Big coats, red devils and old-school chants: Reds at Salford away

Wednesday 01 November 2023 12:51

Central Manchester was populated by ghouls, witches, devils, cats and even David Beckhams on Tuesday evening — Halloween night — but a little further north, a thousand Reds found their way to the Peninsula Stadium for our Under-21s’ Papa Johns Trophy fixture against Salford City.

Two days after a disappointing derby defeat, winter darkness has appropriately settled in on Manchester and fans traipsing up to the very northern tip of Salford trudged along led by streetlights as the rain let up just in time for their arrival.

Whatever the weather, though, and no matter the last result, it remains a special feeling seeing the floodlights peek above the houses. A sight filled with hopes, dreams and expectations.

This was youth football, so the feeling is different for us Reds. But it’s still a cup competition, it’s still an opportunity to be with like-minded supporters, to catch up with old friends and to feel part of a community. There’s still that buzz of being at the game.

There weren’t quite so many Halloween costumes at the Peninsula, but two young United fans were dressed, appropriately, as red devils. The rest of the support? Big coats, starting to come out after their summer hibernation.

The two teams gather for a minute's applause in tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton.

These Papa JohnsTrophy games have generated a slightly different atmosphere over these last few seasons — different to first team games, that is. In essence, United’s core support gathers and relishes a more old-school style away.

Salford’s ground might have been tarted up over the last decade, but remains fairly small — a 5,000 capacity — and basic. A thousand Reds crammed into a thin terraced away end behind one of the goals. How often do you get a chance to watch United at a ground like that?

“If the Reds should play in Rome or Mandalay, we’ll be there,” so the song goes. And European trips have the glamour and sometimes the sun, but a proper English ground like this? The occasion has a charm to it.

The sound of clapping seats from the main stand preceded a minute’s applause for the late, great Sir Bobby Charlton, and a belting ‘One Bobby Charlton’ propelled into the sky from the United end. After kick-off, the modest Salford support were quiet. Quiet enough to hear the single, gruff cry of “When they’re playing in your town,” followed by the hundreds-strong cry of “get yourself to that football ground.”

An early goal from Shola Shoretire maintained the loud support and soon enough, Twelve Cantonas was getting its first airing of the winter. An earlier rendition than I can remember, certainly, on the last day of October!

But as one Red pointed out, fans were deprived of the opportunity to sing it before Christmas last year due to the winter World Cup, so we’re making up for lost time now.

That was one of an array of old chants, the subjects of whom included Vidic, Charlton, O’Shea, Rooney, Martinez, Park, Van Persie, Forlan, Busby, Best, Vieira and many, many more.

With demand for tickets in the English game higher than ever, it’s harder than ever to get to every United game, home or away. This was an opportunity for time-served Reds to catch up in a relaxed environment, with that buzz of a raw, old-school style match.

EFL Trophy highlights: Salford v United U21s Video

EFL Trophy highlights: Salford v United U21s

Watch the best moments + reaction from Travis Binnion, as the young Reds play out a thriller at the Peninsula Stadium…

United’s players contributed to that buzz. Shoretire’s first goal was a composed finish through bodies and two quick-fire goals after the break got us back in front. The young Reds came charging towards the supporters, fist-pumping, grinning, soaking it all in. The players love these games, as do the coaching staff, and the fans certainly do, too.

In the end, two late Salford penalties condemned United to defeat. The U21s still went for it, pushing hard in the final seconds despite the blow of conceding twice. In return, the noise persisted long after the final whistle until eventually the youngsters turned towards the dressing rooms for a debrief. They’ll have learned a lot.

United fans at the Peninsula Stadium.

“That’s our Wembley dream over,” one supporter said.

Well, let’s see what Erik ten Hag and Marc Skinner’s sides can deliver this year, but, yes, in this competition, that’s the Wembley dream over.

It’s been another fantastic experience for all involved and those age-old lyrics still ring true today.

“When they’re playing in your town, you must get to that football ground.”

Don’t you worry. United fans always will.