Manchester United Pilgrimage

Trip Start Oct 26, 2007
Trip End Oct 29, 2007

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Flag of United Kingdom  ,
Saturday, August 30, 2008

Transit at Dubai
So much that I heard about Dubai International Airport, it turns out to be a disappointment. It was very crowded and chaotic.
I arrived at around 6:30am, and right out of the plane I was stuck at the security check point. A huge flock of confused passengers were just trying to get to their connecting flights, but all were forced through just 4 scanning points for the security check. You could image how messy it was. Just wonder if this was caused by the added security measures or just its way of greeting people. And hell was the scanner sensitive! I had to remove my shoes, belt, watch and rings. Just glad I didn't wear any metal stubbed underwear.
Thirty minutes later, I finally passed it! And after taking the flight of steps down to the departure hall, I approached the information counter to check my connecting flight's gate. The lady at the counter gently punched something on the keyboard and uttered "EK017 at gate 17". All these whiles with her eyes staring in the air, not a smile, not even a muscle moved on her face! I actually wondered did she just do a mimic!
The next adventure was getting to the toilet! In order to get to the toilet directed by the restroom sign, I had to negotiate a sea of travelers for about 200m. I really meant negotiate! The last time I had such an experience moving in between peoples was going to lunch at Pacific Place in Hong Kong! And this was also the first time I saw queue forming in a men toilet! I admit I was rather dumb to follow the crowd and joined the queue. After queuing for 10 minutes, I found out the regular urinals were behind a wall, and I was joining the queue for the cubicles. Was I just being a Lemming, or was it something here that men don't use urinals?
If the officers of Changi Airport are worried about the competition from Dubai, well, I think you guys can relax for now. "EK017 at gate 17"? I'm off to Manchester.
After about 13 hours of flying and 2 hours in transit, I arrived at Manchester around 12:30pm. The Manchester Airport was definitely a much better airport than Dubai. Maybe it was not a transits hub like Dubai; at least I got around the airport easily and found my way to the pick up point offered by Marriott Manchester Airport hotel.
After settling at the hotel, I headed straight for Old Trafford. One thing that I noticed about Manchester was red bricks used for their buildings, giving it a red industrial like look. After getting off the Metro Link station, it was about a kilometer walk to the sacred ground. As I got closer to the stadium, the more excited it was. First I noticed graffiti on the way slamming the Glazers. Next I saw the roof structure of the stadium, and then Sir Matt Busby Way. And the East Stand of Old Trafford was right in front of me!
I crossed the road to take a shot of the East Stand with the Sir Matt Busby Stature. And when I look down on the pavement, I noticed that the brick on the pavement bears the name of some Manchester United players and staff. I saw David Beckham, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, and even Sir Alex Ferguson.
Next, I proceed to the Manchester United Museum and joined the Tour of the Stadium. The tour itself cost 10 pounds, but this tour was included in my match day package. The starting point of the tour was at the North Stand. When I stepped onto the Old Trafford ground, no word could describe how I felt. I watched the match on TV every week, and saw the stadium. But today, it was no longer inside a 42" box, it was real! I was in it, I was awed. Of course, without missing a beat my camera was out snapping away. This had to be one of my happiest days. The stadium tour also brought me to the players' lounge, and the more interesting players' dressing room. The tour guide said the players always sat on the same spot in the dressing room out of superstitious! These English! I got the chance to experience how was it like to be a player waiting in the tunnel to walk on the pitch, as the tour guide simulated the noise from the fans with some audio recording. And I also got the opportunity to sit on Sir Alex Ferguson's seat at the dug out. Naturally the tour ended at the Mega Store, where else to ensure tourist like me would spend a fortune there? And I did! I bought quite a number of shirts and momentos, and it all added up to about S$800! This was the first time I spent such an amount of money on apparel in a single store, contributing to the salary of Wayne Rooney in the process.
Match Day
"Okay, today is the day!", the reason that I was here, the reason I was more than 9000 miles away from home, and the reason I left my wife and kids just to see my first love! 27th October 2007.
I woke up early today, 5am to be precise, to a call from Singapore trying to sell me some insurances. After hanging up, I was not able to sleep again. Of course, it was 11am already in Singapore.
When I opened my room door, right outside was a Man United fan, all dressed up for the big day. I felt kind of ashamed as nothing on me shouted "I am a fan".
