Old Trafford. Rooney. Ferguson. Berbatov. Vidic. Giggs. Manic fans. Crazy chants. Incredible atmosphere.
My decision to move away from watching sport came as Man United had two very big events coming up, well, three, if you include me –
1. The closing game of the EPL season with the premiership already sown up. This would be a celebration of an unexpectedly successful season in light of Rooney’s early season trade demands, the ongoing (and obvious) absence of Ronaldo highlighting their scoring inconsistencies, question marks over Berbatov’s abilities and fit (not by me – my ignorance of the finer intricacies of the beautiful game enable me to appreciate his sublime talents) and the rise (and soon to fall) of Chelsea.
2. The second pending event was the enormous Champions League Final between United and Barcelona, the most unstoppable force right now in world football. However, with the final being played at Wembley, a ‘home game’ for Man U, there was hope of a potential ‘upset’.
3. Number 3 included my good self and a trip to Europe in September. The ‘right people’ were sourced within the franchise for a home game at Old Trafford, tickets seemed a given, anticipation was building…
And then my ‘decision’.
It was an unusual time to step away from the world of sport. A more ‘sensible’ approach would have been to see out the EPL and Champions League seasons, enjoy the rest of the NBA playoffs and wait for the inevitable Bombers decline in the AFL (it came sooner than expected)… Maybe even see out the AFL season in September so I could link it in to the trip to Europe when I was seeing my beloved Man United play. Then you hit October – nothing’s on anyway (unless the Red Sox go deep) and start from there. Problem is, this has never been my style. You make a decision; you stick with it. Right?!
Q: How did it feel to be there for the journey and not for the culmination of the title?
A: A bit weird.
Yet I had been up at stupid o’clock to see the title-clinching game against Chelsea, so there wasn’t a major sense of loss. I had seen them win titles before; I knew ‘how it went’, could even picture the players in celebration – they basically did it after the Chelsea win.
They didn’t need me to see them to enjoy the victory and I didn’t need to actually see them claim the title in order to appreciate it and to take pride in a season well played. Sure there was some hollowness, but that was the beauty in that moment of a season without finals or playoffs.
This was a different story. Sure, we lost the game (3-1) and were outplayed for most of it, but the occasion itself was hard to miss. Packed Wembley. Messi. Iniesta. Manchester United. Champions League Final!? One-nil down becoming one-all before the champs asserted themselves?? It doesn’t get much bigger or better than that. (Apologies for the clichés. But it’s sport. They go hand in hand. I will try to do better.)
The theme that keeps coming up for me is that pretty much all of my soccer viewing is done alone. My love for soccer is not community building. A great friend who is into it lives overseas. Another mate lives on the coast and he’s a Liverpool fan, so really…
Whilst the theatre of it riles me – the flopping, the whingeing of coaches (Sir Alex – I am talking to you) and the constant complaining to the referees, I still appreciate their skills so much and am astonished at least once a game by someone or something. However, the over-theatrical elements are justifiably not accepted in sporting cultures in Australia and America, where contact sports such as AFL, NFL and rugby are the staples. And so I have to appreciate it alone. No one to see an amazing sequence or shot for goal with – I would be mocked more than listened to if I was to bring it up socially!
Which brings me to number three. Going to Old Trafford with a friend, experiencing this one-off event (for me) in person would have been amazing. Giving this up required some fast talking at my end but was readily accepted by my European buddy who wasn’t too keen on the idea of Manchester in the first place, with cities such as Paris and Barcelona beckoning…
But not being there, surrounded by people singing amazing chants, roaring (hopefully) at the exquisite work of Rooney, Berbatov and Giggs and ‘ticking one off the bucket list’ … well, that’s a price I’m going to pay if I’m going to see this thing through. Who knows? Maybe I’ll change my mind before then, but I doubt it.
In the meantime, I can put my hopes in cities like Paris and Barcelona and rest in the knowledge that a trip as big as this is not dependant on a sporting event for it’s success. But if I miss a cracking game, the first Frenchman that’s rude to this westerner had better watch it…
In the next installment, ‘Missing out on the NBA Finals’ – how I fared after ‘opting out’ of one of the more competitive and entertaining playoffs in recent years .