties were unnecessary as the taxi weaved it’s way easily to the ground and soon we were dropped off outside the brilliant night club/venue ‘The Warehouse Project’, situated just ahead of Old Trafford. On exiting the taxi (which cost about £8) we were greeted by shouts of ‘Cardiff City’ from the home fans, but the shouts were merely for ‘banter’ purposes and the fans that had instigated the shouts came over to commend us on our season – and to ask if they could have Michu off us. No, you can’t.
It can be crazy outside Old Trafford on matchday. First of all you have to navigate the small square of merchandise stalls (all selling “Champ20n” scarfs today of course, to celebrate the club’s 20th league title) and food vendors across the road from the North East corner of the ground, before then crossing the road to the pedestrianised area of Sir Matt Busby Way outside of the East Stand. This is probably the exterior part of the stadium which most fans associate with Old Trafford. The East Stand has been redeveloped over the years and the stand is the now commonly used as the ‘face’ of Old Trafford with its now famous glass façade, which today was emblazoned with an image of a red fog with United players submerged in it and the words ‘To Be Conituned’ written underneath; an ode to the fact that life will continue at Old Trafford after Sir Alex has left. As I mentioned on my previous Old Trafford blog, no ground or club celebrates it’s history quite like Old Trafford and Manchester United. Perched upon the main entrance to the East Stand is the statue of Sir Matt Busby, looking out over Sir Matt Busby way at the thousands of fans that cross it on matchday. Directly opposite the statue of their old gaffer Sir Matt are the statues of the ‘Holy Trinity’: George Best, Dennis Law and Bobby Charlton. On a regular day, this forecourt in front of the East Stand is flooded with tourists posing for photos with the legends and the stadium and visiting the huge club store (there were still a few fair tourist-types around), but today the area was swarming with Manchester Red. We darted through the hundred of red shirts towards the turnstiles just in front of the Munich Tunnel (another memorial to the club’s history, although obviously a far more tragic era of it) where the E30 turnstile is located. The entrance to the away end.
Of course, away fans cannot be trusted, so the compulsory search was carried out by the stewards before entering the ground. Last time I had visited Old Trafford’s away end to watch Swansea City, United had decided to show our 4-2 Championship playoff final over Reading on the screens around the away concourse – a great touch from the club. Today was a similar setup, but this time United had decided to put on Swansea’s 5-0 League Cup triumph over Bradford on the TVs. There’s not too many clubs that would give the away fans, something to cheer before kick off, so fairplay to them. The away end concourse consists of a bending hallway with one main food/drink outlet in the middle – it is not exactly the most spacious of areas. However, with everyone cramped together enjoying the prematch bottles of Singha, a particular favourite of mine despite its extortionate £3.60 a bottle price at the ground, the atmosphere can get very boisterous on the concourse prematch. After two bottles of Singha and a couple of renditions of “We’re all going on a European Tour!”, we headed up into the stand.
The away fans are located in the South East corner of the ground between the two-tiered East Stand and the South Stand, the smallest and oldest stand in the ground which looks very outdated next to the stands neighbouring it. Behind the further goal stands the famous Stretford End, where the United hardcore reside, and running down the opposite touchline is the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand; the three-tiered North Stand, which was recently renamed the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand in the great man’s honour, can house more fans than any other stand in the UK. Also, another recent addition to the stand was the erection of the statue of Sir Alex outside of it, along with additional Sir Alex-related pictures and plaques displayed around the concourse in that stand. On my last two visits to Old Trafford to watch the U21s play, I had actually sat in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and I have to say that the Fergie memories scattered around the place are a great touch to the place.
For today’s game, I was sat in the front row of the away end, which is slightly set back from the pitch as the disable supporters area is directly in front of the travelling fans. Despite this, the view from the away end is excellent and the away support can really generate some noise in that corner. Although the leg room at Old Trafford is one of the worst around, no matter where you sit in the ground. Fortunately, today we would be standing for the duration of the 90 minutes and undisturbed by stewards, which is always nice.
