At last, I finally made it to Old Trafford. Not for a football match, mind you, but for the Super League Grand Final between Leeds and Wigan.
We parked at nearby Old Trafford cricket ground which was a combination of the old, the new and the old ruined by the new (you need to see the buildings to know what I am on about but anyone who has walked through central Bristol will get it). A short walk away is the home of Manchester United, passing the Trafford pub and then left to the Wetherspoons pub, the Bishop Blaize, probably the worst and most expensive Spoons pub I have ever been in, with hugely inflated beer prices and a £1 admission fee. Even the back and forth banter of the mingling Wigan and Leeds fans failed to give the place any atmosphere whatsoever, nor did the £3.50 a pint Stowford Press cider.
Nearby are a few takeaways, including the inevitable Subway (yawn). Best of all, Lou Macari’s fish and chip shop. I did not see ‘wee’ Lou behind the counter, but I can commend his excellent chips. Down Sir Matt Busby way, passing the endless unofficial merchandise tat and to the ground itself. It looks huge from outside, albeit a little character-free, but once inside character-free is the norm, until you get into the viewing area. There are bars beneath each section through which you must pass to get to your seat, dingy dark and as small as they can get away with, selling a limited variety of fatty foods and one type of beer (Singha). Very unimpressive but I suppose needs must and they need to find Wayne Rooney’s million quid a month salary from somewhere.
The stadium itself is much more impressive. We were in the Sir Alex Ferguson stand, quite near the front, with the Stretford End to our right. I would imagine in the old days the Stretford End stood for something special, but now it’s merely a mountainous, albeit very smart, stand. When you are used to the Memorial Stadium, it’s somewhat palatial by comparison.
The seats are designed for slim people only. I am small cut above slim – about a stone, actually, and I was at the very limit of my comfort zone but the portly man behind me spread over the seats on either side of him.
As an experience, Old Trafford is decent one. It has a good atmosphere and despite its size – there were 75,000 in last night – it did feel like a proper football ground, rather than the new identikit stadia being built everywhere around the land. The catering and toilet facilities, at least in our part of the ground, were woeful, a million miles away from Premier League. I was actually very surprised how poor it was for one of the biggest clubs in the world, but I suspect the corporate facilities for the better off are much better.
This huge grounds are not for me. I don’t like Wembley, especially the new one, although I do like the Millennium Stadium. There is little to enjoy about the overall experience once they “Wow!” factor disappears within a minute of sitting down.