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Liverpool vs United- A view from the stands

Sun Dec 16, 2007 9:13 pm

[right]75 Lounge Credits awarded by Administrator for last seasons collection[/right]

It seemed like no time ago that I was at Anfield, basking in the joy of John O'Shea's injury time winner and the realisation that we might possibly go on and win the league. I almost didn't want to go to this match as it felt impossible that anything would feel as good as that moment. But much like we all did after United won the treble and knew it could never get any better than that, we went to Anfield in the hope that even if it we didn't hit those dizzy heights again, we might at least get close.

I was less than enthused when my alarm went off at 9am, especially as we'd had a rather late night the night before at our work Christmas do and had one or two drinks! So, we made our way over to Liverpool a little bleary eyed hoping very much that the alcohol had left our system and that we wouldn't be over the limit! We initially headed to Goodison Park which bizarrely enough, is where we usually park when we go to Anfield. We were about to go in when the bloke demanded £10 from us for the privilege, to which I replied "HOW MUCH?". Needless to say, we didn't stay and when I saw the graffiti on the wall saying "Die Rooney Die", it pretty much settled the decision. So, we ended up at the place we usually park at when we go to Goodison Park which is further away but at least it was free! So we had a fair walk to the ground in the bitter cold. I was wrapped up as much as possible with hat and gloves although I couldn't wear my scarf until I got into the ground! It felt like a real winter away game. We had a delightful walk through Stanley Park which is one of the things I always dread about Liverpool away games. The place is absolutely foul- empty cider bottles, A LOT of empty Lambrini bottles (clearly the tipple of choice amongst the young scouse ladies!), all kinds of other rubbish strewn around as well as graffiti daubed all over walls, fences and even the floor. I even saw (and I swear, I am NOT making this up), a carrier bag full of excrement hanging from a fence!! The pond in the park was full of litter and old concrete copings that had been pulled off the walls in the park and launched into the water. How any wildlife can even survive there is beyond me. We got to Anfield (and saw even more houses boarded up there than before- there must have been almost as many boarded up as were habited!) and finally heard our first scouse accent. The irony of them ridiculing our global support wasn't lost on me as I heard Brummie, Home Counties, Scottish and Scandinavian accents before I heard a scouse one. We got to our turnstile and for some reason, the police kept obsessively checking hubby's bag (which only had my scarf in it!). It must have been searched at least 3 times but nobody was in the least bit interested in searching my bag, even though I offered at least 4 people the chance to search it!

We got into the ground and firstly, went straight over to get our programs. I didn't actually bother to read it though as I knew it would be full of the usual scouse propaganda. Instead, I decided that I needed some hangover help in the form of a sausage roll and Diet Coke! Although it cost a bloody fortune (clearly their owners have spied an opportunity to make a few quid!), it was actually a lot better than what they have at Old Trafford- makes a difference when the food is a decent brand like theirs, which was Hollands. We then went up to our seats which were right at the back of the stand, where we'd never been before (although I was quite happy about it really- no chance of flying excrement hitting us back there!). The view wasn't bad at all and I was very happy to be quite central in the United section and away from the segregation lines between us and them. The pre match music was very weird. It was played pretty quietly and a bizarre mix of 60s pop, Take That and Queen- there was no rhyme or reason to it at all. The announcer seemed to fancy himself as a DJ and spent all of his time talking about which songs he was playing as opposed to the slightly more important matter of a match about to kick off! Of course, then the inevitable happened. The opening bars of YNWA wafted over the tannoy but very quietly (I know it starts off quietly anyway but literally, I could barely hear it!). We all began whistling and singing United songs all of the way through it. I usually end up crouching down with my fingers in my ears, singing something else completely (much like a 4 year old having a tantrum!) but incredibly, I didn't have to do anything like that. I'm sure it came over on TV but stood in the epicentre of the United fans singing United songs with all their might, I didn't hear any of it whatsoever! The lads then came out to great cheers from us all and non stop songs supporting them all followed. I started having a little look around and sizing up who was around. I saw Mr Lemm, and The Staffords but they were the only ones I recognised in my section. The lads stood next to me seemed sound- they were funny, passionate and had belting singing voices!! The same couldn't be said for the two blokes sat in front of me though. I'm not entirely sure what nationality they were but they clearly weren't in the same passionate, driven mindset as us all. What they did was stand in silence for the entire game, only breaking to laugh at some of our songs and nod and dance along like a pair of nodding dogs! Sometimes I really wonder who ends up getting tickets for United's away games! The game soon kicked off to a massive roar of encouragement from us. In no time, every conceivable anti-scouse song was being sung 'If you want to go to heaven when you die', 'In your Liverpool slums', 'Feed the scousers', 'YSB', 'He's only a poor little scouser', 'Who can rob your houses?', 'If you all hate scousers', 'Self pity city', 'City of culture, you're having a laugh', 'We've won it 2 times', 'Are you watching Michael Shields?', 'You are a scouser, an ugly scouser', 'Calm down calm down', 'Steve Gerrard, Gerrard, He kisses the badge on his chest' and many, many more! The venom coming from our mouths was done with an amazing amount of fervour. Of course, there were plenty of United songs sung too and it was noisy and varied throughout. The noise from the Liverpool fans barely registered and in fact, lots of 'shushes' echoed around the ground from us on many occasions when you could have heard a pin drop. The first half, unusually for a Liverpool vs United game, seemed to fly by. Although Liverpool had a few chances including a header missed from a couple of yards and a shot being cleared off the line, I strangely didn't feel like they were threatening much. It's hard to explain, but I just always had confidence that the lads were in control. The referee was enraging us all though with some very debatable decisions. And the protection he was giving Gerrard was unbelievable. He did so many snidey, off the ball things that if the referee had a backbone, he could've been off the pitch. Just as all thoughts were beginning to turn to half time, we got a corner and very unusually for me, I had a certain feeling we were going to score. Usually, I almost always have the complete opposite feeling- I'm such a pessimist!! As the ball went from Giggsy's feet to Rooney's and somehow made its way through to Tevez, his touch took it into the back of the net and the United end exploded! Everyone went crazy and I remember bouncing up and down, fists clenched and shouting like a mad person!! It was a good time in the match to score it and we were absolutely jubilant. Before we knew it, the half time whistle went to the happy cheers of us all. But I was a bit more reluctant to cheer too loudly- after all, we had a second half to get through!

The second half started in the same up tempo pace as the first half- looked like we weren't going to get any kind of respite in the tension and stress levels! We were much deeper throughout the second half though, as our attacks were quite few and far between. We were still singing plenty of songs, although it was perhaps tinged a bit with panic as Liverpool had their moments. There was a phase where we were having a bit of a go at Benitez, singing, 'You're just a fat Spanish waiter' which was rather funny! The referee was still doing his best to wind us up though as he made some puzzling decisions but by the end of the match, we were all just resigned to him giving them a free kick every time one of their players fell over. We all thought the game was almost sewn up as the ball landed at Rooney's feet just a couple of yards out but as his shot went wide, I hoped it wouldn't cost us later on. Towards the end of the game, Peter Crouch came on and of course, we all had a field day with him. 'FREAK!' and 'Does the circus know you're here?' were two of the songs aimed at him as well as the circus theme (not sure how else to describe it!) which was mercilessly sung for the rest of the game! As the game ticked on (although time was going so slowly that I'm sure at one point, the clock was going backwards!), we continued to hang on but the tension in the United end was palpable. Just when we looked in touching distance of getting the win, the referee awarded Liverpool a joke of a free kick. I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach as I saw Gerrard prepare to take it and I began to think of ways to torture the referee if it went in. A hush came over the ground and as the ball was struck, it seemed to go in slow motion. For a split second, we all thought it had gone in. My heart actually stopped and I just couldn't take in what I'd seen. Then somehow, we realised that it had actually gone over the bar and the relief was amazing. We were all wearing expressions of joy and disbelief and I suddenly realised that I had been holding my breath the entire time! Shortly afterwards, the final whistle went and the United end went nuts. The roar was deafening and people were just hugging each other, and clenching their fists in celebration. As the United players came tearing towards us, we all stood on our seats, clamouring to celebrate with them. Rio especially was going mental as was Anderson randomly which was very pleasing to see. Everyone looked so happy and the win was celebrated with just as much fervour as last season. I think it certainly showed the likes of Anderson, Hargreaves and Tevez what a victory over Liverpool, especially at Anfield, means to us all. As the Liverpool fans shuffled out, some clearly unable to think of anything intelligent to do so just aimed Munich arms in our direction, we were kept in the ground for about 20 minutes or so to let their fans leave the area. We had no problems at all with doing this as it gave us an opportunity to have a good sing together and bask in the glory of the victory! Just before we were let out, the Liverpool subs came out onto the pitch for their warm down and they were like sitting ducks to be honest. They were ribbed incessantly with just about every song being aimed at them. Of course Peter Crouch was one of the subs who came out so the circus theme started up again and went on. And on. And on. It was pure magic and it confirmed what I've always known- United fans have some of the best sense of humours and most inventiveness around. We were then let out and once again, the police had blocked off part of the road which meant they rounded us all up together and we all had to walk in one direction, irrespective of where everyone wanted to go. Thankfully and very much unlike last season, I saw no trouble at all. That's not to say there was none at all as it may have happened somewhere else off the beaten track but there was certainly no widespread fighting and abuse which did happen last time. Our walk back to the car was less than pleasant as we ended up once again, walking through Anfield cemetery. The vandalism there is absolutely shocking. The amount of headstones which had been pushed over, smashed and/or graffitied was appalling- there were just huge sections completely wiped out. Thankfully we made it through there just before it went dark and soon enough, we were back at the car. In the short journey home (going past some hedges and part of a fence which some 'loveable scally' had set on fire), I nursed my aching legs from all of the walking and standing and my hoarse throat and almost disappeared voice from shouting and singing but I couldn't have cared less really. We had beaten Liverpool at Anfield once again and there are no sweeter words than that.


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United vs Everton- A view from the stands

Sun Dec 23, 2007 9:47 pm

Well, today was going to be a bit different for me. Ruefully, I was sacrificing my usual seat in 'K' for a place in the execs- and I had very mixed feelings about it.

Thanks once again to Sky/Setanta, there was no Sunday lie in for me for the second week in a row as the kick off was an even more unsociable 12 noon. Pulling up outside Old Trafford before 10am is a very surreal experience! After stopping briefly to buy a fanzine and trying incredibly hard not to slip over on the icy pavement, we headed on over to 'The Morgue' (otherwise known as South Stand) and to our entrance. The entrance itself wasn't a turnstile, but automatic doors that swished open to welcome us into the warm. I have to admit, I didn't mind getting handed a free program on my way in (sorry Keith!) and I quite enjoyed reverting back to the 'old' season ticket style for a day and ripping the voucher out of the book (honestly, the things I get nostalgic for!). We then headed up the stairs and into the suite where we would be having brunch. It was really quiet when we arrived in there and it didn't feel at all like a match was going on in the ground a couple of hours later. Before long, we got stuck into the food which was a nice cooked breakfast along with other bits and bobs and soon the time flew by. The teams were announced to us all and I was fairly concerned about the absence of Van der Sar and Ferdinand, particularly bearing in mind the form Everton were in. I thought about this when putting in my match prediction which they ask you to do in the execs, for the chance of winning a prize. Hubby won it last time so I had to do my best to draw level and regain some pride! In my typically pessimistic way, I predicted a final score of 1-1 and crossed my fingers and toes that I would be wrong!

I was quite happy to be leaving the suite to find our seats as the people on the next table were incredibly irritating- all very posh and clearly not giving a stuff about the game whatsoever. However, I have to be fair and say that there were also people in there who did seem to care and were talking animatedly about the game- I just wish they were sat near us instead of the annoying posh people! Making our way to the seats, I didn't mind the sudden blast of cold- it made me feel like at least I was at a match, as opposed to a bubble of oblivion! Looking around, the view seemed very strange as I was so used to sitting behind the goal. Of course, I didn't see the usual familiar faces either which was really annoying as I hadn't seen my Yorkshires since their trip to Rome and I was desperate to know the details and see that they were safe. I did recognise a couple of people- "That couple" who we always see at domestic away games and a couple of lads who were sitting next to hubby who we recognise from Euro aways. It wasn't the same as Drunk Bloke or Tweed Hat though. Nobody seemed to be wearing colours of any description like a scarf, hat or- heaven forbid- a United shirt. This Is The One drifted over the tannoy as the remaining seats in the stands filled up and everyone got ready in position. Everton fans took that as a cue to let us know that they were there with a blast of 'Everton, Everton, Everton' which was fairly short lived. The Fanfare then heralded the appearance of the teams onto the pitch and the crowd gave a roar of approval. I could hear it from all around me, but unfortunately nowhere around where I was sat. The game kicked off and Stretty seemed sparky. From the off, they warmed up their vocal chords with, 'Feed the scousers', 'The 12 days of Cantona' and 'YSB' amongst others. Someone else also in a sparky mood was Rooney, who went in for a tackle as if his life depended on it after just a few minutes. We all looked to Howard Webb, expecting him to use some common sense and give Rooney a very stern ticking off as it was his first foul and very early on. Of course, Webb flashed a yellow card and I knew from that point that he had made a rod for his own back with that as every tackle that followed, he was going to have to look at in the same way. That's how 4 bookings in less than the first 15 minutes of the game occured which brought groans of incredulation from the crowd along with 'The referee's a w*****' and 'Who's the scouser in the black?'. The game did indeed start off in a scrappy fashion as both teams tried to overcome the constant interruptions by the referee and settle into a rhythm. After having a bit of a reserved start myself, I began to chip in with a few songs and shouts which was greeted with mild shock from everyone around apart from the lads sitting next to hubby who were like a PG version of shouting guy who sits behind me in K. I suspect that they never had shouting partners before as they seemed to look over at me rather excitedly once I opened my mouth! Suddenly out of nowhere, Ronaldo hit an absolutely spectacular shot to put us 1-0 up. I cheered loudly and even those around me managed to stir themselves enough to get out of their seats to applaud. All I kept thinking of was how great that goal must have looked from my usual seat- would've been brilliant to see the angle and swerve. I silently hoped that the person in my seat was appreciating it. Very soon afterwards, Everton drew level much to the apparent joy of South Stand. Yes, in a supposed 'home' section of the ground, I found myself surrounded by jubilant scousers which is just about one of the least enviable positions I could imagine being in. It did however, explain why so few people around me seemed to be joining in with the songs! The rest of the half seem to fly by and before we knew it, the half time whistle had gone. Much the same as in K, I headed straight to the plasma screen to watch the highlights of the half. It looked like the remainder of the game was going to be tough.

The second half started and as the referee seemed to be a bit calmer, so the fans began getting a bit nasty. Everton fans started singing, 'Die Die Rooney' (what a lovely way to thank an ex-player. No wonder he loves winding them up now), followed by, 'You're just a team full of rapists'. Stretty retorted sharply with, 'You're just a town full of smackheads' and the atmosphere between the two sets of fans headed on a downward spiral rapidly. Back on the pitch, the lads were really starting to have a go at Everton as attack after attack came raining down on their goal. As each chance came and went (including a very close free kick from Rooney), it seemed as if we might actually have to settle for a point as Everton put everyone behind the ball in a barricade almost. I was beginning to get more and more animated as I was willing the lads to keep going. Still no movement from those around. For some reason, this really hit a nerve with me so I shouted even louder just to wind them all up and get a reaction. I got nothing- I swear they were robots. Then, all of the pushing and pushing paid off as we got a deserved penalty. The initial joy subsided as the realisation sunk in that the hard part was yet to be done- converting it. I had a momentary panic as I thought Saha was moving towards the ball (I am still scarred by that night at Celtic!) but thankfully, the ball was soon in Ronny's hands. I was so tense that I literally refused to watch it, despite all of hubby's coaxing. As I turned my back to the pitch, I looked across the row and saw that the lad next to hubby was doing the same. Our eyes connected and an identical look of fear and hope passed between us. I heard the referee's whistle. Hush then descended and I knew that Ronaldo was taking his run up. In what felt like an eternity, I waited for the cheers or groans. The air was thick with tension. As I opened one eye with trepidation, the place exploded with joy. I spun around to see the lads tearing away from the box in celebration and I was soon joining them. Jumping up and down with happiness, my arms were raised skywards mirroring so many around the ground. Even some of the robots were stood applauding. Strains of, 'He plays on the left..' was sung with great aplomb. After a torturous period of injury time which seemed much longer than the 3 minutes indicated, the final whistle blew to scenes of relief both on and off the pitch. We all knew that we had come through a very tough game and it's often games like that which can win and lose teams Championships.

We briefly went back down to the suite for a drink before we left the ground, and overheard a young lad of 9 or 10 tell a staff member excitedly that his bet (which his dad had put on for him) for United to win 2-1 and Ronaldo to score both goals had just won him £25! A very happy Christmas for him indeed! As for me- I have never been so happy to get a prediction wrong in my life!
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Aston Villa vs United- A view from the stands

Sun Jan 06, 2008 1:43 pm

Another FA Cup game, another match against Aston Villa. I'm sure the Villa fans were as heartily fed up seeing us being drawn against each other yet again as we were, yet here we were again. I was just hoping for the same outcome as the previous encounters in recent times!

We headed down the ever dull M6, and actually had a very smooth run down to Birmingham. We parked on our usual car park, just off the motorway (for a quick escape!) and paid a very reasonable £4, which put the Everton car park who wanted to charge us £10 last month to shame! Because of previous bad experiences we've had with delays on the motorway over the years, we always make sure we leave in more than enough time for kick off. In this case, we arrived with loads of time to spare so we sat in the car for a while, reading the paper and eating some butties that I'd made for the journey mainly to stay out of the perishing cold. With kick off looming in just over an hour's time, we dragged ourselves out of the warm car and into the dark, chilly Birmingham evening. The sounds of 'Ooh Aah Cantona' drifted over to us from the nearby pub which made me smile. Once more, we made the long, long walk down Bevington Road never failing to be amused at the bizarre things that residents leave out in their front gardens. Mattresses, chairs, chests of drawers and even crutches were some of the strange offerings on this occasion. On the street, we also passed Keith, our program guy's car and we marvelled at his courage at street parking especially as a car not too far away from his, was missing a front passenger side window which had been put through! We eventually made our way to the turnstile, buying our (once again reasonably priced at £2.50) programs along the way. We were in yet another part of the ground for this game- North Stand Upper- which I could add to my vast collection of parts of Villa Park I've sat in! As I headed through the turnstile and up the stairs after a brief bag and body search, I couldn't believe I was setting foot in the ground for a 14th time- no wonder they say Villa Park is like a second home for United! At the top of the stairs, we came to a sudden standstill and I couldn't figure out why until I looked around- the concourse was absolutely crammed. Straight away, it was obvious that this was planning of the most ridiculous kind. It was incredibly narrow (possibly even worse than Goodison Park) to the point where two people could probably just about pass each other. The TV screens were put in the most stupid positions, where people wanting to watch them would block off the area completely. The same went for the food kiosks and the toilets which were woefully inadequate. I can only speak for the women on this point but there were only 5 cubicles for god knows how many thousands of people- it was ludicrous. And that's before I even get onto the 1970s/old primary school decor in there! Even getting a cup of tea was a chore. I went to one kiosk where 7 people looked blankly back at me and said, "Well we don't serve hot drinks at this kiosk do we?" before being hearded over to another one to try again. By the time I got my cup of tea, I couldn't even face it so ended up throwing it away anyway! As it was impossible to even get near the TV screens to check on the final scores, I decided to just head up to the seats and look on Villa's big screens. There were many murmerings of surprise when the likes of the Blackburn and Everton results were announced and it perhaps reminded us all that this was the FA Cup and nothing should be taken for granted. As I looked around the ground, it was clear that Aston Villa had not sold all of the tickets for the game. As kick off grew close, huge blocks of seats were completely untouched- in stark contrast, the United end was full to bursting. A couple of banners were fluttering in the wind- one telling everyone that they were 'on the lash' and the other was simply, 'Love United Hate Glazer' which hasn't been seen for a while, particularly as it has been banned from Old Trafford (freedom of speech not allowed if it's not rose tinted inside O.T evidently). It was a surprise to see it turn up again actually. There was barely any time to take in the pre-match build up (I only heard Queen and The Fratellis at opposite ends of the spectrum!) before the lads were coming out onto the pitch. The United team was pretty strong, showing that Fergie weren't taking Villa lightly. We didn't know exactly who was on the bench (the Villa announcer decided he wanted to keep it a secret from everyone, saying that it would be revealed in due course!?), but we all spotted Rooney, much to the relief of us all which brought chants of 'Rooney, Rooney'.

The game kicked off to a buzzy atmosphere from the travelling reds. The two lads behind me in particular were doing their bit, running through a myriad of songs including the FA Cup specific, "She wore a scarlet ribbon", "Que Sera Sera" and "We're on the march with Fergie's Army" amongst others. Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said for the people to my left or directly in front of me which I found quite irritating. Thankfully, they were very much in the minority as the rest of us were singing loudly and passionately. The Villa fans who actually turned up were pretty pathetic on the singing front, with only the occasional shouts of 'Villa' which were gretted with ironic cheers from us all. We did our best to try and rouse them into some banter with, 'You couldn't sell all your tickets' and 'Can you hear the Villa sing?' but they just didn't seem to be interested. So instead, we got a bit of banter going between those of us in North Stand and those reds over in the Doug Ellis Stand with a tongue in cheek sing-off. Insults of 'You scouse b******s' and 'Who the f*****g hell are you?' were traded amusingly between us which to be honest, was much more entertaining than the toil which was going on, on the pitch! The terrific wit of United fans (which is very underrated) carried on in the form of topical songs. Directed at Fergie came 'Fergie, give us a song' and 'Can you hear Fergie sing?' but were followed by 'Every single one of us loves Alex Ferguson' to show that there was no malice involved. The half time whistle soon went to interrupt our fun briefly and I nipped down to the concourse quickly, to see if there were actually any highlights of the first half! I couldn't believe how full the concourse was already seeing as most people were still in their seats when I went downstairs. It showed how completely inadequate it was to hold a large number of people and sadly, it got worse. As more and more people came innocently down the stairs, a crush began to insue. I was literally being squashed from all directions to the point where I lost my breath for a few seconds as my chest was being compressed. A woman next to me started to scream and cry and then I began to get frightened. There was just nowhere to go as even the stairs from the seats were crammed with people. Somehow, I got to fight my way back to the seats where I saw a line of police looking down the stairs expressionless and motionless at the chaos that was unfolding before them. I tried to tell them that something needed to be done but they literally ignored me totally. A man then made an impassioned plea for help to them, and they still refused to help. He then demanded if it would take someone being seriously hurt or killed for them to do something and at that point, other police officers waded in and threatened to arrest him if he didn't be quiet! I shakily got back to my seat and sat quietly for a while, trying to take it all in and hoping desperately that nobody was hurt.

