Opinion: It was great to be home
Give or take the odd weekend day, annual holidays and a three-month sabbatical last year, I’ve been at my desk at Old Trafford or the Aon Training Complex every day for the last 6,000 or so days, equating to 17 years of having the honour and privilege of working for our incredible club.
On 23 March 2020, that situation changed dramatically when lockdown was announced following the coronavirus outbreak and, until Wednesday evening, admiring Old Trafford from the forecourt has been the only thing most of us employees and fans have been able to do since then.
Thinking back to the last time we were inside the Theatre of Dreams, that dramatic, fantastic derby day on 8 March some 108 days ago, Old Trafford was at its utterly bouncing best. The noise when Scott McTominay curled home that injury-time finish to seal a vital victory in our quest for a top-four spot is a moment that will stay with me for a long time. Those are the kind of days you live for as a fan; the ‘I was there’ days.
Highlights: United 3 Sheffield United 0Video
Little did any of us who were inside the stadium that afternoon know it would be the last time for a while. And we don’t yet know when the Old Trafford faithful will be given the green light to come back to roar the team on. But in the strangest way, inside an empty OT on a balmy night for our first home game back for Project Restart against Sheffield United, you somehow felt the spirit of that support.
The club, dubbed the Lockdown Champions by some media organisations, has continued to work tirelessly to support the local community, employees (including Ole and the players) and the fans throughout this tough time for everyone, and, while our incredible supporters couldn’t be with the team for the clash with the Blades, yet again United did a truly brilliant job in making it feel like they were here.
An eye-catching mosaic of fan photos donned the first and second tiers of East Stand and the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and the Stretford End was adorned with a mixture of excited fan faces and red, white and black flags.
Of course, the atmosphere was strange, that’s going to happen when you go from 75,000 voices to zero, and it was definitely very surreal to have the bellows from the players and coaching staff in place of the usual terrace chants as the matchday soundtrack.
Thankfully, our players managed to channel the spirit of the United faithful and produce the kind of performance that every supporter will have relished, despite watching from afar. And Anthony Martial in this kind of goalscoring form is a sight to behold in person and on TV.
Hearing the final whistle sound followed by quiet ripples of applause from the few hundred workers (including me) in the stadium was definitely a contrast to the barrage of acclaim that would usually greet an excellent victory, but for now that will matter little to Ole and co. – edging three points closer to the top four was the target for now and the Reds more than got the job done.
Virtually every person I’ve spoken to during lockdown has reiterated that they will never take things for granted in life ever again. That’s definitely the case for me, even the smallest things like driving to OT every morning, it's something I’ve always cherished but, going forward, it will mean even more than it ever did.
One of the stand-out quotes spread across the Stretford End seats on Wednesday night read:
“Football is nothing without fans,” as said by the late, great Sir Matt Busby. It has never rung any truer than during these very strange times, but there is finally light at the end of the tunnel with this pandemic and every one of us will continue to look forward to that day when some 75,000 roaring Reds will be back inside our Theatre of Dreams once more.