By Noora Dawood
“Manchester keeps our family united” is something my father would say to anyone who would ask if my family were all Manchester United supporters. Upon hearing that, most people would mouth a shape of an O and remain bewildered for a moment, fascinated at how committed we are to watching every match and how passionate our conversations tend to become. My brother and I grew up this way; we would keep track of all the scores and buy all the latest t-shirts each season we won, as if we were collecting them. If not all the matches, we’d at least watch the ones against our biggest rivals. Over the summer, we’d read the transfer gossip and speculate who would leave and who would join. This was the tradition at home; Manchester United is part of our lives.
I can still recall, three years ago, when my father surprised my brother and I with the best news ever. We were going to London, and from there, would take a train to Manchester to attend the match against Liverpool FC. The reality of it didn’t hit me until we were on the train heading to Manchester. I didn’t realize how serious the matter was until I walked outside the train station, breathed in the crisp Manchester air, and saw the blue sky and the dull grey clouds, only then did I grasp the fact that I was undoubtedly in Manchester, and was going to watch my first football match.
The city, like any metropolitan city, was busy, buzzing with cars and people yelling for a cab, unlike the district near the football stadium, which was silent yet somehow peaceful. During the day, we would walk the dank streets while it slowly drizzled and I would be so captivated by all the landmarks. I’d take in every detail around me securing them into my memory and snapping photos just to make sure I never forgot. It was as if I was living a dream; everything felt superficial but genuine at the same time. The neighborhood itself wasn’t perfect; the weather was always so placid and after sundown the streets would turn into a graveyard. The only reason anyone would ever choose to come to Manchester is for one reason and one reason only; to watch the young lads of Sir Alex – now David Moyes – play their legendary football, not because they had to, but because of their love and devotion to the team.
Just days before match day, we had gone to the Old Trafford stadium for a tour. I had learned a number of new things, some of them being that the team was once called Newton Heath, and that the stadium’s second name is The Theatre of Dreams – a name I came to like because of its beautiful representation. My excitement and anxiousness grew as the match day approached. Our new t-shirts were clean and ironed, the entrance tickets tucked away in our bags, and our strong loyalty to the football club set on overdrive. We walked into the stadium the next afternoon and a gust of familiarity had swept over me. I could smell the freshly cut grass from the entrance, though that could’ve been the clean Manchester air that I had been inhaling from the day I arrived. After we had taken our seats, we prepared ourselves for the extraordinary event that was going to transpire in front of us, LIVE. The football players of both teams emerged from the gate we had visited during the tour. Soon came the footsteps of the famous coach Sir Alex and the crowd cheered even louder; we joined the chant “Glory glory Man United, Glory glory Man United”. At that moment, in a stadium full of thousands of people cheering, I felt like I was a part of something special. Everyone around me was emitting a strong passionate love for the team and the game; my love for United escalated past the meter, and there was nothing stopping it. The players took their positions, and the referee blew his whistle; the rest was history.
The game ended with a score of 3 – 2, with one of our most talented players at the time, Dimitar Berbatov, scoring an amazing hat trick. One of his best all time ever goals was scored on that day when he chose to throw his whole body into the air, then brought his one leg in front of the other, kicked the ball into the goal, resulting in him doing a bicycle kick. I remember being in a state of awe when I saw that goal, the same way strangers are in awe when they see our passion for Manchester, mouth shaped as an O, blinking several times just to make sure that they’re not dreaming. We left the stadium with smiles plastered on our faces and our minds constantly replaying those remarkable goals. When we reached the hotel, the cab driver was waiting with our bags in his trunk – it was time to return. On our way to the airport, I glued my eyes to the window as the car drove past beautiful sceneries of farms and animals. I would never forget the fresh feeling I had when I walked the streets of Manchester despite the murky weather at times. I knew that even though all the buildings were red and the clouds were usually grey, that this city would always remain dear to me because it possessed something no other city in the world had – The Theatre of Dreams.