The second half began in much the same vein as the first, both on and off the pitch. The game was still dull and the United fans were still boisterous. Renditions of 'He plays on the left', Ryan Giggs Ryan Giggs, running down the wing', 'Park, Park, wherever you may be', Nemanja, woah' and even 'Anderson, Anderson' were being sung to try and encourage the lads. Even though the game was hardly scintillating, nobody really moaned or got on the team's back at all although there were very loud murmerings of approval when Saha was substituted. The sight of Rooney jogging up and down the touchline warming up all match had been a tantalising one but as soon as he was brought on, our hearts lifted. Immediately, everything seemed to change. The passing seemed sharper and there seemed more freedom in our play not just from Rooney, but all of the lads. They seemed just that little bit more eager as Rooney's enthusiasm spread through the team like wildfire. In a blistering attack with some magnificent play between Rooney and Ronaldo, Rooney lifted his final shot just over the bar and as the clock seemed to ever rapidly be ticking down, thoughts of replays and damned automatic cup schemes began to fill our thoughts. We should have known never to assume anything with United, especially not in the final 10 minutes of matches. Another terrific attack brought the goal to put us in front, courtesy of Ronaldo once again although a tap in is not usually his style! None of us could care less about how it was scored though- we were a goal in front, and that's what mattered! We all went mental and some over in the Doug Ellis Stand were very over exhuberant in their celebrations as one or two managed to stray onto the pitch, obviously in attempt to recreate the magical night there when we won 3-2 in 2002. The scale of this celebration was nothing like that though although you may have been mistaken in thinking that maybe the whole stand was trying to get onto the pitch, judging by the amount of stewards and police that aggressively moved into that area. Nice to know that one bloke getting onto the pitch (and then falling over as soon as he got there amusingly enough) was deemed much more of a danger than a huge crush in a concourse which they did absolutely sod all about. Then a flare somehow made its way onto the pitch which was odd and also made a mockery of Villa's supposed security checks before going through the turnstiles. Even more oddly it was a pink flare so I don't know if the bloke who had it thought it was red, or if he was campaigning for gay rights! Anyway once Ronaldo's goal went in, a large proportion of Villa fans started to leave which I thought was strange. If it was United a goal behind with 10 minutes of the game left, I'd like to believe that we'd all stay to roar the lads on into pulling it back. And they could hardly cite traffic as an issue, as Villa Park was considerably under full capacity so much less traffic about. I don't think I'll ever understand the mentality of Villa fans. Back on the pitch, and our goal had a very positive effect on play as the lads seemed to loosen up and enjoy themselves. Was a bit concerned to see Giggsy go to take a throw in and stop to pick something up from the touchline as if it had been thrown. Couldn't get a good look to see what it was though. The time seemed to fly by then thankfully, and Rooney capped off an inspired substitute's appearance with a terrific goal which was celebrated loudly and joyously by us all. Even more Villa fans left then and chants of 'Cheerio' were directed at the departing in the tier below us. One bloke seemed to take real exception to this as he shouted back at us all swearing, jabbing his finger and threatening actual bodily harm on us all which added to our amusement even more! The final whistle then went and we all cheered with relief and happiness. Fergie then directed all of the lads to come over and applaud us which I took to mean that he approved of our performance in the stands! The lads looked happy enough, especially Rooney and Rio which always tends to be the case for some reason. We headed out of the ground safely thankfully and followed the throngs back uphill on Bevington Road (walking uphill after a couple of hours standing at a match is no fun!). I overheard a Villa fan talking to his mate behind me, who was very magnanimous about the defeat, "Well, when you can bring on the likes of Rooney with 20 minutes to go who can change a game, it shows that Villa just aren't strong enough". I suppose after seeing us knock them out so many times in recent years, it becomes easier to be magnanimous. I just hope now after getting past one of our 'regular' FA Cup opponants in Villa, that we don't end up with another in Middlesbrough!
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Reading vs United- A view from the stands

Sun Jan 20, 2008 5:05 pm

It seemed like forever ago that I'd been to a league away game for one reason or another so I was really looking forward to going down to Reading and seeing the lads away from home again.

We left the house at a not totally unsociable 8.30am but it was still too early for a Saturday morning in my opinion! The journey down there wasn't too bad, despite the horrible rain. We had a brief stop off at Warwick Services for an overpriced but quite pleasant latte and I gave a smile and a nod to a group of fellow reds who also seemed to feel the need for caffeine! The rest of the journey passed without incident and we completed another of our usual away game rituals- listening to Vernon Kay on Radio 1! We arrived in damp, drizzly Reading and parked as before, at the train station which meant a quick getaway afterwards! Last time we were in Reading, it was a beautifully warm and sunny September day- it couldn't have been more different. So bearing that in mind, we didn't walk around the town for too long but decided inside just to head into John Lewis and have a very smug, healthy lunch of fish and roasted vegetables (not much like the traditional pre-match pie!). On our way back to the station to get the shuttle bus to the ground, we noticed something very prominent all around the town centre- police. They were virtually on every street corner as if they were expecting some sort of riot or rampage to start at any minute! It even went so far as a few lads being stood outside of a pub having a drink, talking quietly amongst themselves and generally being pretty harmless. They were wearing no colours of any kind and possibly weren't even going to the match. Across the road were 3 or 4 policemen taking photos of the blokes, as well as videoing them too. Very Big Brother! We arrived at the station and fortunately, we didn't have to wait too long for the shuttle bus to arrive to take us to the ground. We noticed quite a few reds having a pint at the station pub (accompanied again by many police!) which was a throwback to how it was last season. I wondered whether maybe these guys had travelled down without a ticket and just stayed in the pub and watched the match on what I'm sure are completely legal feeds from somewhere in Scandinavia! On the bus, we were sat in front of a Reading fan who felt the need to tell everyone all of his business, such was the loudness of his voice. In the short journey, I learnt where he goes shopping and and all about his kids' school reports from parents evening! He then made the same, tired, predictable joke about all United fans coming from Surrey so at that point, I turned to him and said, "Be careful about stereotyping people", and he looked at me rather shamefaced and mumbled an apology!
We got off the bus and walked around the ground to our turnstile and it suddenly felt like we'd been transported onto a Euro away- there was a huge fence around our turnstiles and a massive amount of police and stewards. An utter overreaction. Firstly, our tickets were checked then we moved on about a couple of feet and our bags were checked. We probably took about 2 steps after that and had a leaflet thrust into our hands about standing being against ground regulations (we've had similar hand outs at places such as Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Aston Villa over the years) so I think all of those things together showed us what may lie ahead in the ground. We were then expecting to have our season tickets checked at the turnstile which we'd been told in a letter that came with our match tickets. However when we finally got to the turnstile, there wasn't a soul around and it was all done electronically. Very strange.

We went into the concourse and noticed a few of the usual faces before heading into our seats. It struck me immediately that we were in a very similar position to where we were sat at Bolton (apart from the fact that we just about had a bit of the roof over our heads this time!) and I hoped that it wasn't a bad omen. The lads came out for the warm up and we immediately starting scanning the players for who was there and who wasn't. The most noticeable absentee was Anderson until realisation dawned that there was no Ronaldo! We all started to have a mild panic that maybe we were taking Reading too lightly when suddenly, Ronaldo appeared from nowhere and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief! We were actually in our seats quite a bit earlier than usual, so people were arriving in dribs and drabs. My heart sunk when to my right, a bloke arrived with his son, armed with a camera and a picnic. He also couldn't even tell the difference between Hargreaves and Tevez! Then the bloke sat behind me arrived with his son and he had never been to a match before (quite how he got a ticket is anyone's guess!). His son had no idea who any of our players were at all and so his dad tried to educate him. Unfortunately the bloke didn't know much either as amongst other things, he told his son that Fergie took over as manager in 1989!! Thankfully, the area soon filled up with more 'clued up' reds shall we say which just about saved me from sinking into a deep depression! I had a scan around the rest of our section and amusingly to my right, was a huge concentration of familiar faces- Keith our program guy, Royal Mail guy, Tweed Hat, England Fan and the Stafford Two were all sat within a few seats of each other which was a funny quirk of fate! To pass a few minutes, we nipped over to see Keith and had a bit of a chat. He asked us if we were doing Lyon and I admitted that we weren't as it was enough being teargassed the first time! He said, "I don't blame you" so that made me feel a lot better about it! Between that and the reasonable pre-match build up (some of the Sheffield derby was shown on the big screen along with some decent music like Klaxons and The Fratellis being played), time seemed to go quite quickly. Just before the players came out, the teams were announced by the very strange stadium announcer. He was quite excited announcing our team, even pausing after each player's name so we could all cheer but when it came to the Reading team, he was nearing hysteria! We all looked at each other rather bemused, and wondered if he was like that before every Reading game! The teams then came out to big cheers from all supporters although we groaned when we saw that Steve Bennett was the referee, knowing how he usually refs our matches! As the game kicked off, despite my concerns, everyone around me started to sing (apart from the idiot bloke behind me who kept chuckling at our songs in an amused, upper middle class way) which was mainly led by the bloke next to hubby (who we knew from K Stand and does away games) and the lads in front of us. However within a couple of minutes, a load of stewards appeared and demanded that everyone sat down. This was met with mild irritation and a smattering of people sat down. But when things began to happen on the pitch, everyone stood up again which happens naturally (and I believe, is also allowed in grounds as 'moments of high excitement'). Once again, the stewards came wading in very aggressively and there was at least double the amount of them as before. The blokes in front of me started to get quite annoyed as everyone was trying to concentrate on the match. People began to argue with each other and it all began to get quite unpleasant. One steward even said, "Well I don't give a f*** what you do personally, but it's ground regs innit?" which is hardly a compelling argument to sit down! So in between trying to watch the match, standing up and sitting down on demand like a load of jack in the boxes by the stewards and trying to get some decent singing going, it was all quite hard work! On the pitch, it seemed to be quite hard work too. Despite a bright early start by the lads, things soon got quite a bit tougher as Reading had some decent chances due to a mix of indecisiveness by Van der Sar and the defence and some good Reading play. We were relieved to see us saved a couple of times by a terrific tackle from Vidic and a great clearance from Rio but having said that, we were so unlucky that the terrific Hargreaves free kick didn't go in. The half time whistle heralded the end of a reasonable half for us both and the start of some very bizarre half time 'entertainment'. Firstly, there was a competetion to win some theatre tickets and Dorothy, The Scarecrow and The Tinman from the Wizard of Oz were dragged out onto the pitch in full costume! Then, they played some weird version of Play Your Cards Right using Reading players' shirts which worryingly, ended up being quite compelling! I would say that nothing surprises me in football anymore but that half time came close! I was a bit disappointed that they weren't giving out any free pizza to fans in the crowd like they were doing last season though!!

Into the second half, and it started off much like the first half although Giggsy's introduction at half time certainly livened things up. In the stands, the Reading fans were beginning to get on our nerves. Not only were they singing crappy songs that had been stolen from other clubs and changed slightly (because they have very little imagination clearly, or much history to draw experiences from), they were really coming down on Ronaldo. I know that's the case for a lot of clubs around the country when United roll into town but I have a feeling it was more a continuation of the stuff that happened with England than anything else. For example, they took exception to Ronnie's song and sang "England England England" in reply which merely encouraged us to sing "Argentina"and "Portugal, Portugal" which didn't go down well at all lol! They then went to the really small time, predictable stuff like, "We support our local team" and "You only live around the corner" and generally shouting, "S***" at us which made me wonder that if we are so s*** and top of the league, what did that make them?! We all found it quite amusing actually and instead of getting wound up about it, it just made us more determined to be loud and proud for the lads so the whole repetoire was sung which truly put them to shame. Back on the pitch, and things were picking up. The lads really began to have a lot of attacks on goal and as they were attacking our end, we were really willing them on. But as each attack was either off target, saved or blocked as the minutes ticked down, it seemed like our chance to win the game was getting slimmer and slimmer. Hahnemann in the Reading goal decided that he was satisfied with a point part way through the second half as he did everything he could to waste time. He'd pick up the ball and put it down. He'd bang the mud out of his boots on the goalposts. Then he'd reposition the ball. He'd then take a long run up and reposition the ball again. He took forever. He even instructed the ballboy behind the goal not to go rushing for the ball when it went out of play! Then in yet another of our attacks, Tevez floated the ball over to Rooney who flicked the ball into the back of the net with the sweetest of touches. We all went crazy, jumping up and down but not nearly as impressively as Rooney's cartwheel and the Reading fans who'd been so mouthy earlier, were now trying to avoid our eyes. To my left in the nearby section of Reading fans, a lone bloke jumped up and celebrated! We all celebrated with him and the Reading fans around him were unmoved. I then turned to look at the clock. I knew it was going to be a long 12 minutes. Credit to Reading, they decided that even though they were 1-0 down, they were still going to have a go at us. I was amused to see Hahnemann suddenly wanting to hurry things up, after all of his previous time wasting. We all took the mickey out of him, telling him to slow down and take his time and when the ball went out of play behind the goal, the United fan who had been celebrating our goal in the Reading end caught the ball and pretended he couldn't hear all of the Reading fans shouting at him to give the ball back to the 'keeper! When he finally let go of the ball, we all gave him a well deserved cheer and he gave us a big, beaming smile! Reading gave us a few scary moments up the other end of the pitch, especially when one of their shots squeaked just past the post! I shouted, screamed and sung until I was hoarse and my legs truly almost gave out when that shot went wide! When the board went up showing 4 minutes of injury time, we all wondered how much more we could take. Thankfully, when the ball broke to Ronaldo inside our own half, he somehow found the energy to run almost the entire length of the pitch to put the ball into the back of the net and wrap up the game. We all went mental and Ronaldo just lay happily flat out on the ground! It was a terrific reply to the taunts of, "Who are ya?" that he had been getting from the Reading fans earlier in the half after a couple of missed shots. Very soon afterwards, the final whistle went and both on and off the pitch, we were all delighted and relieved. We headed out of the ground with big smiles and a couple of extra stress lines on our faces and all in all, knowing that we really dug out a result. It didn't take us long to get onto the shuttle bus to take us back to the station but unfortunately, it took us forever to actually move anywhere! We took nearly an hour to go 3 miles which was unbelievable! Considering how the ground was built from scratch, they should have created enough roads and public transport to cope with the crowd. Whilst we were on the bus, we got talking to a couple of Irish blokes who had come over for the game who were really nice. They had brought their son too for his first ever away game and he was on the phone to him mum, excitedly telling her all about the game. The things he was coming out with were so funny and I was sure that he was going to be a matchgoing red for many years to come! When we eventually made it back to the station, there were still plenty of reds having a pint in the station pub probably waiting for their train home. Everyone was in good spirits and there wasn't even a hint of any trouble anywhere. We got back to the car and had a decent journey home and got back just in time for Match of the Day and to wallow in the happiness of another United victory!
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Re: Reading vs United- A view from the stands

Sun Jan 20, 2008 5:31 pm

Ok, here are a few pics from yesterday (I hope this works!). Sorry for the blurry last one but Ronaldo had just scored so we were all moving around rather a lot!! I like to think it's arty anyway lol!

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United vs Portsmouth- A view from the stands

Thu Jan 31, 2008 9:43 am

It felt strange to be back at Old Trafford so soon- it didn't seem like 5 minutes ago that we were celebrating our FA Cup win over Tottenham. Still, it was back to the bread and butter of the league and the visit of Portsmouth.

We arrived at Old Trafford quite early so decided to make good use of our time by having a decent meal over at The Lowry, and forgoing our usual KFC for once! So, we joined dozens of reds in the Chinese restaurant for a rather scrummy all you can eat buffet (oh dear- another setback in the post Christmas diet!), which more than filled a hole! After a brief interlude at Costa Coffee for an inferior-to-Starbucks latte, we made our way back to the ground. Like the Spurs game, it seemed quite quiet around and I wondered whether the game would be a sell-out, as tickets were still on general sale up until recently. We headed over to see Keith, our program guy who was doing a brisk trade once again. We had a chat about Lyon and how the club keep adding more and more places onto the club day trip there, but are limiting the amount of tickets which are being sold on their own. He said that it was unfair on those who travel independantly as the majority of those in Rome for example, had gone there on their own and now couldn't get a ticket for Lyon as the club were holding a lot back for the official trips. And although it doesn't affect Keith as he goes with the club anyway, he felt desperately sorry for those who had done a few Euro aways independently this season but were now being 'chubbed' for Lyon. We both know that the club trips are vastly overpriced and they play on the fact that they can guarantee a ticket, which is why I've always done the official trips too. It seems like it is becoming more and more the way of the future but if that becomes the only way it works in the future, yet more sounds reds will be driven out of them too. So, Keith and us were very philosophical in our conversation but he started to get swamped with people so we let him get on. Walking back down the road, strains of "When Johnny goes marching down the wing" were eminating from Bishop's Blaize, and the fans in there certainly sounded in fine fettle! I wondered what the atmosphere was going to be like. I weighed up the fact that the game was against Portsmouth (hardly a glamour match) vs the fact that it was a night match (extra drinking time!). I decided that it was impossible to guess, so I'd just have to wait and see! After two brief stops to buy a fanzine and give some money to a charity collector (the nice person that I am!), we went through the turnstile and into the ground. Just inside, there was a bloke who had definitely never sat in K before. He was asking a steward if 'all the fans were packed in now?' and the steward basically just laughed at him. It was 7.25pm. The bloke was informed that it doesn't really get busy until about 5 minutes before kick off, and he looked quite shocked! In the concourse, I saw Jane and said a quick hello before assuming my usual position in front of the plasma screen for the team news. We were all happy to see Vidic back but surprised to see Park and Nani in our midfield. Clearly the next few big games were firmly in the manager's thinking when choosing to rest Giggsy and Tevez but I kept thinking about Portsmouth's excellent away record. I sent a text to my Newcastle supporting best friend that I was a little concerned about our midfield and then thought afterwards that she probably wonders what more I want, considering the situation that they're in! I was quite happy when I saw the bench though and I mentally scolded myself for being so pessimistic before every game we play! We headed up to our seats and immediately realised that some people were missing. Even people who I don't really mention usually but they become familiar faces, didn't seem to be around although Tweed Hat, Royal Mail Guy and Shouting Guy were in attendance. And I comforted myself with the thought that my Yorkshires would be along soon and I smiled as I thought of the possible state that they all might be in when they arrived! I settled down in my seat then, having a read of my fanzine and trying desperately to block out the hideous rubbish that Alan Keegan was playing over the tannoys (Dirty Old Town making an untimely return after a pleasant break!). A couple of lads then appeared and plonked themselves in the seats next to me. I look up from my fanzine alarmed and seeing my face, the guy next to me said that my Yorkshires were for some reason in a box together for the match. It was very unsettling and I thought how much I'd miss Tall Bloke's over exhuberant celebrations if we scored. I'd miss Little Guy asking me the same question 25 times and forgetting the answer every time. I'd miss betting to see what time Drunk Bloke would appear and what level of redness his face would be. I was also wondering what sort of havoc that they'd all be causing in a box together! Before we knew it, 'This is the One' was blaring out heralding the imminent appearance of the lads, closely followed by The Fanfare which Alan Keegan was actually playing really loud for once. I much prefer it like that actually, as it helps to build the atmosphere even more. Looking over at the Portsmouth fans, their reduced allocation wasn't even full and although I felt sorry for them having to travel up so far on a Wednesday night, United fans had to do the same thing travelling down to Portsmouth and there were a lot more of them! The game kicked off and the atmosphere started quite brightly. The lads next to me started singing loudly and that pretty much set the tone for the whole match! On the pitch, the lads started fantastically well and were fighting for every ball as if their life depended on it! It was a really gung-ho start and I thought that Fergie must have given them one hell of a team talk before they came out! Before we knew it, the lads were 1-0 up courtesy of some majestic attacking play which was finished off brilliantly by who else, but Ronaldo. What an outstanding season he is having yet again. Portsmouth looked on the ropes even that early on in the match, and their fans looked just as shocked- barely a cowbell could be heard!! We'd hardly had time to gather ourselves from that magnificent attack before we won a free kick, quite a way out. Clearly, Ronaldo was sizing it up and we all stood up expectantly. A hush decended as he struck the ball perfectly and we all literally stood open mouthed for a second as it flew in- it was almost as if we couldn't quite believe it. The place then erupted and I really quite missed not having Tall Bloke next to me as I could quite imagine the huge bear hug he'd have given me after a goal like that. So, I had to put up with my hubby instead lol! "He plays on the left..." then started up and it seemed like the entire East Stand at least was singing it, complete with arm movements! It looked and sounded amazing. The rest of the half was just pure, unadulterated joy. Every attack was breathtaking and exciting. The game had started off with everyone sat down but by the time Ronaldo scored his second goal, that had long been abandoned and everyone was just on their feet. As far as I was concerned, I didn't want the half to end- it was football in the most exquisite way. Even Shouting Guy said it was as good as he'd seen us play in a very long time and I had to agree. Every time we got the ball, we looked like scoring. Every player was on song and I almost felt a bit sorry for Van der Sar as he cut a terribly lonely figure in the box on his own, jogging up and down and trying to stay alert! The half time whistle went to huge acclaim and an almost gobsmacked cheer by everyone.

