Re-posting this from one of my first English soccer trips, back in January 2014:
I have a friend who refers to her higher power as “perfect timing.” You know the feeling, when everything clicks into place and magic flows? Well, that has happened to me on this trip, and I didn’t even know it was going on!
On the night of January 22, 2014, I was at Old Trafford in Manchester for what I thought was just my night at Manchester United, doing research for my book, and hopefully seeing a good game of footy. But due to perfect timing and location, the magic happened. Sunderland toppled mighty Man U, sending their 9,000 fans into complete delirium, and it just so happens I was in the perfect spot with an HD camcorder and the sense that maybe I should film the last few minutes, in case something happened.
I then posted three videos on my Youtube channel, shared them in a community of Sunderland fans on Google+, and thought, well, they should enjoy that.
Wow, did they enjoy it! The video of their last-minute goal has been watched more than 30,000 times in three days (2019 update: it’s now over 97,000). Apparently it’s being shared all over Facebook, and I know that my blog post about the game has been shared dozens of times on Twitter; go look at the comments on that post! Usually a post gets 100 readers, but that one got to about 4,300 in one day.
Meanwhile, I received literally dozens of emails from Sunderland fans, telling me among other things that they can’t stop watching the videos, all about their experiences in Old Trafford that night, that I really should come to the Final at Wembley on March 2, and, meanwhile, that I am now an honorary Mackem. I had to look that one up on Wikipedia, but I am very flattered. They also keep calling me Marra (friend), and I didn’t know what that was, either!
This is what sports ought to be: community beyond borders and backgrounds, company through misery, and a chance for shared joy. Right now I’m being given the gift of helping thousands of people I’ve never met re-experience some joy, and it is without question the highlight of my two-week trip to the UK.
Here’s a sampling from some of those emails:
As you’re probably aware, you’ve made yourself a popular man in the North East of England, as there is always a clamour for footage such as this, footage which captures a special moment from the perfect position. I myself have watched this on numerous occasions, and the topic of discussion at our game on Saturday was you. Of course, I’ve experienced big nights before, but unfortunately these were never captured on film in the way you have managed to do.
I’m sure you will become an honourable “mackem” – and will be as welcome in Sunderland as the flowers in spring, but as suggested, if you can, please try and get to Trafalgar Squar the night before the final. I was lucky enough to meet some of your American friends there last visit in the late 90s and they were amazed with what they witnessed. The asked what had we won and were stunned to learn we didn’t play the game until the next day!
Thanks for the fantastic post & videos from the Semi Final 2nd Leg night, I was in the first few rows of the upper tier of the away fans section for the match, I nearly ended up in the lower tier after the goal and penalties though! 4 days later my voice has still not fully recovered!
I’d like to say I was part of the 9,000 Sunderland supporters that night and was the best moment in my life supporting my club as we have been through some bad times in my 18 years! I ended up 5 rows down facing the wrong way when the goal went in so yes you are right we are a bit mental! Your video allowed us all to relive this moment and behalf of the people of Sunderland I would like to thank you for the videos!
I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to put up those clips – it was absolute mayhem in our end when we scored(well for most of the game to be honest), and it was great to see how it looked from your viewpoint. I love watching crowd reactions when a really important goal goes in (especially when it’s for the team i support). Although the game was on TV, they didn’t show so much footage of our end, where all the action and singing was so it was great to see your clips.
One last word on camera angles. That last person is right that the TV coverage only briefly mentioned, and never really showed, the Sunderland fans. There was one highlight segment that showed Sir Alex Ferguson who, in addition to looking really bummed, was clearly looking off to his right, at the Sunderland fans! They were the most amazing thing that happened at Old Trafford that night.
So, to all my fellow Mackems, thank you so much! You’ve made my trip, and I am glad I did a little something, through perfect timing, to help you remember one of those joyful moments. And maybe I’ll see you in Trafalgar Square before the Final!
To my American friends, get over to England and have a chance to experience something like this yourself!