Monday, March 21, 2011

Get Well Soon, Stu!

Stuart Holden, midfielder for the United States Men's National Team and Bolton Wanderers sustained a pretty serious injury during the match Saturday with my Manchester United. Unfortunately, he will be unable to play football for six months after a tackle by United's Jonny Evans (who saw a red card and was ejected from the match.)

I am an enormous fan of Stu Holden, and he won't be able to contribute to the USMNT's campaign for the Gold Cup. I am gutted for Stu, but I know I speak for all of my fellow United supporters in wishing Stu the best, and the speediest possible recovery.

Love you, Stu!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Manchester is My Heaven Pt III: The Football Club We Love - City Derby

I didn't cry.

After months of build-up and years of yearning, I didn't cry. I really and truly expected the tears to begin flowing as I caught my first caught glimpse of the home of my beloved football club, Old Trafford. But, as we drove up to the ground, as excited as I was, my eyes stayed dry.

As we walked up to Old Trafford, it was all a bit surreal. Was I really here? After seeing these famous sights on television for so long, was I actually close enough to touch it? Emotions were running rampant through me - excitement, awe, amazement - but I still didn't cry.

We arrived to the ground early enough to walk around and soak in the atmosphere. We were taking the tour in a few days, but nothing compares to Old Trafford on match day - especially when our opponents are Manchester City. The energy and anticipation emanating from the fans give the ground a lifeblood that you can feel pulsing all around you. Vibrancy and passion is in the very air there, and I have never felt anything like it before.

We wandered around a bit with our friends and saw the famous hallmarks of Old Trafford...the Trinity Statue, the Munich clock and memorial. We perused the stalls outside and I bought a scarf. Finally, it was the moment I'd been waiting for ...waiting for what seemed like my entire life. It was time to go in. We went through the little doors, through the tunnel and out into heaven. And still, as I actually entered the Theatre of Dreams, I didn't cry.

We sat in our seats in the South Stand, drinking up every last drop of the spirit of our surroundings. We gaped at the fabled Stretford End, and we gazed at the player's tunnel that would soon see our beloved club enter the pitch. I sat imagining all that this place had seen, and the history that lived within the seats, the walls, the people. It's hard to really describe what I felt. I was overwhelmed, I was overjoyed, and I couldn't believe it was all happening. To me, I was the luckiest girl in the world.

The players began to emerge from the tunnel for warm-ups. First our keepers, then the rest of the team. To see them out there, nonchalantly stretching and preparing, I was hard-pressed not to squeal in excitement. I was here!!! They were here!!! I closed my eyes and tried to preserve every facet of this memory in my head - the sights, the smells, the sounds. The excited fans, red seats and green grass; the aroma of pies and the whiff of chill in the air; and the roar of the crowd every time a player waved or clapped to the stands. I was in a dream - a living, breathing, heart-pounding dream. I should have wept with enormity of it all. But I didn't.

Finally, it was match time. It couldn't come soon enough as I was ready to burst! The players started coming out of the tunnel, led by our Captain Nemanja Vidic. Then came Edwin Van der Sar, Paul Scholes, John O'Shea, Wayne Rooney, Darren Fletcher, Chris Smalling, Ryan Giggs, Anderson, Patrice Evra, and Nani. Our team for the battle against Manchester City. They assembled in front of the dugouts, and then the moment came. The moment when all of the emotions I had inside finally broke free and the tears began. The moment I saw him walk on to the pitch. The moment I saw Sir Alex Ferguson.

And then the match began.

If I could only use one word to describe watching a match in person at Old Trafford it would be breathtaking. The cheers and chants from the Stretford End (and elsewhere, too, but they always started there!), the beautiful game being played on the pitch, the pure exhilaration of it all. It was everything I'd imagined it to be and so much more. We cheered and groaned alongside our 60,000 closest friends and I felt an incredible sense of belonging to Manchester United.

I include the word 'groan' but I should also add 'sigh with relief' to that. Manchester City created quite a few dangerous chances in the beginning part of the match and I found myself holding my breath many times. This was certainly not the City of earlier in the season that never attacked, only defended their goal from us like their very honor was housed there! But that didn't matter. Just before the half, it was Nani's left foot that made Old Trafford erupt into exuberant cheers and cries of joy! To be that close to it, to actually watch from only yards away was a moment of pure elation. I will never forget it.

Halftime came and went and the boys were back again. Everyone was jubilant, and the atmosphere was definitely one of celebration. We were ahead and playing to win. Unfortunately, City newbie Edin Dzeko, by way of Silva's back, leveled in the 68th minute. I think it was a shock to the boys in red. It was unexpected, and actually quite flattering to the game City had been playing. All that was running through my mind was that, if we lost, none of my friends would let me come back to Manchester again!

But then it came. THAT goal. It came from very humble beginnings, really. It was the 78th minute, and time was running out. As United marched down the field toward City's goal, it seemed our boys would be frustrated again as a cross from Nani hit a City player, Zabeleta, and sailed high, seemingly aimless, in to the box. The next few seconds were in slow motion for me. As I was watching the opposite goal from the South Stand, I saw Rooney's overhead kick by the millisecond. Tick, tick, tick - SMASH!!!! I stood, open-mouthed and in shock until I was swept up in the celebration by my husband and the fans seated around me. That image of Rooney (my son's hero, of course) has been burned into my brain so vividly that I can close my eyes and see it like it was two minutes ago. It was without a doubt the greatest goal Wayne Rooney has ever scored, and we were there to witness it.

As United went on to win the match 2-1, I already knew we had seen something special. On top of the pure bliss of just being at this sacred place, we had seen history in the making. And Manchester United had made sure that day was unforgettable, not just for us, but for the whole world.