Wide view of the pitch inside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium during Spurs 1 Manchester United 1

Why Spurs v United was a surreal experience

Saturday 20 June 2020 11:20

It’s the same season but a very different world. A world of disinfected corner flags, empty stadiums and face coverings.

One hundred and three days after Scott McTominay’s 30-yarder in the derby, Manchester United finally returned to Premier League action.

It was a surreal experience at Tottenham Hotspur’s awe-inspiring new home. The 'new normal' includes filling in a medical declaration form and taking a temperature test before being allowed in. The wearing of a face covering is mandatory once you enter the stadium bowl, although, thankfully, you’re allowed to take it off to commentate on the game!
The 'new normal' involves temperature checks for all media staff before entering the stadium.
After climbing the stairs, I got to see the inside of the stadium for the first time... what a place! Your eyes are immediately drawn to the south stand behind the goal - a single tier of 17,000 seats that goes up and up. The United fans would have been at the opposite end - how we missed their incredible, unconditional support.

The lower tier of the stadium is dressed with Spurs banners and flags. There are Zoom screens at either end showing the faces of the lucky few Tottenham fans who can feel part of the cold, clinical event. Staff at the North London club have done all they can to try and mitigate the lack of a crowd, but there simply is no substitute for people.
Into the lift and up to level five to reach our commentary position. The view is stunning. There is social distancing strictly enforced for commentators. Ben Thornley was virtually in a different postal district as he took his seat ‘next’ to me! First world problems I realise, but it does have an impact - often commentators work with a knowing glance or hand signal - which proves difficult when there’s such a gap.

However, there was a bigger problem than that: the media room was closed and that meant no grub! Now, I’ll let you into a secret - journalists covering Premier League games are very well looked after when it comes to food in the press room - Chelsea’s spread reminds you of a wedding reception and Arsenal have little individual ice cream pots. Sadly, there was no chance to sample Tottenham’s culinary delights!
Did you ever think disinfecting goalposts would be necessary in football?

Commentary with no crowd noise is difficult - there’s no handy button in the stadium to turn on the sound effects of 60,000 fans. It feels so odd to be screaming and shouting at the key incidents when you feel like you’re in a library. You half expect to be shushed at any moment!

The stadium is divided into three zones: red, amber and green. The red zone contains the tunnel and dressing rooms, which are totally off limits to media. We are in the amber zone. Access to pitchside is very limited but I was able to make my way down after the game to carry out some interviews.

Let's hope the next time United are in North London, Zoom fans will be a thing of the past...

The two-metre rule meant we needed to use a long boom mic to ensure social distance with the interviewees. The verdict from messrs Solskjaer, Fernandes and Shaw was that a point was the very least United's efforts deserved. The unbeaten run continues and on we go to the next game in this new world and a return to Old Trafford.

Walking away from the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, my main emotion was hope - hope that fans will be in attendance the next time the Reds are in this part of town. I also felt lucky - lucky to be one of the very few people actually allowed into the game. I know there are United fans who haven’t missed a game home or away for years… they will feel a little sad tonight.

Tunnel Insider: Spurs 1 United 1 Video

Tunnel Insider: Spurs 1 United 1

Listen in as Stewart Gardner takes us behind the scenes at Tottenham and interviews Ole, Luke and Bruno...

A number of people have told me that we’ll soon get used to watching football this way, but I hope we don’t. Fans are right at the heart of our great game. I can’t wait until the 'new normal' involves fans roaring on their heroes in person and when Zoom is remembered again as just a song by Fat Larry’s Band.

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

We are all United as the Reds go marching on! On sale now, get your 2019/20 kit while stocks last.