Two countries. Three cities. Four games. Eight days. It was a lot of football in a short amount of time, and that’s the beauty of the busy holiday period. It might be a nightmare for the clubs and players, but for supporters, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Being at Old Trafford on Boxing Day has always been a dream of ours, so when the fixture list was revealed and my wife and I saw our beloved Manchester United were at home that day as well as the next match, it was a no-brainer that we had to make the trip. We don’t have kids and now that I work for Energy FC, our vacations are primarily going to be in the winter during the offseason.
Our sojourn began with a weekend in NYC before we flew out to Manchester. It just so happened that United played Leicester City one of the days. We decided to visit Smithfield Hall, home of the famous New York Reds as well as the local Bayern Munich and Barcelona supporters. The latter were still celebrating that morning’s El Classico victory…six hours after the final whistle had blown.
Although the match ended with a gut-wrenching, late equalizer for the Foxes, it was still a fun atmosphere and a must-see spot for any United supporter who happens to be in Manhattan during a match. This was merely the appetizer to our trip anyway.
We landed in Manchester on Christmas morning – something I wouldn’t recommend because cab fares are double and almost nothing was open. We made it and arrived at Hotel Football, owned by the legendary Class of ’92, with a view of Old Trafford from our room. Because of the holiday, we had the entire forecourt of the stadium all to ourselves. It made for some pretty epic Christmas Day photos.
That afternoon, we met another American couple that decided to skip Christmas with their families to fulfill their lifelong dream. We ended up hanging out with them several times over the next week, including a night out on New Year’s Eve to George Best’s favorite pub, the Old Nag’s Head. They were great people and ended up getting engaged at Old Trafford. I can’t wait until our paths cross again. Football is the best about bringing people together.
Boxing Day started early for us. Hotel Football is also home to the Old Trafford Supporters Club, which is the closest place to grab a pint before you head to the Theatre of Dreams. This massive space with walls adorned with MUFC memorabilia and photos steadily began to fill, and the buzz started to grow as we got closer to kickoff.
About an hour before the match, we made the walk across the forecourt (with a couple thousand fans now occupying it and taking photos), to our turnstile, and then to our seats. There can’t be many feelings better than walking up the steps and emerging to see the greatest sporting venue in the world. 75,643 fans, the carpet-like pitch, and the banners honoring the numerous legends create a sight unlike any other.
We were sat in the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand for this one, and our seats were incredible – only about ten rows from the pitch. The only drawback, and I say that hesitantly, is that we were just a few rows in front of three thousand travelling Burnley supporters. Had United won comfortably, it wouldn’t have mattered as much, but Burnley were the better side during the first half and were rewarded with a two goal lead at the break. It was a shock, and the Clarets were in full voice much to our annoyance.
Despite their anti-United songs, I had to respect them. They never stopped singing, even when United came back and drew with two second half goals. Those that regularly watch the Premier League will know that the travelling fans are normally one of the best parts of every match. These are the fans that travel hundreds of miles and spend their hard-earned money for just 90 minutes of entertainment and lose their voices in the process.
We had a few days before the next United game, so we decided to take a train up to Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland. Thanks to Energy FC Community Relations Manager, OEFC coach, and native Glaswegian Danny Gibson, we were able to watch his beloved Rangers FC defeat Motherwell at the famous Ibrox Stadium. It was a bitter cold night, but that didn’t stop the respective supporters sections from singing and chanting all night for their teams.
We arrived back in Manchester two days later and dedicated the afternoon to taking a tour of Old Trafford and exploring the museum. This was our third trip to Manchester and our third time taking the tour. It’s absolutely brilliant and something that every United supporter should do if they ever find themselves in MCR. Seeing the hundreds of trophies, the dressing room where so many famous players have come and gone and walking down the player tunnel to the pitch is enough to give any Red goosebumps. We also happened to bump into United legend Paddy Crerand while walking around the ground, and this proved to be one of the highlights of the trip for sure.
The next day, United hosted Southampton, and we decided to visit a different pre-match pub, the Bishop Blaize. Located just down the street from Old Trafford, this spot is popular because Manchester United supporter Pete Boyle, leads the Red Army in the full repertoire of songs – many of which he wrote himself. There were easily three hundred of us packed into this place, singing our hearts out for five-or-so hours.
About an hour before kickoff, we walked down to OT and watched the Reds draw 0-0 with Southampton. It was disappointing to say the least, and a pretty boring match to be honest. The only real positive was our seats. We switched it up for this game and sat in the second tier of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand. We were pretty much on the halfway line, and there’s probably not a better vantage point in the entire stadium to be able to watch a football match – it’s just too bad we weren’t treated to a better contest.
There was no time to sulk, however. We had one more match to go, and this one was a little different. United made the short drive to Liverpool on New Year’s Day to take on Everton at Goodison Park. For those that don’t know, it’s incredibly difficult to get tickets in the away section for Premier League games, especially for clubs with a large following. We knew when planning the trip that we’d have to sit with the home fans, so I went on Stubhub and bought the two cheapest tickets available. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t realize they were in the Everton supporter section until Tommy Riley, Energy FC Director of Player Development and resident Scouser, informed me of my gaffe.
Still, we weren’t going to back out or go through the hassle of selling those tickets and finding others, so we put on some Energy FC gear, sat with the rowdiest home fans, and kept quiet as United put on a fantastic display to come away with a 2-0 win. The away fans were rocking as you'd expect. Goodison Park is old and outdated, but it’s full of character and characters alike. We heard just about every insult imaginable – some directed towards United and their fans, some directed towards the Everton players and manager.
Although we couldn’t celebrate at the time, we made the journey to Goodison on a coach with some of the lucky United supporters who were sitting in the away section. Once we got back on the bus and to relative safety, we were able to bask in the glory of finally seeing United pick up three points live and in person.
It was the trip of a lifetime, and one that we wish we could do all over again. For anyone wanting to catch a bunch of matches in a short period of time, I highly recommend visiting the U.K. during the busy holiday period. It’s a must for any football fan.
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