Manchester United 4 Reading 0 (7th Jan 2017)
Queuing up outside the turnstiles, a steward who’d just commented to me about people walking through the queues rather than walking round, was approached be woman. “Have you got the time?” she asked. “Yes, love, but I don’t have the energy” came the quip back. It sort of went downhill from there.
Not being able to face the prospect of having to get up at half six on a Saturday morning for the three and a half hour drive up, I’d stayed overnight in Altrincham, with the plan also being to dash back to watch Altrincham v Gloucester after the Reading game. I did consider having a bit of a night out in Altrincham, but Altrincham appeared to be shut, so I took the metro into Manchester instead. The metro tram, whose stops are announced by the most bored sounding woman in Greater Manchester, dropped me off very near a lively nightlife district. Sadly, I went looking in a different direction, and it took me ages to find a reasonable pub that was still doing food. I sat there, looking at the dark gloomy Manchester drizzle out of the window, with “Club Tropicana” playing out of the pub’s speakers.
Reading’s previous game had been abandoned due to fog, so it was a little troubling to wake and see thick fog everywhere. Coming in on the tram, I’d planned to have a look at Old Trafford Cricket Ground first. The tram stop is right next to the cricket ground, and although I could get inside easy enough, seeing the far side clearly was much trickier.
There aren’t many other sights in the immediate vicinity, with Old Trafford (the football ground) being in the middle of the biggest industrial estate in Europe. The only cobbles and “Coronation Street houses” you’ll find round this way are, funnily enough, the cobbles on Coronation Street itself, with the set being about a mile up the road at the ITV studios, sat directly across the canal from the new BBC Centre.
By the time I’d returned from a trendy-looking pub next to the BBC, the fog was lifting, although not quite gone. There was no hint of it once inside Old Trafford though.
It wasn’t my first visit to Old Trafford. My only other visit though, way back in 1989, was so long ago that I stood on wooden terracing, in the corner between the Stretford End and the main stand. Now, the ground has completely changed, the biggest club ground in the country, yet oddly, it didn’t look that big.
It certainly looked big, but it’s not really a venue that looks like it holds nearly 76,000. Maybe it’s the fact that the low roof restricts the view of much of the ground, or maybe it’s because it’s been so so often on TV, that there’s nothing of a surprise about it, but it’s not one that makes you go “wow” when you walk through the tunnel. The millions of Manchester United fans worldwide might have a different opinion.
Perhaps a clue as to why it doesn’t look as big as you’d think a 76,000 stadium should look came where I got to my seat, and realised the stand appeared to have been designed for people who had the build of Charles Hawtrey. It was “cosy” to say the least.
I was sat – or stood to be exact, as the whole end stood for the entire game – to a guy who knew me from the days when I was an away regular. Embarrassingly I couldn’t quite place him, but people do change a bit in 25 years. I was also in the row behind a contender for Reading’s angriest fan, and to be fair, he did have quite a bit to be angry about.
I fully expected Reading to lose by three or four goals anyway, as even with the changes Mourinho made to his United line-up, the team was far superior to anything Reading face in The Championship. Saying that though, I still expected them to have to work for their goals. Instead, it was 20 minutes of “rabbit in the headlights” football, with Reading doing almost nothing to stem wave after wave of red-shirted attacks. 0-2 after 15 minutes, I was hoping that fog would descend after all. My Angry-and-shouty in front wasn’t having his favourite afternoon.
Reading did eventually turn up, aided no doubt by Manchester United easing up with the job effectively being done already. Reading managed to get their passing game going to the extent that they “won” possession 55-45, but while possession might be nine tenths of the law, it’s only one tenth of football, and United were able to add two more goals to give the scoreline a fairer indication of the difference in ability. True, one was an absolute gift by keeper Ali Al-Habsi, which effectively ended any fears that he’d be poached away in the January transfer window, but they also missed some very good chances.
It could have been better, but I suppose it could have been a lot worse. All that was left was for me to depart a minute into the sympathetic two minutes of added time, to catch that tram to Altrincham. At least there, I wouldn’t worry about four goals or more going into either net.