It’s the furthest I’ve ever travelled for a United game. Halfway across the world, a 20,000-mile round trip, all for two 90-minute friendlies.
Well, the latter is not entirely true. Still riding the wave of post-Treble euphoria, a mate and I took a circuitous route to Australia backpacking our way through the Indonesian islands of Java, Bali, Lombok and the Gili archipelago. This was more than just the most away of all away games; it was a holiday with football thrown in.
Minus Sir Alex Ferguson, who missed the first part of the tour to receive his knighthood from the Queen, the Reds played two matches against the Socceroos, Australia’s national side. I’d have preferred them to play the Matildas, the Australian women’s team – but only because I’d assumed they’d be called the Sheilas.
Even without skipper Roy Keane and star attraction David Beckham, the tour was billed as a visit from the greatest club side in the world – a view supported by images of three shiny trophies. An image I’ll never tire of.
The first of the two matches was played in Melbourne at the MCG, with the second in Stadium Australia in Sydney. There were huge crowds for both: 75,000 in ‘the Gee’ then 78,032 in the recently opened venue for the Millennium Olympics.
The winter weather in Australia came as a shock after the heat of Bali but at least the grey skies were reminiscent of home. There was also a familiar feel about the make-up of the crowd at the matches, with the vast majority ex-pats supporting United and knowing the anthems heard weekly at Old Trafford. Even the booing of every perceived indiscretion of Manchester City’s Danny Tiatto was reassuring. Clearly, half the planet is no barrier to picking up the finer details of being a Red.
Wonderful strikes from Jesper Blomqvist and Nicky Butt sealed a 2-0 win in Melbourne, while home hero Mark Bosnich made the first (unofficial) start of his second spell with the Reds. It wasn’t a great game, due mainly to it being played on an Aussie Rules pitch with a cricket strip through the middle. “You needed three touches where