Soon enough, the Swansea and United players exited the tunnel and formed a guard of honour to welcome Fegruson to Old Trafford one last time. In my last blog entry I slaughtered the Old Trafford atmosphere, but today the place was electric. The roar that went around when Ferguson entered was immense and the club had provided all fans with red ‘Champ20ns’ flags, as well as the crowd forming the word ‘Champions’ in large writing in the Sir Alex Ferguson. Even the Swansea fans clapped the Scotsman on. Once again, in a nice touch from United, they did not want Swansea fans to feel left out, so we were provided with white ‘Capital One Cup Winners’ flags to celebrate our success this season. United were being too kind to us!
The uproarious atmosphere continued into the early minutes of the game and the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ was rocking. Soon enough, the Swansea defence were also unsteadily rocking as Javier Hernandez went through on goal and thundered a shot against the underside of the bar with the ball bouncing back out.
Also, finishing his Manchester United career today (again) was Paul Scholes, for me the best English player of my lifetime. 25 minutes in, Scholes found himself in space on the edge of the box and had his chance to score a typical Scholes drive, but in un-Scholes like fashion he snatched at his shot.
Swansea were showing United far too much respect and for a while they were struggling to hold on to a 0-0 scoreline. As the half settled down, Swansea looked more comfortable and looked to be on their way to holding onto a first half stalemate line at half time. However, a free kick from Kagawa was launched towards the Swansea box and Pablo Hernandez completely mistimed and misjduged his defensive header; thanks to this Ashley Williams was caught off guard and the ball bounced off him and to Chicarito, who was never going to miss from 6 yards out. 1-0 to United and the score would remain the same until half time.
Swansea started the second half a lot better and within minutes they were attacking David De Gea’s goal. A couple of corners were pumped into the United box, until eventually De Gea flapped at a shot and it fell out wide to Nathan Dyer. Dyer’s clip back into the box looked like it was going to be cleared by the head of Phil Jones, but Michu came flying in and expertly volleyed the ball past his compatriot in the United goal. 1-1! The Jack Army entered their usual boisterous celebrations and they had soon convinced themselves that they were going to spoil he party, despite United’s welcoming nature.
Moments later, Swansea came really close to dampening the party mood further, as Routledge was put through on goal by Michu, but the pressure of Rio Ferdinand led to Routs firing just wide of De Gea’s far post. Swansea continued to pressure United as Michu went close, before Chico had two shots excellently blocked by Phil Jones. There only looked to be one team going onto win the game as the Swans started playing some of the best football that they had played in weeks.
Just as Swansea’s momentum was building, it was stalled by the departing of a legend. In the 66th minute Paul Scholes made his Old Trafford bow and the whole stadium, Swans fans included, clapped him off rapturously to choruses of “Paul Scholes…he scores goals.” In typical Scholes fashion, he did not milk the acclaim in the slightest and instead scarpered off the pitch quickly to avoid the limelight that he was being given. Oncoming was another United legend in Ryan Giggs. Some Welsh fans have never forgiven Giggsy for his habit of not showing up regularly for international duty, especially through the 90s, and there was a small section of booing form the away end, alongside chants of “Your nephew’s your son.”
The substitution did not seem to affect Swansea’s flow as they continued to push United, but as the game wore on, it looked like both teams were happy with a draw. Unfortunately, for Swansea, United just don’t do ‘not winning at Old Trafford’. In the 87th minute a corner from United was missed by Chico and the ball fell to Ferdinand, who was unmarked, to smash home a thunderous volley from 6 yards. Old Trafford went mental. Of course, United were never going to not win today and like so many times before, they had scored late on. The red flags were out in force and the Swans fans had to just accept that this was always in the script. Fergie’s Old Trafford farewell party had to have a happy ending for him. The last ever 3 minutes of ‘Fergie Time’ were played at Old Trafford and the game was over. I’d not expected much from the game, but following the whistle I was gutted that the Swans did not grab a point – at least.
The away fans clapped the Swans players off the pitch, but Swansea’s part in the celebrations were now over. It was now time for United to start their title celebrations properly and to say their emotional goodbyes to Fergie. The majority of the away end had decided to stay to witness this historical occasion as the United players stood in the centre circle as Fergie stood in the middle of the Old Trafford turf to deliver his farewell speech. I could try and paraphrase it and explain it, but I think it’s probably best that you hear it from the man himself below, who I must admit spoke brilliantly:
Our fans once again demonstrated their classiness by staying behind and clapping throughout Fergie’s speech. On looking around me I noticed that a small number had even been reduced to tears; however, on closer inspection I realised that these were merely South Walian United fans trespassing on the away end.
