Friday, 20 July 2012

One Love - living the dream on United's tour of South Africa

By Natanael Pillay

The 25th June 2012 will always hold a special place in my heart; it was the day that I received my golden ticket. No, this wasn’t a ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory; although Scholes would make an awesome oompa loompa, this was the ticket to my El Dorado, my place of dreams; my ticket to watch Manchester United play AmaZulu in a preseason friendly.

I would have to wait a little over 3 weeks to get the chance to watch United play, but this only served to allow my excitement to grow. Not even the daunting task of having a presentation on match day could put me down. Once the presentation had been complete, there was no stopping me.

I arrived at the stadium a good 4 hours before the match could begin. I was surprised to see that there was already a big group of people already there, and that they too were as excited as I was. A few drinks later and I was ready to enter the stadium, and what a stadium it was.

As the crowd grew, the expectation also grew exponentially; every appearance of a Manchester United player brought rapturous applause. The excitement grew into a carnival atmosphere as the stadium grew close to its 51,000 capacity. A small group of supporters, including myself, had stationed ourselves near the tunnel and then broke into a little chorus of “There’s only one Sir Alex”.

It took a few hours, but a few players emerged from the tunnel. Even though it was the unfashionable Ben Amos and Sam Johnstone, the crowd appreciated all the Manchester United players.  Not too long after, the rest of the team came galloping onto the field and began their warm ups. Some were conventional, and others were just plain funny.

After the warm ups was complete, the stadium held its breath for the moment that we all had been waiting for; it was almost time for the match to begin. As the team walked out, I suddenly realised why supporters go to matches. We live in a digital world where we can watch the matches on TV or on live streams, but nothing beats the feeling of being at the match. Actually seeing the players a few metres in front of you; the supporters feel the same joy or pain that you feel; it’s the tension, the abuse thrown at linesman and the all-round atmosphere that cannot be recreated at home.

The actual moment of brilliance that brings you to your feet and sends the crowd into delirium is just unbelievable. There were a few moments like this such as Jessie Lingard slipping his way through the AmaZulu midfield, Dimitar Berbatov’s sumptuous volley, Davide Petrucci’s rasping shot, and even Macheda’s brilliantly taken goal.

For everyone else, the game was always about Kagawa and his debut. This was highlighted by the reception he received. It sent chills down my spine as you could feel the excitement just bursting out of people. Even though Kagawa was only on the field for a matter of minutes, it was as if every step he took made the crowd scream louder and louder and caused the vuvuzelas to be blown louder and louder; much to my annoyance.

The reason I said “for everyone else” was that I was more excited to see someone else play for United. He wasn’t a youngster by any stretch of the imagination and isn’t a typical modern day player. He is Paul Scholes, our very own Ginger Prince. The day Scholes retired was the day I realised I would never watch him in a live game, but his subsequent reversal of his decision and United’s tour of South Africa gave me the chance to watch one of my favourite players in the flesh. I didn’t miss the chance to gaze upon this United legend, as I took in every shimmy, every movement and every crisply placed pass.

For those living in the UK, this was a meaningless pre-season game; a way for United to increase their fan base. In all honesty, it was, but for me it was a chance to watch the team I’ve supported ever since I was a youngster, and it was one of the best days of my life. It didn’t matter that there were mainly youth team players in the team, as I wanted to watch Manchester United, the club. The players present didn’t really have a bearing on how excited I was for the game.

Many people started leaving early so they could avoid the traffic, but I made sure I stayed till the end. It wasn’t so I could get my money’s worth, but just so that I could take in every second of the match. So, this is my experience and I hope you enjoyed reading about it. Hopefully this will be the start of my match going days, maybe even at Old Trafford in the not so distant future. To those who have the honour of doing it week in week out, treasure it as I would do anything to do what you do. So go to the United matches with pride, and keep the red flag flying high!

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