I headed down to the concourse to wait for the half time highlights and it was absolutely crammed. It was probably the busiest I'd seen it all season, and I knew that everyone was waiting for a replay of one thing- Ronaldo's free kick. As I was waiting, I got a text from my best friend Leanne, who said "Looks like your midfield is really struggling there then!" which made me smile. The highlights then started and there was just happiness on everyone's faces. When they showed Ronaldo's free kick, I swear there was a collective ''****** hell' from everyone as it was slowed down and we saw the swerve on the shot. Just phenomenal. Everyone was on a high and the singing in the concourse was brilliant. Just a shame that as soon as I got up the steps and into the seats, it was silence apart from Alan Keegan's dreary playlist coming out over the tannoy. The contrast couldn't have been more different. As the lads came out for the second half, they were given a hero's reception and anticipation was buzzing around the ground. Perhaps inevitably, the second half was much flatter than the first both on and off the pitch. Having said that, the lads continued with some blistering attacks and Rooney looked as if he was enjoying his tussle with Campbell! In the stands, things were quieter but still a lot better than other games this season. Surprisingly, very little was heard from the Stretty at all which is really unusual. So surprising was this turn of events that K even started singing, "Can you hear the Stretty sing?" and "Stretty, give us a song". We'll let you have an off night just this once guys!! Even more entertaining was the efforts of the lads in the Yorkshires' seats. Their enthusiasm couldn't be faulted but bless them, the words they were singing weren't always exactly right. For example, they sang "Bertie Bee said to Matt Busby" (I said to hubby I wonder if Bertie Bee was friends with Wendy Wasp lol!) and "My old man used to be a City fan" amongst others. It became quite an interesting distraction to see what they would come out with next! However, they did get on my nerves a bit towards the end of the game as they were having a bit of a go at Carrick (how it was possible to have a go at any of the players after an outstanding performance like that, I'll never know!) and then when Anderson came on, they absolutely slated him. Now even in my rose tinted way about Anderson (I have become a big fan of his this season), I thought he did really well when he came on and there they were, having a go at him saying his passing was crap! I was extremely close to telling this bloke to shut up but I thought better of it, because I probably wouldn't see him again and I didn't want to ruin the night. So, I left him to carry on spouting his rubbish to which nobody, not even his mate, agreed. As the last 10 minutes began to get played out, I was astonished to see the amount of people get up and leave. I really couldn't get my head around why so many people wanted to go without seeing the end of the game. It goes on in most games but to be honest, I'd never seen such an exodus before, especially so early on. I thought the least these people should do is stay and show their appreciation of the magnificent effort that the players had put in. In terms of the actual game, so many things could have happened in those last 10 minutes that they wouldn't see. They very nearly missed Anderson's first goal for the club as his shot just shaved the post and to be honest, it would have served them right. Into the last minute, and the United fans (despite the thousands that had buggered off) were still singing proudly. There was barely a peep out of the Portsmouth fans for the entire match which I did find surprising bearing in mind their usual good reputation. As well as Red Flag being sung with great passion, "United, top of the league" was also aired just to remind everyone of what the result had meant. As the whistle went and the players were given a standing ovation, it was a time to be very proud indeed.
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Photos from Old Trafford, 6th February 2008

Wed Feb 06, 2008 9:16 pm

Ok, in no particular order....

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Flowers on behalf of United Lounge. Thanks to Siti for the beautiful card.
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Re: Photos from Old Trafford, 6th February 2008

Wed Feb 06, 2008 9:50 pm

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These are from the new memorial in South Stand tunnel (now called Munich Tunnel):


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United vs City- A view from the stands (kind of)

Sun Feb 10, 2008 5:07 pm

Ok, well I'm really sorry but my soul is too hurt to make a 'real' A view from the stands post today. I know that there are several of our members who attended the game today so I'm sure they will be more than willing to give their version of the day. I just truly can't trust myself to write one at the moment. So, I just want to make a couple of points:

The minutes before the kick off were planned beautifully. No songs were played over the tannoy which allowed the fans to sing their own tributes to the Babes. Flowers of Manchester was played though and unfortunately, City fans took that opportunity to sing their songs all over it. This was met with boos from the reds and I feared the worst for the silence. Then, a lone piper (as happened for the passing of Sir Matt), lead the teams out onto the pitch. Fergie and Sven laid wreaths and then we had the minute's silence. I clasped my hands together almost in prayer as the scarves that we'd had left on our seats (along with a copy of the infamous blank teamsheet) were held aloft with pride. Thankfully, it went off beautifully and City fans deserve respect for that. The poignancy brought tears to my eyes.

As for the game, there is truly little I want to say about it. It wasn't the fact that we lost that made it hurt so acutely. It wasn't even the fact that we'd lost the game to City. It was the manner in which it occured, today of all days. With survivors of Munich in the stands, and the families of those who'd perished watching on. We all so desperately wanted a performance that would honour their memory. Where was the pride of representing our great club? Where was the passion? Where was the inspiration that those pioneering Babes gave us all, that is so ingrained into the fabric of United?
Slumped in my seat at the final whistle, I'd given my all. My voice was hoarse- I'd cajoled, encouraged and willed on the lads all I could. I was spent. I was still ready to applaud though, despite how I felt inside. However, our players didn't seem to feel the same. They all turned on their heels, and slunked off down the tunnel and never gave any of us a backward glance. No appreciation of the fans who had come, not even a look of apology. Newcastle were beaten 6-0 just a few weeks ago, and some of their players still managed to applaud their fans. Maybe being able to accept the bad as well as all of the plaudits when things go right, will help them to grow as a team and people. Something which I'm sure the Babes had already realised in their short lifetimes.

So for today, I just have to say: Eddie Colman, David Pegg, Mark Jones, Liam Whelan, Tommy Taylor, Roger Byrne, Geoff Bent and Duncan Edwards- I'm sorry.
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United vs Arsenal (FA Cup)- A view from the stands

Sun Feb 17, 2008 6:25 pm

United vs Arsenal. It was clear that after last week's horror show, it could go one of two ways- the match could be amazing or slump us deeper into depression. Needless to say, just about every superstition and lucky charm I had was dug out in the hope of the former.

We arrived at Old Trafford really early compared to usual so the place was like the Marie Celeste! There were very few people around and it was almost eerie to see the place like that on a match day. We were pleased to see that the banner of the Babes on the front of the ground and the flowers were still there so we went over to have another look at the flowers, and noticed that some Atletico Madrid scarves had appeared. As they had played Bolton earlier on in the week, we assumed that they'd taken the trip down to Old Trafford then which was really good of them. We then went over to the plaque and saw that the wreaths which Fergie and Sven laid on the pitch before the City game, had been put on display underneath it, complete with cards. City's said, 'In Deepest Sympathy' and United's said 'Precious Memories'. I expected they would be gone for our next home game, so I thought we should take a look at them all one last time. We then made our way over to see Keith, our program guy to get our programs and a fanzine. Poor bloke was still trying to fend off requests for City programs from people desperate to get their hands on one. We both were telling people to register their interest online but most people had already done that. After having a bit of a chat with him about our trouble getting Newcastle away tickets (which we have luckily resolved), we bid him farewell and wished him a safe trip to Lyon. Over the road, Bishop's Blaize was sounding lively, despite it still being quite early. I hoped it would translate into the ground later! Leaving Keith's, we realised that we were at a bit of a loose end. We'd already had lunch at home before we left so there was no need to walk over to The Lowry. So with a lot of time to waste, we decided to go window shopping for all the things we need to replace in the next few months. So, we went looking at new cars at Evans Halshaw, new TVs and DVD players at Currys and new laptop and printers at PC World (like I said, we had A LOT of spare time on our hands!). Leaving from those places empty handed much to the disappointment of the salespeople no doubt on commission, we made our way back to the ground. Well, it was like everyone had come out of hiding- it was absolutely packed! There seemed to be a lot of Arsenal fans around but that can obviously be attributed to the large allocation that they'd been given, due to it being a cup game (about 9000 I think). Amongst the United fans, I spotted quite a few wearing the scarves we'd been given at the City game. I hoped that those who, like me, weren't wearing theirs was because they'd put them away somewhere safe and not because they'd put them on Ebay. We got to the turnstile and took out our paper tickets. We thought when we received them in the post that it was a bit strange as all previous cup games this season had just been put straight onto our season ticket cards. But we assumed it was because people had been moved about in the ground to accommodate the Arsenal fans and maybe everyone had been sent paper tickets for their usual seats. So, we took our paper tickets and held them up to be scanned. A red light then came on, along with the words, "ticket not in system, see steward". Completely thrown by this first time occurance, I asked the stewards at the turnstile what to do. They seemed to have even less idea than us and told us to look for someone in a maroon coat! So off we went on a wild goose chase around the ground, frantically looking for someone wearing the elusive maroon coat. Naturally, we found nobody so we had to return to our turnstile. I began to panic a little bit, wondering if we were even going to be let into the ground. I told the stewards at the turnstile that there was nobody in a maroon coat anywhere around the ground and I got blank looks and a shrug of the shoulders in reply. In a last ditch attempt to find a solution, I suggested that maybe I should try swiping the season ticket card in case it had been updated for the game. I got out my card and the scanner lit up like a beautiful green beacon. We were in. And the first person I saw as I walked through the turnstile was a steward in a maroon coat.

In the the concourse, there was the usual huddle around the plasma screens to see the team news. When it came up, it was greeted with a cacophony of groans coupled with annoyance that Ronaldo and Giggs weren't even on the bench but Arsenal had Adebayor on theirs. There was concern over who exactly would be up front but much happiness that Rooney was back in the team. I remained reasonably reserved with my opinions, although a little concerned that we weren't at full strength. I decided to be positive ultimately, as I was sure that nothing could possibly be as bad as the City game. I did seem to be on my own with that thought though as everywhere I turned, people were talking about how worried they were. Before I went up to my seat, I bought a just-about-drinkable coffee to warm me up in the bitterly cold Manchester air. Whilst I was over there, I heard a big cheer go up and at the same time, my phone started buzzing with loads of texts. Wondering what all the commotion was, I went over to the screen to find that Liverpool had just been beaten by Barnsley! The laughter definitely served to lighten the atmosphere before our match too. In my seat, I had a flick through the fanzine and tried to block out the noise of the Arsenal fans above my head. Thankfully where my seat was, I couldn't see them if I looked up but I could unfortunately hear them. They sounded quite loud to me but I think that was more because they were right over our heads. Anyway after some half hearted attempts to play some appropriate music (a couple of Cup Final songs which were then horribly interrupted for Carnival de Paris- again), the guy who sings the recorded version of 'Take me home United Road', came onto the pitch to sing the song live. I put my fanzine down, my interest perked a little which dispersed immediately when his opening words to the crowd were, "Come on Man U". I went back to my fanzine. To be honest, I'm finding Alan Keegan's attempts at ramming the song down our throats at every match in a futile attempt to get the crowd to sing along, quite embarrassing. A lot of people appear not to know the words, a lot are still also just coming into the ground at that point or are in the concourse. Some just basically don't want to sing until the match starts. What I do know is that since he has started playing the song all the time, the amount of times it's sung in the stands has dropped dramatically. It is a very good song to sing in the stands but the recorded version is too polished, too contrived. It feels now as if the song has been taken away from the fans in the stands, and it's almost as if people view it as a club pre-approved, happy clappy song which has had its original feeling and soul stripped away. Anyway during all of that, Tall Bloke appeared and I was happy to see him. It may have just been one of those days but I didn't seem to see many people around who I knew for some reason. We had a bit of a chat about the Newcastle ticket hassles as he was having a lot of problems too. He then asked me AGAIN if I was going to Lyon. I reminded him for the zillionth time that I wasn't and he seemed to finally accept it although he did try and persuade me to go by telling me that he would be wearing shorts! I told him I thought he was insane considering how cold it will be but he seemed pretty unfazed by that! Little Guy and Drunk Bloke then arrived, BEFORE the teams even came out of the tunnel which was pretty amazing. Drunk Bloke didn't look too bad actually- a little rosy-cheeked but he wasn't swaying too much! The teams then appeared to the far-too-quiet fanfare (which annoyed me), with Rio leading the lads out. I looked around and everyone seemed to be quite relaxed, which was odd. I came to the conclusion that there was a 'c'est la vie' attitude around the place after what had happened last week. It was as if it was pointless worrying about what might happen, and we just had to wait and see how things went.

The game kicked off to a big roar and both on and off the pitch, things started well for United. As the lads were getting stuck in and having an excellent start, the fans were doing their bit and singing an array of songs from, 'Bertie Mee said to Matt Busby' to 'Vieira, woah' along with others like, 'She wore a scarlet ribbon' and 'Que sera, sera'. I don't know why but there seems like a really good, almost old-fashioned feeling some of our cup songs which I love. As for the Arsenal fans, they really didn't seem to have much of a repertoire. The only things I can recall them singing are, 'And it's Arsenal, Arsenal FC...' (which almost every teams' fans sing), 'We won the league in Manchester' and 'Top of the league'. (Yawn!). They soon didn't have much to sing about though as after some lovely play, Rooney put us 1-0 up. His celebration was full of fire and passion, and it was obvious how much it meant to him. The frustration of having to sit out last week's game seemed to all be released in that moment too. We were all delighted as, 'Rooney, Rooney' echoed all around the ground. Tall Bloke treated me to another of his trademark bear hugs and kisses but Shouting Guy, ever the pessimistic was more cautious, insisting that we'd scored the goal too early! Joy soon turned into disbelief as we went 2-0 up shortly afterwards and this time, not even Shouting Guy could find a negative spin on that. The Arsenal players and fans all looked shell-shocked and the noise in the stands was ear-splitting. Once again, Tall Bloke graced me with another hug and kiss and I was very thankful that he was making his way through a packet of extra strong mints! United were relentless. Attack after attack rained down on the Arsenal defence and they looked as if they didn't know how to cope at all. It wasn't just one player on fire but pretty much every player in a red shirt was playing with passion and pride as well as just creating exquisite football. Shouting Guy was raving about Fletch, Hubby and I were talking excitedly about Anderson and Tall Bloke was over the moon with Nani. As if things weren't fantastic enough, the lads scored a third to end the half so sweetly. Yet another wonderful attack resulted this time in Nani getting on the scoresheet. Tall Bloke came flying over to me and screamed, 'Nani!' in my ear so loud that I was half deafened, but at that point, I couldn't care less. The place was rocking and there wasn't so much as a peep out of the travelling masses from North London. None of us wanted the half time whistle to come as we were enjoying the football too much. However it soon did and we all headed down the concourse shaking our heads in wonder at the performance on the pitch and indeed, how we weren't 5 or 6-0 up!

In the concourse, we were all jammed in there as if some needed confirmation of what we'd just seen. The highlights were sweet and seemed to gear everyone up ready for the second half. I was a little bit more reserved though as I was sure that Arsenal couldn't come out and play as badly again. Just before the teams came back out, I said to Tall Bloke how we were so unhappy at seeing all of the goals from last week's match at our end but how we couldn't complain this week.He chuckled and agreed. I got a flurry of congratulatory texts from various friends although I decided not to act as if the game was won already as I'm sure the lads wouldn't. The second half started and unbelievably, in much the same vein as the first half. We were still playing terrific football and Arsenal were still dreadful. There was only one marked difference- Arsenal began to totally lose the plot. It was as if they knew they were going to get knocked out so decided that the only thing left to do was try and injure our players and/or get them booked. It was an absolute disgrace. Of course, this culminated in Eboue getting sent off for a frankly appalling 'tackle' and he embarrassed himself still further when he ran over to have a go at poor Evra, pole-axed on the ground before getting his marching orders, then proceeding to argue with the referee for so long that a member of Arsenal's backroom staff literally had to drag him off the pitch. This was met with half 'cheerios' and half boos from the United faithful. Several other unsavoury challenges were made on and off the ball by Arsenal and it really showed that it doesn't matter who has an Arsenal shirt on at Old Trafford, they still resort to the same ill-discipline and appalling behaviour. The Arsenal fans seemed to watch how their heroes were behaving and take it in their own way into the stands as the previously silent part of the ground was now bellowing out things like, "Fergie's right, your fans are shite" and basically accusing us of being quiet when we'd sung non-stop for virtually the entire game! It made me wonder if they were taking the mickey or whether there really are places in the ground where you can't hear another end sing! Happily, they were silenced by our fourth goal of the game, and another piece of fabulous work by Nani finished off by Fletcher. Delirium reigned for 66,000 of the 75,000 inside the ground as the United fans demanded that the lads 'attack' along with the request of 'we want five'. It could have been five, several times over in fact but we didn't need to be so greedy! And despite it being the fourth goal of the afternoon, the enthusiasm of Tall Bloke didn't wane as I got yet another hug and kiss from him (I dread to think how many it has added up to so far this season!). Looking over to the section of the Arsenal fans that I could see from my seat, many were heading for the exits. It was almost like party time on the pitch as each of the passes between red shirts were met with a loud 'Ole!' and Nani showed that he is not the only skillful Portuguese player in our squad as he juggled the ball away from the Arsenal defenders which may have wound them up, but gave them no excuse to kick lumps out him! Even the appearance of Adebayor could do nothing for Arsenal as he only humiliated himself with one of the most embarrassing dives I have seen at Old Trafford, which he was rightfully booked for. Anderson and Rooney were then substituted to a massive standing ovation and to get a well earned rest ready for Lyon, and to give Scholes and Saha a good run out. As the game began to draw to a close with still United relentlessly attacking the shattered Arsenal defence, their fans piped up with 'Top of the league' as a parting shot but nothing could cover their humiliation. The facts were there- Arsenal had been outplayed and outfought. They were 'going out with the scousers' as we so delighted in reminding them. The final whistle went to a massive roar of almost disbelief as Alan Keegan reitirated the score- Manchester United 4, Arsenal 0. The players were applauded off with total delight and the fans put the proverbial cherry on top of the cake by singing, 'Are you watching Merseyside?'!!

Heading out of the ground, 'We'll never die.." was sung with great passion. Although this match could never change what happened last week, it did instill a bit of pride back into us all. And maybe the Babes could be proud of that too.


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Newcastle vs United- A view from the stands

Sun Feb 24, 2008 7:57 pm

I woke up early with a frisson of excitement mixed with butterflies of nervousness in my stomach- today we were playing away. This time, we would be getting reacquainted with Kevin Keegan, and Newcastle United.

We left the house at just after 8am which was particularly early for a 5.15pm kick off less than 3 hours away, but we were going to be meeting up with our Newcastle season ticket holding friends beforehand so it was going to be a very long day. The journey passed fairly quickly thanks mainly due to our CD collection and the away game ritual of listening to Vernon Kay on Radio 1! We didn't spot many fans on the way up obviously because we were quite early but we did see a United fan with the Munich memorial scarf hung up in the back of their car. Another one that is happily treasured by someone and didn't end up on Ebay! We had a brief stop at some very ropey services for an essential caffeine boost and was surprised to find that there was a lot of police already waiting for the influx of fans. They didn't seem too busy though- they were more concerned with gossiping like old women over their coffees! We arrived at our friends' place and had a much needed brew whilst analysing how the game might go. Obviously we had differing views but as we are incredibly pessmistic about our respective football clubs, we were trying to convince each other that things would go wrong! I said that I was worried how we'd be after a tough game away in Europe this week. Leanne said she was just plain worried! We then settled down to watch the Birmingham vs Arsenal game. Usually, I try not to watch games involving the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea (basically something that could directly affect us) as I tend to get too wound up watching them and I have enough stress just watching United! Nevertheless I thought the fact that I was in company would calm me down a bit! Of course the game started with the shocking Eduardo injury and although at the time Sky refused to show any replays, we could tell it must have been bad from everyone's reactions and the length of time it took before Eduardo was stretchered off. For most of the game, it seemed like Arsenal were going to win which suited Leanne and John as they were concerned about who they saw as 'relegation rivals' in Birmingham but naturally didn't suit us one bit. In fact when Walcott put Arsenal in front, I let out a torrent of swearing which I think even surprised them although I did apologise afterwards! Then when Birmingham were awarded a penalty in injury time, I had to walk out of the room when it was being taken, because I couldn't stand to watch it! Thankfully, I walked back into the room to see McFadden celebrating and Gallas having a hissy fit so all was well!! It made it absolutely vital to take advantage of their slip in our game later on too. After the game finished, we went into the city centre to get a late lunch and a look around the shops. There was black and white everywhere and Leanne suggested that I didn't put my scarf on until I was in the ground, so I agreed which is what I tend to do anyway, bearing in mind some of the trouble I've had a different places over the years! We had a good gossip and yet more football analysis over a Pizza Hut Express and before we knew it, time had flown and we had to make our way to the ground. Anyone who has ever been to St James' Park will know how close it is to the city centre- about a 10 minute walk at the most. It's so convenient for getting something to eat or drink before a match. If only Old Trafford was like that.......!!

Once at the ground, we parted ways but none of us wished each other luck. As much as we are great friends, it was definitely safer that we didn't watch the game together! It didn't take us long to find our turnstiles- it was where the massive crowd of police and stewards were stood (typically). This season, our allocation had been cut slightly and in with our tickets, was a letter threatening further cuts next season if we stood up. Apparently there was supposed to be a protest about this from both United and Newcastle fans (Newcastle fans apparently feel quite strongly about the standing issue) but I didn't see any sign of one. It is typical that out of all the away fans that stand at the ground, we are the ones that get victimised yet again. Maximum publicity and prestige I suppose. Once through the miniscule turnstile (refusing the offer from a policeman to use the quieter right hand turnstile and explaining my superstition much to his amusement), we had the horrible task of negotiating the stairs. The steps up to the away section at St James' Park are absolutely notorious throughout football for being absolute killers. It takes almost 10 minutes to walk up them and it's not unusual to see people clutching onto the bannister halfway up, having to give themselves a break! By the time we got the top, the concourse was absolutely crammed full so we didn't hang around too long, before going into our seats. Considering how high up were are shoved at St James, our seats weren't bad at all. They were called 'balcony seats' which, although sound posh, were just seats in a random section of 5 rows in front of the rest of the section. It did mean that we had a decent view (as much as it can be up there!) though. The pre match build up was pretty underwhelming to be honest. I expected the stadium announcer to try and get the atmosphere going with some upbeat music, or maybe Newcastle songs but there was none of it. It was a very odd atmosphere in the ground to be honest, and not like I've ever experienced before. I had a quick scan around in the United end to see if I could spot any familiar faces. Coming up the stairs, I saw Keith our program guy in deep conversation. A few rows in front of us was Bolton Paul and then out of nowhere, Euro away guy appeared who we haven't seen for ages. He said he'd looked out for us in Lyon but obviously we weren't there. We asked him how it was and he said, "Oh, the usual. Too many riot police and too many baton charges". We just replied, "Oh", not in the least bit surprised. We had a bit more of a chat about the team that Fergie had chosen for the match and then we mentioned to him that we hadn't see him for a while. He then rattled off a list of the games he's been to this season (actually, he's only missed 3 aways all season) but he told us that he doesn't go to any home games at all! This took us totally by surprise as we had never known that before, but we are hearing it more and more from people that we know who have friends with season tickets who apply for away games for them, but don't do any homes. It is still pretty unusual but like I said, we're hearing of more and more people choosing to do that. The teams then came out to 'Blaydon Races' and a huge roar from both United and Newcastle fans.

