Aussie Rules pitch with a cricket strip through the middle. “You needed three touches where you would normally take one,” said Denis Irwin after the match.
I missed the first 20 minutes of United’s second game due to the stunning Olympic stadium being so new that the staff didn’t know where anything was. Having picked up my press pass, kindly arranged for me by the Official United magazine, I then spent the next half hour trying to find the press section.
Having been told to get the lift by a steward, I was shocked to find myself heading to ground level with club chairman Martin Edwards and match organiser Rene Rivkin. One wrong turn later I was stood with them at pitchside as the two teams walked out of the tunnel for the match, feeling very much the spare part that I clearly was.
Shortly after locating my seat, way up above the turf I’d been stood upon minutes earlier, Dwight Yorke scored the only goal of an ill-tempered game. Both sides were flying into tackles and sadly midfielder Simon Colisimo picked up a serious knee injury after a challenge from Andy Cole. Tiatto and team-mates reacted angrily to the challenge that the Aussie press claimed was deliberate – something strenuously denied by Cole to this day. He is just not that sort of player. That bad blood did little to detract from a memorable week in Australia and I’m jealous of those who will be there for United’s return visit to the Sydney ground – known now as the ANZ Stadium – later this month.
Clearly Australian soccer has changed immeasurably over the past 14 years, but two things will remain just as they were when the Treble winners went down under. Firstly, that David Moyes' men can expect a great reception from knowledgeable Reds in Sydney and also that the match will be far more competitive than the ‘friendly’ label implies. Both are reasons to look forward to the game.