Tuesday, 26 May 2020

And Solskjaer has won it

Today is May 26th. To a United fan, even one too young to remember the season itself such as myself, that date will forever be etched on our minds as the date Solskjaer won it with virtually the last kick of the final. The game sums up everything that fans love about sport. The rollercoaster that following your favourite team can involve. Drama. Emotion. Coming back from the brink of disaster. Winning. One of the absences I have felt most keenly during lockdown is that of football, both its absence from my TV screen and the absence of travelling to watch it in person. I don't miss the two and a half hour train journey to Manchester or being cramped in an overstuffed tram whilst other fans drunkenly chant sexist songs all around me. But, and forgive me for being clichĂ© about it, that feeling I get when Old Trafford comes into view and when I step out into the stadium and see the pitch makes it all worth it.

That season, 1998/99, was the starting point for me. I often ask my Dad whether I watched any of the games, was I a fan during that season. He can't remember. But I was addicted to watching the 'Treble' video in the years that followed. I learnt the commentary off by heart and walked around reciting it, over and over again. I recreated the goals, alone, in my garden (quite hard to do but five-year-olds have a way of imagining these things). I watched the video again. And again. And again. The worst punishment was being banned from watching the United game that weekend. I used to try and sneak downstairs and peak into the TV room when my Mum (it was always my Mum) was otherwise engaged. I remember running into my parents' room the morning after a midweek game to ask my Dad what the score had been. I remember when I was old enough to watch the first half when a game was on in the evening. Dancing around our kitchen when we beat Chelsea on penalties in 2008. All I wanted to do when I was younger was go to Old Trafford. To watch United. Just once would suffice. I do not remember when I found out my dream was coming true. But I remember that the journey was over eight hours because of traffic, my Dad nearly gave up and turned around to go home and all that stopped him was how excited he knew I was. He couldn't do that to me. I remember we played Spurs. I remember standing on my seat to see Ruud Van Nistelrooy score the only goal of the game. I remember David Beckham taking a throw-in directly in front of me. I remember loving every single second.

Nearly 20 years on from my first game, I've been a season ticket holder for the majority of that time. I've been incredibly lucky to have been to Old Trafford more times than that little kid who thought 'Sheringham' was called 'Cheerio' (I still have no idea where that came from) could ever have imagined. I have seen United legends such as Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Ronaldo and Rooney live. Great footballers such as Messi and more recently Mbappé. I was there when we beat Arsenal 8-2, and when we lost to City 6-1. I've seen us win trophies with late goals and wonder strikes. I've also seen us struggle. I've watched United in the freezing cold lose to a club from Romania that no one had ever heard of. I've shivered through a game in Ukraine barely watching because all I wanted to do was focus on staying warm. I would not trade a second of it for anything. There's just something about sport. About football. About United.

So yes, its absence is felt keenly. I am excited for when it is safe for fans to return. Football is not a matter of life or death and no, it is not more important than that, Mr Shankley. But it is important. Going to games is a shared experience that rivals any other. I have daydreams about my children coming with me. About going abroad for a game, like I have done with my Dad, and witnessing a great spectacle (beating PSG 3-1 with a last-minute penalty springs effortlessly to mind). There really is nothing quite like it. And May 26th 1999 will forever be the date that started my love affair with football. I didn't watch the game live. But I didn't have to. Not to understand what sport meant, what sport could do. We'll be back soon, arguing about VAR and offsides. Hoping that our rivals don't win any trophies. Winding our friends up when their team loses.

Until then, I'll just watch the moment United won the Treble on repeat.

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