The game kicked off and Newcastle started fairly well both on and off the pitch. Their fans were quite noisy and were putting pressure on the referee from the start, and their players seemed to respond to that. I was very concerned that Owen might score against us as I couldn't imagine a worse player than him doing it. Thankfully that phase didn't seem to last long as both their fans and players were quietened quite quickly. In the stands, the United fans were their usual boisterous selves. United Calypso was the favourite song at the start of the game as it was sung over and over, full of passion and feeling. Next to me, there was a big Scottish guy who was determined to get a Darren Fletcher song going to the tune of The Proclaimers 'I'm Gonna Be (500 miles)' but sadly for him, it didn't catch on. What did catch on, however, was a new Anderson song but I couldn't understand it all. It's to the tune of 'Agadoo' by Black Lace and starts with Ander-son-son-son....and finishes with 'shit on Fabregas' but I couldn't pick up much of the middle section. I shall have to keep my ears open at Fulham next week and hope that I can pick it up! Almost a sideshow to the match, were the police and stewards. They were crowded into the United end in droves and spent a good portion of the half attempting to throw people out for standing! Unfortunately, they did a good job succeeding as all through the half, people were being forcibly chucked out. If that wasn't ridiculous enough on its own if they had turned around, they would have seen Newcastle fans standing up en masse right next to us. It goes without saying that there were no police or stewards anywhere near their section, let alone trying to throw them out. Also throughout the half, police were recording us with video cameras so they were really going to town on it. In amongst the fans themselves, there was no trouble. On the pitch, the lads were really starting to get stuck in and after a fabulous attack, Ronaldo put in an inch perfect cross for Rooney to volley into the back of the net. We all went mad and very quickly afterwards, 'Cheer up Kevin Keegan' started up and continued for quite a while, and very loudly! The lads were in full control at this point as were we in the stands. Apart from a random and frankly childish rendition of, 'Fergie's right, your fans are shite' (despite the fact we'd been totally outsinging them!) and 'We support our local team', we hardly heard a peep out of the Geordies. Just before half time (at least I think it was- their clocks that they have in the corners of the advertising hoardings are tiny!), Ronaldo coolly slotted home to put us 2-0 up at a perfect time in the match and to put a smile on our faces as the half time whistle went. Half time was also a very odd experience- again, no rousing music but very low key, dreary music. It was almost as if they had resigned themselves to losing the game, but the music was certainly not going to do anyone any good. On the other hand, our singing never stopped as the concourse was still buzzing and full of song!

Into the second half, and it was pretty much as you were as the lads were still dominating. In retaliation to their 'Blaydon Races' which the teams ran out to for the second half too, we sang, 'Walking down the Warwick Road to see Matt Busby's Aces' which they seemed to be quite miffed about! The attacks just kept coming from United and in one move which ended with Ronaldo skying his shot, we all started up singing 'He plays on the left....' and he looked up at us and held his hand up in apology, then applauded us for singing his name which was nice. It didn't take long for him to have another shot on goal though and this time, he secured his brace as he calmly rounded the 'keeper to put us 3-0 up. We were all now relaxed and really enjoying ourselves as we asked Fergie to 'give us a wave' and he duly obliged. For some reason, Keegan refused the same request! The manager clearly thought the game was more or less wrapped up as he brought Ronaldo off not long after an hour had passed with the upcoming fixtures in mind although it was a shame he didn't get the chance to have a go for another hat trick against Newcastle. He was given a rapturous reception from us and the appearance of Saha to replace him was met with curiosity and hope. Naturally the lads being 3-0 up, took their foot off the gas a touch and Newcastle managed to pull a goal back through Faye. Their players barely acknowledged it as they jogged back to the halfway line and even the Newcastle fans looked embarrassed to celebrate it. We were all quite unpeturbed by it as we carried on singing. It was almost as if we began to feel sorry for our ex-players as 'Alan Smith, Alan Smith, Alan Smith' and 'Na na na na na na na na na, Nicky Butt, Nicky Butt, Nicky Nicky Butt' both got an airing. Unfortunately, the Adebayor song which I hadn't heard at the Arsenal game started to be sung by a couple of lads a few rows in front. I was very surprised to hear it and although a few people joined in, someone else started another song almost immediately to sing over it. It doesn't seem like people are comfortable with it in general so I'm hoping it'll be one of those things which passes. Back on the pitch and the temerity of Newcastle daring to score against us seemed to almost irritate the lads as they suddenly cranked up the heat again with Scholesy coming close with a header before Rooney curled a beautiful shot inside the far post to secure his brace. He ran to us and craned his neck up as far as he could (it really is that high up!) and held his arms aloft in celebration and joy. We really then went to town on Newcastle and Keegan in particular as 'Cheer up Kevin Keegan' came bellowing forth as well as 'Kevin Keegan, what a difference you have made' and 'We all love it'! Old favourites like 'You are my Solskjaer' (for the Shearer line) and even 'David May, Superstar' was also sung- we were having fun, that's for sure! And just to put the icing on the cake, Saha got himself on the scoresheet against his old club to give our goal difference another boost. The final whistle followed shortly afterwards and pretty much everyone had stayed behind to applaud the players off the pitch- we were really proud of them. We headed down the trillions of steps to the strains of 'Cheer up Kevin Keegan' and 'We all love it' which must have particularly incensed the Newcastle fans as when we came out, there were lines of police separating us from them and immediately, I could sense that the atmosphere felt volatile. This surprised me as a lot of them had left after the fourth goal and those that remained, didn't seem especially angry or wound up but more like they had an air of acceptance about them. One man tried to charge at us, spewing venom and leading with his fists much to the shock and almost amusement of us. Of course we had to meet up with Leanne and John again after the game so we had to sneak through the barricade and hope that nobody sussed us out as United fans (although the fact we were probably the only ones not wearing a Newcastle shirt may have been a slight giveaway!). Behind us we heard a roar go up which told us one thing- there was trouble brewing. We made it out alive anyway and found our friends, who were not happy AT ALL. In fact, they seemed more annoyed than the 6-0 game at Old Trafford. Needless to say, it was a quiet walk back to their place and I tried to suggest some positives for them although it was obvious I was wasting my time! By the time we got back to their place and ordered a chinese, they seemed to perk up a bit thankfully so we had a nice evening with them before we went home.

I have been to St James' Park a few times over the years and I have experienced some really tough matches and left the ground with a heavy heart. So somehow, it felt even sweeter to know that the lads were magnificent and controlled the game and that we could leave the ground knowing that both on and off the pitch, everyone connected with United had enjoyed themselves.


You can see how high up we are at St James' Park! You can actually see over the top of the roof to the Newcastle skyline!!

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Me before kick off!

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The lads celebrate yet another goal!

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St James' Park was half empty long before the final whistle.

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Fulham vs United- A view from the stands

Sun Mar 02, 2008 7:54 pm

Cursing the alarm ringing in my ears at 6.30am, it was another early start for another away trip. This time, we were heading down to Fulham.

Leaving the house just after 7.30am, I was behind the wheel for the first part of the journey. Hubby had bought a new car a few days before and I told him that I thought I needed to have a practice in it, especially on a quiet morning on a motorway. Begrudgingly (and I swear I saw a tear in his eye!), he handed over the keys but he seemed to make very sure that he had his seatbelt firmly on! The first part of the journey went very smoothly and, accompanied by a few of my favourite CDs, we made it down to Northampton Services safely, and in good time! After briefly stopping there for a coffee to calm my caffeine withdrawls, hubby took the wheel for the rest of the journey. As usual, we had our away game tradition of Vernon Kay in the background as we negotiated irritating roadworks on the M1 (is there ever a time when the M1 has no roadworks?!!) before reaching our destination of Stanmore. For the princely sum of £1, we could park there all day and get the tube into London. On route to the city centre, we passed through Wembley Park station and past the stadium. As I looked at the arch towering over the surrounding area, I wondered if we would be back there again soon. After having a train change at Green Park, we arrived at Piccadilly Circus where we decided we would have our pre-match meal (an overpriced, tepid pie at Craven Cottage just didn't seem too appealing!). Making our way through the throngs of tourists, we headed around the corner to Planet Hollywood for our lunch. The meal was good and showing embarrassed people on a big screen in the restaurant who were celebrating birthdays, proved to be an amusing diversion too! We then went back to the tube station to get the train down to Fulham and the amount of people trying to get on the trains was incredible! If that is how bad it is on a Saturday afternoon, then I'd hate to see what it's like during weekday rush hour! Going back the way we came, we arrived at Green Park to change trains but when we arrived, I pleaded with hubby to let me get a Starbucks, as I knew there was one a couple of minutes from the station. Seeing as we had plenty of time, he relented and I was soon the very happy bearer of a caramel macchiato to accompany me on the rest of the journey (yes, it's true- I have a caffeine addiction!). We then had to make our way from Green Park to Earls Court for yet another train change but happily, hubby decided to come with me this time. (For those who may remember last season, I jumped onto the train at the last minute going to Earls Court but hubby didn't make it so he was left on the platform, waving cheerily to me as I went hurtling towards Earls Court on my own!!). Once again, we got really lucky with the timing of the trains as one was waiting on the platform just as we got there! The train was busy and there were a few people wearing Fulham scarves and shirts but by and large, the train was almost silent.

We arrived at Putney Bridge station and most of the train predictably emptied there. The police presence was large as usual but everything was very calm. To be honest, Fulham are probably one of the least offensive clubs in the league and I can't recall ever hearing or seeing any problems between them and United fans. So, it seemed like the police would probably be getting an easy day! Around the corner, I could hear strains of "Nemanja, woah" and there was a pub packed to the rafters with United fans. I smiled as I walked past and hoped they'd bring their vocal chords to the match! Hanging around outside were touts, trying to get their hands on any spare tickets but they were having no luck at all. The walk from Putney Bridge station to Craven Cottage is one of the nicest in the league. The ground is right on the banks of the River Thames and there is greenery and small parks everywhere. The sun was out and the air was warm- it was a lovely spring day, if a little blustery! Walking through a playing field to reach the ground, we were following a huge group of kids who had just finished playing a game. They seemed very excitable and were shouting "United". To our utter amazement, we followed them all the way to the ground where they got to the United turnstiles and started to go in. There must have been between 50-100 of them!! After milling around outside for a while, buying our match programs and listening to the Fulham fans being very pessimistic and full of doom and gloom (except for one woman, who was excited that she would be seeing 'her Edwin' again!), we went over to the turnstile and I went through my customary left hand one, which was operated by a guy in a United shirt! Into the concourse (and I use this term loosely- it's basically an open space, which has partially been covered by a roof) and it was crammed full already. There seemed a fair buzz about the place which was good as London based away games in particular, can be a bit unpredictable with ticket distribution (like the guy sat behind me at Reading, who didn't even know what year Fergie took over as manager!). In the concourse, we spotted England Fan and Royal Mail Guy and we gave them a smile and nod. We then went up into the stand and found our seats which were in an almost perfect position, about halfway up in the centre. Couldn't have been better. Out on the pitch, the lads were warming up and it dawned on us that Ronaldo, Rooney and Anderson were all on the bench as they were warming up seperately from the rest of the squad, along with Pique. "Oh god" is about the most polite phrase I can put here when people started to realise this although it was maybe not as strong as it would have been a few weeks ago. I think after the team Fergie put out against Arsenal and how well the lads did then, it has given the fans a lot of confidence in our squad so I decided to be optimistic and think that if the worst came to the worst, we had match winners on our bench to turn things around! At that moment, I got a text from Leanne (my Newcastle United supporting best friend) who was flipping out at the fact that Martins was starting on the bench for them. When I told her who we had on our bench, she wailed 'Why couldn't you have done that against us?!'. I felt a little bit sorry for her then. Scanning the crowd, I spotted The Staffords and hubby spotted Keith, our program guy so he went off to have a chat with him. I decided to stay in my seat and have a flick through the program but that was soon short lived when a steward came and asked me to move out of my seat. Confused, I did as I was asked and then a load of stewards and police came wading in with a sniffer dog. There was a blue rucksack abandoned a couple of seats to the right of me and clearly they were worried that it might be some sort of explosive device! Not wanting to wait and find out the outcome of this, I joined my hubby and Keith for a chat in a thankfully safer part of the ground! We asked him how Lyon was and he said that from the time they touched down at Lyon Airport, the police were typically over the top. They were there in their masses and wouldn't let them so much as breathe in there virtually, without their permission! However, he said that there was very little incident inside the ground involving police which made a pleasant change to hear. As kick off approached, we decided to head back to our seats in the hope they were still there, and hadn't turned into craters with smoke billowing from them! On the way up the steps we spotted Ted Beckham just a few rows in front of us, having a chat with someone. He looked well which is good news after his recent health problems, and it was good to know that he still watches United even now. We got to our seats just before the lads came out (they were still there unscathed!) and found that the place had all filled up. In front of me, was a couple and it seemed abundantly clear that the bloke had been to United games before but he was taking his girlfriend for the first time. He was painstakingly trying to explain things to her and she nodded, but clearly didn't know what the hell he was on about! The lads then came out, from the cottage (one of the things I love about that ground- it has so much character) followed by the manager, staff and subs etc who have to walk across the pitch to get to the dugout (another thing I love about the ground!). The Fulham fans in patches of the ground, were holding up cards with something printed on them but it was impossible to see what it said from where we were. The noise from the United fans started to build up but the Fulham announcer was either being kind to the Fulham fans or was just plain dellusional when he said how great they were in the pre match build up (I'm not exaggerating by saying I literally didn't hear a single thing from them, apart from the odd sound of what I think were rattles!).

The game then kicked off and so began the non-stop singing from start to finish from the United fans. I am not sure of the exact amount of us that there were in the away end but I am certain that it was definitely over 4,000. The first airing of 'Anderson-son-son' started up and happily, I could sing along to every word of it (thanks again Bex). The first and last lines were being sung the loudest as they were the easiest to pick up but gradually, people were picking more and more parts of the song. On the pitch, we had a great chance to go in front after Saha was put through on goal but unfortunately, he put the shot over the bar. Although that was very disappointing, I thought that at least we were starting better than we had done at Fulham last season! Not long afterwards, we were given a free kick just outside the area and we were all trying to guess who would be the one to take it. Someone suggested Nani, then someone else mentioned Tevez. In the end, Hargreaves was the one lining up the shot although I was unhappy with the wall. The referee paced it out but the Fulham players wouldn't budge from where they were. In the end, the referee gave up and I said to hubby that if the shot hit the wall, I was going to be furious. But there was no need for that in the end as he hit it sweetly and it curled into the net for his first ever United goal. He looked delighted and we were all jumping up and down with happiness but after all of the singing we'd done up until that point, it suddenly became obvious that Hargreaves doesn't have a song. As the cheering died down, there was no song of his own to congratulate him with so 'We shall not be moved' started up instead! As the game wore on, Fulham were being restricted mainly to shots from outside the area with Van der Sar doing a terrific job in the United goal. In the stands, the Fulham fans were forced into silence by the non-stop singing from us. We were going through the whole repetoire of United songs and the guy who had taken his girlfriend kept looking uneasily at her every time there was a swear word in any of the songs. I thought he was going to implode when 'My old man said be a City fan' started up!! 'Anderson-son-son' was still being sung with great delight and more and more volume. It must have taken a while for him to realise but it suddenly seemed to dawn on Anderson that we were singing a song about him. So whilst he was warming up, he shyly held up his hand in thanks to us which he did again later on in the game which was nice to see. With us all having a great time in the stands, the lads then capped off a great half by going 2-0 up, Scholesy's terrific ball into the box being finished by Park who, unlike poor Hargreaves, got a rendition of his song sung by the fans to celebrate. I was amused that the bloke next to hubby had missed the goal, deeming a pint more important than the lads on the pitch.The half time whistle went to happy cheers and I made my way down to the concourse. I wanted to have a look at the half time highlights on the plasma screens but when I got down to the concourse, it was absolutely crammed full. It was almost impossible to move, let alone get near the screens so I decided to give up and go back to my seat. En route, I saw Little Guy who greeted me with a huge kiss (must be taking tips off Tall Bloke!) and started affectionately (I hope!) mocking me for not going to Lyon. I did promise him that we would probably be going to the next round if we get through and that, along with the fact he'd seen me then, seemed to satisfy him for now. He then told me that Tall Bloke was around somewhere looking for me, so I should keep my eyes out. I headed up the stairs to the seat and had a quick scout across the concourse to see if I could see him. Of course I couldn't- there were so many people crammed in there that it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. I then turned back around and literally bumped straight into him! Predictably, he gave me a big kiss as soon as he saw me and asked how I was. I asked him if he enjoyed the trip to Lyon and he said it was 'alright'. Hmm. As we couldn't stand on the stairs talking blocking everyone else, we bid each other farewell as we'd see each other again on Tuesday. I find it amazing how it's possible to still see people I know in amongst thousands! Back in the seat, and everyone seemed bemused at the half time 'entertainment'. It involved kids having shots on goal but somehow, there was an odd inflatable Fulham shirt right in the middle of the pitch for no apparent reason! Their announcer seemed content with being in his own little world as he declared the Fulham fans 'terrific' in the first half and to 'keep it up'! Hand on heart, I honestly can't recall a single song that they sang the whole time. We didn't even mock them for it either, so pitiful was their support. It just seemed too cruel.

The second half kicked off to yet more noise from the travelling reds. As well as the mainstay songs like, 'U-N-I-T-E-D', 'Walking down the Warwick Road', 'Bertie Mee said to Matt Busby', 'Cock of the North' and 'She wore a scarlet ribbon' (obviously thinking ahead to next week's cup game), there was also a pop at some of our rivals in the shape of '32 years', 'We all hate Leeds scum' and an amusing return of 'City are a massive club' (including one of my favourite verses featuring Curly Watts!). A few started trying to sing the Adebayor song but once again, it got a lukewarm reception and petered out. Back on the pitch, and the lads were pretty much controlling it. With just over 20 minutes to play, Fergie decided to bring on Ronaldo and Rooney who were greeted very warmly by us all. You could almost imagine how the Fulham players must have felt, as if they'd not had a tough enough afternoon until that point! Shortly afterwards, the ball was in the back of the net again and of course now I know it was an own goal but at the time, we all thought that John O'Shea's shot had gone in because it was up the other end of the pitch. So a huge rendition of 'When Johnny goes marching down the wing..' followed and he held his clenched fist in the air saluting us as he came back towards the centre circle. Knowing that we were now comfortably 3-0 up, we had even more fun in the stands. We went very retro as we sang, 'We all live in a George Best world', 'Yip Jaap Stam', 'Na na na na na na na na na Nicky Nicky Butt' and 'Eric the King' and 'Ooh Aah Cantona', both of which were led by Pete Boyle who appeared out of nowhere to stand on our row! It was terrific. Anderson then came on and of course, 'Anderson-son-son' must have gone on for at least 5 minutes without stopping. Quite what the lad must make of it, goodness only knows! The game sort of came to its natural conclusion after that as it didn't look like there would be any more goals. Because the scoreboard was over our heads and not in sight, I'd totally lost track of what time it was so it came as quite a shock when the final whistle went- we'd all been having far too much fun! The players and Fergie then came over to applaud us (although they couldn't do much else as they had to walk past us to get to the dressing rooms anyway!) and there was a buzz going around that Arsenal had lost. A few lads started singing 'United, top of the league' but I refused to believe it until I saw it with my own eyes. Of course, we found out that Arsenal had snatched a late equaliser and I swore all the way back to Putney Bridge station although I had to keep reminding myself how fantastic it was to cut the lead down to just one point! The platform was absolutely crammed but as our luck would have it once again that day, there was a train waiting to take us to Earls Court which we just about managed to squeeze ourselves onto. The train was full of United fans so it wasn't long before 'Anderson-son-son' started up again and it reminded me of Fulham away a couple of seasons back, when Rooney's song first got an airing. We'd never heard it before but we were in a train carriage with 3 blokes who just sang the Rooney song over and over again for miles until it was so drummed into our heads that we remembered it all. That's how we ended up being some of the first people to know Rooney's song. Anyway, the one bloke who was leading the singing this time was rather narked off that in order to get home on the train, he had to go via Leeds for some reason. So the next 10 minutes were all anti-Leeds songs, a couple of which I'd never even heard before! We then briefly turned our attention to Chelsea as we passed through Fulham Broadway (the stop for Stamford Bridge) before settling on a rendition of 'Cheer up Kevin Keegan' (following yet another defeat for Newcastle) and 'We all love it' (the bloke had obviously been to Newcastle the week before!). It made the journey pass fairly swifly anyway and soon, we were back at Earls Court and getting the train to Green Park again, before changing onto the last train back to Stanmore. The Stanmore train was pretty quiet actually (and it was quite a novelty to actually have a seat on there!) but my phone became a hive of activity as soon as we came out from underground on the overground tracks. Poor Leanne was desolate, and couldn't work how Newcastle had managed to lose. I reminded her of our FA Cup Final defeat to Arsenal and said that was about the closest in my matchgoing years as a United fan that I'd ever come to crying. I reassured her that I was certain Newcastle would get themselves out of trouble but nothing I could say would console her. The rest of my texts were all happy though thankfully! We soon arrived at Stanmore and got back to our car for the journey home.

We had a terrific day at Fulham and as well as things being fantastic in the stands, the lads did us proud on the pitch too to crank the heat up on Arsenal just a little bit more.


In London before the match

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The lovely walk to the ground

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Outside Craven Cottage

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Re: Fulham vs United- A view from the stands

Sun Mar 02, 2008 8:04 pm

Inside the ground

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Re: Fulham vs United- A view from the stands

Sun Mar 02, 2008 8:23 pm

The lads warming up


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Ted Beckham (in the Yankees cap)

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Re: Fulham vs United- A view from the stands

Sun Mar 02, 2008 8:36 pm

Before, during and after the game

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United vs Portsmouth- A view from the stands

Sat Mar 08, 2008 9:58 pm

For our second home game in less than a week, our attention now turned to the FA Cup and a possible trip to Wembley. Standing in our way were Portsmouth.

