Opinion: It's good to be back!
I can’t remember the last time I went 436 days without entering a stadium to watch a football match, but that was the strange situation myself and the vast majority of the 10,000 United fans lucky enough to get a ticket in the ballot for the Fulham game found ourselves in yesterday.
There was an element of trepidation approaching the ground, having waited for so long to experience it again.
The last time I’d been at Old Trafford, I was in my seat high in the East Stand, taking it all in as 72,000 Reds screamed in joy at the sight of Scott McTominay firing in that glorious last-gasp goal in the derby in March 2020, as 3,000 miserable Blues headed for the exit.
This time round, there would be 65,000 empty seats, no away fans, a 6pm kick-off and a designated stadium entry time of 4.45pm to avoid congestion. Would the long awaited reunion feel like a bit of a damp squib?
Not a bit of it. Taking my seat in the front row of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand an hour-and-a-quarter before k-o – a new experience for me, I have to confess – meant I was in prime position to watch the goalkeepers go through their intense, intricate warm-up routine with balls being pinged at De Gea and Henderson from all angles.
I heard an early roar from the Stretford End and looked over to see Ole finishing his pre-match interview and punching the air in jubilation at the sight of fans in the stands again. There was another huge cheer as the rest of the squad took to the pitch for their warm-ups.
The players looked around the ground as they jogged on, almost in disbelief, with McTominay notably beaming from ear-to-ear at the return of the Reds. Looking around myself, any fears that 10,000 fans might have been lost in the huge stadium proved unfounded, and when the chants started, from old favourites to new tunes formed in lockdown (‘Give it, give it, give it…’), it created a good old racket far preferable to the piped-in background noise we’d got used to over the last year.
Obviously there’s no doubt about the highlight of the match itself. The opportunity to see Edinson Cavani wearing a United shirt in the flesh for the first time was a thrill in itself, but the joy of watching him grasp the moment in such outrageous fashion was almost worth waiting 436 days for.
There was a sting in the tail with Fulham’s equaliser – and the curious deathly silence that greeted it, rather than the usual sound of a few thousand giddy away fans going nuts in the corner – but with little to actually play for in the context of the season, it did little to dampen the experience.
The main thing was – we were back. Roll on August.