I believe that when travelling the world, it should always be the goal of the traveller to seek out experiences that defy the imagination. That would be the way I would describe my first experience visiting Old Trafford, the home of the mighty Manchester United Football Club.
Sir Bobby Charlton, one the clubs favourite sons, famously dubbed the stadium the Theatre of Dreams. A quick look back into the club’s history and one can understand why, with the club having overcome hardship after hardship, from bankruptcy to relegations, to become one the biggest clubs in world Football.
When we arrived in Manchester on a cold January morning in 2014, I could barely contain my excitement. I have been a supporter of Manchester United since I was 12 and I have always dreamt of watching the team play live at Old Trafford. When we arrived at our hotel and got to our room my excitement increased exponentially because as luck would have it, I could see the stadium from our room.
I immediately dragged Tyla back out into the cold, despite her pleading for mercy, to go and see it up close. The stadium had a pull for me, as it does for all Manchester United fans, this was my pilgrimage and I was not going to waste a moment. We walked up Sir Alex Ferguson Way making our way to the stadium and the anticipation was palpable.
When we finally arrived, there was a sense of relief inside me. This wasn’t a journey from the hotel or a journey from South Africa but it was a journey that has been in the making for years. A yearning and a desire that had harboured inside of me since I was first drawn the Red Devils all those years ago.
On arrival I sought out the Trinity first. The United Trinity is an iconic statue depicting three United legends, Sir Bobby Charlton, George Best, and Denis Law. These three players, who have each had the honour of being named the best player in europe, and winning the Balon d’Or once in their careers, and were vital to United winning their first European Trophy. The Trinity looks towards the Sir Matt Busby statue who was the manager during this vital period in Manchester United history.
Having been the home of United since 1910 the stadium is draped in history, despite it’s (still) modern upgrades. This history can be seen in the forms of statues dedicated to Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson, the most decorated manager in English Football, as well as the countless trophies and mementos in the museum, but also can be felt when viewing the memorials dedicated to the players and staff who lost their lives in the Munich air disaster.
My favourite moment from that day was probably seeing the inside of the stadium for the first time. There was a game the next day so we our tour didn’t go through the players tunnel as it normally does but instead we entered through the Sir Alex Ferguson stand. As we were the last tour for the day it was already getting dark and the flood lights were on. As we were walking up the stairs into the stadium I heard a gasp from Tyla, who admittedly does not enjoy football in anyway. That’s the power of Old Trafford under the lights.
Roll on a couple of hours and… game day! The match was Manchester United vs Swansea. In the years prior this would have been considered an easy win for Manchester United. However, this was United’s first season after Sir Alex Ferguson retired and the team was struggling having lost three games in a row leading up to this one. Thankfully the team won 2-0 with goals coming from Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck. The excitement of the game even had Tyla jump off her seat and cheer on my team. That night I went to sleep with the biggest smile in my heart – I had seen my club win at home.
I never thought anything would eclipse that, until I managed to organise another impromptu trip to Old Trafford two weeks later. Craig, my best friend, and I managed to get tickets to the English League Cup semi-final between United and Sunderland at Old Trafford.
In turns out this game would go down in infamy for the poor penalty shootout, which United lost ultimately knocking them out of the tournament, that followed the game.
Sunderland had equalised late in the game which would see them go ahead in the tournament on aggregate and the deflation around the stadium was clear. Until a moment that would capture the very essence of Manchester United, a 90th minute goal by Javier Hernandez. Manchester United are famous for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat right at the dead. Unfortunately, it didn’t result in victory in this case as it has so many times before but I will never forget the elation and sheer happiness in the stadium at that point.
It was during this experience that one really appreciates the fact that Football is not just a game but it is something we embody and carry with us. It has given us incredible lows and monumental highs. It invokes our deepest emotions and while we share this with our fellow supports it still remains deeply personal.
I will never forget my trip to the Theatre of Dreams.