New little hopes: return to Old Trafford

It’d been 17 months and 6 days.  I know it doesn’t quite fit, but imagine that sung to the tune of “Nothing Compares 2 U”.   March 8th 2020.  United 2-0 City.  We came out with huge smiles across our faces; but, at the same time, we knew that the season was probably going to be suspended before long.    It happened within days.  What we didn’t imagine was that it was going to be 17 months, and 6 days, before we went to Old Trafford again.  It’s been a long and difficult time, especially here in the Manchester area where we’ve been so badly hit by the pandemic.   But, today, not just crowds but capacity crowds were allowed back in, for the start of the Premier League season.  And what a start – stuffing Leeds 5-1!

I am *not* in the general habit of quoting Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but there’s a paragraph in there which seems quite apt for today.  “The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”   Obviously I’m not comparing the last 17 months to the horrors of the Great War, but the idea’s relevant.

We’ve got to go on.  With this wretched virus, it’s not going to surrender, and it’s hardly as if you can invite it to a peace conference to negotiate terms.  Maybe it’ll fade away after another few months, like the Spanish flu did.  Not looking likely.  Maybe we’ll keep getting waves of it for years.  Or even for decades, as with the Black Death.  Maybe, and this seems to be the current thinking, it’ll become endemic, and it’ll just always be around, like flu, and our wonderful scientists’ll keep tweaking the vaccines to make us better able to fight it.  It certainly doesn’t look as if we’re going to be blowing a final whistle and holding Victory over Covid street parties.  Didn’t the Czech Republic actually hold “Victory over Covid” parties last year?   Sadly, they were a bit previous.

But we’ve *got* vaccines now.  It sounds as if, from the beginning of October, vaccine passports will be needed for sports events, certainly at the top levels.  There are arguments for and against that, but it does look like it’ll be happening – and, if it helps us to keep a lid on this virus, then so be it.  I suppose we’ll get used to showing our Covid certificates, like we’ve got used to having security checks.  No-one likes the security checks, and they cause queues; but, after what happened at the Arena, everyone accepts that that’s the way it is.

There was nothing really different at the match today.  Well, it was a miracle that everyone actually got there, with all the roadworks and all the tram line closures, but that was nothing to do with Covid!   There’d been talk of wearing masks, but very people did.  There were some hand sanitiser stations.  You had to pay by card, not cash, if you wanted to buy a programme or something to eat or drink.  That was about it.  I’m not sure what else could have been done.  The Premier League had been waffling on about not getting too close to other people, but how do you avoid getting close to people in neighbouring seats?   Just have to hope that, in an outdoor setting, things won’t be too bad.

And did it feel good to be back?  Oh yes!  Quite emotional, really.  I’ve been to the ground since last March, to the souvenir shop, but obviously that wasn’t the same thing!   Even just walking down Warwick Road, seeing everyone heading for the ground, was emotional.  And then the teams came out, the whistle went, and we were off.   A live match again, at last.  I know some people felt that sport shouldn’t have restarted until crowds were allowed back in, but I don’t know where I’d have been without televised football, tennis, cricket, athletics etc since they all restarted.  They really have been a godsend, especially during the lockdown periods: they’ve made a big difference and really have been very important to me.  But getting back to live matches, getting back to Old Trafford – that was something special.

This is a big day.  And beating Leeds 5-1?  Well, that made it even more special!


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