'United is tradition for us; it’s what we do'
There will be players, fans and journalists at Old Trafford from every corner of the world for our Premier League meeting with Liverpool this afternoon.
And there are some, like Tom and Dave Pye – the fans in the latest United Review handshake illustration – for whom the Theatre of Dreams is the nearest football pitch to their back garden.
The father-and-son pair have been coming to games together at our famous old stadium since 1982, when Tom (now aged 75) first brought Dave (now 47). Since 1984, when Dave acquired his ‘League Match Ticket Book’, they’ve attended virtually every home fixture. And their family’s history in the area goes back even further.
Tom grew up within a family of nine kids, and United was in the blood – and everywhere else, for that matter.
“Dad started going just after Munich, during 1958/59, and went as much as he could, including away games,” explains Dave.
“He was born in 1946, but his birthday is the same day Duncan Edwards died: 21 February. So his 12th birthday was tinged with sadness. Both my mum and dad are Old Trafford-born. The players lived in and around [the area] when Dad was young. Some even used the same doctors as him on Shrewsbury Street. He used to collect their autographs there – players like Alex Dawson and Bobby Charlton.”
“I went to Perth on pre-season the other year , which meant I’d seen United play on every habitable continent. I’m just missing Antarctica!” he jokes.
There was Tokyo for the Intercontinental Cup final in 1999, for example. Rio for the World Club Championship in 2000, too. But maybe the most remarkable trip was to Saudi Arabia in January 2008, when the Reds played a one-off, mid-season friendly against Al Hilal in Riyadh.
“I was dead proud to be in Saudi,” he admits. “We had to get in on business visas [due to restrictions]. A fan we knew in Hong Kong got us in as ‘Coca-Cola workers’. We couldn’t buy tickets, but [former chief executive] David Gill got us in the ground. We ran into him outside and he said: ‘You can’t come all this way and not get in the ground,’ and he got it sorted, to be fair to him.”
Even when Dave moved to Lincolnshire to cover Grimsby Town (he’s a football journalist by trade), he maintained most of his United commitments.
“I remember getting back from San Siro at 4am in the morning and I was straight on the road to Grimsby to start work at 9am. If I couldn’t get to the games, I’d be in the press box with United on the radio in one ear, getting some funny looks!”
Perhaps the most memorable trip was Moscow 2008, when the two Pyes went together in the hope of watching the Reds lift a third European Cup. But only one of them managed it.
“On the day of the game we went to see Lenin’s tomb and the Kremlin,” Dave begins. “We came out of Red Square and I just heard a thud behind me. Dad’s fallen over. He said straightaway: ‘I’ve broken it.’
“We got to hospital and the doctor said: ‘You’re not going to the game; you’ve broken your ankle. So he watched it in hospital surrounded by Russians who didn’t speak a word of English and wanted the telly off! As soon as the final penalty was taken, the guy behind him zapped it off!
“He had to have his leg reset at Wythenshawe Hospital when we got back, and got talking to an Accrington Stanley fan, who secretly wrote to United to tell them what had happened. He got a nice letter from Fergie and some presents, which was touching.
“It was great watching the Treble together in ’99, but Moscow wasn’t as happy as it could have been! I always tell everybody that John Terry wasn’t the only person that had a costly slip that night!”
Tom is well over the ankle now, thankfully, but finds it harder to make the short walk to Old Trafford these days, as he is living with prostate cancer.
“But he still loves the Reds as much as ever,” says Dave. “And it is that love that transferred to me all those years ago. I’m proud of being a Stretford lad that’s seen United all over the globe, but nothing beats the feeling I get when I FaceTime Dad from far-flung places to dissect the game.
“United is tradition for us; it’s what we do.”