I could not help thinking of April while having breakfast at the hotel. Every time we traveled, she always insisted of having wholesome meals and getting bottled water, otherwise she would feel unfulfilled and uneasy. The buffet breakfast served was typical English - sausage, bacon, eggs, fruits, yogurt, corn flakes and more. That was definitely a wholesome meal to me, though I was not sure if she would agree. She got to be here.
I checked out of Marriott early, and moved to Days Hotel in the center of the city. I saw several fans sited at the Days Hotel lobby and it only added to my excitement of what would be happening. After dropping off my luggage, I headed to Old Trafford.
It was about 10.30am when I arrived at the ground. It was about 4 hours before kick off, but the ground was buzzing already. Stalls touting shirts and scarves were already up, burgers and chips hawkers were already having their stove blazing. Fans were already all over the place. I walked a full round around the stadium, passing by the South Stand, the West Stand, North Stand, and then the East Stand. And I returned to the West End to wait eagerly for the arrival of the team bus, together with hundred of other fans.
After waiting for half an hour, a limousine arrived and out came the Glazers brother. Not very friendly, did not turn around to smile. Who could blame the fans who hated them? The number of waiting fans were steadily increased by the minute. Another half hour passed, and the team bus finally arrived. Everyone was excited, and only was to be disappointed. The team bus stopped right in front of the gate, and the fans could hardly get a glimpse of the players as they got out of the bus and straight into the stadium. I only saw Andersen and Rio turned around. Need better PR! And for the record, this was the first time I ever waited for more than an hour just to act like a fan. A little disappointed, but hey, what the hell!
I walked back to the East Stand and got myself a tray of chips from a hawker stall. I sat by the side fencing and watched the fans streaming in. The entire stretch of Sir Matt Busby Way was closed to traffic, it was like a carnival, and almost everyone was in red (except me). Police was on their horses to control the crowd.  The turnstile into the ground was opened, and it was time.
I was a little disappointed to find that my seat was far up the East Stand. Although the view was not blocked, the players on the field were a little small. It dawned on me how much money was flowing from the game. Think about it, I paid about 139 pound for the match tickets and was sitting high up. How much would it cost for those seats in front of the pitch, next to the dug out? Assuming the average price for the match ticket was 140 pounds. Based on the attendance for the day (about 75,000), that would be 10.5 millions pound or S$31.5 millions! Mind you, that excluded the in-take from merchandises and foods, and other sponsorships and TV deals. No wonder every Dick with a couple of hundred millions pounds to spare was looking to buy an English football club. Mrs Lee-Ho, are you listening?
The stadium started to fill up about an hour before the kickoff. And I noticed a lot of travelers to the game as well; they were all snapping pictures of themselves in the stadium. Something I noticed that the local fan did not do. And about half hour before kickoff, the players were out on the pitch warming up. This was definitely a scene that you would not see on TV. After all why would Tiger Beer willing to sponsor 30 minutes of air time to watch players skipping around and not jumping on each other?
Manchester United 4 Middleborough 1
3.00pm. The match started with Manchester United attacking the East Stand side of the pitch. And before I even knew it, 1-0 to Manchester United! Nani took a 30 yards shot and it flew right into the top right corner beyond the reach of Mark Schwazer on the 3rd minute! I was thinking to myself "This is it! They are just doing it for me!" But before the hysteria died down from the first goal, Middleborough equalized! And now the Boro fans turn to go hysterical!
A lot of attacking plays from Manchester United, and around the 28 minutes, Wayne Rooney netted the second goal. 2-1. And I finally got to understand what the fans were really chanting - it was "Rooney, Rooney". I never got it clearly on the TV. And the other chant that I heard frequently on TV but not too clear was "United, United". It had been a long time since I attended a football match in a stadium. Seeing the rivalry between the opposing fans, just reminded me of those days when Singapore was still playing in the Malaysia Cup. Every action on the pitch was immediately translated into the fans chanting and shouting. It was good to belong to something. Soon it was half time.
The second half returned with equal amount of attacking flair on the pitch and opposing fans singing. And pretty quickly, Wayne Rooney was running riot in Middleborough box and did a back pass for Carlos Tevez to slam in the third goal. 3-1! That's a good ROI for this trip. The downside of it was this goal was scored on the other side of the pitch where the view was a little far and small. Was I missing TV replay?
