In Nov 2011, I achieved my dream of catching a match at Old Trafford. Having been a fan of the mighty Manchester United since they were just a FA Cup-winning team before their dominance in the English Premier League started in 1992, I have always wondered what the thrill is like to walk into a legendary stadium which you only watched on TV every weekend when the football season is on. Well, I don’t have to wonder anymore cos my Old Trafford experience was definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life.
I bought a VIP Hospitality package which got me a great seat near the famed Stretford End and a 2-hour session before the match which comprised a 4-course lunch with free-flow beer/wine attended by fans from all over the world – from Europe to South America, from Australia to Asia (I was the only Singaporean there that day). It was great fun – each of us were given a gift pack (match review mag, key chain souvenir, etc), photo ops with Fred the Red and Manchester United legend Lee Martin, the man who famously scored the only goal in a 1990 FA Cup replay against Crystal Palace which saved Alex Ferguson’s job and the rest were history. It was fun speaking with fans from all over of how or why they finally make the trip to Old Trafford. Even more fun was two guys from Birmingham at my table who were actually Newcastle fans catching a match at OT for the first time!
But the real thrill seriously came when it was finally time to enter the hallowed stadium where the likes of Best, Charlton and Law and Giggs, Scholes and Rooney have played in gazillion times. I have to admit that the moment I stepped into the stadium and saw the famous view (above)in “real life”, and hearing 75,000 screaming fans, I had a tear in my eye and had a lump in my throat. Despite MU not winning and only drawing 1-1 with Newcastle that day (no thanks to a dubious penalty given to the Magpies), the great feeling of finally being in the Theatre of Dreams watching my beloved United in action will live long in my memory!
There are not many other football stadiums that I would like to visit, but as I was in Madrid last month, Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu was a no brainer. Besides always competing with Manchester United on which is the biggest or richest club in the world, our clubs have shared three of the most charismatic footballers of all time – David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Instead of catching a match at the Bernabeu though – since they were only playing Getafe the weekend I was there – I decided to go for the stadium tour two days later which have gotten high reviews on Trip Advisor. I must say Tour Bernabeu is truly impressive. For just 19euros, it’s a free and easy tour that you can easily embarked on your own as there will either be a staff or directions and signage clearly marked all along the route to lead you along. You start off right at the top of the stadium, getting a panoramic view of the magnificent stadium that can housed 85,000 fans. From there, signs will lead you to an amazing long room that showcases the Spanish club’s impressive history, trophies they won over the years and a truly mind-boggling lengthy AV screen that shows snippets of all the football greats who had ever graced the club. That lead to yet another trophy room that includes a tribute hall to a Real great Alfredo de Stefano (akin to our Sir Bobby Charlton). Thereafter you are led to exclsuive areas of the stadium: you get to walk on part of the pitch, sit in the presidential box, enter the players’ changing rooms where you get to see the mugshots and jerseys the likes of Ronaldo and new boy Gareth Bale, through the players’ tunnels onto the dugout benches, the press room and finally the Club Store where of course there are souvenirs of Real Madrid of every kind
Along the route, the tour staff actually do two cool things – you get to pose with the European Cup (I held it in the name of Manchester United’s 3 wins – mumbling the fact under my breath out of the staff’s earshot!) and at another spot, they asked for your favourite current player and then super-imposed your mugshot beside the player of choice. I chose Cristiano Ronaldo of course, the player that any MU fan will be happy to see back at Old Trafford. (Even though he and RM knocked us out in the last Champions League, sigh…) We have to pay for the photos of cos (“Taking the photo for you is FREE!”) but oh well, it’s the thought that counts. And again I have to say, Tour Bernabeu is a very well-designed tour for any football fan, let alone true white Real Madrid fans.
Which only make me even more determined to make a return trip to Old Trafford cos I missed out on a Museum and Stadium tour as I only had time then for the match during that trip. This time, I want to start my tour by taking a barge from the Manchester city centre and sailing right up to Old Trafford before immersing myself into 130 years of glorious history of good o’ MU. Yup, that’s on my to-do list, right next to touring Barcelona’s Nou Camp!