We arrived at the ground in good time as we had a good run on the M62. As we had done before the City game, we decided to go over to The Lowry and have breakfast in Cafe Rouge. It was full of United fans and all very civilised! I exchanged a few texts with Dan (who was also somewhere in The Lowry) and I told him that I wasn't feeling stressed about the game which was worrying as the last time I'd felt like that was before the City game! After filling up on tea and toasties, I nipped to Costa Coffee to get my usual caffeine injection before heading back over to the ground. We saw a few Portsmouth fans about but not the volume that I'd expect for a cup game. Maybe they were all in disguise! We didn't have enough time to see Keith, our program guy so just outside the turnstile, I bought a fanzine and once the green light allowed me through the turnstile (I still worry that one day, I'm going to swipe my season ticket card and it won't let me in!), I bought my programs inside. Now before the game, hubby and I decided to play a game. As the team which Fergie had put out on Tuesday night had thrown us completely, we decided to each try and guess the team for this match. Bearing this in mind, we regarded the plasma screen with great interest. As you might expect, we were both totally wrong but I guessed the most players right (7) to hubby's 6. I haven't quite decided what my prize should be yet but I'm sure I'll think of something! We didn't hang around in the concourse very long and soon made our way up to our seats. At that point (less than half an hour before kick off), the pre-match build up was virtually non existant. I'm quite sure I could just make out Girls Aloud somewhere there an possibly Sugababes but it was so quiet, that it was almost inaudible. Then the music finished altogether (which I suppose could be classed as a blessed relief) but the silence only served to give the Portsmouth fans an opportunity to warm their vocal chords. Then all of a sudden, Alan Keegan announced that the guy who sang United Road (whose name I didn't make any effort to remember) was going to sing the song live on the pitch despite the fact that he was given a VERY lukewarm (and that's being generous) reception last time before the Arsenal game, particularly after his 'Come on Man U' announcement last time. United We Stand had been particularly scathing in their review of him in their last edition. Well, this time he had clearly been told about the 'Man U' faux pas as he replaced it with, 'Come on Manchester United', although quite why he couldn't just call us 'United' instead is anyone's guess! He still put on his faux-American accent for some inexplicable reason though, which is even more puzzling considering he was apparently born and bred in Manchester! Very odd. Anyway, his rendition was met with another lukewarm reception (how much long until the club/Alan Keegan learns?) and he shuffled off the pitch, leaving us all very underwhelmed. I began to despair still further when the bloke sat next to hubby firstly asked him where the TV gantry was (bearing in mind how blatently obvious it is!) and then, which stand the Stretford End was!!! Then two lads in front of us came in (not the usual two), laden down with megastore bags and spent the whole time taking photos in silence. I sat and wondered in horror how things could have changed so much in 10 years. Luckily just on cue to drag me out of my pensive mood was Tall Bloke, with Little Guy and Drunk Bloke in tow. He greeted me with a delicate (for him!) peck on the cheek and a hug. I retold him all that had happened in the last 5 minutes and he shook his head sadly. We both soon perked up again when the teams came out of the tunnel and Tall Bloke told me that he was a little bit drunk. I looked at my watch sarcastically and he told me that he'd had a couple of pints but was also on antibiotics for bronchitis so the effects from that was making him feel more drunk than usual! Having said that, he didn't look too bad to me- I've seen him a lot worse! Looking around, there seemed quite a few people missing. I saw Royal Mail guy, The Man in the Hat and the Andy Cole/Chris Bart-Williams love child (this guy is an exact mix of the two!) and Shouting Guy was still behind me but that was about it. There also seemed to be an odd few empty seats dotted about here and there. The cost of having so many home cup games this season was clearly beginning to tell for some people.

The game kicked off to a big roar and to my surprise, the atmosphere started off quite well. Couldn't actually hear much of the Portsmouth fans as they were at the other side of East Stand tier 2- they hadn't taken up their full allocation. Some guys a few rows behind me, tried to start up the 'Anderson song' and although there seemed to be more people joining in than on Tuesday, I think it's still going to take a little while longer for it to truly catch on. On the pitch too, the lads started brightly as they enjoyed plenty of possession and launched a few attacks. Early on, Ronaldo was charged off the ball in the area and the referee waved away the lads' appeals for a penalty. We were all in disbelief as we couldn't see how he could view it as anything other than a foul. That, combined with a shocking foul that a Portsmouth player committed early on which didn't result in a yellow card, pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game. We weren't too worried though as the lads seemed well and truly on top of the game, creating chances. It seemed only a matter of time until we scored. Indeed, we nearly had a breakthrough as Rooney was put clean through and although his attempt to round the 'keeper was foiled, Tevez was on hand to have a shot which was somehow cleared off the line. I hoped it wasn't going to be one of those days. This seemed to awaken something in a bloke a couple of rows in front who I'd never seen before. He was very, very drunk and decided that he wanted to sing. He was putting a lot of effort into it, turning around and trying to rouse people into singing. Problem was as he was so drunk, he was getting all the words wrong! For example, one amalgamation went, "Who are ya, T-E-D, United are the team for me....."!! As it got nearer to half time and the lads were getting frustrated, the atmosphere seemed to dip a little bit although it seemed like every time the referee made a decision, he was met with roars of disapproval (you can imagine what Shouting Guy behind me was saying!). Even when he gave decisions our way he wasn't doing his job properly, like getting the Portsmouth wall back a full 10 yards. He just stood there looking at them shuffling forward and did absolutely nothing about it. The half time whistle went and it's fair to say that we were all reasonably content. Although the lack of a goal was frustrating, we felt that the lads were in control and that Portsmouth were little threat. We headed down to the concourse to watch the half time highlights on the plasma screens and the anger from everyone when the Ronaldo 'non-penalty' was immense. As if people weren't angry enough at the ref's display thus far, that pretty much sealed it! Back in my seat, I had a quick flick through the fanzine and noted that Alan Keegan had redeemed himself a touch by playing Step On by Happy Mondays albeit rather quietly again.

The second half kicked off and everything seemed to continue just like the first- United were on top, Portsmouth were kicking crap out of the lads and the referee was just stood there like a gormless idiot, doing precisely nothing about it. Kuszczak was now in goal in place of Van der Sar and Tall Bloke and I worried about the prospects of high balls into the box considering the size of some of the Portsmouth players and with it perhaps not being one of Kuszczak's stronger points. Having said that, there hadn't been much threat from Portsmouth up until then, so it might have been a bit hasty to be worrying like that. The atmosphere was beginning to go a little flat as the frustration was beginning to show. There were odd renditions of 'U-N-I-T-E-D' (sung correctly!) and 'I hear the Stretford End Arising' but nothing at all about going to Wembley or winning the FA Cup. Then Fergie decided to change the team around but we were surprised to see a double substitution. We'd all come to the conclusion that he would probably take off Scholes who had struggled a little bit and bring on Anderson as he is a strong lad and would be able to battle a little bit more. So, it was no shock to see Anderson as one of the substitutes but we were in total shock when Scholes was kept on and Tevez was taken off, especially as we were chasing a goal and had no striker on the bench to replace him (Saha's injury in the warm up met with a 'What's new' style roll of the eyes from us all). A lot of people were angry about the Tevez decision and a handful booed (the decision, not the player) and we all look at each other, perplexed. The lads were still battling on, trying to get a breakthrough but it just wasn't happening. It was beginning to feel like one of those days. This was even more evident when Carrick chance to put us in front was denied by more strong Portsmouth defending. More chances followed but it just wouldn't go in. Suddenly out of nowhere, Portsmouth got a break and somehow Baros was bearing down on Kuszczak, one on one. It was like watching it in slow motion and it seemed obvious that Tomasz wasn't going to get there. As strange as it sounds, I hoped that Baros would round him and get a shot on goal because it would mean that he wouldn't have been brought down and the lads who were pretty much on the line would have a chance to clear it. Alas, he went down and it was obviously going to be a penalty. I don't think any of us could argue with the decision, it was just such shocking double standards when we hadn't been awarded such a blatent one in the first half. However, we didn't expect a red card as Kuszczak wasn't even close to being the last man- it was unbelievable. It was as if in that few seconds, our FA Cup dream had just unravelled in front of our very eyes. And we had a certain Mr Atkinson to thank for that. With our last goalkeeping hero from Spurs away last season John O'Shea sat on the bench but unable to come on, all eyes fell on the now 10 players we had left on the pitch. At first, the fans seemed to expect that Rooney would go in goal as he supposedly is excellent at it in training, although I was a little concerned about his height. In the end, Rio was the man to pull on the blue shirt and have the chance to save the penalty which would be the stuff of legends. I actually couldn't bear to watch it taken, so I turned my back on the pitch and focused on the sea of worried faces in front of me. I knew that from them, I'd be able to tell how it went. I tried to visualise Rio saving the ball and I clasped my hands together, almost in prayer. I heard the ball being struck and a split second later, there was a look of dejection etched on every face. I asked Tall Bloke if Rio had got near it and he said that he guessed the right way but that nobody could have got to it. I sat for a moment (one of the few times I was sat down during the match) with my head in my hands, trying to process the possibility that we might be actually getting knocked out. Cries of 'Attack, Attack, Attack Attack Attack' rang out from all parts of the ground but we could see the chance of even grabbing an equaliser at this point, slipping away. It didn't seem right. We were SUPPOSED to win this game. We were SUPPOSED to be going to Wembley. How could this be happening? Every attack, every attempt on goal proved fruitless. The now boisterous Portsmouth fans who'd only come out of their slumber when the penalty had been scored, were singing about going to Wembley. This was beginning to hurt me very much and when the final whistle was blown (after the meagre and frankly ridiculous 4 minutes of stoppage time), a flash of pain shot through me. I just wanted to get out of the ground. I couldn't stay there and watch the Portsmouth players celebrating. It felt unfair, like we'd been robbed. Walking down the steps, nobody spoke but once out of the concourse, there was a lot of talking. Disbelief was the order of the day and in a rough survey, I counted at least 12 people bemoaning the substitution of Tevez but everything is clear in hindsight. The fact was, we were out. And no amount of reflection or hindsight could change that.
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United vs Bolton Wanderers- A view from the stands

Thu Mar 20, 2008 9:52 am

With the games now coming thick and fast for United, we found ourselves back at home for our game in hand and the visit of Bolton.

We arrived at the ground a little later than usual but even so, all around the ground seemed quiet. On our way to see Keith, we were asked several times if we needed a ticket for the game. I would imagine that general sale games, particularly those that don't even sell out, is a tout's worst nightmare! Clearly there wasn't much in the way of brisk business being done as we shook our heads several times before we got to Keith's to pick up our match programs. He asked us if we'd gone to Derby as he hadn't managed to get a ticket and apparently a lot of people were knocked back for it. So, I counted myself very lucky that I was even there. We then had a chat about the remaining games of the season and told him that we'd booked on the Roma trip which he had also done. He went to the the group stage Roma game this season and said that it was nowhere near as bad as before although obviously, a lot less people went. They apparently had almost totally banned the sale of alcohol in the city centre which obviously didn't go down too well but I would imagine that they will do that again for the upcoming trip. Not especially a problem for me as I'm not a big drinker anyway, but it will no doubt be an issue for others! Knowing how industrious some United fans are, they will find a way around it though! We then ruefully told him that we wouldn't be seeing him on Sunday because of family committments and he gave us a half smile and said, 'Well maybe that's not such a bad thing'. And there I was thinking I was a pessmist! After our chat, we went over to Harry Ramsden's for tea as we had never tried it before and we really did need to have a change from KFC. So, we headed over there and after a wait of 20 minutes or so (and laughing at the huffily impatient people scowling with their arms folded aggressively!), we got a table and had rather delicious scampi, chips and mushy peas which left me stuffed full! Before we knew it, time had flew and we made our way to the ground. On the way, I was very distressed to see that the chippy on the corner of Sir Matt Busby Way (think it's called Legends) had got a new sign and gone was the brilliant mural with past and present United players painted on. It had become a landmark around the ground and I just hoped that someone had saved it and it hadn't been torn down and thrown in some skip somewhere. Once at our turnstile (and past yet more people asking if we needed a ticket), I went through my lucky left hand one and into the concourse which, despite there only being about 35 minutes before kick off, was deserted. We looked anxiously to the plasma screen for the team news and it was surprising to say the least. Behind me, I heard a broad Brummie accent bemoaning the team selection and I looked around to find that it was Tweed Hat! I'd always kind of assumed he was local for some reason, so I was a bit startled to hear this booming Brummie drawl! As for the team, there were surprises all the way through there. I had said earlier that I expected Saha, Fletcher and Hargreaves to play (although probably not Hargreaves at right back!) but no Rio and Rooney, Evra and Brown on the bench caught me by surprise. Also unexpected was to see Pique, and none of us were quite sure where he appeared from! Two blokes then appeared next to me and starting grumbling about the team selection. We then got talking quite in depth about the team and I realised that I had met my match in terms of pessimism- he tore through the team and criticised almost every selection (paying particular attention to Kuszczak and Saha) making me look positively sunny in my outlook!! Just before I went up to my seat, I paid a trip to the ladies. You may wonder why I'm mentioning this as I certainly don't make a point of sharing my bathroom habits usually! Well, as I went in, I could hear a woman very loudly throwing up. Over and over. And over and over. It was actually getting pretty disturbing. Next thing I know, her husband comes into the women's toilets. He opens the cubicle door and starts shouting at her, calling her a silly cow and asking her what the hell she was playing at! Evidently, she had over indulged in the booze and so her husband's sympathy was pretty much non-existant! This argument (in between her carrying on throwing up all over the floor) continued for quite some time until he told her to 'get up, put her clothes on and he would take her home'!!! God only knows what sight must have been in that cubicle but on that note I left a bit sharpish before it got any more bizarre but I can tell you for the rest of the night that the women's toilets still smelt of vomit!

In my seat, I had a flick through the program and pretended I couldn't hear Alan Keegan play the Spice Girls (for the love of God, why?!) which was then swiftly followed by The Proclaimers and the bastardised version of United Road (and still that song is barely sung in the stands nowadays- way to go ruining that one). Looking around, I couldn't see Jane or the blokes that always used to sit in front of us (I truly fear they've been priced out of coming once and for all now) but Shouting Guy was behind me as usual as was the bloke in the cowboy hat (honestly, this guy comes to every match wearing a cowboy hat!) and Royal Mail Guy. The annoying couple that sit next to hubby made a sudden reappearance after not seeing them for probably months and I silently rolled my eyes. The Yorkshires then appeared but only two of them- Tall Bloke and Little Guy. No sign of Drunk Bloke or Quiet Bloke though. Tall Bloke then asked us about the team news so I told him, much to his surprise. Shouting Guy then chipped in and we all mused on the unexpected news that Ronaldo had been made captain. It was certainly intriguing and Shouting Guy said he might have expected Vidic to have been given the captaincy first. So, we all waited with baited breath to see how it was going to pan out. The Fanfare then started up and the teams were out of the tunnel to a roar of acclaim. Over in the away corner, it was unbelievable to see that Bolton hadn't even sold out their allocation. It looked like there were about 1800 of them and considering the proximity of Bolton, it was pretty poor. Can only assume that the combination of ticket price as well as their team's performance on the pitch had put people off. They managed to sing one song, 'And it's Bolton Wanderers, Bolton Wanderers FC, We're by far the greatest team the world has ever seen' (basically a song that everybody sings for their team so no originality at all) and that was about it. In fact, it's always bugged me when teams like Bolton sing songs like that because it's blatantly untrue. United actually won a trophy back in 1999 to prove that we were the best team in the world so we have legitimate claims to be able to sing that. But have Bolton ever won it? No. Not even Liverpool have :twisted: So really, it should just be our song to sing lol.

The game kicked off and the lads started terrifically. Right from the off, United tore into Bolton and looked very sharp in attack. It wasn't long before our first goal came, courtesy of a terrific finish by Ronaldo who looked overjoyed as were we all in the stands. After the Portsmouth game where we couldn't get the ball in the back of the net and the Derby game where the tension was so high until we finally managed to get a breakthrough, it made a refreshing change to see us score so early on. Clearly it was something that the lads were very focused and determined to do, especially judging from their early play. We all cheered and strains of 'Viva Ronaldo' popped up from a few lads behind me so we sung along, even though there weren't very many of us doing so. In between, Bolton were putting in some bad tackles and unbelievably, the referee didn't seem moved to book any of their players. Shouting Guy was going mad about it behind me and we were quite irked that they were getting away with the things they were doing. Kevin Davies and El Hadji Diouf were getting most of the stick from United fans as 'Dirty bastard' was directed at Davies and 'Scouse bastard' was getting aimed at Diouf. That in turn, spawned a few anti-Liverpool songs as people were getting their vocal chords warmed up for Sunday! After yet another foul, we were awarded a free kick a fair way out from the penalty area and Ronaldo went straight over to take it. Tall Bloke turned to me and said 'He's going to pop this one in'. I was less confident but he was so definite about it that I said, 'We'll see'. Of course as soon as he struck it, it was destined to find the back of the net. The players all celebrated in delight and Tall Bloke enveloped me in a huge bear hug and a very smug grin! Shouting Guy then leaned over and said that the captaincy was definitely doing him good! This did seem true- he was really on form but somehow he seemed to have a little extra something. Another Fergie masterstroke? I told Tall Bloke that I hoped he was going to keep his predictions up for the rest of the game if they were going to turn out like that! We were also getting updates from Shouting Guy about the Chelsea game as he had his mate sending him text updates. He announced to us all that it was 1-1 and although we all smiled, I think we realised not to get our hopes up as it was going to be a long night! The lads continued to play well through the half as they created more chances but Bolton chipped in too, as Kuszczak had to pull off a terrific save deep into the half. Over in the Bolton end, their fans seemed to be resigned to the fact that they would probably lose the game, so started up with the Munich song and doing the aeroplane arms (something which they're renowned for). Almost instantly, the stewards came flying into their end and started throwing people out. It all kicked off for a while in there but we all managed to keep our heads and taunted them with 'Going down, going down, going down' instead which was probably more effective at winding them up than anything else! Just before half time, Shouting Guy then updated us with the Chelsea score and that it was now 2-1 and we all just rolled our eyes at the predictability of it. The half time whistle went to delighted cheers and applause from us and there was a mass exodus down to the concourse to see the half time highlights. On my way down the steps, I bumped into Little Guy who asked me if we were doing Roma. I told him yes, and he said 'Good lass'. He became quite insistant that we all meet up over there but I said we'd have to see how it panned out, which he seemed content enough with. Down in the concourse, it was crammed full. Everyone was crowded around the plasma screen, obviously desperate to see a replay of Ronaldo's goals. I thought there would have been quite a few different things to show in the highlights actually but as it was, they only saw fit to show Tevez's early chance which was missed and both of Ronaldo's goals but that was enough to keep is all happy. Ronaldo's goals were actually greeted with shakes of the head in disbelief by everyone around at the quality of them. So after that, we were all raring to go and ready for the second half.

The second half started and perhaps it was predictable that is was a little bit flatter than the first, both on and off the pitch. The lads were still playing well but it was clear that they had taken their foot off the gas a bit as Bolton were getting quite a bit of the possession and creating a few chances themselves. Kuszczak was obviously in the mood to atone for what happened against Portsmouth as he pulled off a string of excellent saves. It was strange really as we all felt so comfortable in the stands (and clearly the lads were on the pitch) but all it would have taken was for Bolton to put away one of their chances to have put the whole game on edge. As it was, the lads stayed strong but the play was perhaps a little less adventurous that the first half. A couple of times when we had been awarded a free kick even though it was quite a way out from goal, everyone was still screaming for Ronaldo to shoot all desperate for him to complete his hat trick! A few more chances fell by the wayside and in a lull, Tall Bloke and I had quite an in depth conversation about Ryan Giggs, his role in the team now, how much longer he might play for, the legacy he will leave behind etc. We then continued and had a good chat about Ben Foster and Gerard Pique and their potential in the team so we turned all serious for a few moments then! Back on the pitch, it looked like Vidic's problems with his nose were continuing from Saturday as he had to go off the pitch a couple of times because of a nosebleed which was worrying. It looked like he was determined to battle on until the end of the game (he even changed his shirt to a blank one as he obviously had got blood on the first, which would have matched the Bolton player who came out for the second half in a blank shirt of his own!) but thankfully for his own good, he relented in the end and Wes Brown was brought on to replace him. Things were still kind of quiet in the stands but 'Viva Ronaldo' was starting to catch on as more people in K Stand were singing it and then over the way, we could hear the Stretty start to sing it too. So I don't think it will take too much longer for it to properly catch on. Anderson and Saha were then brought off in place of Scholes and Rooney which brought great delight to everyone. A rendition of Anderson's song showed appreciation to him as he left the pitch and then Rooney's song welcomed him onto the pitch. The play seemed to perk up again once they came on and the lads were sharp in attack, but the chances just couldn't be finished off. Still, that didn't stop a rendition of 'United, top of the league' echoing all around the ground! Just before the end of the game, Shouting Guy behind then announced that he had got a text message, with a tone of foreboding in his voice. As soon as he read it, he shook his head and said 'I bloody knew it'. He told us all that Chelsea were now winning 4-3 and as it was nearing the end of the game, we all figured that was that. The annoying couple then decided to leave with 6 minutes plus stoppage time left to go which infuriated all of us and confirmed conclusively why we call them the Annoying Couple. The clock soon seemed to wind down and the final whistle went to a big cheer. As we were making our way down the steps, Alan Keegan told us to look out for 'an interesting score' on the scoreboard. Now he said this when Arsenal beat AC Milan a few weeks ago so I was prepared not to fall for his stupid comments. Suddenly, Royal Mail Guy shouted 'it's four all'. I turned to him and said 'you're joking aren't you?!'. Grinning, he swore he was telling the truth and so it was when the score flashed on the scoreboard. An almighty cheer was let out and all around were smiling faces and fists clenched in joy and victory. Another win, and we all hoped a step closer to retaining the Premier League title.
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United vs Aston Villa- A view from the stands

Sun Mar 30, 2008 2:10 pm

After missing the terrific win over Liverpool last week, I was absolutely desperate to get back to Old Trafford again. So needless to say, I was very much looking forward to the Villa game.

We arrived at Old Trafford pretty early, much more so than usual and randomly nearly running over Norman Whiteside and Wilf McGuinness on the way! The 5.15pm kick off I've always found to be a bit of an awkward time for a match. Nevertheless, we first of all made the trip over to see Keith, our program guy and had a brief chat. We told him that we would be seeing him on Tuesday as we'd had our confirmation for the trip through the post on Friday morning. Keith always does the club day trip but he is even more insane than we are- he goes on pretty much every one without fail so you can imagine how jaded he is now!! Curiously on our way there, there seemed to be a lot of Villa fans around the Munich plaque, taking photos. I can understand it being something that fans would want to go and see but the sheer number of Villa fans around it seemed rather odd. After that, we braved the foul Manchester weather with the perishing cold and heavy rain and headed over to The Lowry for a meal. I would hardly call it lunch but it definitely wasn't tea. There really needs to be a word invented for that, like there is with brunch. Maybe Lea? Or Tunch? Hmm......Anyway, we were planning on going to the Food Court and having Subway for Tunch but we decided to push the boat out and go to Pizza Express. We hadn't been there for ages as any time we've ever tried to go there, we'd get shouted at for not having a reservation! But seeing as it was a funny time of the day, we managed to get a table and then realised that the last time we'd been there was before the United vs Chelsea game where we'd lost 3-0, watched Chelsea become Champions and watch the pitful United 'lap of honour' to a half empty stadium! I figured that this was a good time to create a happier memory of the place as nothing could be as depressing as that!! After filling up on delicious pasta, I got a call from Dan to say that he had abandoned his car on some grass (his words, not mine!) and was on his way over to The Lowry. It seemed a good a place as any to take shelter from the driving rain so when he arrived, the three of us went to Costa Coffee for a drink. As there were no tables, we just kind of hung around in the entrance having a chat and watching the rain, trying to pick the best time to walk back to the ground! We decided to just brave it and with Dan looking like he should have an ASBO and me apparently looking like an eskimo with our hoods up (cheers for that Dan!), the three of us headed back over trying not to get too much rainwater in our drinks!

