Category Archives: Culture

Let’s Gdańsk

For most of us, watching football was very much a social activity before it became a solitary pursuit once lockdown was imposed in March last year. After Roma were despatched in the semis, the realisation hit that with pubs opening up again, it might present the opportunity to watch the final together with a few match-going pals – a nice little reunion of sorts. It was only when proposing this to one of my group that he mentioned United might be getting a limited allocation for the game and flying to Poland could be a possibility – the thought hadn’t even occurred to me previously. 

Over the next few days, the logistics of any proposed trip became clear. Since Poland was on the Amber list, PCR tests would be required before and after travelling as well as a 10 day quarantine period upon return. Obviously this was going to be a massive ball-ache, but the illogical part of my brain was now fully intent on going. It was a European final after all, and these things have to be done if the opportunity exists. Funds were in place and I had plenty of annual leave to take from work, so let’s have it. 

The only real concern was whether I’d be successful in the ballot with minimal credits, since United were only due to receive 2000 tickets. Unsurprisingly, the prohibitive cost of tests and quarantine had put many regular travellers off so I ended up getting lucky. A couple of mates were assured tickets due to having a million credits and we were good to go. All that remained was to book flights, decipher exactly what paperwork was required to get out and back into the country and to stock the fridge for quarantining once I was back. 

Match day arrived and it was a brutally early 3am start at an otherwise deserted Manchester Airport. The flight over was uneventful and after minimal queues checking COVID documentation on arrival, it was a half hour bus ride into the centre of Gdańsk. What a lovely place the Old Town was too. After 5 minutes wandering round you couldn’t help be impressed with the architecture and how picturesque it was. However, being English we weren’t there for sightseeing and culture. Our plan was to find an Irish bar so we could spend the day getting shitfaced on industrial strength lager whilst screaming obscenities at any passing locals. 

Of course it wasn’t… although having been up for hours already we were in desperate need of refreshments at this point. It didn’t take long to find a decent bar and it was a surprise to discover that despite the COVID restrictions in place they were happily serving punters indoors. The beers were inexpensive and there was plenty of choice available for the connoisseurs in our little group. The main problem was going to be seeing the game at all as it was still 10 hours ‘til kick off and most of the ales were in 6-7% range. It promised to be a long and potentially messy day. 

At this point we bumped into a couple of my brother’s pals who’d arrived the day before. I enquired about the reported trouble from the previous night and they confirmed it was nothing to write home about. A few local hoolies had attacked a bar late on when most reds had already departed, they were swiftly despatched and that was that. For the rest of the morning we took a leisurely stroll round the Old Town, stopping off for more refreshments whenever we saw a bar that looked good. There were plenty to choose from and most were doing steady business as you’d expect. 

Whereas most of the United contingent were holed up in the pub, the streets were a sea of yellow as Villarreal fans were everywhere. It was hard not to feel chuffed for them as they all appeared ecstatic at the fact they’d made it to the final. They didn’t really bring groups of lads, there were entire families there all decked out in bright yellow. Mum, Dad and Grandad with kids in tow… all smiling and snapping photos at every opportunity. It was all very wholesome. We’re so blasé about the successes we’ve witnessed over the years, it was nice to see a set of fans experiencing this for the first time. 

As the afternoon progressed we’d pretty much seen all of the Old Town as it’s only a small place. It was time for a change of scenery so we jumped in an Uber and asked to go to the coast. We ended up just south of Sopot and only a couple of miles from the ground. We spent the next 2-3 hours sat in deckchairs at a beachside bar, still enjoying cut-price booze against the panoramic backdrop of the eerily-still Baltic Sea. A few other reds had done the same thing and it was a nice vibe there, quite a contrast to the typical pre-match build-up one encounters on a Euro away. 

As kick off drew nearer and after a solid 7 hours on the ale, food appeared to be the sensible option. There were half a dozen restaurants to choose from in the vicinity and we settled on a pizza gaff that looked alright. 3 pizzas, starters, more beers, coffee and a dessert came in at a more than reasonable €50, so we felt obliged to leave a more than generous tip. We then had a final round of G&T’s back at the beach before it was time to start thinking about making our way to the ground. 

After convincing Danny that hiring a scooter wasn’t the best idea considering he’d been drinking since 10am, we set off walking. 20 minutes later the Polsat Plus Arena loomed into view – think Allianz Arena from the outside except in an unpleasant shade of yellow. From the direction we were approaching there was literally no one else around. The game was kicking off in half an hour yet you would have had no idea anything was happening other than the fact there was a helicopter buzzing around in the distance. 

After getting masked up and negotiating the electronic ticket checks, we were in. The ground was absolutely quality inside, a proper 21st century stadium that again highlighted how tired OT looks in comparison now. The atmosphere pre-game was good too considering the reduced capacity. It was weird having so many empty seats but there was plenty of noise from the reds in attendance – you couldn’t really hear Villarreal at the other end of the ground. 

I’m not going to talk about the match because I’m sure that’ll be covered in detail elsewhere. But as midnight approached everyone trooped out feeling a bit dejected given how everything turned out. It wasn’t the first time the actual match turned out to be the low-point of a European trip and I’m sure it won’t be the last. We headed back to the buses and started the long journey home. I ended up back in the house at 5.30am, a mere 27 hours after starting out. Belting day out, shit result. Was it worth all the hassle? Yeah, of course it was. 

Copyright Red News – August 2021

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In A Different Place

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Oh well. Just as things were progressing quite nicely, a relatively simple-looking triple header against Hull has seen United return to their toothless, autumnal travails. The points salvaged against Liverpool and Stoke were tolerable in the grand scheme of things, but the Hull fixtures saw United start poorly and then get progressively worse over 270 entertainment-starved minutes. How frustrating that the rock bottom, relegation certainties visibly grew in confidence over the course of the 3 games, rather than suffering successive, routine drubbings as one might have hoped.

