It is perhaps somewhat fitting that the Swans – whom embarked on their historic first season in the Premier League with an opening away fixture in Manchester (at City’s Etihad stadium) – should also bring the curtain down on their away travels in Manchester, albeit this time at the home of the Red Devils – Old Trafford.
Hot on the heals of last week’s enthralling 4 all draw with Wolves at the Liberty, Roberto Mancini took it upon himself to suggest that Manchester United could dish out a 10-nil drubbing to the Swans and that they were an “easy” game for United. Sadly a lot of the media pundits seemed to be of the same train of thought, with their tone of phrase suggesting that 6, 7 or even 8 goals could be the margin of defeat.
Thankfully people from these parts know that the Swans are made of sterner stuff and whilst the vast majority of us expected defeat at the hands of the 19 times champions in their own backyard, few of us expected the slaughter that had been anticipated by the mass media ranks outside of south Wales.
With the Swans safe and playing merely for securing the highest possible finish in the Premier League table, myself, Tourism Jack (our driver for the day), Hip Replacement Jack and Nookie Bear Jack set off for the north west in a relaxed mood. United on the other hand – depending on the City result at Newcastle – had everything to play for and the thought of the Swans being potential party poopers was mouthwatering.
Deciding to take the scenic route through mid Wales, our progress was frequently hindered by what my Dad (bless him) would class as “Sunday drivers”. Given the fact that this was rural mid Wales, I think I’d refer to them as “Tractor drivers”!
Unlike previous trips through this part of the world, there were no stories to tell really… well apart from the petrol strimming guy in Pant (a small village just over the border) whom was prowling the grounds of the Cross Guns Inn whilst Nookie Bear Jack inexplicably urinated in the nearby bushes. We had visions of a new horror film being born – “The Pant Petrol Strimming Massacre”. Maybe Director Jack would be interested?
We’d agreed to meet some other Jacks in Altrincham, which was about 8 miles south west of Manchester but more importantly the starting point for the Metro (as in tram not bendy bus) system. I’d spent a week in the town donkeys years ago and made my thoughts known to the others that it was a “dump”. Upon our arrival, I quickly realised what age can do to one’s memory!!
Despite Tourism Jack desperately wanting to go to Totties Lap Dancing Bar for our pre-match meal and beverage, we opted to join the rest of the Jacks in the Slug and Lettuce. It was a good choice with a wide variety of food on the menu and plenty of different beers to keep the drinkers happy.
With stomach’s full, we headed off to the tram station (about 5 minutes away) and paid the £3.60 for a return ticket to Old Trafford – which was some 20 minutes away (or 6 stops) whichever way you wanted to look at it. It’s worth mentioning for future reference that this ‘Old Trafford’ is in fact the Lancashire cricket club ground NOT the home of Manchester United – that is a 10 minute walk up Warwick Road from the metro station.
The walk towards the real Old Trafford gives you time to soak up the pre-match atmosphere (and take in Kellogg’s headquarters) with the now customary stalls selling t-shirts, pin badges and nearly everyone’s pet hate – split scarves!
In fact I’d go as far to say that I wouldn’t recommend this walk if you and your money are easily parted, especially when you consider the numerous Man Utd fanzines on sale and official match day programmes – which depending on which programme selling entrepreneur you deal with, will cost you anything from the £3 (the official price) to £5 or more!!
Now normally when I go around any away ground taking pictures, I stand out like a sore thumb – simply for falling into the category of “spot the new premier league team fan”. But oh no, this wasn’t the case with Old Trafford. Believe it or not I was outnumbered in the photography department (no not by Japanese tourists – sorry that’s a terrible generalisation I know) by Manchester United supporting plastics. One nearby me, was even heard to proclaim “Old Trafford is a lot bigger than it looks on TV”. Jeez and we thought we had plastic supporting troubles 😉
As you’d expect with any self proclaimed “Biggest football club in the world” the stadium is impressive and rich in its reference to history – especially to Munich.
Inside the ‘Munich Tunnel’ which resides underneath the south stand at Old Trafford, there are numerous tributes to the Munich disaster and it is well worth a visit if you ever go to the ground.
A nice touch also is the large plaque outside the east stand, which features all of the players and staff whom lost their lives in the 1968 disaster.
With my tour of the stadium done, it was time to head inside the theatre of dreams and eagerly await the start of the match. Shortly before taking our seats we had confirmation that United’s noisy neighbours had won 2 nil at Newcastle and it was immediately evident that the red devils present inside the stadium were in a state of deflation and helplessness.
Bless them I thought – it must be hard supporting a team who suffers such failures… and then I turned the clock back 9 years and remembered the Hull result. All football fans need a bit of perspective sometimes don’t you think?
But whilst the United fans were wallowing in self pity, the 3, 000 strong Jack Army seemed to revel in the situation and were in fine voice well before kick-off. Not even the news of Leon Britton being on the bench seemed to dampen the spirits of the noisy upstarts from south Wales and bar the fancy dress, there was an almost party like atmosphere amongst the Jack Army – much to the annoyance of the locals it must be said. Sweet.
