Hi, I’m Ed Diggins. I follow Manchester United religiously, and this column is about my trips to their games. I hope to write one on every game I go to, which is about eighteen or twenty matches a season. My first game of the season was Sunday’s league opener against Birmingham which, to say the least, was one of the more forgettable games I’ve ever been to…
I have mixed feelings after our 1-0 win. The first is relief that for the first time since our demolition of Fulham on the opening day of 2006, we got off to a winning start and got the three points. Another is sheer anger. I’ve been a United fan since I can remember, going to games for seven years. The ticket office in Old Trafford has a reputation for being poor, but it took the biscuit yesterday. I’m very often accused of defending the indefensible when it comes to United. Yesterday, this was severely tested and for a brief moment, I felt like walking away from the stadium. Anyway, I will come back to this later.
A birthday party in town on Saturday night lasted longer than planned. What was supposed to be an early night to catch the 6.30am Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Manchester ended up being a scramble to get home to pick up my passport and head off to the airport at 4.30!
The taxi and the plane were a bit of a blur to be honest. Welcome to Manchester. It’s been 13 weeks. At United, things have changed. After some much needed kip in the airport arrivals lounge, my mate Mark and I head off into the city to kick things off. Its only 9.30, but people are around already. The same heads. As the day passes, more and more familiar people arrive and the usual songs start to get an airing. Sitting outside the Bishop Blaze, you can hear the orchestrator Boyle leading the way.
The atmosphere around is strange, plenty of apprehension. United have been written off and some people have started to believe it. As kick off nears, it turns to team news. No Rio. No Carrick. No Park. Evans and O’Shea are carrying knocks. Add in Rafael, Van der Sar, Vidic, Hargreaves. The Carrington treatment table is doing serious overtime. One prematch tradition is a Bridge Burger. Bacon, onions. It’s pure heart disease in a bun, but oh so good. A must have for every game.
As we walk to the ground, it is becoming clear that a few people are having problems getting in. I’m worried. The only way the United ticket office knows how to treat overseas fans is badly. And I am proved correct. “Wrong Event” is the message that lies below the red light on the electronic turnstile. My mate Mark is the same. Access denied; we are not getting in. They are having some problems, we are told. No shit Sherlock…
So it looks like some tickets have not been reactivated. We are ushered to the ticket office. Its 10 minutes to kick off and now I am getting vexed. As we turn the corner, my jaw drops. Temper rises. The queue for the ticket office is longer than the wait for a title on the banks of the Mersey. It is shocking. Hundreds upon hundreds of people are in the same boat.
We try to get in once more. The ticketing supervisor is having a bad day apparently. He is getting stick… the poor man. He is perched at our gate when we go back. At this stage, the game has kicked off. Instead of sitting in the Strettie, I am locked outside on the tarmac, arguing with some lad in a purple coat.
He refuses to help. Oblivious to the fact that it is now after kick off and there’s a queue twofold, halfway around the car park and back to the stadium. “Some people didn’t pay,” he says, “I can’t let you in.”
Fast forward 30 minutes and we are still not sorted. By now, the security presence is getting heavier and people are getting angrier. I am getting text updates from inside the ground and the odd glimpse at the TVs in the ticket office. O’Shea is captain for the day and is playing well. Valencia has been bright and Rooney is buzzing. Evra is having a stormer too.
We get to the counter. We forgot to post new cards, he says. You will have them next week. A piece of paper allows us entry to the ground. No explanation, no apology. As we get back to the gate, we hear a cheer. We didn’t need the stadium announcer to tell us who got it, as the chorus of the white Pele goes around the ground instantaneously.
As we take our seats in the second row of the Strettie, the scoreboard has United 1-0 up with nine minutes to go before the break. Birmingham flash a ball inches past the post and then Evra clears off the line. Fletch does his best to take the miss of the season mantle already, seconds before the teams disappear down the tunnel. Before we know it, it is half time. I am troubled. Inside, I am raging.
As the second half kicks off, Giggs is on. Nani is off, Evans is starting to limp. That injury list is getting longer. The atmosphere is very flat. As the attendance is called out, its 400 to 500 below what it should be. At what point was that taken I wonder?
Rooney tries a sublime effort from 30 yards that Hart gets a hand to. I expect big things from Rooney this season, this is now his patch. If he stays injury-free, this could be the season for him to hit the heights that we all know he can hit. Berba has one cleared off the line and is then brought down for a definite penalty, right in front of us. The man in black, having an awful game, unsurprisingly, waves play on.
Enter Michael Owen to a great reception. Talking to lads afterwards, a few people took it upon themselves to voice their displeasure. I certainly never heard it. Build a bridge as they say.
As it nears the end, Foster pulls off a world class save to deny Birmingham a point. Owen hits the net but is offside and misses a glorious chance to open his United account. Full time is called seconds later.
As we leave the ground, we reflect on the game. Rooney is getting all the plaudits. O’Shea and Fletcher, top notch. People are happy with the contributions of the lesser experienced trio of Foster, Fabio and Valencia.
The wait for the flight is seven hours, and I am wrecked. It is 12.40am before we see home. It’s been a long day that started at 9pm the night before. The job is done, but with a sour taste. Most important however, is the three points.
I ring the ticket office today for an explanation. We will call you back in a few minutes, I am told. Unsurprisingly, no call comes and I don’t expect it to either.
Until the Arsenal game, goodbye.