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Monday, January 19, 2009

"The one Saturday spent in (Manchester) Old Trafford..."

From my last few posts, I was masquerading a plan to get to Doncaster or Asda during the weekend. Much to my desire however, Afzal had other plans in mind. Together with Abg Azhar, he planned to bring me to Manchester. God bless him. Yes people, when one plans to set feet on a place that is Manchester...it is but solely for one purpose, and that one only. To go to Old Trafford - home of the already legendary Red Devils.

Of course, that statement grows as a biased testament more suitably for footie fans. But I am not such a fanatic, but this was one trip I looked forward to the moment I arrived in Heathrow a month ago. So that would explain why there won't be many pictures on Manchester City but shall instead be filled with the glorious grounds that is the Theatre of Dreams. My point is this - who cares about touring the city when you only have half a day to fill, and the only reason why you'd drag yourself there would be to go see Man Utd's home ground anyways?

So off we were, on a rainy, cold and notoriously windy morning 'duckling' our way to Sheffield's train station. Temperatures en route were mild, with a reported 8 degrees on the mercury tube. But due to the winds, you felt as if you're face would freeze and your limbs would break. We boarded the tram and within minutes we arrived in the station with our bums still missing the warmth of the tram seats. Train fares were about 15 pounds return, which I thought was rather cheap, and as Afzal was kind enough to provide for mine, it was kind of like icing on the cake already.

The journey took about 54 minutes - and as we passed through the England countryside, through tunnels and land, I was amazed to how beautiful and serene the surroundings were. Hills extended to no ends and the landscape was just amazing. Alhamdulillah, the weather struck a cheerful shiny note as we reached Stockport and by the time we called Manchester Picadilly - the sun was up and the day was fine.

Manchester train station was both huge and grand - as grand as London's Heathrow Station if I may say so. Manchester was experiencing a lower temperature as Sheffield, but the winds are as strong. Underneath all those cotton that I'm wearing, I still felt the cold.

In the grandeur that is Manchester, the city boasts the identity of a metropolitan area much similar to the hustle and bustle of London. But on a slightly smaller scale. People were starting to approach the streets in masses, as day breaks and their weekends start. It was just about 11am.

Hopped into the double decker busses and paid the one-day ticket, we were men on a mission. To get to Old Trafford, and be awed by its architecture and setting. That, or we were still pretty much awake from our nap on the train. The great thing about the bus Afzal took us on, was that it brought us through the inner parts of the city - penetrating from street to street. Somehow throughout the journey Manchester city reminds me of the fictional city Metropolis; where every corner of the street were laden-full of similar buildings blocks. But it is strikingly different from the city of Sheffield. Somehow I like Sheffield better, as it has that countryside-feel to it.

As we passed the town-sign that reads Old Trafford, I was both anxious and restless. Imagine hearing stories from friends and family, and from watching telly you would get all these illustrious ideas about this place. Now, you have your own experience to pass judgement with. I was excited, but I kept it to a low to avoid making a scene on the bus (and morbidly humiliating Afzal). As we got off and passed the street, I insisted on doing nothing but gaze.

There it was - in all its glory. Old Trafford, Manchester.

(Disclaimer : Next few paragraphs should only be pursued if you are a fan of the Red Devils. Avid supporters of Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea would best divert here.)

It would be loony to be at Old Trafford, and not engage on the stadium tour. Priced at 12 pounds, the three of us were enlisted for the 12.40pm tour. The next hour that trancribed was an experience unparalled for description, but to go through yourself. It was the best 12 pounds I've spent so far. Yes, that also includes the train ticket that was spent on Afzal's penny as well.

The stadium however, was smaller than you'd expect from the live telly casts. Probably it's because no matches were on, and that it was empty to the silence of the surroundings. But nonetheless, it really was a majestic sight to behold.

We had a great tour guide - Mr. Graham if my memory serves me well (which truly isn't). The whole 90 minutes was filled with stories of all the glorified history that is the club Manchester United, which expands to more than a century old. The stadium grounds were built in the 1900s, and their legacy was nothing short of spectacular, filled with webs of drama, tragedy and undeniably sheer success. Among tragic stories that were passed by was the horrific 1958 Munich Air Disaster, of which I had unheard of then. The Munich aircrash saw only four of the Man Utd's first team, then nicknamed Busby's Babes, surviving. One of them, being Sir Bobby Charlton.