As kick-off drew nearer, I couldn’t help but notice a couple of banners draped in the United end.
Well no actually Ryan you didn’t tear us apart at all (at the Liberty), although I suspect you might have torn someone…. no I best leave it there or otherwise I’ll end up in court 😉
Bog off Sir Alex, go and buy another attacking midfielder and leave our Gylfi alone!
Right, enough of the banner spotting, here is my shorter than usual bullet point take on the game (for what it’s worth)…
- The Swans started well and the fact that it took United 28 minutes to fortuitously score from a Paul Scholes flick spoke volumes about how well we’d defended;
- Considering his lack of game time, Mark Gower did well and did a good job playing in front of the back four – although his lack of pace was shown on a couple of occasions;
- The back four marshalled by skipper Williams were immense, as they have been for the majority of the season in fairness. Neil Taylor for me has been one of the outstanding performers this season, especially given his tender age;
- IMO it has been our defensive qualities (not just ball retention) throughout the season that have ensured our Premier League survival;
- When the 2nd goal went in – after the ball being needlessly given away by Sinclair – part of me did fear the worst and perhaps it was fortunate that HT followed shortly afterwards as we were rocking a wee bit;
- The introduction of Leon Britton at HT changed the game however and the Swans were more their fluid, functional selves in the 2nd half – despite United being guilty of wasting some half-decent chances;
- The iceman will surely have caught the eye of Sir Alex and other potential suitors with another busy display and was fortunate not to score with his free-kick;
- Just as everyone was seemingly getting increasingly frustrated with Scotty (again), Brendan took off Dyer (who’d had a half decent game but no where near the levels of performance prior to his suspension) and replaced him with Luke Moore – which seemed to liven things up again;
- Truth be known the longer the game went on the more the Swans looked like getting at least a goal. If only Danny Graham had turned his foot 45 degrees more and I’m sure the ball would have passed the outstretched arm of De Gea. I was so looking forward to doing the Poznan at Old Trafford;
- Referee Chris Foy is worthy of a mention if only for his 1st half performance, during which it appeared as though he literally gave United every 50/50 call. Thankfully this changed in the 2nd half and culminated in Wayne Rooney’s booking – which should have happened sooner I hasten to add! Rooney’s frustration pretty much summed up United’s day really;
- No doubt City’s result earlier in the day had a bearing on the atmosphere, but that said I did expect more from the 72,000 home fans whom were muted for most of the afternoon – even after both goals. This was in stark contrast to the travelling hoardes of Welshmen (and women/children/plastics) whose support was IMO – one of the best (if not the best) that I’d witnessed in the 13 away games I’ve seen this season. The chant of the day would have to be the aimed at aimed at Ashley Young – “You’re just a shit Tom Daley”;
- My final mention on the game is for Alan Tate. His 3 minute cameo appearance capped a remarkable story and one which I’m sure he’ll take great pleasure in telling his kids one day. It really is Roy of the Rovers stuff;
The final whistle signalled the end of the game but the Swans beaten but far from humiliated – much to the disappointment of the mainstream media that were present.
We stayed behind briefly to clap our heroes off the field and witness United’s half hearted ‘lap of honour’ around a now half empty Old Trafford. It had been the most effective fire drill I’d witnessed in a Premier League football match and worthy of the biggest football club in the world.
Upon leaving the ground, not even a brief confrontation with a disgruntled Man Utd fan could bring us down from cloud 9 and we walked our way back to the tram station happily whistling numerous Swans ditties from the day, including a few adopted ones such as “8 points and you f!%cked it up” and “Mancini woah-oh-oaah”.
The attitude of this one fan pretty much summed up for me why most teams dislike Manchester United. It’s not their success or history that makes people dislike them, it’s the arrogance and ‘God given right’ attitude that comes with the success which is despised.
A brief 5 minute wait at the station and we were on the tram heading back to Altrincham – albeit squashed like sardines. The bemused look on the faces of the United fans present in the tram to our banter (mostly football related and in good nature) spoke volumes. But I’m not sure if that says more about us or them!
Momentarily, we felt at home though, especially when we saw these adorning the inside of the tram.
By 7pm we were back in Altrincham and on our way home, via the motorway this time in an effort to avoid the “Tractor drivers”. The journey flew by, mainly thanks to playing football player word association for the best part of 2 hours. It’s a right b*stard when you get stuck on a ‘B’ or a ‘H’ though! I was home safe and sound by 22:45 and after 2 minutes catching up with the wife settled down to watch Match of the Day.
So what did I learn from my 2nd trip to Manchester. Well I guess the biggest thing for me was it’s actually great to support a ‘little’ club and to experience the real footballing highs and lows (as the Swans have) – however painful they may be.
I believe it is better to have those experiences and memories. They form part of life’s rollercoaster and I’d rather spend a lifetime riding that than basking in the glory of something which ultimately I don’t feel part of or ever wish to be part of. The contrast between Swansea City and Manchester United is the perfect example of this.
And I suppose that whilst a lot of people couldn’t help falling in love with the Swans this season, a lot were all shook up at how well they’ve done. Ahah.