Sitting up high on the Stretford End at Old Trafford feels like being in the middle of several worlds at once.
In my immediate surroundings, my village if you will, are others like me, folks who bought a hospitality package because it was the only reliable way in, or maybe because we wanted a warm, cozy place to wait out the lines and the weather. It was my second time at Manchester United, and I had the idea that made me nearly a senior citizen in this little hamlet.
I was, in fact, working — scouting the place for my hospitality sales business and having the rare and fine pleasure of sitting with people to whom I sold tickets. I have always said that football is the one true international language, and bonding here with people from New York, Maryland, Australia and Texas is what it’s all about for me.
From a footballing standpoint, though, probably all you need to know about my section is that when the teams came out and I raised my camera to take a video, I had to get it above a couple dozen cameras and phones in the adjacent rows to see the players. Here is that video:
The nearby villages were of a different character. To our left was a traditional area, the heartland as it were, filled with vocal fans who seemed highly dialed into the game and individual players. From there, a bad pass by one player elicited a quite different response than from another. (Around us it was just a bad pass, unless it came from Pogba with his highlighted head). The mayor of that place, or at least the town crier, had a bullhorn of a voice which he used mostly to chastise the visitors, Arsenal, for being soft cheating cockney cunts, etc.
To our right was a reclamation town, or maybe even a new town: the singing section. It brings United no end of abuse that in their current state — hell, even when they were piling up trophies under Ferguson — the club felt the need to take measures to encourage singing! This thin band of supporters stood and clapped and sang the whole time, songs that rolled out like waves, over the flat and silent waters of my “home town” (we didn’t know the words!) to make occasional ripples off to the left. Many of the songs made reference to the Stretford End, which I occasionally remembered I was sitting in.
Off in the distance lay the rest of Old Trafford, the vast sweep of countryside around our cluster of Stretford End villages. It seems less a stadium than a geological site. Compared to places like The Valley at Charlton, where I had been only two days before, one can imagine airplanes patrolling the skies over the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand. All I could gather of the supporters over there was that when the referee made an unpopular decision on their side, many of them would stand up and wave their arms in that classic football-fan move.
The Arsenal folks were so far away in the Scoreboard End that I only remember them making much noise when — in another statement of the modern game — they were told by an official back in London that the goal they scored moments ago was, in fact, a goal.
Wondering what it’s like over in those areas will require more research, of course, but I know there are “hospitality villages” scattered around, because I sell tickets in them. Up in the corners they have access to a lounge like ours (“sports bar” would be an overstatement), and on the sides they are enjoying either a pregame champagne reception at the nearby cricket ground (I am shaking my head) or a postgame museum tour and a chance to meet a club “legend” who would not be recognized, I am confident, by more than 30% of the people in attendance.
United and Arsenal played to a 1-1 draw, by the way, and I suppose that result might have meant something somewhere. Not in the league table, I assure you, unless who makes next year’s Champions League is of interest. For the residents of our nearby villages, I would assume it was more frustration, but at this point being a United fan must be like my relationship with golf at the point where my driver went lame, my touch around the greens deserted me, my sanity was beginning to suffer, and I was having no fun whatsoever. Difference is, one can (and I did) quit golf. The singers, cussers and arm-wavers in the faraway lands of Ferguson are stuck here, anchored in place by eternal sentiment and treachorous hope.
Such might not be the case in our little village lounge. I suppose these folks are just as likely to stick and stay, but seeing a team you just adopted a few years back play poorly before you head off to Liverpool or London to see somebody else and add a ground to your list, then take a Beatles tour or visit Westminster Abbey … well, it’s different in Hospitality Town, isn’t it? In fact the next night I would sit in a half-empty VIP section at a Manchester City home Champions League game — and they’re winning!
After the game, my fellow townsfolk were hustled out of photo positions around the ground by permanently annoyed stewards, then we headed off into the rain to figure a way back to our hotels. Meanwhile, the commentary world went on analyzing this player’s effort or that coach’s fate. I made some notes for my blog post. The Arsenal folks headed back to London — along with a fair share of United people, according to some. And the red-black-and-white heartlanders shook hands and agreed that after all, a point’s a point, and we’ll see you in two weeks.