Nothing beats following United in Europe

Friday 16 September 2022 10:43

My eldest daughter railed at me for "going away on holiday" without her on the morning of my trip to Moldova.

When I explained that I was travelling to eastern Europe for work, her reasoning was that it could not be considered work if I was going on a plane. I shouldn't say it but, in all honesty, she really does have a point in this case.

Watching Manchester United play in Europe has always been a thrill and it's what brings a loyal, dedicated band of fans to whichever ground we play in. The sense of camaraderie among everyone and the sheer joy in following our team, particularly when it means visiting new cities and adding more locations to the list, helps you understand just why the club means so much to so many people.

You also grow to appreciate just how big a deal it is for United to be competing in these environments. Even people who do not seem ardent football followers approach you and ask questions and are enchanted by the idea that this event is taking place. It sincerely gives the impression, wherever you go, that your hosts are more than hospitable and provides such a positive impression of countries you perhaps would never normally visit.

Ever since the first time I watched Manchester United away from home in Europe, in 1996, it has been a real fascination of mine to see the Reds on foreign soil.

I am fortunate in being able to now travel with the club, but all credit must go the hardy Reds who, at great expense, both monetarily and in terms of time, make such incredible efforts to see their favourites play abroad. The Europa League this season has opened new avenues for those who love to explore the world on the back of following the Reds and Chisinau did not disappoint.

It is surely the case that it broadens horizons to show such devotion in supporting your team. Journeys – never straightforward when the destination is somewhere like Moldova – become unforgettable experiences and there is a rightly a badge of honour for those who ensure they are in the away end, cheering United on, in unfamiliar surroundings.

My first trip abroad to see United was as a supporter, when the company I worked for (ClubCall) kindly rewarded me with a trip to Austria to see Alex Ferguson’s team take on Rapid Vienna. There were many things I remember of the stay, not least getting lost in the snow when trying to find the hotel long after the final whistle, but the abiding memory is of the greatest save I have ever seen live in the flesh.

I felt privileged to have been there to witness Peter Schmeichel’s spellbinding stop from Rene Wagner, which has been lauded ever since, and only those present inside the stadium will know the sense of disbelief it generated.
Was Peter Schmeichel's save against Rapid Vienna in 1996 his best?

Since then (again as a fan, before working for the club) I’ve experienced the high of being at the Nou Camp in 1999 that will surely never be surpassed, although being in Moscow nine years later came close to it. There has also been the low of watching defeat to Barcelona in Rome. And then I joined the club and have been honoured to be able to travel in a working capacity. I found Stockholm to be a wonderful city and the Europa League triumph against Ajax was great to feel part of.

Yet trips into the unknown, like the one to Chisinau, are also of massive appeal, not only to me but a number of United supporters. Although I was at the airport waiting to board a flight to Austria for the LASK Linz game in 2020, my trip was sensibly cancelled by the club with the Covid-19 outbreak starting to gather pace. This means my last overseas match with United was what feels like ages ago, in 2019, against Astana.

I would never have had the opportunity to go to Kazakhstan, in the coldest temperatures I have ever endured, and it was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. There is always something uniquely special about being in a faraway place and seeing the Reds run out onto the pitch for the warm-up (needed there more than most places). Perhaps it's the sense that you are there with them; travelling all that way to back your team.
Highlights: Sheriff v United Video

Highlights: Sheriff v United

Watch the best bits of action from our trip to Chisinau...

This was the overriding sensation from being in Vienna all those years ago; it was miles and miles from Manchester and yet here we are, in one place, with a common goal. Of course, I am fortunate that my role at the club enables me to be part of such amazing journeys, even if any celebrations are much more muted from the press box!

And it has to be said that those who make their own efforts as travelling Reds in Europe deserve all the respect and plaudits they often receive. It is far from easy to get to those away ends, but watching United on the continent is a thrill that never leaves you and can quickly become an obsession.

Hopefully those 600 or so away fans enjoyed what Chisinau had to offer, because I leave the city with a very positive impression of the place and particularly its people. Meanwhile, a large percentage of those Reds present will already be firming up plans for Cyprus next month. Their dedication is not under-appreciated and I can fully understand why they do it, because there is nothing like going abroad with Manchester United that makes you feel more like a part of this special club.

Selfishly, I hope it's not another three years before my next trip, although I might need to backtrack on that earlier admission that they can sometimes feel like a holiday...

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.