On the 80th minute, the match was sealed. Carlo Tevez made it 4-1 to Man United after Mark Schwazer was not able to hold onto a close range strike, and the ball bounce across his back and the line. Full time. Yes, fourth consecutive matches that Man United scored four.
Watching the match at Old Trafford was really different from watching it on TV. The match was definitely faster than you saw on TV. And there were always the fan actions that you can count on. The things that were missing of course were the replays and the commentator spurning nonsense. Nevertheless, I would do this again. It was not really about which is better, watching live on TV or in stadium. It was about being Manchester United, something that I supported for years and seeing it live. And if I do become a Dick with a few hundreds millions pound to spare, I would do another leverage buyout from the Glazers! I left Old Trafford a happy person.
I returned to Manchester city and had my first Fish and Chips meal on this trip. And that had to be the cheapest food around. It was 2 pound.
Manchester City
The next morning, I woke up early again. This time was earlier not because of another insurance sales call, but because of the end of daylight saving. Most of the countries in the northern hemisphere adjusted the time an hour forward in the summer due to the longer day. 28th October was the end of summer, and the clocks were to be turned back an hour. I woke up around 6:30am, but it was 5:30am actually.
Since I was rushing yesterday to see Manchester United play, I did not pay much attention to the hotel and the surrounding areas until today. This hotel was located within the Manchester University campus. Across the street was the administration building and the Paper Science building. Apart from the architecture, it was quite similar to the SMU campus around my workplac in Waterloo Street. But this place gave me a "more campus feel" compared to SMU, as SMU protrayed a more metropolistic image.
The design of the Days Hotel also resembled that of a student hostel, the room, the surrounding, and the conference rooms and, of course, the guests. This had brought back some good memories I had when I was student. The time I had while staying on campus in NUS and later in Lund University in Sweden. As I was writing this in my hotel room, staring out through the window watching students walking around, I had this feeling that I was doing my term assignment.
It was raining in the morning, but I still took a walk around the city. My first stop was the Manchester Art Gallery. This gallery was about 15 minutes walk from the hotel, and most importantly it was free! Not a very heavy art gallery likes the Rik Museum in Amsterdam. It showcased the works of Manchester based artists. I was particularly attracted to the work of Jo Roberts. Her works were mainly hand sketches of the goal of peoples in Manchester. She interviewed footballers like Rio Ferdinand, Georgios Samara, and also staffs from the 2 football clubs and Manchester Evening News to understand what their goals were and then put it on sketches that were no bigger than an A5 sized paper. Perhaps it was the pondering of my personal goals that got me interested in her works. I had also left my mark in the museum by writing a brief message of what I think of Manchester on one of the exhibit wall. Curious of what I had written? Visit the museum. From the museum, I could not help to conclude that the greatest thing that came of modern Manchester had to be football.
The rain had stopped. Nest, I took a walk around the city, walked past the City Hall, a gothic building that was typical English. And I got past Albert Square as well. And then I turned into Market Street where most of the high street shoppings were. And there was the Manchester Wheel. I really do not know what so great about having a wheel. It is almost an in thing now for any so called chic city to build a wheel. London started it, Taipei has one, and so does Vienna, Singapore building one, and Shanghai are planning for the largest wheel on earth. It was the tallest tower not too long ago. And then every other city started to build the highest building until Dubai conquered it all. Now it is the wheel, what's next? The largest toilet bowl?
Around the corner of the Manchester Wheel was the Manchester Cathedral. This cathedral became famous recently thanks to Sony Play Station latest gaming title featuring first person shooting inside the Cathedral. Images of the cathedral were taken and were used as the backdrop of the game. Naturally there was a big fuss about it until the cardinal accepted that it was alright for Sony to do so and in the process making Manchester Cathedral the best known in England! Yap, free advertising? What was the problem?
After deciding that there was really nothing for me to shop, I started to walk back toward Piccadilly station to have my lunch of fish and chips again. I stopped by a modern upscale residential development called the Paradise Wharf. It was some red brick apartments built along a refurbished canal, it looked quite cool. If I could have a few hundreds millions pound to spare, I would develop something like that along Tampines canal too.
I got back to the hotel and saw Liverpool and Arsenal played, they drew 1-1. And Arsenal was back onto the top of Premier League, and would be playing Manchester United next Saturday. I could not wait.
