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Easter Weekend in England by Nikos . . .
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(Chris has ceded control of the 504 blog just for today so that I can give you a first-hand account of my Easter weekend in England.)

As you may recall from Chris’ blog post this past Friday, I went to Manchester, England to watch my favorite soccer team, Manchester United, take on Chris’ favorite (Chelsea) for what promised to be the match of the year. This particular trip was sort of a spur-of-the-moment thing on my part. But, since watching a game at Old Trafford (United’s stadium) ranks high on my Bucket List — and I could pull-off the trip over a 3-day weekend — watching us play Chelsea was a fairly easy decision. Money was not the major object here when we’re talking about my Bucket List and “football” (that’s how the rest of the world says “soccer”).

So, I joined XL Travel’s “Soccer Fanatics Easter Weekend” trip. Within one hour of touching down, I had met up with Jon, XL’s regional director in England and was on the bus for the short trip to Old Trafford. Just walking up Sir Matt Busby Way and seeing the outside of the stadium was a treat in its own. You can see a picture of me outside the stadium below:

Nikos in front of Old Trafford

More pictures of my trip are on Flickr, so just click here to enjoy them.

Since I was the last person added to the tour, Jon had told me I would be watching the game with him using XL’s season hospitality tickets . . . it’s one of those things you can’t fully understand until you actually experience it. I was about to be pleasantly surprised.

Before the game, we had breakfast in the suite with other United supporters, interacted with them, and got ready for the game. These seasonal hospitality suites are clearly a luxury buy for many United fans, but the team has no problem selling them all out.
At some point through all this, I was anxious to see where our actual seats would be, so I went out to the terrace. You can see a picture below of how Old Trafford looks before the game. The stadium truly lives up to its nickname as the “Theater of Dreams” in more ways than one.

Manchester United players warm up for the game

Our seats were pretty close to the left of Stretford End, where the “hard-core” United fans are located. They are the ones that stand and chant through the entire game and generally scare most American sportsfans . . . “hooligan” types in days of old. I found it made the game even more enjoyable, and I found myself chanting at different points of the game along with them. In all honesty, this was not one of the best games ever played, which happens in football when two good teams get matched up with so much on the line. Other than Chelsea’s first goal, I can’t say I remember any other highlights in the first half. But being in Old Trafford watching the game live and chanting for United made this experience so enjoyable that it made the first half fly by. Another of the privileges of the season hospitality tickets is that at half-time you can go back to the suite and enjoy a pint of beer (Guinness, of course — apologies to all the English people reading this, I’m a Guinness boy) and watch the highlights of the first half on big screen TVs. Again, you enjoy your beer in a nice suite with friends instead of in the crowded hallways in the bowels of the stadium.

Gary Neville takes a throw in for United

The second half was considerably better as United picked up the pace, and we were also attacking the Stretford End, so most of the action was coming straight at us. Unfortunately, we couldn’t score, and then in the 78th minute the most obvious offside call I can remember in over 25 years of watching football (well . . . other than Thierry Henry for France while they were qualifying for this year’s World Cup against Ireland) was NOT called and Chelsea went up by two goals.

The missed call was so obvious we could see it with the naked eye sitting all the way across the field behind the play. Even if this call was human error (just Google, “Didier Drogba offside” and you’ll see the image), for the season to turn on this blown call, there will always be an asterisk in my mind on this year’s Premiership if Chelsea holds off in the next five games and wins it (Chris has a slightly different view point than me, and keeps reminding me that there was another goal that Chelsea scored legitimately). In the 12 minutes (plus injury time) that ensued, there was an onslaught on the Chelsea goal. We managed to score just a single goal, but that is also a point of contention between Chris and myself . . . as to whether our forward deliberately handed-in the ball or it unintentionally hit his hand (Chris claiming the former and that somehow, these two blown calls cancel each other out). Clearly the loss put a damper on the rest of the day, but United is way bigger than one game.

On Sunday, we made the trip to Liverpool to watch the Everton-West Ham game, which I sort of viewed as a “bonus” game on this trip. You can see pictures on Flickr of the game along with the tour of Liverpool’s Albert Dock, including The Beatles Story Museum. The highlight of the game (which ended 2-2) was Tim Howard, the U.S. National Team’s number one goalkeeper (and in the Top Three on most experts’ list of the best goalkeepers in the Premiership this year) saving a penalty. I managed to take a picture of it (below):

Everton and USA goalkeeper Tim Howard saves the penalty kick

All in all, it was a great trip. I got to watch Manchester United play in Old Trafford, something I always wanted to do my entire life, and now when I watch a game on TV, I can say I’ve been there. I even got to watch a second Premiership game, and to see the Beatles museum all in one weekend. I just wish we had won the game against Chelsea, but there are five more games to go in the season [to decide the title], and stranger things have happened.

— Nikos

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  1. Nina says:

    Nick – awesome! How fun for you. Glad you decided to go.

  2. Big Papa says:

    I am jealous, since money is not a object take me next time, just saying. Then I can check it off my bucket list also :).

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