Opinion: Wembley scenes have me pining for home

Thursday 08 July 2021 12:34

Whether you're a fan of the England football team or not, there's been one undeniably great thing about watching their recent games at Wembley: the sight of thousands of fans going absolutely mad in the stands.

Like many Reds, I feel a bit conflicted when it comes to cheering on the Three Lions.
 
In recent decades, our players have been booed by England fans. They've been made scapegoats and vilified for the national team's failure to win major tournaments.
 
I felt uncomfortable about getting behind players like John Terry and Steven Gerrard, talismen for our avowed rivals. While they were great footballers, I spent every single week of the football season praying they would slip up. When the summer came around, I wasn't about to start chummily referring to them as 'JT' and 'Stevie G' and forgetting I was a Manchester United fan.

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But I'll admit that after England beat Germany 2-0 at Euro 2020, I went back and watched clips of Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane's goals several times.
 
Not because I was buzzing to be English, or because Southgate's men had finally beaten the Germans in a meaningful match.
 
Why then? Because the scenes in the stands behind the goals were magnificent. Bodies writhing, cascading down flights of stairs. Sheer pandemonium. Unrestrained collective joy. The stuff that differentiates real live football from the cold stuff we’ve been (necessarily) served up during the behind-closed-doors era.
 
And Wembley has emphatically reminded everyone that football is 10 times better when the public are participants.

 

Sadly, we’ve not seen that kind of thing at Old Trafford since the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread through the United Kingdom in March 2020.
 
That was, of course, the month we stopped going. Scott McTominay's goal against Man City – the last scored before a capacity M16 crowd – was one of the best moments I've experienced since Alex Ferguson retired. During the pandemic, I've regularly thought about it. I've regularly fantasised about enjoying more United moments like it.
 
I cannot wait to get back, and those blazing images from Wembley have me salivating.
United 2 City 0: The final three minutes Video

United 2 City 0: The final three minutes

Turn your sound up for the final three minutes of action, featuring Scott's goal and an electric atmosphere...

We're due to play Leeds on the opening weekend of the Premier League season. Imagine McTominay clips a couple home in the opening minutes, as he did last December when we mullered our Yorkshire rivals 6-2?
 
Imagine what the Scoreboard End would have looked like in those first five minutes, if it was packed – or even 75 per cent full as Wembley has been for the recent Euro 2020 games?
 
There is no better feeling as a United fan than being part of mass celebrations as the team you love sticks a few past your biggest enemies. Though, right now, I'd settle for watching just one goal against anyone. A deflected Fred effort will do – it doesn’t need to be van Persie against Villa.
 
Let’s not forget, while we've been away, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has continued to, slowly but surely, assemble a United team that has the potential to be seriously exciting.
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Goal of the Day: Van Persie v Villa

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Most fans have only seen Bruno Fernandes in the flesh on a handful of occasions. Only 10,000 or so have seen Edinson Cavani. My guess is that those present for his sublime long-range lob against Fulham are quite keen to repeat the experience.
 
If the club adds Jadon Sancho to those two, plus Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, you're looking at the prospect of some serious entertainment.
 
But that's by the by. I'd be happy to get back inside Old Trafford even if it meant a season of watching Bebe shank crosses in the second tier. 
 
Watching United on TV is good, but it's no substitute for the visceral, heart-pounding real thing that match-goers have grown accustomed to – even addicted to – over the years.

For now, I'll have to make do with watching on enviously as England take on Italy in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley on Sunday.
 
I wish England well, despite the conflicting emotions I mentioned earlier. I’ll never feel for England the same way I do about United, but their current team is one I really respect and admire.

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As Gary Neville mentioned on national television after the extra-time win over Denmark, Gareth Southgate is a superb leader, rich in humility, logic and compassion. It's a diverse team made up of players from all kinds of backgrounds and is truly reflective of our football culture and our society. Hopefully, this squad is a vision of our future, our real 'sunlit uplands': principled, united and tolerant.
 
And hopefully the scenes at Wembley are a taste of what’s to come this season at our beloved Old Trafford.

The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.

HOW TO WATCH UNITED'S PRE-SEASON GAMES

Fans can now buy tickets for the home fixtures against Brentford on 28 July and Everton on 7 August. All of the matches, including Derby County away on 18 July and QPR away on 24 July, will be shown live on MUTV.

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