On the way, I bought my usual fanzines that were new out and headed straight into the ground. We usually wouldn't go into the ground so early but it was at least somewhere to be out of the rain. I got a stark reminder why I never go into the ground so early as the music that was being played to start with was unbelievably horrible. Hear'say (remember them?!), Boyzone, Tiffany (yes, her from the Eighties!), Tom Jones and The Bee Gees were some of the truly terrible offerings. I buried my head in the program and fanzines for a while, desperately trying to block it out. I soon gave up on that tactic and decided to go down to the concourse to check the final scores. We had been keeping an eye on the Bolton vs Arsenal score all afternoon and the last I had seen, they'd pulled a goal back. As I looked at the plasma screen for the results, I somehow had a feeling it was going to be bad news. Sure enough, Bolton 2-3 Arsenal popped up on the screen to a cavalcade of groans and 'f*****g Arsenal'. Even the surprising and somewhat amusing City score didn't even raise so much as a smile, let alone a cheer. I suppose that's what happens when hopes are so cruelly raised and then dashed! The team news did put a smile on my face though as we were putting out a very strong team against Villa, arguably the first choice 11 with the exception of Kuzszcak (although that's harsh on Anderson). I was told by someone in the morning that there was a rumour Ronaldo was being left out, with Tuesday's game in mind. I thought it sounded a bit bold, especially against a team of Villa's calibre so I was very relieved to see his name in there. In fact, the whole team was bold and it was heartening to see that clearly Fergie meant business. After I was sure that the hideous music had more or less passed, I went back to my seat to see the ground filling up rapidly. Over in the corner, I was surprised to see that Villa had actually sold their allocation which is becoming much more of a rarity these days. I did think it was slightly pathetic of them to start singing, 'Shall we sing a song for you?' well before the match had kicked off, and before half of the fans were even in the ground! I looked around for the usual people and Royal Mail Guy, Jane, Tweed Hat, Bolton Paul (making another cameo appearance!) and Shouting Guy were all present and correct. Amusingly, the bloke in the cowboy hat had a friend with him for the game. I would love to say I'm making this up but I'm not. The Bloke in the Cowboy Hat was accompanied by: The Bloke in the Sombrero!! I am starting to believe that there is some sort of bet going on there as I couldn't think of a single reason or any relevance for the sombrero! Maybe it was all that he had to keep his head dry?! Just a few minutes before kick off, The Yorkshires appeared. Tall Bloke, Little Guy and Drunk Bloke all came in together (I actually miss playing the game where we see how far into the first half Drunk Bloke appears- seems like he's on his best behaviour for now!) and they were soaking wet. I smiled as Tall Bloke came and stood next to me, as he had a piece of toilet paper stuck to his head! I wondered how long I could let him walk around like that but I thought that was cruel, so I pointed it out to him. Evidently, he'd been trying to dry off after his walk from the metro but at least he had a coat. Little Guy just had a jumper on and he was soaked to the skin. I told him off and said, 'Didn't your mum ever tell you to always take a coat when you were going out? She'd be very disappointed in you'. He looked at me with a smiling eyes and said, 'I love you'. I think he was slighly inebriated! Alan Keegan then saw fit to totally bodge up the playing of 'Take me home United Road' (what's new?!) by dipping the sound to get people to sing, then turning the volume back up again when people had actually started to sing it!! And to think he actually gets paid for doing that job! The teams then came out of the tunnel to, well, silence initially and then when Keegan found the right button to press, The Fanfare halfway through *rolls eyes*. The rain was absolutely teeming down and I wondered how many seconds it would take for the players to be soaked to the skin aswell.

The game kicked off to a bright and lively atmosphere. The Villa fans irritated me almost from the beginning as they only really have about 2 songs and the rest of the time, they were just having a go at us. Any time they had a pop, we all sang to them, "Villa Park is never full, Oh Villa Park is never full, Unless you play Man United, Oh Villa Park is never full" which they didn't take too kindly to for some reason lol! I told Tall Bloke that we had got confirmation for the Roma trip on Friday so we compared flights and costs. He is going over for a couple of days and flying out on Monday night. He sarcastically asked me if I would be walking over 'That Bridge' on the way to the ground in Rome and I replied, 'Umm......NO!!'. He laughed and said, 'No, neither will I. We're going to take the shuttle bus to the ground instead' so I was relieved to hear that. On the pitch, things were fast and furious already. It seemed pretty clear from early on that United were in the mood. I had expected the weather to play a big part in the performance and quality of the game especially considering the style of our play, and that it might be a bit scrappy. But there was none of it. Ronaldo had a good shot saved by Carson in the first few minutes but it was only a brief respite for Villa as Ronaldo soon put us ahead. As the corner came over, it broke to Ronaldo in the box and although it was at our end, we didn't see the exact manner that it went in because of all the players crowded in the box. There was something about the goal that seemed to suggest that it wasn't a straight forward, true shot in a way but it didn't matter in the slightest- what did matter was that we were ahead, and that settled everyone on and off the pitch. A rendition of, "He plays on the left...." actually broke out first and of course it was swiftly followed by "Viva Ronaldo" which went on for quite a long time. The Villa fans said nothing. The quality of the play was absolutely outstanding and a true joy to watch. We then had a bit of a worrying moment when Ronaldo went down and seemed to be injured. The Villa fans started booing him (how predictable!) but he did seem to look in a bit of pain. Worried looks were exchanged all around the ground as not only were we thinking in terms of this game and Tuesday, we were thinking about the rest of the season. Eventually, he got up but looked as if he was limping. I said to Tall Bloke that if there was any chance he was injured, Fergie would have him off the pitch straight away. Nevertheless, he carried on and within minutes, had run half the length of the pitch to put in an absolutely exquisite inch-perfect cross for Tevez to nod home for 2-0. The injury concerns were definitely gone. The rest of the half was full of bright, fizzing attacking football and it was almost as if none of us wanted the half to end. It was a measure of how good the play was as usually if the game is a bit slow or dull or United aren't playing well, Tall Bloke and I usually have in-depth discussions about things United related or otherwise. This time, there was no need. It was the kind of compelling football that meant you couldn't tear yourself away from it, even for a second. The half time whistle brought heartfelt cheers and a mass exodus to the concourse. It seemed that everyone wanted to relive the magic of the first half again. There was barely room in the concourse for anyone as the crowd around the plasma screens was one of the biggest I'd seen. When Ronaldo's goal was replayed we all stood open-mouthed for a second, not daring to believe what we'd just seen. None of us had known that Ronaldo's goal was in fact a backheel (with a nutmeg thrown in for good measure!) but when it was shown to us in slow motion and from different angles, the sheer genius of the goal became apparent. Heads were shaking with disbelief and cheeks puffed out in awe. Viva Ronaldo then started up and the concourse was rocking!!

Back in my seat, and I told Tall Bloke about Ronaldo's goal. He hadn't realised either and he was itching to see Match of the Day so he could see it again. In the stands, the buzz was all about that goal and I can remember very few United players certainly in my time as a matchgoing fan, creating that kind of buzz amongst the fans. It's the kind of feeling that whenever he gets the ball, everyone is waiting to see what he does. There is an excitement, a feeling of expectation and anticipation. We awaited the second half with those kind of feelings, not least because of the way the whole team had played in the first half. The second half kicked off and the rain still fell heavily. I looked over to the poor people sat in the corner of the North and J Stands where the roof doesn't quite cover them, sat in their waterproof ponchos and looking bedraggled. They must dread it when they know it's going to rain at a match! The Villa fans had livened up a bit and were being rather obnoxious in the corner but nobody could be much bothered to react to them as more important things were happening on the pitch. Rooney came close after a fabulous piece of United play as we watched his shot fly past the post and at the other end, Maloney for Villa came even closer almost immediately after as his shot shaved the far post. I had actually thought it was going in and when he hit the shot, I looked skywards in disbelief that Villa has scored, only to hear the jeers from the stands and look back to the pitch where the ball was thankfully not nestling in the back of our net. It just goes to show that with football, nothing is ever certain as in those couple of minutes we could have found ourselves 3-0 up or 2-1 up which is a big difference. Rooney was clearly fired up as shortly afterwards, he did get the ball in the back of the net after a lovely ball from Ronaldo which he then used to round Carson and actually put us 3-0 up. The lads were really enjoying themselves now but a few minutes later, Fergie decided to make some substitutions. We were all sure he was doing it with the Roma match in mind (although we learned afterwards in his post match interview that it was more injury concerns than resting players), so we expected to see maybe Ronaldo and Giggs coming off, or possibly someone like Scholes. It was a big shock to see that we were making a triple substitution, especially with half an hour still to play and it was an even bigger shock to see the players coming off were Carrick (who we thought had a very good game), Evra (who looked like he might have picked up a knock earlier in the game anyway) and even more puzzlingly, Ferdinand who looked more puzzled than everyone as even after his name and number were called out and his number held up for him to come off the pitch, he still stood there as if he really didn't want to come off. He had to be almost pushed off the pitch so I wonder whether that was more about Tuesday than an injury. In their place came on Hargreaves, O'Shea and Anderson to big cheers and a welcoming rendition of 'Aaaaaanderson-son-son' for the cult hero figure amongst many reds. With the subs coming on and the rain now coming down to near armageddon levels, it would have been understandable for the players to ease off a bit, especially being 3-0 up aswell. No chance. The lads were rampant and soon we were 4-0 up, courtesy of another Rooney goal (just like buses!). It really was a joy to watch. Tall Bloke and I then began to joke that Fergie will be gutted now that he had used all of his substitutions. For years, Fergie had a habit on occasions of taking a player off after they had scored 2 goals and were on a hat trick! Shortly afterwards, it actually looked like Rooney had completed his hat trick and put us 5-0 up but the linesman's flag denied him. Continuing the theme of what we had been talking about, Tall Bloke and I decided that Fergie had probably paid the linesman to do that, to stop Rooney getting his hat trick lol! Shouting Guy then had a bit of a go about the linesman and that was about the only thing I'd heard out of him all game actually. To be truthful, there was really very little that he or any of us had to moan about. The only thing that concerned us a little bit was what the immense rainfall was doing to the pitch. Over towards our end of the pitch and near the corner flag, the pitch was holding a lot of water and was forming puddles. A few times, passes were made that just stopped halfway as the ball got stuck in the water. It was even possible to see the water splashing up when the players ran through it! Shouting Guy began to muse out loud of what the criteria would be to call the game off. The bloke sat next to him reassured him that it was if the pitch was totally unplayable and dangerous and considering some of the conditions we've seen Premier League matches played in over the years, it seemed inplausible that the referee would call it off. Still, it put us on edge just a touch and I'm sure that Shouting Guy isn't happy unless he's got something to moan or worry about!! With about 5 minutes to go, people began to leave the ground, much to my irritation. I looked over at the Villa fans (who were trying their best to continue to get under our skin with singing, "Shall we sing a song for you?" to which we replied, "Shall we score a goal for you?" which soon shut them up!) and very few of them had left, even being 4-0 down. I commented on this to Tall Bloke and he said, 'Well yeah, look at the weather- they'd probably rather stay in the dry' which was probably true! The entire ground then began singing, "We shall not be moved" and even I joined in on that one, despite my usual aversion to seeing cocky or presumptious songs like that due to my amazing track record of cursing the team whenever I do! Aside from a still nerve-jangling last few seconds when Villa had a free kick just outside the area which they missed by quite a way (I was just thinking of clean sheets and goal differences!), the last few minutes played out very uneventfully until the final whistle went to huge cheers. Tall Bloke bid me farewell and said that we should meet this time at the Pantheon, instead of the Trevi Fountain as we had set the tongue-in-cheek date last time (though unbelievably, bumped into them there anyway!). I wished him a safe journey and he reciprocated. Filled with pride, I made my way down the steps and into the piercing cold Manchester wind and rain with the Villa fans singing, "And it's Aston Villa, Aston Villa FC, We're by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen" following me down there. They may well have seen the greatest team on the pitch that evening, but it wasn't those in claret and blue.
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Roma vs United- A view from the stands (with photos)

Wed Apr 02, 2008 6:21 pm

Ok, well I haven't written my VFTS yet due to the fact that I've only had a couple of hours sleep today and can barely string a sentence together lol! So I thought I would post my photos on here for now, so there's something to have a look at from the trip until I get my act together tomorrow (hopefully!).



The Trevi Fountain

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The Pantheon

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The ceiling inside The Pantheon

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The Forum, with Colosseum in background

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Spanish Steps

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Stadio Olimpico, over 2 hours before kick off

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The lads warming up

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The build up continues

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The Roma 'Ultras' with the...ahem....fireworks and flares banned by UEFA :x

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The lads line up

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My 'lucky step' (it will make sense when you read my VFTS, I promise!!)

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Re: Roma vs United- A view from the stands *photos*

Thu Apr 03, 2008 12:05 pm

After swearing last season that I would never set foot in Rome for another match again, the pull of United became too strong as we found ourselves heading back there for our quarter final, first leg clash with Roma.

Our day had rather an auspicious start as we were awoken by hammering on our front door. Drowsily, hubby reached over for the alarm clock and swore loudly. He had set the alarm clock for 3.45pm instead of 3.45am so it failed to go off! Luckily, my father in law was giving us a lift to the airport and it was his banging on the door at 4.15am that woke us up! If we had been making our way ourselves, I don't know if we'd have even woken up in time!! I was a little regretful that I never knew how my dream panned out (I was dreaming about having a conversation with Fergie, during United vs Liverpool at Old Trafford, about Ruud van Nistelrooy!) but had no time to ponder it further as I flew round the house trying to get ready as quickly as possible! Luckily, we live pretty close to the airport and we made it there just before the 5am check in time. Phew!! We spotted Keith our program guy there straight away, so we went over to say hi. He was full of angst as he was missing a member of his party- he said he was sure he must have overslept too! After we checked in, we headed straight through security and spotted a lot of familiar faces- 'That Couple', 'Let's go home to Daddy' and 'European Away Guy' to name but a few although as ever with these trips, there were so many more people that we recognised from other trips. After having a wander around the shops (hubby even buying me a perfume at Duty Free!) and our obligatory breakfast at Starbucks, we headed to our gate. There, we had a long chat with European Away Guy about United's prospects for the match and the possible pros/cons of Barcelona and Moscow if we were to get there. He said he was having a difficult job trying to pacify his wife about this month as there was Roma away then Middlesbrough away, Blackburn away, potentially Barcelona away and Chelsea away. I reminded hubby how lucky he is to have a wife like me and his smiled wryly. Not sure what that was supposed to mean lol! We then all boarded the plane which left on time, which made a nice change from our last trip to Rome where we were very delayed at Manchester because of a 'techinical fault'. As I looked around, it struck me how many different people were there. So many religions- Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Catholic...men and women, all ages, all creeds, shapes and sizes. It really was heartwarming to think that a football club could bring so many different religions and cultures together. The flight passed fairly quickly although the low point of it had to be the breakfast. I have never in all my life tasted anything so horrible! It was allegedly sausage, bacon, beans and potatoes but bore no resemblence to any of those items at all. The bloke behind me hadn't even realised that he'd been eating a sausage as he thought it was black pudding! To the right of us, a bloke struck up a conversation and asked us if we had been on many European aways so we told him and compared notes from our previous trips! We also had a chat about the domestic away ticket situation at the club so that passed a fair bit of time! Soon, we were landing in Fiumicino Airport and I peered out of the window to see if there were any riot police on the tarmac as there was last time. Not this time though, so I took that to be a good sign. We were then shuttled from the plane to the terminal and passed through the most indifferent passport control ever. They had a total lack of interest in doing anything proper like scanning our passports and indeed, barely looked at them as we were waved through! We then made our way from there to the exit where the coaches were waiting and this is when we started to see some riot police. A couple of them began walking up and down the lines of people with sniffer dogs and as we got to the doors to leave the terminal building, there were rows of police with batons in hands and guns in pockets. Intimidating enough for us but I felt sorry for the poor people who had just arrived for a holiday or just arrived back from one. I'm sure the last thing they wanted to see was dozens of police, poised in an aggressive manner! We boarded the coaches and after being sat there for a little while, we were off and heading into the city centre under police escort. Once again, I'm not convinced that it was the most direct route into the city but at least we were going faster than last time and the journey was a lot shorter!

We were dropped off in Villa Borghese park which was the central point for most United-related activities that were happening (pick up/drop off points, ticket collection for independent fans and free shuttle buses to the ground). The first thing that hit us was the gorgeous sunshine. After it being so dreary at home, it made such a nice change to be in warmer and sunnier weather. Almost instantly, people were peeling off layers!! We made our way down into the centre and as it was lunchtime, decided to eat first. As ridiculous as it sounds, we actually went to Hard Rock Cafe for lunch instead of going for pizza (like we had last time) or pasta. The main reason for that was that we knew it would be our only proper meal for the rest of the day so we thought we'd be best off filling up on a big meal, that would keep us going. So, we had a good lunch in there (surrounded almost completely by American tourists in there- guess there really is no place like home!) and then carried on to do a bit of sightseeing. Although we had managed to get around a lot of sights last time, we didn't get to spend much time at them or indeed see everything, so we were quite happy to have the chance to partake of some unfinished business!! On the way to our first sight, we noticed that a lot of the streetside cafes and bars were serving alcohol, but others weren't. The ban was supposed to be in effect from noon until 11pm but clearly, it wasn't working out quite like that! We arrived firstly at the Trevi Fountain and vowed not to throw any more coins in there! Apparently, if you throw coins into the Trevi Fountain and make a wish, you'll return to Rome one day. When we did it last year, we were thinking more about a weekend there one day in the future not expecting us to be there for another Roma vs United match almost exactly a year later! So now you all know why we drew Roma again- it's totally my fault! After taking a few photos, we then carried on to The Pantheon. We decided to go on the recommendation of Tall Bloke who said it was a magnificent building as we didn't get to see it last time. He had also told me that all the Yorkshires would be camped out in a bar near there all day. So, I half expected to bump into them there as we had our chance encounter at the Trevi Fountain last time. Alas, it wasn't to be but we enjoyed the trip to The Pantheon nevertheless!! Our next stop was then The Forum and en route to there, we stopped off for the most divine gelato. Despite the fact that my pistachio cone looked radioactive, such was the brightness of the colour, it was still absolutely delicious and it helped to cool us down a little in the pounding Roman heat. Usually on European aways (especially at those grounds with the holes in the floor for toilets), I refuse to drink anything all day because of my fear of the stadium toilets but it was totally unavoidable on this day as the weather was just too warm. So we also made several stops for bottles of water along the way too. After taking some photos at the much less tourist filled Forum, we finished off our sightseeing with a trip to the Spanish Steps which were absolutely crammed full of people sunbathing!! We just sat there for a while, soaking up the atmosphere before heading back to the coach. Now, we had all been told by our guide on the bus to be back for 5pm but we knew from past European aways, that the buses virtually never leave on time. So, we sauntered up to Villa Borghese and arrived at probably 5.15pm to find that our coach wasn't even open, let alone ready to leave! So, the hundreds of us (at least) that were congregated there had an impromptu sing-song which was good fun. Eventually, the coaches were opened up but we weren't allowed to board them until we had all been searched by a member of the riot police for knives (I asked them if I looked like the kind of person who would carry a knife and they just shrugged their shoulders!!), glass bottles or cigarette lighters!! Obviously that all took a while so by the time we all left under police escort, it was well after 6pm. Not that any of us were complaining much though- the less time stuck in the ground before kick off the better, as far as we were all concerned! The short journey to Stadio Olimpico under police escort once again was standard Euro away fayre- lots and lots of singing! One bloke in particular was leading it all and totally off the cuff, made up a song about Tevez. It went, "Our Carlos Tevez he is f*****g dynamite, He scores goals with his left foot and he scores them with his right, Oh Carlos Tevez, Carlos Tevez, Woah". As the bloke was quite drunk, the tune was totally unrecognisable and it's very unlikely to be catching on around Old Trafford any time soon but on our coach, it did! So in the end, we all somehow found ourselves singing this mad Tevez song and laughing about it at the same time! It's little things like that which happen on a Euro away that are the kind of things that keep drawing you back to them- the random spontanity and fun, and seeing everyone smiling and laughing together.

We pulled up outside the ground and my stomach started to form knots. For once, I wasn't thinking about the game but just recalling what had gone on there before. I prayed with all my heart that things would go well. We were let off the coaches and were held in a big group outside the turnstiles and let through, about 10 at a time. To my right, was a total dickhead who was clearly pissed but getting horrible with it. He was singing stuff about Adebayor, Eduardo, the Second World War....you name it. People around him were telling him to shut up and stop acting like such a knob but he wasn't listening. Contrasting starkly to the fun we had on the coach on the way to the ground, this guy was the kind of thing that would put you off going on Euro aways as there seems to be a new breed of 'fan' (using the term loosely) that are starting to appear on these trips. They're usually young lads maybe late teens, early twenties who view the trip as an excuse just to get totally pissed and asked like idiots. For example, I saw a couple of lads drinking out of a wine bottle with a smashed top and jagged glass sticking out! I don't think it's a United-specific problem but it does seem to mirror society today in this country a bit. Anyway, we went through the first checkpoint and I had my bag searched. We then went through the actual turnstile where we had to scan the barcode of our ticket and once again, I had my bag searched as well as a body search. I was pleased in a way that security was good but I doubted that it would be quite so stringent for the Roma fans! Once we'd passed there, we then made our way down the path (with a large fence separating us from the Roma fans) and to the ground. Just before we reached the concourse, I saw a bottle flying from a United 'fan', over the fence into the Roma area. I looked through the gap in the fence and saw that thankfully, it didn't hit anyone. Not only was it dangerous (the bottle was also half full, so pretty heavy) it was definitely inflammatory and could have caused trouble. I looked around to see where it had come from and wasn't in the least bit surprised to see that it was from the Adebayor/Eduardo/WW2 singing knobhead from before. An English policeman (actually Mancunian I think), had him up against the wall as soon as he saw it and made the bloke hand over his match ticket as well as demand that he apologised. The policeman was really upset (and rightly so) and clearly was working hard to ensure that everything went smoothly. I don't know what happened to the knobhead whether he was arrested or not, but I know that I never saw him again.

