Last night I made an emotional return trip to Mecca in Manchester. I was born and bred in Manchester and for most of my life my religion has been Manchester United and my Mecca has been Old Trafford.
Our visit was courtesy of my wife's colleague's season tickets which he was unable to use on the night.
I am proud of the fact that unlike the other Manchester club mine has stayed on the same site.
The problem I have is that it has changed beyond recognition.
The match was mediocre and we beat West ham to progress to the next round of the FA Cup. I got most of my enjoyment from reminiscing about past times and trying to soak up what little atmosphere there was.
Modern stadiums are warmer and safer but they lack the atmosphere of old.
I spent many saturday afternoons stood on the terraces of the Stretford End having paid a couple of shillings to get in. Programmes were a shilling. Pies not much more and the Oxo was dreadful but we drank it to get warm.
Half-time meant going for a push though the crowd to get warm.
The tallest person in the ground always managed to stand directly in front of me, but this was quickly solved by a shove in the back at the first corner.
Most the match involved being pushed up and down the terraces whilst trying to keep upright.
At half-time a brass band played on the pitch and we all waited for the scores to appear on the Scoreboard using our programmes to decipher the code used.
Everybody in the old Stretford End sang without song sheets and we all wore simple red and white scarves.
The scarves and wooly hats were bought from the souvenir shop, which was a simple wooden shed, painted red, outside the stadium(mine was from the local market).
|The Old Stretford End (I'm the one with the red and white scarf)|
Life started in the cheapest Stretford End where you learnt the songs and all the swear words.
You got a little older and you moved to the less crowded Stretford Paddock on the corner where you still stood and sang but without the constant fear for life and limb.
Older still and you moved to the Scoreboard Paddock at the other end of the stadium. Here you stood with a bit more room and you only sang the old songs that you once sang on the Stretford End.
Older still and you stated to search for seats to save your tired legs and you rarely sang.
Some things remain unchanged.
The state of the pitch is still dreadful and there are still plenty of "experts" to eavesdrop on whilst they give Alex Ferguson and the referee the benefit of their wisdom. They even sing some of the songs that I used to sing.
I look forward to a return visit. I can no longer afford a season ticket. Neither can I do my impression of George Best as I scythe my way through the crowds at speed to get a good seat on the train home.
Yes, football has changed. The crowds are more middle than upper class and today's 70,000 crowd is no match in volume for the 60,000 of old.
But Old Trafford is still Mecca to me and I look forward to making my pilgrimages in the future.
|Happy times before high fences arrived.|