That year, Matt Busby (who also barely survived the crash) let the reserve team to the Championship Finals, only to be beaten by Aston Villa. More on its history here.

The tour led us everywhere there was to explore - stands, the pitch, players lounge area, changing rooms. Practically an insider's look to what's behind the scenes of Old Trafford. Such a gratifying, wonderful and inspiring experience. I salute how Britons are very much into football that it is almost a religion, and how caught up they are with the traditions, superstitions and history of the sport and their famed clubs. If only we would have half the enthusiam back home. It'd be great to come into a stadium packed with fans shouting and chanting praises for teams such as Selangor, or even Sabah. In Malaysia we are known not for the prowess of our sport, but for the grandeur of their facilities. In other words, hanya menjadi jaguh kampung sahaja.

Having the opportunity to crash the team's changing room was great. Imagine, sitting on the very spot where your sport idols would sit week by week. Of course, it was a no-brainer which spot was laden-full of people ever eager to take pictures by.

We sported our lenses on less sought after grounds - but undeniably an integral force in the teams. Mr. Graham told us that there was a definite scheme of seating arrangements - Giggs and Scholes will almost entirely be seating next to each other; they've been mates since their junio years in the squad. Rooney would always sit next to Ronaldo, as they are very good friends both on and off the pitch. And Nani would always be beside Ronaldo, for his English was weak and needed him to translate any conversation he found too complex.

Funny, but interesting...:)

We left the grounds of Old Trafford after a gruelling two and a half hours scouring every part of the establishment. I may not be setting foot here again for a long time, if none at all in the future. So better act sakai while you are allowed the provisions of being one la. One thing's for sure that day - I was happy to check one item off my To-Do list, and boy what a great experience it was.

It was the third (or fourth) time Afzal's been on the tour - and he was the only one busy texting uninhibitedly on his phone, while everyone else was practically being awed away during the whole tour.

Next after that was searching for a Surau in central Manchester. Afzal, despite being the senior tourist (who claims to have been to Manchester as much as he's been to Ya Fai) was having a tough time figuring out where the Islamic Centre was. As we walked the streets filled with people, he eventually led us there in one piece. Had our prayers there, and shortly after Afzal took us to a food place that's visited by every single Malaysian in Manchester, that there's even a 'Selamat Datang' sign on its door - Alladin. Gosh, another establishment named after a famed cartoon character. It's Popeye in Sheffield and Aladdin here - I wonder what it might be anywhere else in England!

Having stuffed ourselves with briyani and naans, we tucked the courage to make our way back to Picadilly station for our journey home. It'll be soon till maghrib, and Afzal plans of making it on time in Sheffield. At the end of the trip, I found myself successfully have been in another place other than Sheffield that's worth visiting. Well I haven't really toured the city, or been at Arndale Shopping Centre - but I have walked its streets and basked in its surroundings. When you're visiting on a short basis and press for time, that's something you'd be lucky to have done.

Hey, at least I got to buy stuff off the racks of Man Utd's official megastore on Old Trafford grounds. Unlike in Malaysia, where any of them are readily bought off Petaling Street.

And guess what? I have one more certificate to put into my resume folder.

Think that it'll give me any leverage for a promotion in the future?

I owe last Saturday thanks to Afzal, who took the effort and time to bring me and Abg Azhar out of Sheffield, on the train to Manchester. For being our guide to the city, and also a great travel companion. It's really nice of him, considering that he has been to Manchester almost every now and then.

At least I bought him lunch, hehehehe....ok la kan?

-JeP

1 comment:

Girl Next Door said...

hi sayang! wow, looks like one of your dreams came true.. ;)

glad u had a blast. it was very nice of afzal to bring you to manchester kan. hope everything goes well with his following treatments.

missing you as always, and praying for both you and afzal's safety and good health. take care boys!

xox