The party from Chile also met Sir Alex and the players at Carrington during their stay, an experience which no doubt evoked memories for the miners’ VIP companion – Elias Figueroa, arguably the greatest Chilean footballer of all time. He overcame adversity of his own – being diagnosed with polio at the age of eleven and told he would never play football – to make more than 800 career appearances in several South Anerican countries and represent Chile in three World Cups.
“As a football person, I certainly know what a big football club Manchester United is,” said Figueroa.
“I was grateful for the invitation to come to Old Trafford and grateful to Concha y Toro for allowing me to come along on this trip with the miners. Like everyone else around the world, I watched the miners’ plight on television. I thought to myself what great guys they must be, to have come out of that situation.
"However, I was only watching from a distance then. Now that I have met up with them I know they are even bigger characters than the images we saw on television during their troubles when they were trapped underground. They are fantastic human beings.”
Some of the rescued miners later spoke to the media at Old Trafford. Omar Reygadas, 56, said: “The highlight of our trip was the match and to see Manchester United win. But we have seen many beautiful things during our time here.”
Ricardo Villaroel, 27, reflected: “Britain is beautiful, I have really enjoyed the visit. As for the football, I am more of a fanatic of Colo-Colo in Chile but my brother is a huge supporter of Manchester United.”
The historic trip to Old Trafford ended with an exchange of gifts, with each miner receiving a framed photo of their group on the pitch before the Arsenal game. In return, David Gill was presented with a Chilean national team shirt signed by the miners – soon to be proudly displayed in the club’s museum.