My guilty pleasure

Trip Start Mar 14, 2007
1
4
30
Trip End Apr 10, 2007


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Flag of United Kingdom  ,
Saturday, March 17, 2007

Despite high-brow interests in such things as books and history, I also have one very low-brow interest: soccer, or if you prefer, football. I've followed the world's most popular sport -- "the beautiful game" -- off and on since the early 1970s. As a sportswriter, I once interviewed the great Pele. So, given the opportunity to see a game involving one of the top teams in the world and perhaps the best player in the world, I had to do it.

Manchester United was scheduled to play the Bolton Wanderers at their home stadium on March 17, which happens to be my birthday. So I gave myself a birthday present and bought a ticket online for the match at Old Trafford ("The Theater of Dreams") several weeks prior to the trip.

I arose early, walked through the ancient streets of York to the train station and caught the 8:25 to Manchester. I got a price break for the day-return ticket and a further reduction for a separate ticket to the Manchester FC stop on the city Metrolink, via Manchester Picadilly station. I was far too early for the "football special" train to the stadium, but I enjoyed being in the station full of red-clad Man U supporters. Forget all you hear about rowdy football fans -- these were families, older folks, polite younger folks -- not a ruffian to be seen.

The train stopped just outside the stadium, I joined the milling crowd in front of the famed venue to search for the ticket office, where I picked up my ticket after waiting in a long line when I didn't need to. I skipped a visit to the team shop in order to collect my program and find my seat in the second tier of the east end. (Does that make me an Eastender?) It was the nose-bleed section, but I had what felt like an aerial view of the field. The players might as easily have been Xs and Os on a coach's chalkboard.

Imagine 76,000 fans singing in unison. Imagine the excitement of a crowd expecting to watch the top team in England against the number five team. Imagine a Man U team loaded with international stars. It was indeed dreamlike.

The game itself was the best I've ever seen. Portugese star Christiano Ronaldo was dazzling, flashing here and there, setting up two goals in a 4-1 rout, and exhibiting the creativity and imagination that is the best of soccer. Opposing coaches and the press are calling him the best player in the world. I certainly wouldn't argue the point based on what I saw.

Ronaldo. My birthday. Sweet.

After the game, I checked out the overpriced merchandise in the team shop and then went outside the grounds to an unofficial shop, where I found a reasonably priced t-shirt.

Eventually I found my way to the train back into Manchester but got off at the wrong station (Victoria) and had to take a very slow local train back to York. Cold and rain made for a miserable walk to join Nancy, Kirsten and Braden for dinner at a Chinese restaurant, all other options having ridiculously long waits for seating.

It was late when we got back to the house, but it had been a very satisfying birthday.
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