'Everyone is just desperate to get back into it again'

Monday 19 July 2021 12:39

Sunday's pre-season friendly at Pride Park was the first chance for Manchester United fans to travel to a domestic away game in 500 days.

The Red Army were able to travel to the Europa League final in Gdansk in May, which took place at a neutral venue, but the last true away day was in early March 2020, when thousands descended on Derby in the FA Cup fourth round, where a 3-0 win was accompanied by a raucous atmosphere. That Sunday's 2-1 friendly win was back at Derby seems fitting.

We've had some incredible moments away from home during the COVID-19 pandemic – think victory against PSG at the Parc des Princes, that dramatic finale in Brighton, a thrashing of Real Sociedad, yet another away win at City or the Cavani-inspired comeback at Southampton – but each has been tinged with the sadness of what could have been for United's brilliant travelling support.

United fans Dips was at Pride Park on Sunday, having also been there 15 months ago for the FA Cup game.

It's been so long, it was just nice to be back in an away end again,” she said.

United's players applaud the travelling support on Sunday.

“I know it's a pre-season friendly and it doesn't mean anything, but just to sing again is good, and to have everyone around you.

“It was a really good atmosphere with so many people that you [regularly] see at aways, and you get to say hello to them – it's the social aspect of it.

“I remember the last Derby game. We were going and everyone was saying 'have you heard about this virus?' The concourse was rammed. For the last away game before 500 days off, that was a pretty good one.”

Before Sunday, this was the last United away end pre-pandemic, at Derby in March 2020.

Aside from seeing memorable footballing moments, the best part of following United away from home – whether in England or Europe – is seeing the same people week in, week out. It's the little nods across a crowded room, the quick hello en route to the toilet, the shared pint with someone you consider a mate but whose name you've never found out.

“That's exactly it,” Dips said.

“It's people you see week in, week out and everyone is just desperate to get back into it again properly.

“My little boy [Ryan] was absolutely buzzing because he hadn't been for a while, he was so excited. He said, 'Mummy, I don't think I remember the words' and next thing you know he's singing along, singing away, absolutely loving it.

“He was just excited to be back in the stadium after all this time. It's a long time. He's 10 years old, so that's a tenth of his life waiting to get back into a stadium again. I love it because he buzzes off it – he loves United, adores it. He was in his element.”

United have two more pre-season away games at QPR (Saturday 24 July) and Preston North End (Saturday 31 July) which gives fans a rare chance to enjoy pre-season friendlies away from home in the United Kingdom. One of the benefits of this year's enforced 'staycation' is having that opportunity, and the atmosphere at both games will no doubt be as good as it was at Derby on Sunday.