With goodbyes delivered, the United team and Fergie disappeared down the tunnel ready for their trophy presentation. Of course, first back out of the tunnel was Fergie along with his loyal right hand man Mike Phelan with the players trailing behind them. Each player made their way up to the trophy stage to huge cheers when their name was read out, with particularly emphatic noise made for the retiring Scholesy and Robin Van Persie. Then came the call of “Wayne Rooney” – this was the cue for a lot of booing from the home end, as the striker had not even made the bench for today’s game after making it clear to the club weeks before that he wanted to leave. The booing of Rooney was becoming a regular thing for me on my visits to Old Trafford, as my first ever visit to the ground (United v Wigan in October 2010) corresponded with the last time he was in the United fans’ bad books for putting in a transfer request in 2010.
The trophy was fittingly lifted aloft by Sir Alex Ferguson and it was now official that the Premier League trophy belonged to the red half of Manchester once again. After the usual champagne spraying and pyrotechnics, the players and staff began their lap of honour, although the United players seemed determined to avoid the away end. Only one member of the United contingent acknowledged the Swnasea fans: Rene Meulensteen. As he came over I leaned over clapped him personally and then gave him the thumbs up, which he returned towards me. “Does that guy know you?” asked the shocked Swansea fan next to me. I assured him I didn’t as he seemed to suspect I was one of the United imposters in the away end. I speculated that perhaps the Danish Meulensteen just likes us because our manager is Michael Laudrup.
There was only so much celebrating to be seen, so once the United party had made its way over to the Stretford End to continue the celebrations, I thought it best to call an end to my day at Old Trafford and make the 40 minute walk through Salford back to my house in Broughton. The Swansea and United fans had seemed to get on swimmingly well all day (judging from Twitter, United fans loved us), but one red-clad idiot spoiled it slighlty by ‘baaaing’ in my face and mockingly calling me ‘a welsh bastard’ for no real reason. I made my thoughts on him quite clear, before deciding to walk away – every club has their twats.
Overall though, despite the loss, I had a superb day at Old Trafford and it really did feel like us Swansea fans were there to witness something special with the Fergie farewell and the trophy presentation. Also the game was a long way from the ‘testimonial feel’ that some had predicted and I have no doubt that a fast paced, tough game against a good footballing side like Swansea would have been what Fergie would have wanted for his send off – along with a win of course.
Old Trafford is a brilliant stadium – one of the best in fact. Despite my uneasiness about the place in my earlier visits, I’ve grown to love every visit to the ground; something that is particularly good as I seem to be there fairly regularly these days. Yes, the atmosphere is still not great there, but there’s no doubt that the loudest I’ve heard a stadium this season was during the United v Swansea game. If only United could get the atmosphere like that week in, week out, Old Trafford would be an even more imposing fortress for the club. It’s up to you Mr. Moyes to give them something to carry on shouting about now.
Before signing off on my appraisal of Old Trafford, I have to give a shout out to the Trafford pub. It is still up there as one of the best prematch boozers around, but obviously I could not visit it for the Swansea game as away fans are not really welcome in the United-mad pub. On the numerous other visits I’ve made to OT though, the Trafford has been one of the highlights of my trip M16. If you are visiting as a home/neutral fan, I highly recommend the Trafford (once again, there is a lot more about it on my previous blog).
Controversial as it may seem, but I still prefer the Etihad Stadium for some reason. However, I feel I should apologise to Old Trafford if my previous blog was slightly negative towards it. I hope you will forgive me as I’ve grown to love the place, as it has slowly become one of the staples of my football fixture calendar. Cheers OT.
(Read my original blog about Old Trafford from April 2012 here)
Highlights: pub crawl around Manchester (particularly the Oyster Bar), historical references around the ground, United’s generosity towards Swansea fans (showing the cup final on the screens in the away end, providing us with flags) good game, great atmosphere, being there for Fergie’s farewell game (and Scholesy’s) at Old Trafford, trophy presentation.
Low Points: very little for away fans near the ground, lack of leg rooms in the stands, Swansea losing in the end, the clown that ‘baa-ed’ at me outside the ground.