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The life and times of james Hart: his family, his music, life in Luton and his occasional escapes onto the internet.

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Sunday, 16 November 2003

Theatre of Dreams

I'd never been to a proper professional-type football match before, so it was a pleasant surprise to be invited to join my brother-in-law and a couple of his friends to watch England play Denmark at Old Trafford. What better introduction to the 'live' game than to watch an international at possibly the most famous football ground in the UK, if not the world?

The match started at 4pm, but we needed to go up the M1 and M6 to get to it, setting off not long after 10am to make it there on time. We found somewhere to park, about 15 minutes walk from the ground (it was the side carpark of a pub - I'm sure they make a fortune on a Saturday afternoon!)

Here, then, is the story in pictures...

Old Trafford is an amazing venue - it certainly dominates the skyline, although it doesn't have the trademark floodlights that normally identify a football ground. As you approach the main entrance, you know immediately where you are. The glass, the red sign and the metal superstructure make it look really modern; although I don't know the history of the ground, I'm sure it's been there for tens of years and has probably had a huge amount of work done to it over the years.Manchester United sign

Two Robs and a JonHere are the guys I went with - Rob, my brother-in-law is on the left; Jonny, who lives just down the road from Rob's parents is in the middle, and Charch, who was kind enough to drive us all the way up there. Note that England tops are predominantly being worn - I felt a little out-of-place in my jumper and coat, although it came in handy as evening came and the temperatures dropped!

As has been discussed in previous blog entries, there are specific - often obscure - protocols to be followed in specific situations, and football matches are no exception. Take, for example, the tight squeeze through the unfeasibly small turnstiles - the process of handing over the ticket with a muffled grunt, followed by a sharp push of the predominantly red metal gate is de facto at almost every ground.

The only other tradition I know of is the pie at half-time. To avoid the rush, I bought one (I especially liked the way it was called "Meat and Potato Pie" so as not to limit themselves to any particular animal) before the match, and will have to confess to having finished it well before kick-off.Pie

flagsOnce I'd settled in, and the requisite moving out of the way so that people could fill to the end of the row had taken place, I took a look around. We were in an excellent seating position, at the corner of the ground. I've never been very good at large numbers, so it was almost impossible to gauge exactly how many people there were in the stadium, but they were almost all there to support England, with a most amazing show of flags and general red and white-ness.

Somewhat ironically, the Danish flag was the inverse of the English; the visiting fans took up a fairly small segment of the stands almost directly opposite us.

There was a fair amount of waiting around to do once we'd made it to our seats, although it wasn't long before the players came out to have a bit of a warm up. This was when I realised that I had forgotten probably the most important thing I could have brought with me - a radio. I could hardly make out who any of the players were (with the fairly obvious exception of David Beckham) so I'd really miss the lack of commentary during the match itself. players warming up

As we were much closer to one goal than the other, I hoped that the first half would be dull - perhaps a goal each, with England playing towards the goal on the far side, so that they could score another four at our end in the second half, and we'd see all the decent action, and perhaps I'd recognise some of the players up close[r].

the big ol' England flagOnce the warm-up had finished, a parade of the two countries' flags took place, before the national anthems and the resultant kickabout. Apparently it's something of a tradition for the spectators at either end of the stands to hold up coloured pieces of plastic, to form the flag of their country - when it happened it was most impressive; again, I couldn't get my head around the sheer number of people who were all contributing to the displays; I'll admit it was rather moving in a mildly patriotic kind of way.

Finally, the time came to start the match. As I'd hoped, England started playing away from us, and the game kicked off in some style, with the first goal flying in within the first ten minutes. It was almost like a Playstation game, in fact - any fear of a dull nil-nil draw was quickly dispelled with cheers and shouts of "Roonneeehh!" (My camera has a handy 'record' function - not particularly high quality, but hopefully gives an idea of the sheer volume of the crowd)the kick-off

England were doing fairly magnificently, having gone 2-1 up in less than twenty minutes, after a fairly swift equaliser by Denmark. How we enjoyed the rousing chorus of "You're not singing, you're not singing, you're not singing any more..." and other fine chants. Our seats were a block and a few rows away from the Sheffield-based(I believe) brass band that often accompanies the England team; fortunately they weren't close enough to ruin our enjoyment of the match.

penalty scarinessWhat did have an effect, however, was the lack of decent goalkeeper action - David James (who doesn't have the style, flair or facial hair of the mightly David Seaman) decided to widen his sporting horizons by performing a fairly impressive rugby tackle on an approaching striker. I'm not going to go into a rant about England's weak defence, or irresponsible goalkeeping, so I'll just say that the upshot of this was a penalty. I couldn't watch. But I did. Two-all.

The game lost its shine somewhat - even to the point where the crowd started to do Mexican Waves, and the wholesale substitution of the teams commenced. This was a bad thing; as the better-known names departed, and players turned up on the pitch who I'd not heard of before, it all became a little more frustating to watch. In spite of a few England efforts - one of which hit the outside of the net, and another, in the second half, bounced tantalisingly off the goalpost, it started to get both cold and nervewracking.

David Beckham and his unique hairAs something of an aside, Charch brought his mighty fine new modern digital camera along, and afterwards showed me the photos he'd taken. Here, for example, is one of David Beckham just about to take a free kick which, considering we were sitting at the other end of the ground to him, is amazing quality (the photo, not the free kick. I don't think that one scored a goal...)

The Danish number 7 player stayed on throughout the match - an excellent strategy, as by the last twenty minutes, almost everyone in the England team had been substituted, Denmark had scored another, and he was running rings around the less experienced members of the now completely unfocussed England headless chickens. I mean team.

All in all, then, at the end of the day the match ended somewhat disappointingly, but I was very glad it was a friendly, as it lightened the mood somewhat, and the defeat was a little easier to accept. The boys done good. Everyone left fairly quickly and quietly, with a vacuum of exuberance that would have accompanied a win.empty seats

lots of peopleIt took us over an hour to get back to the car - the crowds were immense, with pavements jammed with people diverging from the football ground. In spite of this, there were memorabilia sellers peddling badges, pennants and the like to 'remember the event'. I don't suppose they make much money when England lose...

We eventually found our vehicle, and started on the long slow journey out of Manchester. It was after half-past eleven when I arrived home - thirteen hours for a ninety minute match! It was a rare treat, though, and apart from the fact that people are allowed to smoke in the seating area (which made it rather unpleasant at times) I would definitely consider taking Christopher to see an England international when he's older - if he wants to come!


Posted by james at November 16, 2003 11:55 PM

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