In the ground, the first thing I did was hit the concourse. As well as the toilets being primitive (United's words!), the food kiosks were not much better. I managed to get some water and a small tub of Pringles-esque type crisps of some incomprehensible flavour before it all ran out and some lad stood next to me started randomly talking to me (this is what happens when you get widespread drunkeness!). I had my hands on the counter and he said, 'Did your boyfriend propose to you here today or something?' (despite the fact that the ring he was looking at was on my other hand!). I said 'No!' and showed him my other hand with my wedding ring on it. He swore blind that I had my wedding ring on my wrong hand and I said to him that clearly he hadn't proposed to many women before! He looked at me and said, 'No- I've got United'. Simple as that. I can imagine that's how a lot of people on the trip must be too. We headed into the seats and I got a really big flashback to last time. To the left, was the more hardcore Roma fans (although not as bad as the last time) and to the right, we were the less hardcore Roma fans who generally, seemed pretty harmless. We were separated from both sides by a tall perspex fence. Seeing this, a bunch of the young lads thought it was clever to sit right up against the hardcore Roma side, and start mouthing off. We mused that they had probably not gone on the trip last year as it was unlikely that they'd be doing that if they had. We then picked our usual seats (about two thirds of the way back in the centre of our section- safe territory) and found that Keith had done the same. So we went over and sat with him and his friends (nobody ever sits in the seat given on the ticket on Euro aways) and found to our amusement, that he knew 'That Couple' as he was sat with them too! So the eight of us all sat together and had a really good chat. We told each other what we had been up to that day in Rome, reminisced about past trips we'd been on and the woman from 'That Couple' and I, spoke about the pitfalls of being a female on a Euro away. She told me that when they went to Rotor Volgograd, she wanted to find the loos so asked a policeman in the ground who took out a rifle, jabbed it into her back, shouted 'woman' and pushed her into a room which she said was like a black pit- no doors, certainly no actual toilets, nothing. Just a pit. I thanked my lucky stars that I was a bit too young at the time to go on that trip!! We all carried on chatting for a while, sharing crisps and chocolate and trying to think of things to do to pass the time. Over where the perspex fence was to the left, things were already getting a bit heated. The Roma fans were mouthing off and things were getting thrown over the fence- and we weren't even anywhere near kick off! However, the young lads on our side weren't helping things much either by shouting things like 'Lazio' and 'Paolo Di Canio' at them as well as returning the odd bottle back over the fence. I said to Keith that these lads think they're being funny but they'd be the first ones to have a go if the Roma fans sing 'Liverpool' or 'Steven Gerrard' at us! They were clearly a bit giddy and I'm sure that once they've done more trips, they'll learn. Of course the MAJOR difference between this time and last time was that there was no riot police in our section and there were stewards in both the United AND Roma sections along the fence. This meant that the police weren't there to overreact and lash out violently and that having stewards both sides could calm things down before the got our of control. And indeed, it seemed to work as that potential flashpoint was averted and peace reigned for a little while longer. Time still seemed to be crawling along but soon Kuzsczak and Van der Sar came out for the warm up (accompanied by whistles from Roma) followed by the rest of the squad, who were subjected to even more boos and whistles! On their big screens, we saw the United team and although the formation and system raised few eyebrows, the inclusion of Park certainly did. I think after having been on so many trips and seen so many terrible results, we all just decided to adopt a 'Que sera sera' attitude and put trust in the manager. As kick off approached, the stadium announcer played a Roma song (which they obviously play before every match) which all of the Roma fans sung along to whilst holding up their scarves. Over at the other end of the ground, the 'Ultras' were setting off fireworks and lighting flares. It made for quite a backdrop and soon, the teams came out to a roar of excitement from all parts. The ground was now almost full and everyone ready for kick off. Everyone that is, except the Yorkshires who made a sudden and very random appearance up the steps to the seats! Tall Bloke, Little Guy and Ginger Bloke (who makes very infrequent appearances, but mainly on Euro aways) all greeted me with a big hug and kiss and then playfully scolded me about not meeting them at The Pantheon. I told them I had been there and they didn't believe me until I showed them the photo on my phone! They decided to let me off then lol! They then beckoned me across the aisle to stand with them for the match so I did, and it was just like being at home except that Tall Bloke was on my left side, instead of my right!!

The game kicked off, and I thought United started well. Like I said, I have seen United put in some absolutely inexplicably awful performances abroad over the years so any kind of performance where we're not totally battered and we have actually touched the ball a bit, is deemed good in my eyes! Tall Bloke and I spent a lot of the half chatting, as we usually do at Old Trafford too! He told me what they'd been doing all day and he that admitted that they hadn't taken the free shuttle bus to the ground like he promised me they would so I shouted at him about that! They had ended up taking a taxi and had been dropped off the other side of the 'notorious' bridge. He said it was really dodgy and saw someone who had massive slashes all down his face which had apparently been caused by a Roma fan attacking him with a broken bottle. I was disappointed to hear that there had been more trouble but I think, it would have been impossible for there to have been no trouble whatsoever. In the stands, there was lots of singing going on. 'Viva Ronaldo' was obviously the current favourite but Anderson's song, Rooney's song, Park's song and loads of other United songs were being sung with passion and fervour. The Roma fans responded by whistling at us, and one bloke waved a City scarf at us which caused more hilarity in the United section than anything else! As the game progressed, we were all pretty happy that we had gone over half an hour without conceding until Vidic went down injured. We weren't happy then, I can tell you. Predictably, the Roma fans were whistling at him but we all knew that if Vidic had stayed on the ground, then it must be bad. Seeing his agony continue after being driven off the pitch (yet another stupid UEFA rule), panic about not only this game but the rest of the season began to kick in. The word 'cruciate' was humming around our end and I hoped that it wouldn't be as serious as that. O'Shea came on his place to a rendition of, 'When Johnny goes marching down the wing' but it was tinged with sadness at Vida's departure. I then took a step backwards up a step, to get a better view of what was going on. Soon after, Ronaldo then put us in front with a salmon-like leap into the air to put a magnificent header into the back of the net. We all went wild and the Yorkshires and I had a big group hug. They then told me to stay on the step as it had obviously brought us good luck! I ran back across the aisle to Hubby and gave him a massive hug and kiss too. 'Viva Ronaldo' was making our section absolutely rock and Tall Bloke looked down at everyone singing and said, 'This is what makes me proud'. I called him a big softie but I understood perfectly what he meant. The Roma fans replied in the only way they knew how- by throwing stuff over the fence. I rolled my eyes. Soon, the half drew to a close and we applauded the players off to a highly satisfactory half time score. We then all looked to the big screen to see a replay of Ronaldo's goal and they typically cut half of the move out. Obviously too painful for them! I said to Tall Bloke that his goal wouldn't hurt his chances of being European Player of the Year and he agreed. At this point, I thought it would be a good idea to see how Hubby, Keith and everyone else was doing seeing as I had ditched them so I nipped back over to them! I explained to Keith who the Yorkshires were so he understood and Hubby seemed happy enough!!

Into the second half, and things carried on much like before- the United end still singing proudly, the Roma fans still being moody and United riding their luck a little on the pitch. It was unbelievable how many chances they were missing and I said to Tall Bloke that you could see how badly they were missing Totti. 'Good' was his reply to that!! It was getting a bit panicky though and we were getting more and more tense as it seemed impossible that Roma wouldn't get a breakthrough imminently. Amazingly, it was us that made yet another breakthrough as Rooney kept his good form going to put us 2-0 up. We went absolutely crazy as Tall Bloke spun me around and everyone was just hugging and kissing random people! I ran across the aisle to give Hubby a big hug and kiss too. It was absolutely fantastic. The Yorkshires then told me that I would have to live on our now 'lucky step' and never move from it again!! The Roma fans were dejected and sent another torrent of bottles etc flying over the fence which was ending up like a glorified version of 'catch'! Amusingly to our right where the almost non-plussed (and certainly not 'Ultras') Roma fans were sat, one middle aged bloke got the real hump and started gesturing wildly, in that over the top Italian away as well as screaming at the top of his lungs! Of course, we couldn't understand a word he was saying and it took us by surprise that this guy had come from the sedate section and even the Roma fans who were sat there, looked incredulously at him! The more he was getting laughed at by United, the more wound up he was getting and he totally lost it in the end and had to be thrown out! That was accompanied by a kind 'Cheerio' from us, which I'm sure really made him happy lol! In fact by this point, the whole ground was quiet so we used it as an opportunity to sing, 'Can you hear the Ultras sing? No, no...', 'Are you going to Old Trafford are you f***' and 'We want 7' which got them really upset!! I don't think we could have had 7 but maybe 3 or 4 as we missed a couple of terrific chances ourselves, notably Carrick and Ronaldo. Still, we had very little to complain about. As the half wore on and the Roma fans were getting more and more frustrated with the host of chances their team had missed, they started to stream out of the stadium. As for us, it was party time! The songs never stopped and the joy and almost disbelief at the terrific scoreline was evident. The final whistle went to jeers and whistles from Roma and huge cheers and acclaim from us. The players then came over to applaud us and they looked delighted, especially Rio (as usual!). There was then an announcement made by somone from the club who told us that we would be kept in the ground for a while, which we knew anyway. He said that he really appreciated how patient we all were and then said what great fans were are, how amazing our support was and how the club was proud of us all! To be honest, we don't get told that very often so we were all surprised but very pleased to hear that. To keep us entertained, the United season review from last season was shown on the big screens and the Yorkshires and I mused how sometimes, we can draw total blanks on games, even ones we've been to. We wondered if people who went to most United games and have done for years, also have that happening to them or if it was just us! The conversation then progressed to first ever United home match, first ever away and first ever Euro away. It was pretty interesting actually, especially to hear how times have changed. Back on the big screens, the DVD had inexplicably got to November and reset itself, so we had to watch the DVD right from the beginning again! Despite being kept in for about an hour and a half, we never got to the end of the review and it was announced that we could now leave the ground and told once again how proud the club was of us (we could get big heads hearing that all the time!). I bid the Yorkshires farewell, getting a hug and kiss from them all. I demanded that they took the free shuttle buses back into the city and they agreed that they would. I wished them a safe journey which they reciprocated and told them I hoped to see them at Middlesbrough. We left the ground and found the exits surrounded by riot police but thankfully, just watched on and didn't start anything. We found our coach in amongst the dozens and after waiting there for a while, we were driven back to the airport under police escort. I drifted in and out of sleep on the coach and we arrived back at the airport to find loads of riot police there again. I couldn't really see the point of them being there as they were just stood around and not actually doing anything but nevertheless there they were although once inside the terminal, there were no more police which was better than last time where every single movement we made in the airport was tracked by them. After slowly making it through security, due to almost every single person setting off alarms whilst passing through the metal detector we then found our gate in amongst the three that were heading back to Manchester and pretty rapidly, boarded the plane. The flight passed fairly quickly, mainly due to the fact that I slept for a lot of it although I did wake up for our hot meal of sausage and mash, which was no blessing I can tell you. It was possibly worse than the breakfast and the 'sausages' used were definitely the same ones like breakfast! We arrived back at Manchester Airport at just after 4am and after making it through passport control, we were inundated with TV cameras, all wanted to interview returning United fans. I declined, imagining how hellish I must have looked after being up 24 hours and hardly wanted that to be flashed across British TV!

We arrived back home just before 5am and couldn't resist watching the goals and interviews from the game, before getting our couple of hours sleep then getting back up for work. Sometimes I wonder when I get home from a Euro away, why we all put ourselves through this torture. And then days like 1st April 2008 crop up, and it reminds us all why.
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Middlesbrough vs United- A view from the stands (With Pics)

Mon Apr 07, 2008 10:27 am

After our midweek jaunt to Rome, it was back to the bread and butter of the league and a trip up to Middlesbrough.

We awoke at 7am to a covering of snow outside which seemed quite random as when we'd gone to bed, there was no sign of snow anywhere! Knowing that the road up to the North East can be a bit treacherous, we decided to play it safe and leave a little bit earlier in case it was bad up there too. So we began our journey hearing that there had been accidents on surrounding motorways and not sure exactly what we were going to find. As it would have it, there was snow up until we hit The Pennines and then nothing! It seemed very weird to me that the highest point in the area would have had no snowfall but we weren't complaining as it meant a nice, clear run up to Middlesbrough. We arrived there about 10.30am (a lot earlier than we were expecting), and starting wondering what we could do as shops don't open until 11am on a Sunday and Middlesbrough is not exactly the most inspiring place to be at the best of times. So, we began to have a walk around but I wondered how long we'd be able to keep that up for as the wind swirling around (as it always seems to up there) was so biting that it was making my face go numb! There was almost nobody around apart from a couple of members of Greater Manchester Police and a few people who looked like they might not have quite finished off their Saturday night yet! Then like a mirage, a green sign appeared lit up, and beckoning me towards it. Yep, it was a Starbucks!! I had been moaning for years about how they had a total lack of Starbucks (or even Costa Coffee or Caffe Nero!) in the city so obviously new there, it answered my prayers! We camped out there for a fair while, reading the papers and staying out of the cold whilst getting caffeined up from the biggest coffee in the place! By this time, the shops were open so we had more opportunities to pointlessly fritter away time and then go and get brunch. As I have said many time before, it is almost impossible to find food in Middlesbrough that isn't either fried or a pie so somewhat predictably, we ended up having an English breakfast which seemed like it had been cooked about 3 weeks before!! Thankfully, there was no further time to waste as we then made our way to the ground. The police overreaction to our visit which happens every time even began before we'd left the city centre this time, as there were police on horses scattered about (quite what sort of havoc they were expecting United fans to make in BHS on a Sunday morning is anyone's guess!). The people of Middlesbrough didn't seem to have seen this kind of thing before as they were queueing up to have their photos taken with them!! There musn't be much excitement in Middlesbrough usually, that's all I can say! We walked towards the ground, taking the route we had done so many times before through the tunnel (the obligatory busker in there, playing guitar. Hubby joked that next year we come, it'll probably be Journey South in there busking- for those of you who remember them from X Factor and that they came from Middlesbrough!) and over the railway line before we reached the Riverside. There really is very little character to the ground, apart from some wrought iron gates at the front which they'd actually brought from Ayresome Park. After having our bags searched, we went into the ground. Although I went through the left hand turnstile, I was concerned because the person who tore my ticket, was to my right. It sounds ridiculous to be worried about it but I did wonder if it counted as a true left hand turnstile. Hmm. We got into the concourse and there was barely room for anyone else in there so I decided to just go straight to my seat. Turned out that our tickets were right at the back of the stand (ie, the back row) so it was a bit of a hike up the steps!! The lads were already warming up when we got to our seats, so we had a little scan to see who was out there but then the teams were shown on their scoreboard and it was a pleasant surprise to see such a strong team as a lot of us had expected him to rest a few for Wednesday. More United fans started to take their seats then and it seemed like everyone was there. On the same row to our left were England Fan, The Staffords and Mr Lemm (again, long story!), straight ahead was Royal Mail Guy and Fat Rob (his own nickname-I'm not that cruel to make that up!) and to my right was Keith (who had to stop halfway up the steps to catch his breath!) along with a few of his friends! The only people I hadn't seen were The Yorkshires so I decided to keep my eyes peeled for them. The players had now all returned to the dressing room so we were waiting with anticipation for their return. I've always found that period of time between the players going back to the dressing room after the warm up and them coming out again for the match to say a lot about how people feel about the game. For example, if we are playing the likes of Liverpool, City, Arsenal, Chelsea etc, everyone is tense but fired up too. If it's a game against Derby for example, then people are usually much more relaxed and cheery. This game seemed to fall into the latter catagory as United fans were smiling, singing and looking quite calm. I couldn't have been more different as I had just finished texting one of my friends saying how games at the Riverside always worry me, especially as we're playing after a European match which we don't always do the best in either. I just decided to keep my fingers and toes crossed, and hope that would be enough. By contrast, the Middlebrough fans (who decided to actually turn up for this match. Hmm....wonder why!) seemed totally non-plussed by the whole thing and didn't even join in with their happy-clappy plastic anthem that they somehow adopted (the song does my head in as it has absolutely no relevance to the match at all. It has nothing to do with football!! It just seems to sum up everything that is wrong with new age fan of a club like theirs, which has no personality or soul at all). The players then came out to a big cheer and the United lads turned around to applaud us. They looked as eager to get on with the game as we were.

The game kicked off and immediately, the United end was rocking. And I mean, literally rocking! The stand was bouncing up and down and I prayed that it had been made well enough!! Fans were stamping on the floor, banging on the corregated plastic at the back of the stand and creating a fabulous atmosphere. 'Viva Ronaldo' predictably was being sung from the rafters, as well as Anderson's song and 'U-N-I-T-E-D' amongst many others. Snow then began to fall and that, as well as the wind, I think we presumed would possibly kill off the game in terms of entertainment. Wrong. United came flying out of the traps and went on the attack from the off. The Middlesbrough fans, pathetic and small minded as they are, decided to target Ronaldo for their booing right from the off yet again (where most other clubs have actually stopped doing that now) and when we were awarded a free kick which Ronaldo took and hit the wall, you'd have thought that Middlesbrough had just scored, such was the cheer! I turned to hubby and said that they can put that on their highlights video for the season if that's the kind of thing they cheer! Amusingly and I'd like to think some sort of justice prevailing, we went ahead from the resulting corner and it couldn't have been any sweeter that the goal came from Ronaldo. He was absolutely joyous, and so were we as he saluted us. Both 'Viva Ronaldo' and 'He plays on the left...' was sung as we all turned to the Middlesbrough fans to our left. They seemed to be sinking further into their seats, squirming except for one intelligent specimen who stood up and aimed aeroplane arms in our direction which was met with total derision from us. We then continued to sing and really took the mickey out of them by singing their 'plastic' song in celebration back at them which they didn't seem too impressed by as well as 'You've only come to see Ronaldo' which they seemed to take exception too! The repetoire of songs sung by us went into overdrive as we sang almost every song you can think of- Scholesy's song, Brown's, Rio, Tevez's, Park's, O'Shea's....even 'United are going to Moscow' which I am still refusing to sing on the basis that I will almost certainly curse it if I do! On the pitch, the lads looked like they were having just as much fun as they continued to pepper the Boro goal with shots and it looked like the lads were really on song. However, Middlesbrough then decided to ruin the party by scoring, courtesy of Alves. The atmosphere in the United end notably dropped, but we all tried to keep it going. Middlesbrough then suddenly decided to take part in the game as they began to launch a few attacks goalwards. We were trying to encourage the players but it was like their heads had dropped a bit. After surviving a couple of scares, the half time whistle went and we looked at each other in bewilderment that we could be drawing a game that for most of the half, we had been so comfortable in. We headed down the steps and towards the concourse and on my way down, I saw the Yorkshires from afar, going up the steps from their seats at the front towards the concourse. They looked absolutely drenched as the seats at the very front of the stand aren't covered by the roof. Poor blokes! Didn't hang around in the concourse too long as it was absolutely jammed full but I was there long enough to overhear a conversation between two women saying that they'd love to join in with the whole Anderson song but they didn't know all of the words. So I decided to help them out and tell them what they were, for which they were very grateful. I just hoped that they would go forth and spread the word as although everyone seemed to know the first and last lines, the middle bit is still causing some people trouble!!

The second half kicked off to a wave of optimism and encouragement from the United end and we carried on singing as much as we could. However, this was soon dulled a little when Middlesbrough began attacking our goal and in fact, creating a number of decent chances. Optimistic faces were replaced by worried faces and there were rumblings of discontent all around. Odd names began being mentioned, accompanied with a frown. This, I'm afraid, was mainly Giggs' name and I am starting to get worried that the longer he carries on, then more people's memory of him will be diluted somewhat as it's hardly been few people who have demonstrated their fear about him playing for years to come. Worry then turned to despair as Alaves then scored his second of the game, after a somewhat fortunate assist from Aliadiere. A dark cloud seemed to descend over us all to match the dark clouds in the sky, heavy with snow. I couldn't bear to look to my left at the Middlesbrough fans as I knew that if I did, no good would come of it. The previously silent Boro fans (well let's face it, what do they have to sing anyway?!) were now all mouthing off and I was getting flashbacks to previous horrible experiences at the Riverside. I stood with my head in my hands. Fergie then decided to make some substitutions with Tevez making way for Park and O'Shea making way for Hargreaves which was met with approval from the reds although mild surprise too. Very shortly afterwards, the substitutes board went up again and showed the number 5. For a split second, I was incredulous that he could be brought off at this point as I hadn't realised he was injured. When it dawned on us that he was, we REALLY began to sink into a depression then as we wondered how many games we would be without our fabulous central defensive pairing, who had been such a rock for us all season. Pique was his replacement and we just kept everything crossed that we would somehow get through the game. Hubby said to me that he would take a draw now but looking at our defence and the way the game was going, I thought it was a long shot. The snow was now a near blizzard, such was the ferocity that it was coming down in and I wondered if the players were even able to see each other in such appalling conditions. However, the substitutions seemed to breathe life into the team as the lads began to attack and after some terrific work by Park on the right, he crossed over for Rooney to stick in the back of the net to level the score. We all went crazy and the blokes in front of me fell over, such was their exhuberant celebrations!! The lads spent no time celebrating though as it was clear that they wanted to win. The last 15 minutes was real end to end stuff, good chances being saved or spurned at both ends. As the clock was ticking down, I was sure we would grab the win. I remembered the likes of Fulham last season and I had absolute faith that the same was going to happen again. And it might well have done, but the lads ran out of time. The final whistle went and to be honest, none of us were quite sure how to feel. Should we feel happy to have salveged a point from an unlikely situation or do we look at it as two points dropped? I was thinking actually how few games we draw as we tend to either win games or lose them. Maybe this was why we weren't sure how to react. As we trudged down the stairs and out into the heavy snowstorm, I decided that I didn't want to think about it anymore. It was hurting me actually, and I didn't particularly want to overhear the Middlesbrough fans talking crap so we tried to get back to the car as quick as possible. On the way, I did hear a bloke singing 'Viva Ronaldo' and some idiot having a go at him, calling Ronaldo a diving, cheating, blah blah blah....you get the gist. I rolled my eyes skywards and wondered if they were happy being so small time, booing and abusing Ronaldo instead of stopping for a second and being able to appreciate such a talented player. In that respect, they acted just like Derby this season and I find it odd seeing as particularly with Middlesbrough, Ronaldo doesn't affect them in any way apart from when we play them. It's not like if Liverpool, City, Arsenal etc are having a go at him- what do they care about us?! Yet you can guarantee that when they go to work on Monday and talk about the match to people, they will talk about seeing Ronaldo. Anyway, we had nearly got back to the car when we bumped into Tall Bloke! He was absolutely soaked, but still greeted me with a big hug and kiss (getting me even more wet than I was before!!). We didn't say a lot about the match- he just said, "Shite". I just nodded. Little Guy and Ginger Bloke then appeared and said hey. They asked how the journey was back from Rome, and I said not bad. They then told me that they thought they thought they saw me on TV, arriving back at Manchester Airport whilst they were sitting in an Irish bar in Rome!! It wouldn't have been the first time, that's for sure!! We then went our seperate ways and said 'See you on Wednesday', and Hubby and I sooned arrived back at the car.