Today would be the last day for this Manchester trip. I woke up early again, though not as early as the previous 2 days. I was watching a program on the TV last night titled "Confession of a Call Girl"; I think it was the UK version of Sex and the City. It had some sex scenes, but mainly revolved around the same plot of friendship, men, etc.
I walked across the hotel to this Retro Bar for breakfast. The best value meal I had in this entire trip. For 2 pounds, I had a cup of tea, and sausage, 2 pieces of bacons, 2 slices of toasted bread with butter, 1 fried egg and a lot of baked beans.
I still had 11 hours to spare before the flight home, though I wished I had a few hundred millions pound to spare instead. I walked to the G-Mex exhibit center area, and from there decided to check out the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). One good thing about Manchester was that the museums were mostly free of charge! Good for a miser traveler. The MOSI showcased the scientists based in Manchester since early 1800s and the discoveries they had made, and it also showcased the impact of technology to the people of Manchester since then. Looking at the discoveries made and the timeline, it was quite clear that the British had their golden years in the 1800s. By the time the Second World War ended, the Americans had taken over. Not much discoveries were made related to Manchester since. Perhaps the next golden era would belong to Singapore soon.
It was only about noon time when I was done with MOSI. I walked down to the G-Mex metro link and headed toward Old Trafford again. This time, I would take my time to walk through the entire Manchester United Museum. Okay, I was visiting Old Trafford for the 3rd time in as many days, but this was the reason I was here!
The 1st display on exhibit was of course the trophies cabinet. The number of trophies that Manchester United won was indeed countless. The Carling Premier League Trophy was retained after we won it 3 times in a row from 2001 to 2003. The following section displays the history of Manchester United since the late 1800s when it was known as the Newton Health. An area was dedicated to the Munich Air Disaster on February 6th 1958, when half of Sir Matt Busby Babes perished. There was also a section recounting the legends of Manchester United and the keepers that United had. And of course, there was the showcase on the 1999 treble winning year. In fact, of the 3 museum I visited, this was the one that I spent the most time in and I was most interested with. For the 6.50 pound I paid for this museum visit, I got a certificate for it as well!
After touring the museum for 2 hours, I finally had to say good bye to Old Trafford. And I headed back to the hotel to pick up my luggage, before proceeding to the airport for my flight home.
Returned to Dubai
The return transit at Dubai was much smoother. The security check was relatively fast compared to the out going flight. Perhaps it was because I was ahead of the other passengers, but it was still crowded.
I checked my flight boarding gate at information counter again. Though the lady was different from the last one I encountered, the experience was consistent! I could only conclude that the training they attended must have something to do with it. As for the toilet, the queue for the cubicles was still there, of course, I was no lemming this time round.
The interesting experience of Dubai airport this round was the boarding of the plane. For my flight, there was no aero-bridge. We were transported to the aircraft by bus. Yes, by bus! When was the last time I had to take a bus? Well, that was more than 10 years ago at Hong Kong old Kai Teck airport.
However this short bus ride opened my eyes to Dubai airport and I finally understood the buzz about them. First, the airport was huge, really huge. I walked at least a kilometer inside the terminal to reach the end of the building. And the bus ride journey was at least 2-3km. And there were a lot of constructions to expand the airport. Second, and more frightening, the fleet of aircrafts owned by Emirates Airline! It was huge too! Just an eyeball count, there were easily 40-50 Boeing 777 parked in neat row! What about those in the air? If size matters in competition, then they are really gearing for it. I bet there are a lot of Dicks here that have many hundreds million pounds to spare too.
Okay, officers at Changi, you can panic now.
Theater of Dream
This trip was short, but focused. I am really happy that I was here; I really want to see Manchester United live and be part of the team I supported. No doubt it took some financial muscle to do this, but my dream was fulfilled. And I would do it again. And the next time I would bring my children and wife to share my joys of living my dream in the Theater of Dreams with them. Yes, more financial muscles are needed.
To be honest, I find the city of Manchester a little dull. Maybe it is my biased against cities or that I did not really have a chance to immerse myself to the city beat. However, the city did bring back some good memories for me when I was a student. Seeing the students getting around the city had me missed those carefree days. I know I have to move forward, otherwise I would not be able to come back to see Manchester United again.
"United, United"
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