Best. Trip. Ever.
You may have heard some of us talking about the One United tour to see a United match at Old Trafford. Being a United fan in rural Kentucky is a difficult life. Before the internet it was nearly impossible. So when I moved back to Atlanta in 2014 after being gone for six years, I made a point to seek out other United supporters and to figure out how to go see some matches in person. Well, I did it, and here's my experience.
I landed in Manchester where I was picked up by Keith. Keith and Barry are drivers and they took us as a group everywhere we needed to go during the trip. He delivered me to the Radisson Edwardian Blu in downtown Manchester where the concierge (also a United supporter) already had my key waiting.
I had two things planned for Day 1: Dinner and a souvenir. Both were literally within three blocks of the hotel. The souvenir was a tattoo of the Man United red devil icon. I got this at Flesh Tattoo on Lloyd Street. Clearly, this is not part of the tour. Several of our group opted to have dinner together at a Michelin-starred restaurant called Wing's Cantonese. Mr. Wing is a huge United fan and has lined literally every wall in his restaurant with plates signed by all the players and managers that have eaten in his establishment. And by all the players, I mean ALL the players. I would be hard-pressed to come up with a player's name that was not represented. It was a wholly unique experience.
Saturday. Busy day. We left for Old Trafford at 9am in our convoy of Mercedes vans. We were off to take the Legends Tour at Old Trafford. The main event was still a day away. The Legends Tour is a special tour of the stadium and grounds conducted by, you guessed it, a United legend. Our tour was conducted by Alex Stepney, the goalkeeper who won the European Cup in 1968. That's well before the Scousers and their five times.
I could talk for days about the stadium tour. It was magnificent. We sat in the dressing rooms, we sat on the bench, we walked the tunnels, we learned about the playing surface, and the collection of rain water, we sat in the press conference room, and, and, and... Did you know United gives away roughly £1M in seating annually so that people with vision impairment, hearing impairment, limited mobility, and other disabilities can attend matches at no charge? Mind blown. It is easy to get lost in the fact that United is one of the three largest clubs in the world. You would never know it walking around the grounds of Old Trafford. Some of the people have been working there for decades. It's still a family club to them. You really get that feeling when you're there.
We had to leave eventually and head to Stoke-on-Trent for the Stoke City v Swansea City match. This was also part of the tour package and our seats were amazing. We were in the third row at the corner flag. I saw myself later on Match of the Day. Handsome. Britannia Stadium is a much different experience than Old Trafford. It really feels like a local, community stadium where some lads happened to turn up all wearing matching shirts and played a game while some other people happened to watch. It was a great, intimate atmosphere for football.
After the match I slept in the van while we headed back toward Manchester (Photo not available). We stopped off in Mobberley at a proper pub for some food and drinks before we made the city though. Scotch egg, steak and ale pie, a couple pints of porter. All of their food was locally sourced and the beer was brewed in-house. We drank so much we had a hard time figuring out the bill, but it all worked itself out in the end...I think.
Back in Manchester I was all set to do some hardcore sleeping when I saw a text from Steve Baxter. 'Let me know when you're back in Manchester', it said. As it turns out, Steve and his mate Dan were a couple blocks away being perfect gentlemen at a bar called...who knows. From there we headed over to Rio Ferdinand's club Rosso. Ask Steve to tell you the joke about the giraffe. Classic.
Match day. After breakfast in the hotel we found Quinton Fortune wandering around the lobby of the hotel. He wanted to have his photo taken with me so I agreed to it. He is taller in person than he looked running down the pitch. We stopped off next door to Old Trafford at Hotel Football where we had pre-match hospitality arranged on what was basically an enclosed area of the roof overlooking the stadium. More great food, more beer, etc. Lee Sharpe was there, so that happened.
I chose to walk over to the stadium a little early. Old Trafford on match day is a living, breathing animal and I wasn't really prepared for it. My seat was four seats away from the travelling Everton supporters. Some of you may not know, so I'll explain. The away fans must enter through separate entrances and use areas of the stadium that are completely segregated from the home fans. There is a security guard or police officer on every step of the stadium forming a cordon all the way around and between the two factions. When I would see that on TV I would think to myself, 'Oh, that's a precaution left over from the old days of hooliganism.' Nope. That line of police is there because the animosity and hatred between supporters is still as bitter today as it ever was. It was shockingly real.
In the second half, United came alive. Daley Blind completely owned Romelu Lukaku for the entire match and Tim Fosu-Mensah sent a brilliant ball over to Martial for a glorified tap in. We won! Safely behind my police brigade I taunted the Toffees, singing songs about twenty times and Anthony Martial.
After the match it occurred to me that the two sets of fans would be shoulder to shoulder once we left the stadium. Not the case. There was a line of police officers that kept the two mobs separate for quite a distance. If that wasn't enough of a deterrent, the mounted police in riot gear on horses also wearing riot gear did the job. They looked like knights riding into battle to crack some skulls. We had about an hour to kill after the match before heading back to the hotel, so I walked down to Sam Platt's. There were some celebratory drinks being enjoyed, but not the raucous environment of Sam Platt's pre-match.
We went back to the hotel and several of us had a late dinner together in the hotel bar. We said our goodbyes and in the morning I got back on a plane and came back to reality.
Peter Holland runs One United USA and organizes these tours. He really does a phenomenal job and has this down to a science. He's doing five tours next season to major matches. I cannot recommend this enough. It really was the greatest experience I could have asked for. If you're interested in going, get in touch with me or Steve Baxter and we can get you more info. Or, you can contact Peter yourself through manutdusa.com