Travelling home in the awful weather, I still didn't know what to think. But one thing was true- Fergie was right when he said there would be many twist and turns before the end of the season- and we had just encountered our first one.
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Re: Middlesbrough vs United- A view from the stands

Mon Apr 07, 2008 6:44 pm

Some photos from Middlesbrough.....


The view I woke up to

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Erm....'beautiful' Middlesbrough lol

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The Riverside

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The lads warming up

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The lads line up

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United vs Arsenal- A view from the stands

Sun Apr 13, 2008 10:36 pm

After the game against Roma in midweek, I found myself back at Old Trafford again. Now, it was for the vital game against Arsenal- one which could decide the fate of each clubs' seasons.

After having to work in the morning (I miss having Sundays off!), we went straight from work to the ground but because of it being a Sunday, the traffic was almost non-existant. So, we found ourselves at the ground early with a lot of time on our hands! Firstly, we went to see Keith and had a bit of a chat with him about the approaching trip to Barcelona and our arrangements for that as well as picking up our programs and we then decided to head over to Harry Ramsden's takeaway to get lunch. This was a bit of a mistake as they seemed to have the slowest and most incapable people serving I've ever seen. Not only was there a huge queue to order the food, there was a queue almost as long to collect it!! As it was looking more and more like we wouldn't get served until before kick off of the Barcelona home game never mind this one, we decided to give up and go elsewhere. Somehow, we ended up outside the row of chippies on Chester Road which we hadn't got food from for years. We skipped Lou Macari's and went to the United Chippy instead, which we used to go to many moons ago! The food was just the same although it's got a bit pricier since then! Hubby had chips and beans which always used to be his lucky superstition before matches so we figured that it couldn't hurt to try it again, just in case!! It was then that I got a call from a certain Mr Robinson so we met outside the Sir Matt statue (or rather he spotted us as I was looking blankly around, worried that I wouldn't spot him!) and he gave us the lowdown on the Fans' Forum. We then went our seperate ways and despite it being over an hour before kick off, hubby and I somehow found ourselves going through the turnstile and into the ground. It was a very odd sensation being in so early and seeing the ground look so empty. Again, I probably hadn't been in the ground that early for years so I suppose it kept in with the theme of random matchday rituals that we used to do years ago! We hung around in the concourse for a minute or two as I couldn't stand to watch the scousers for any longer than that so we went to our seats and had a flick through the program. We passed a bit of time with hubby testing me on how many United players I could name from the 1989/1990 squad photo that was in the program and I have to say that I did pretty well, although I couldn't recognise an odd few like Giuliano Maiorana and David Wilson! It was weird starting to see people come in a few at a time, and how the ground was filling up. There was a very odd man who came in and was randomly abusing Jens Lehmann for no apparant reason! I mean, he wasn't even aware of the other Arsenal players warming up- he just had this massive vendetta against Lehmann and every time Lehmann came near the fans, he let a torrent of abuse towards him. He even made up songs to sing at him!! Amusingly enough, the man in the stetson then appeared (unfortunately his friend in the sombrero was nowhere to be seen!) and sat behind the Lehmann abuser and the two of them forged an unlikely friendship! Little by little, the usual faces like Jane, Royal Mail Guy and Shouting Guy appeared. Even Bolton Paul was present and correct, somehow getting his way back into K for this match. About 20 mins before kick off, I nipped back down to the concourse to double check the team news (we'd pretty much figured it out from the players who were warming up but wanted to make sure!) and nobody seemed particularly perturbed or disagreed with it. Back in my seat and things were picking up in the stands. Alan Keegan (or whoever the music playing person is!), was playing half decent music although I wasn't too impressed that he cut off The Stone Roses' "I am the Resurrection" halfway through!! The bastardised version of 'Take me home United Road' was played and a few people seemed to be clapping and singing along- it was much like watching brainwashed zombies in action! The Yorkshires then appeared and I commented to Tall Bloke that he looked rather 'smiley'. He told me he'd had kind of one long session all weekend which explained his 'smiley' state! No sign of Drunk Bloke again though, so I really must get to the bottom of what all that's about! I quickly filled Tall Bloke in on the team news and who the referee was and before we knew it, the teams were coming out of the tunnel to a quiet Fanfare (not rousing enough for a game of that magnitude in my opinion) but a load roar from the crowd. Fergie and Ronaldo were presented with Manager and Player of the Month for March respectively, which was greeted with massive applause. As the teams were lining up, the Annoying Couple who sit next to hubby appeared which we were all rather disappointed by. They only ever seem to pick the big games to come to and they never say or do anything, and almost always miss big chunks of the game from arriving late and /or leaving early. We were quite surprised to even see them arrive before the game kicked off this time- I said to Tall Bloke that the test would be when they left at the end of the game though!!

The first half kicked off, and the atmosphere started well. 'U-N-I-T-E-D...' was sung along with 'Viva Ronaldo', Anderson's song and 'Bertie Mee said to Matt Busby,,,' (which is one of my favourites!) and an ear-splitting shout of 'United'. Over in the corner, the Arsenal fans weren't saying too much to start with which wasn't that surprising as they have few songs to sing anyway! On the pitch, things were going less well however. The lads hadn't started very well at all and to be honest, it put quite a dampener on the atmosphere as everyone seemed to be getting rather frustrated over the lack of quality particularly in terms of the passing. Behind me, Shouting Guy was getting rather animated and saying that every throw in Arsenal had was a foul throw! Although I wasn't making these kinds of random claims, I was probably becoming just as animated as I could literally feel my face getting redder and redder as my blood pressure was sky rocketing. Usually Tall Bloke and I have little chats during the match but this time, the silence between us was deafening- the tension on the pitch meant that we couldn't tear ourselves away from it, even for a second. To me, it was about as bad as I'd seen them play since the City match which I mused out loud about, and Tall Bloke nodded in agreement. After about half an hour, I got a text from my heavily pregnant friend who had to stop watching the match as she was scared she would go into early labour because she was so stressed! So, I promised to keep her updated with texts during the game. Shortly afterwards, the bloke from the Annoying Couple barged past us which was no surprise as I've never seen him sit through an entire half without leaving his seat. Tall Bloke nudged me and said that he was probably going off to buy another pie (as he always seems to be eating a pie every time we see him!) but I said I reckoned he'd drunk too much beer!! As the first half was drawing to a close, I could hear a few blokes behind me saying that they would be happy to go into half time at 0-0, despite the fact that we'd had a couple of decent chances, mainly from Rooney. I couldn't disagree though and to be honest, I couldn't wait for the half time whistle to go. When it did, it was blessed relief and there was a total lack of reaction in the stand to it- nobody booed (thank goodness!) but nobody applauded either. It was difficult to know how to feel about it really. I went down to the concourse and it was definitely not as busy down there as usual. I did stick around to watch the highlights with Tall Bloke but halfheartedly as it was too depressing to relive to be honest. We both then made our way back to our seats in a rather melancholic fashion, him giving me a comforting pat on the arm as if he was telling me that everything would be alright. To our astonishment, the Annoying Couple were already seated when we got back up to our row and we wondered briefly if we had entered a twilight zone!!

The second half kicked off and it didn't take long for the drama to begin to unfold on the pitch. Firstly, Arsenal were awarded a free kick which Van Persie lined up to take. Despite the fact that it was quite a way away from goal, there was something about it that made me uneasy. I said to hubby, "I don't like this" and as he took it, the resulting attack somehow ended up in the back of our net. Despite the fact that we had an almost perfect view of the goal, none of us in the stand actually saw it was a handball by Adebayor. We were more concerned with wondering why the hell both Van der Sar and Ferdinand just stood and watched him. The Arsenal fans suddenly found their voices with '1-0 to the Arsenal' and we began to sink into a pit of depression. It was such an unusual sight, seeing our net bulge like that particularly at Old Trafford. It was as if we were all waiting for it to be disallowed somehow- offside, or a foul even before we knew that it was a handball. It never came. The goal was given and we all shot a collective look of disbelief towards the goal. The United bench suddenly became a hive of activity as both Anderson and Tevez were preparing to come on. As we always do, Tall Bloke and I tried to guess who would be coming off. Invariably, our guesses are usually completely wrong as it's sometimes impossible to read what is going on Fergie's mind. Tall Bloke said he thought Park would be one and I agreed, saying that Scholesy would probably be the other. However, the issue didn't get immediately resolved as we were then awarded a penalty by Howard Webb. We couldn't see it clearly from where we were but the sound of the Stretty screaming 'handball' as well as the United team going mad, appealling to the referee filled in the blank in terms of what it had been given for! I felt so sick with tension that I couldn't bear to watch the penalty being taken, so I hid behind hubby. I waited for 'Viva Ronaldo' to cease and the hush to descend. I heard the thump of Ronaldo's boot on the ball, followed by a huge cheer a split second later, and then an angry roar. I looked up to see that Webb had ordered the penalty to be retaken and I groaned inwardly, believing that might well have done enough to put Ronaldo off the second time. Once again, I hid behind hubby as the hush descended yet again. You could hear a pin drop. Once again, I heard the sound of Ronaldo's boot on the ball. And to my immense joy I once again heard a huge cheer rise up from the stands although this time, it was laced with relief too! Tall Bloke gave me a customary bear hug and a thump on the back with glee. The lads then seemed to have their tails up and in the stands, so did we! Over on the United bench, it looked as if Anderson and Tevez wouldn't be coming on as they began to put their coats back on but then they did a sudden about turn and walked back down the steps, ready to come on. Amazingly as Tall Bloke and I had predicted, Park and Scholes went off and the substitutions were met with approval from everyone. The transformation in the team after that was marked. The lads played with more confidence, the passing and movement was better, and they looked like much more of a threat. We were awarded a free kick just outside the area after some nice play, and both Hargreaves and Ronaldo lined up for it. Immediately, I said to hubby that Hargreaves would take it as it looked very similar in position to the one he scored against Fulham and it was too close for Ronaldo to take it. He nodded in agreement and we waited, as did the whole ground, with baited breath. As predicted, Hargreaves struck it and boy, did he strike it! It was hit with such precision, such perfect placement that it left the entire Arsenal defence and goalkeeper completely stranded as the ball seemed destined to hit the back of the net. Both on the pitch and in the crowd, there was bedlam. Tall Bloke and I shared yet another bear hug and people all around were just grabbing random people and hugging them. We suddenly found ourselves 2-1 up after being in such despair just minutes earlier and now it was going to be all about hanging on! The Arsenal fans predictably did their Invisible Man impression as we didn't hear another peep out of them for the rest of the game. 'We shall not be moved' and 'Champions' were just two of the songs ringing out from the stands but I could sing neither as it would almost certainly end up with me cursing the players and making Arsenal score! 8 minutes before the end (not including stoppage time), the Annoying Couple decided to leave which was greeted with shakes of the head in disbelief by all of us on our row. It seemed incredible that they could be leaving a true edge-of-your-seat match against Arsenal, one which could shape our entire season so early. Seems like our thoughts of being in a twilight zone because of them being in their seats early for the second half, were definitely unfounded!! Although the lads were relatively comfortable until the end of the game, there were still a couple of heartstopping moments where Arsenal could have scored, mainly involving Bentner. When 4 minutes of injury time was announced, the groan was massive around the ground and it seemed as if the clock was going at snail's pace- didn't think it was ever going to tick down. Just before the end, Ronaldo did some trickery in the corner which wound up Hoyte enough to take Ronaldo out (one of the many dubious Arsenal tackles of the game) and it seemed to me that Ronaldo was sending out a clear message that although he hadn't really had his best game, he was still more than capable of turning on the style. The final whistle went to a roar that I'm sure could be heard for miles around and huge relief for us all. We then all turned to the Arsenal fans and sang, "Where's your season gone?" as well as rather predictably, "You're gonna win f*** all" which they weren't best pleased about! As I headed down the steps and into the concourse, a random bloke came up to me, held out his hand for me to shake and then gave me a hug. He said, "You can be calm now love" and I wondered how loud my voice must be when I'm watching a match!!

Heading out of the ground, 'We shall not be moved' was still being such with great passion and ferocity and as we watched the coaches full of Arsenal fans leave as we waved them goodbye, I think it was now pretty sure that we were waving goodbye to Arsenal's title challenge too. So then there were 2. Us and Chelsea. One thing's for sure- if we thought the Arsenal match was stressful, I bet we haven't seen anything yet!!
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Blackburn vs United- A view from the stands with photos

Sat Apr 19, 2008 10:10 pm

I can't quite get my head together yet to write AVFTS so until that time when I have (or somebody else feels the need to do one), I thought I'd put my photos on here from today to keep you all going!!


Jack Walker- the man who was a God around Blackburn

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The 'official' United end at Ewood Park

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Before the ground began to fill up

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Me, absolutely bloody freezing!!

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A variety of photos of the lads warming up

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Just before kick off

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Re: Blackburn vs United- A view from the stands *photos*

Sun Apr 20, 2008 8:24 pm

I woke up on Saturday morning and the first thing I thought of was the match. That's usually a bad sign- a sign that I am REALLY nervous about the game. It was a feeling that I tried to shake off the whole morning but it wouldn't go away. Talking to my work colleagues, they were all predicting thumping wins especially with the expected return of Vidic in defence. I groaned inwardly at their predictions as I had left Ewood Park scarred so many times. In fact, I hadn't realised it but I had never seen United win at Ewood Park in the league. Ever. Typically I was in Australia when United won there last season so I then began to get paranoid that it was me who was a curse on them. I began to wonder if I should just stay away from Blackburn altogether!

We made the short trip up to Blackburn in very good time actually, mainly due to the once-in-a-blue moon free flowing traffic on the M6! We parked in our usual car park (a pub on a gravity defying slope!) and made our way down the huge hill and towards the ground. On our way, we passed a couple of people selling United vs Barcelona scarves and I couldn't help but think that maybe we should be concentrating on this game first. As we went further down the hill, we passed a pub which was packed to the rafters with United fans and indeed, dozens more were spilling out onto the courtyard and pavements. There were banners and flags everywhere and the volume of songs being sung was huge! Sensing the atmosphere was going to be terrific, I smiled broadly as we continued our journey. As anyone who has ever been to Ewood Park will know, it's not exactly in the most cosmopolitan of places and to say that food and drink options are limited is a pretty big understatement! So somehow, we ended up at McDonalds for a late lunch which is hardly my favourite place at the best of times but even less so when it's crammed full of people (pretty much underlining the fact that there's really nowhere else to go!). The only place there was to sit was outside in the perishing wind so that's what we did. Don't think I've ever enjoyed a burger less than that in my entire life! At least there was entertainment though as a group of about 6 lads who couldn't have been any more than 18 were attempting to drink their body weight in cheap lager, whilst singing United songs to anyone who went through the door into McDonalds! They weren't aggressive or anything like that but it was quite clear that they hadn't done many aways and were getting a bit giddy about being there! We still had a fair bit of time on our hands so we had a little wander around for a while, noticing that Aldi and Iceland were doing a roaring trade as we saw a procession of United fans coming out of them with packs of beer and lager under their arms! It was quite a bizarre atmosphere really. It was more lively than a normal away game, probably due to the huge following that we had brought but not quite as lively as a Euro away- it kind of fell in the middle. It was odd walking around actually as even without colours, it was plainly obvious who the United fans were. There's something about the way they walked, their style....difficult to put my finger on it but there's just something distinctive about a United fan. Anyway, it seemed to me walking around that there would be more United fans in the ground than just in the official United end- it seemed as if we were outnumbering Blackburn fans hugely outside the ground. It would be interesting to see anyway! In a last attempt to waste some more time before we went into the ground, we ventured into the Blackburn Rovers 'club shop' mainly to get out of the cold. It was the weirdest club shop I've ever been into, mainly because there was hardly any Blackburn stuff in it! There was a tiny section which had Blackburn kits and that was pretty much it- the rest was just made up with other sports branded clothes. Very odd! Unable to find anything else to do to waste more time we headed into the ground, albeit much earlier than we would do usually. We hung around in the concourse for a while, watching Jeff Stelling on Gillette Soccer Saturday before heading into our seats. We were in the lower tier, about a dozen rows from the front. It was a little lower down than I am used to at Old Trafford but being there was the most important thing. Plus, the roof was actually over our heads in case it rained, unlike Bolton away earlier this season! On the big screen, they were showing the match when Blackburn beat us 4-3. I will never forget that night for the sheer pain of it all. The defence was an utter shambles, Rio lost his head and got sent off, and after we fought back so hard, we still ended up losing the game. However, the main thing that sticks out in my mind is the bloke who was stood in front of me that night. I've been known to have a strop at matches before- in fact, I kicked the seat in front of me so hard when we were knocked out of the Champions League by Porto at Old Trafford, that I nearly broke my foot! But this guy was in a different league altogether! He ranted, he screamed (even worse than me!) and nearly tore the seat out in front of him when he belted it so hard! So I always think to myself no matter how rage filled I get at a match, I will never ever be able to reach the heights that he did! Luckily, our attention was diverted when the lads began to come out onto the pitch for the warm up. Kuzsczak and Foster appeared, much to our surprise. Watching Fergie's pre-match press conference the day before, he made no mention of a possible injury to Van der Sar. I hoped that it wouldn't knock the confidence of the defence too much. Then the rest of the lads came out and it was a real welcome sight to see Vidic back out there. He was greeted with a huge "Nemanja, woah" and he saluted us in thanks. Hubby and I sneaked down to the front of the stand so we could take some pics for this fair thread (even though the stewards were being a bit arsey and saying only people in Row A were allowed to stand at the front!) and before we knew it, the players were heading off back down the tunnel and we made our way back to our seats to get ready for kick off. I looked around the United end but this time, I didn't recognise a single person- not my Yorkshires, That Couple, Tweed Hat, Royal Mail Guy, England Fan, The Staffords.....I suppose in such a vast area as we had for the game, it was a bit much to expect to see anyone we knew. But still, it was a bit disappointing! The ground was now really filling up and the atmosphere was building well. A couple of blokes in front of me appeared, only there were already people stood there! Looked like they'd jibbed in and the blokes already there were quite accommodating and let them stay there. The teams then came out to a roar from the crowd and the butterflies in my stomach were really going mad now! "Nemanja, woah.." was once again sung to reiterate our appreciation for his return which he once again thanked us for, with a salute.

The game kicked off and the noise from the United end was deafening. "Viva Ronaldo" was sung with scarves and flags being twirled above heads as well as "U-N-I-T-E-D", "Anderson-son-son", "Take me home United Road" (the true version!) and Rooney's song with equal passion and verve. The huge amount of reds in attendance caused an interesting problem in getting all parts of the stand to sing in unison, and singing the same song. Nevertheless no matter what was being sung, it was very noisy! Over at the other end of the pitch, I could see the Blackburn fans were singing something as I could see them all clapping but there was no chance of hearing them in amongst the din that we were all making! On the pitch, the lads didn't start fantastically but that didn't dim our support for them one little bit. There was a heartstopping moment when we thought Kuzszcak might have conceded a penalty, but luckily he got his hand to the ball. The half seemed to fly by really as we were all so caught up in the boisterous atmosphere. I was definitely not cold anymore, due to a combination of people crammed into the stand and the bouncing up and down whilst singing. We were in our own little bubble and that's why it felt like it was out of the blue when Blackburn took the lead. None of us could understand quite how it happened but the ball was nestled in the back of our net and we looked at each other in shock- this wasn't supposed to be part of the script. The Blackburn fans predictably celebrated like it was the European Cup Final which I suppose made a change from the booing and baiting of Ronaldo which they spent most of their time doing otherwise. The shock of the goal silenced us for about 10 seconds and we then continued to sing our support for the lads. A few people around me were getting a bit bitchy about Giggs- in fact, one bloke behind me said, "Go on Giggs- get your record then sod off" which I thought was outrageous. I was very close to turning around and saying something to him but I figured that it probably wouldn't have done much good anyway. Before we knew it, the half time whistle went and I was quite glad about it so the lads had a chance to regroup and come out motivated again for the second half. I headed down to the concourse with the plan to watch the half time highlights but when I got to the bottom of the stairs, it was so crammed full that I turned around and went straight back up to my seat. On the pitch, I noticed Nani warming up which seemed to say only one thing- Giggs would be going off. I hoped that Nani would be fit enough after his injury to last the whole half.

The second half began to a United end as raucous as before. A new song (and one that has a rather short shelf life!) was beginning to be sung- "Taking over, taking over, taking over Barcelona" (to the tune of "Champione"). In front of me, there seemed to be even more people crammed into the row. Seemed as if the jibbers from the first half had told their mates of their good position in the ground and so the crowd was multiplying before my eyes!! On the pitch, the referee was beginning to make some questionable decisions which was winding us all up no end. It wasn't even the bigger decisions which were getting us riled such as the possible foul on Ronaldo and handball in the box which could have resulted in penalties but the most basic decisions like awarding Blackburn a goal kick when Friedel clearly saved Ronaldo's shot, giving Blackburn a free kick when Rooney had a high tackle committed on him which injured him and Evra being fouled as well as the ball coming off the Blackburn player and out of play and them getting a goal kick!! It was getting really frustrating and we were all shouting towards the referee, none more so than me and I was even getting one or two looks from people (my voice really must be loud!). I felt like my neck was on a swivel for the entire second half as the scoreboard was behind us, which also showed the amount of minutes left in the game. Time was passing far too quickly for my liking as the lads were still struggling to get a breakthrough. As the lads were stepping up their game, so was Friedel in the Blackburn goal which he always seems to have a habit of doing against United. Chance after chance was thwarted and it seemed as if we would be leaving Ewood Park with nothing. With time slipping away, the lads threw everything at Blackburn and somehow miraculously right in front of us all, Tevez nodded the ball into the back of the net. Cue delirium in the stands and on the pitch as the lads' celebrations were almost rivaling ours, especially from Tevez and Rio! We were all going mental and people were just jumping all over random strangers in sheer joy. "Argentina" then rang out in salute to Tevez and he clenched his fist in happiness. I looked back at the clock and saw the minutes left- 2. I sighed with relief but suddenly, a win became a possibility as United being United, wouldn't give up and tried to grab all 3 points. The bloke next to me said that if we'd scored 5 minutes earlier, we probably would have won and I could see his point. Time just beat us in the end but nevertheless when the final whistle went, the reaction from the United fans was incredibly positive and songs still rang out from the stand. The lads looked delighted as did the manager, as all of them came over to us and applauded us. As we all began to leave the ground en masse, everyone was upbeat and singing all the way back up the hill. "Taking over Barcelona" cropped up again and this time I joined in. We could now all look to the game in the Nou Camp knowing that on the domestic front, the destination of the title was still very much in our hands.
"We all agree, K-Stand is better than J-Stand"

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