The away game was one of those nights where you really do question, ‘why do I still bother doing this?’ Okay, so the United end was bouncing and we reached another cup final… but the rest of it? You leave work early and drive to East Yorkshire in January, it’s about -5 degrees, you go in a pub where the locals are shitfaced at 6pm on a school night and there’s a football card going round where the prize is a ‘£10 meat voucher.’ Firstly, what exactly is a meat voucher? Secondly, who were the sick, twisted individuals on the panel who voted this hellhole ‘UK City of Culture 2017‘?

The league game at OT was a similarly grim spectacle. In a week where the top four sides each dropped points, United had the opportunity to gain some ground yet completely failed to take advantage. The team seemed to suffer collective amnesia during the 2nd half and started racking up the Van Gaal-style sideways passes rather than pressing relentlessly for a winner. Most disconcerting, given how we’d absolutely battered Stoke for an hour before getting a richly deserved injury time equaliser.

Hopefully this last couple of weeks is just a blip and we can bounce back at Leicester on Sunday. It still feels like we’ve made huge progress over the last couple of months, so it’ll be disastrous if this ill-timed dip in form becomes another slide. Worryingly though, the team looked knackered during the 2nd half against Hull… which doesn’t bode well at all given that the Europa League, Thursday-Sunday cycle of games is about to resume. Honestly? I’d be content to get knocked out asap if it helped secure a top four finish and a return to the Champions League next season.

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It’s pointless even discussing the state of the atmosphere at OT as it’s just routinely appalling. No debate, it just is… those days are gone. The last singing section venture did nothing whatsoever to improve things overall. All it did was provide a section of the ground where people wearing retro Adidas tracksuit tops and bobble hats could stand up and clap like demented seals whilst singing about Eric Cantona for about 2 minutes every game. No doubt that those involved like to think they’ve made a difference but in reality, the opposite is true. All they did was help displace a couple of thousand time-served J-Standers and snuff out an area of the ground that would still stir itself and make some noise when the occasion demanded it.

It was disappointing then, to learn that neighbouring East Lower and K-Stand reds are being forcibly moved in order to make way for the extended disabled section that’s been announced. Obviously it’s a very good thing that the club are taking positive steps to increase the capacity for disabled fans, that isn’t the issue here. The problem is why this needs to be at the expense of a sizeable proportion of the cheapest tickets available at Old Trafford?

A season ticket in East Lower currently costs £532, decent value in terms of the cost of watching Premier League football these days. It isn’t the greatest view in the ground as you’d expect at that price level, so for the most part the people purchasing those seats do so because they are affordable. If those affected accept the club’s offer to move to seats elsewhere, at the very least they can expect to pay a further £170 on top of that. Quite simply, this development will price many hundreds of fans out of going to the game.

Whilst the club’s email to affected ST Holders trilled about “state-of-the-art reversible platforms”, “accessibility lounges” and “300 new positions for disabled supporters”, all very commendable – the upshot of this is 2000+ supporters having a price increase imposed on them that will ultimately negate the cost of financing the development. Additional disabled spaces, let’s not forget, the club are obliged to provide otherwise they’d likely face legal action from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Far from being a good news story then, or an example of the club doing something positive for a minority of supporters, this is just another example of Glazernomics in practice. Top of the Deloitte money table, £513.3M revenue recorded for 2016, £540M predicted for 2017, yet where is the announcement of increasing the ground capacity by redeveloping the South Stand? How about investing a few hundred million by building something truly world class that could incorporate many hundreds of disabled spaces as well as taking the capacity over 90,000? Yeah right – don’t hold your breath.

Copyright Red News – February 2017

www.rednews.co.uk

On The Corner

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So farewell then, to The Cornerhouse. A Manchester institution of 30 years standing that served up arthouse cinema, a mean veggie lasagne and a semi-decent range of reassuringly expensive, foreign beers.

I’m going to miss the gaff a lot. It was one of those places that was always busy without ever getting packed to the point there was a queue at the bar or you couldn’t get a table. With its view from upstairs over the junction of Oxford St and Whitworth St, it also provided one of the best people watching spots in the city – the perfect place to while away a couple of hours watching the rain outside whilst marvelling at the sheer volume of bearded patrons sat alone, silently engrossed in their MacBooks.

The Cornerhouse could easily be accused of being pretentious – but it was good pretentious. It wasn’t posh or intimidating, it wasn’t in any way up itself… it was just a nice, quiet bar in a brilliant location that was different to every other drinking hole in the vicinity. The fact it was first and foremost a cinema and gallery meant that it was free of the hen and stag do crowd that clog up the rest of Manchester city centre every weekend. Right up until its closure, it remained an oasis of civility whilst gangs of lads from Rawtenstall in bad jeans queued at the cashpoint opposite before heading to The Ritz to watch Jake Bugg.

Yet now, for reasons I haven’t bothered to research, it’s gone. Somebody has decided to re-brand it ‘HOME’ (from their website: “HOME is for curiosity seekers, for lovers of the dramatic, the digital and the deeply engaging; for radicals and reciprocators.”… errrrr okay) and they’re moving down further down Whitworth St towards where the Hacienda used to be. The building they’re vacating is apparently being taken up by Manchester Met in the short-term, though it’ll no doubt be a Tesco in 5 years time. The new place might be alright, and will be a definite must visit when you need to scratch that ‘subtitled, black and white film with nuns’ itch… but it’ll never be as good as The Cornerhouse (RIP) was.

Copyright Red News – May 2015

www.rednews.co.uk