Thanks to the incredible generosity of an old friend, I am off to Manchester today to watch the rugby. Not, I hasten to add, the game that’s going on at the Etihad Stadium where Uruguay take on the minnows of England to decide pretty well nothing. Instead, I’m off to the Grand Final.
I am not sure who had the brilliant idea of holding two big rugby games in the same city on the same day, so we are giving ourselves seven hours to make the journey from Bristol to Old Trafford to see Wigan Warriors play Leeds Rhinos. Normally, the journey would take just over three hours, but this one might just take a little longer. Most union supporters will be coming up from the soft south, but most league fans will already be there so hopefully it won’t be a major issue. And if we do get there ridiculously early, the good news is that I am not the designated driver so I will not be confined to soft drinks today.
This is the first time I have been to Old Trafford. We have seats in the Sir Alex Ferguson stand, only two rows from the pitch, right on halfway line, so do look out for me. I’ll be the middle aged bloke with the replica Wigan shirt. I should be easy enough to spot.
I do love big league occasions. A few years ago, I went to the Challenge Cup final at Wembley and I was surprised to find that there were not just supporters present from Wigan and Leeds. I saw supporters from everywhere, including from France, Australia and just about every rugby league club in the land. Whilst the majority of fans were supporting the two clubs involved, a lot of folk go because it’s a celebration of the game. I’m afraid my loyalties extend only as far as Wigan, who I have “supported” since the late 1960s when they were a rubbish second division club. My loyalty, such as it is, has been rewarded in spades ever since.
Apropos nothing, I know too that Wigan are the team supported by a number of celebrities. Ryan Giggs is a huge Wigan fan, as are Jonny Wilkinson, Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand and I know that Sir Bradley Wiggins will be there too. I shall be in glorified company.
I would like to say that I am looking forward to the experience of being at a Grand Final, but the truth is I am more looking forward to Wigan winning. I am not attending as a neutral and I will not be happy if “our boys” lose. It will be a huge privilege to be there in person to see the very last rugby league games for Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock, true giants of the code, but whilst some will wish them a fairytale ending and a Rhinos win, I’m afraid I am not so generous.
I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it.
“Take me home Wigan Road…”