Matchday experience at the Theatre of Dreams - Old Trafford
I still remember the first Manchester United game I watched, a 1-1 draw against Chelsea on the 8th of May 2004. I was 8 years old. I watched it on a small TV screen, in the living room of my flat in a quiet Mumbai suburb. There was something special about what I saw that day, not the football, not the result but the fans.
Incredible noise levels from a sea of red surrounding the pristine green turf at Old Trafford. I fell in love with football at that moment. Exactly 7 years later to the day, I would have the opportunity to attend the same game at Old Trafford, Manchester United vs Chelsea on the 8th of May 2011 (What a coincidence!).
Since then, I have watched 15 games over a span of five seasons and yet the matchday experience never fails to amaze me.
A matchday experience starts well before you enter the ground. For Manchester United, there is the iconic walk down Sir Matt Busby Way with thousands of fans. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve visited before, there is always a sense of excitement and anticipation amongst everyone. If there’s any sunshine, it’s a bonus.
Hundreds of eateries and pubs line the streets. People selling scarves, flags and t-shirts shout out their offers as Old Trafford’s East Stand comes into view.
On reaching the stadium, the first thing I like to do is buy the matchday programme. The matchday programme is a short magazine that looks into the game being played on that day. It has a message from the manager, a special feature and a sneak peak into the opponents and their squad.
It’s the best souvenir you can get from a game, a time capsule in many ways. You can pick up a programme purchased years ago and remind yourself of the circumstances surrounding the game.
Visiting the Munich Tunnel is one of the most inspiring parts of the visit. The Munich Tunnel, which runs the full length of the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand, documents the early successes of the infamous ‘Busby Babes’ in the early 1950s, the Munich air disaster in 1958 that killed 23 people including 8 first-team players and the remarkable recovery under Sir Matt Busby and Sir Bobby Charlton to win the European Cup just 10 years after the crash.
In many ways, the Munich Tunnel embodies the spirit of Manchester United. The ‘Busby Babes’ represent the club’s commitment towards developing young and talented footballers. The air disaster reminds everyone of the darkest chapter in the history of the club.
The subsequent recovery to win the European Cup in 1968 is an example of the club’s undying determination when it comes to success.
As you enter the stadium, everyone is buzzing. I remember the first time I saw the pitch at Old Trafford, it was surreal. Something you have seen on TV week after week, year after year is finally in front of your eyes.
The last part of the experience is the incredible atmosphere. The atmosphere is different depending on where you sit. In the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand, you get the opportunity to sit very close to the players
In the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, the largest stand in the stadium, you get a fantastic bird’s eye view of the game.
In the East Stand, you are behind the goal near the away fans who are always vocal and contribute to the atmosphere.
And finally, in the Stretford End, the fans are constantly singing and watch the entire game while standing on their feet. This is simply the best place to be for a derby.
When Manchester United win, over 70,000 people go home with a big smile on their face. Sometimes the team loses and the journey back home begins in disappointment. People often talk to each other on the train discussing the game and where it all went wrong.
It’s a great way to cope with defeat and find some closure. The culture that the fans have created and preserved for over a century is remarkable. It’s what makes Old Trafford the ‘Theatre of Dreams’.