Why I can't wait to be inside Old Trafford again
During the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020/21, there were two things I missed more than anything else in the world.
The first was going round to my mum and dad's house. It's where I grew up, where I have many of my happiest memories, so it pained me not to step inside it for months.
The second thing was going to Old Trafford. For pretty much the same reasons. I've done plenty of growing up at Old Trafford over the years, since I went to my first game in 1994 as an eight-year-old. And happy memories? Too many to mention...
I work for Manchester United, and I live within spitting distance of the Stretford End, so I'm always close to the stadium. I've even been in it a couple of times since the pandemic hit the UK, and football went behind closed doors. Once to get my laptop repaired, and once to work in the press box as United beat Burnley 3-1.
But that didn't satisfy the cravings; that ache in my heart.
Old Trafford is only Old Trafford when it's full, and there are 70,000-odd people thronging Warwick Road in anticipation of watching Matt Busby's Aces.
That's why the upcoming friendlies fill me with excitement. Okay, the first competitive match of the season, Leeds United on 14 August, is the big one, but because of the circumstances that have plagued us for the last 16 months or so, the chance to watch United in any proper game at OT is one I'm simply not willing to let pass by.
Brentford and Everton? I'd be there if United were taking on Gorse Hill Under-11s.
Of course, some fans were in attendance for the Fulham game towards the end of last season, but that was a crowd restricted to around 10,000. The Brentford game (28 July, kick-off 20:00 BST) will see a much bigger attendance and, more importantly, another huge step towards what we hope will soon be 'normality' for M16.
Whatever your views on friendlies, the visit of the Bees will be a special occasion.
It's about watching United and seeing the team up close again, obviously. But because I've not been to Old Trafford for a regular match for so many months – after decades of going to every home game – this will be more akin to having part of my soul and identity popped back into place. Thousands more will feel pretty much the same.
It's not just about what score the game is, or how United have played. It's about ritual, about community, about history.
When I go to that stadium, I'm not just connecting with United, the city I live in and a huge, diverse, global fanbase... I'm touching the past and the future.
One of my great-grandfathers was a steward here during the 1930s. My grandfather went from the 1950s to the 1970s. My dad from 1963 until 2003. I've been going to every home game since that year, when I inherited his season ticket. I hope my son, who celebrated his first birthday in July, will one day be following us down that corridor of tradition.
That might not mean anything to you, but it means plenty to me. And many other families have their own stories. Without Old Trafford in our lives, there's been a big emotional void.
Just being in that rightful place, at the back of the Stretford End's first tier, means something that words and language will never be able to comprehensively articulate. It's one of the places I belong.
And now, we're just days away from the beginning of the comeback.
So bring on Brentford, Everton and then, God willing, all the rest. I hope and pray that the season to come is one we'll all be able to attend safely, as one. United.
The team needs it; we all need it. Old Trafford is so special, but only when we're all in it together.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.