Friday Dec 11-1998
I arrived at Toronto airport in plenty of time for my 9:00 pm flight. When I got there I realized why they advised me to arrive early. The Air Canada check-in queue was a few hundred deep, and was snaking through the terminal building like a luggage conga line. I decided that I would just go straight into the waiting lounge after checking in, instead of trying to battle my way back out of the crowd. Besides, I had some extensive duty free shopping to do.
When I found the duty free shop, I decided to ask one of the shop workers what my limits were for going to the UK. I don't know how often these limits are changed, and I can never remember them, but I always want to know what they are even though I consistently ignore them anyway. What it all comes down to is how much I want to carry. I then headed into the non-alcoholic duty free shop, and picked up a few things for my family who would be putting up with me for the next three weeks. The gate lounge was jammed with people, with an impromptu samba band was providing the waiting passengers with some atmosphere. They were parked at the back edge of the bar area, and were playing their hearts out. I wondered if they knew the United Calypso, but since they weren't singing in English, I decided that the chances were slim to none.
Once I was on the plane I realized that the check-in agent had not done me any favours. I asked for an aisle seat, and got one, but I got one on the window side of the aisle. The middle rows of 5 seats were nearly all empty throughout the plane. Knowing that I would need to get as much rest as possible, I thought about jumping over and grabbing one of those rows for myself so I could stretch out and sleep like a few others had done. I didn't get the chance though, since the woman I was seated beside had never flown before in her life, and was a chatterbox thanks to her nervousness. She told me she was a photographer, which I gathered after stuffing her tripod and enormous carry-on bag into the overhead compartment. As we were taking off and the plane was lifting up above the sodium lit city, she asked me if I could get her camera out of her bag. My laughter confused her as I tried to explain that standing up & removing bags from overhead compartments during mid-takeoff isn't usually recommended. I had to point out the seatbelt lights etc, and she finally got the message. I did manage to get a few minutes of rest here and there, but nowhere near what I knew I was going to need.
Saturday Dec 12 98
When we finally were cleared to land at Heathrow, after circling for a while, we were slightly later than our scheduled arrival time. I had plenty of time though, since I didn't need to be at the Great Eastern Hotel near Liverpool Street station until 13:00 to meet Barry's dad. The first thing I had to do after collecting my case, was to find out where I could leave it again. The Left Luggage counter was easy enough to find, and after stuffing my excess duty free into the case, I left it to be picked up on Sunday night. Then, thanks to the advice of Mike Dobbin, I headed for the Heathrow Express to Paddington station. I must say that this train is definitely convenient, and they do make you pay for that convenience. Ten quid for a fifteen minute ride sounds more like something you'd read in a Dobson report (no offence Alan), and I didn't feel like a smoke when it was over either!
I managed to negotiate the ticket machine, and followed my Info Girl's instructions onto the correct platform. When I reached the platform, it was mobbed. The opposite side was worse, with the PA announcing that their train was delayed due to signal difficulties or something. An obviously foreign passenger then began to shout about how crap "this country" is, and that they can't get anything right etc., which eventually brought some response from some Ingerland types. A rather large bloke in a black and yellow jersey decided to offer this unsatisfied visitor a trip back to his native country in a box. I don't think the offer was taken up, since he seemed to mutter to himself and keep generally quiet from then on.
The train pulled up and I squeezed on. A couple of young football supporting lads also crammed onto the train, and were already on the Stella as they attempted to shield their cans from the crowd to avoid any spillage. I didn't notice any colours on them, but they were going on about how the day's fixtures. As we got closer to Liverpool Street some space gradually opened up and I got some space to breathe. The Stella lads were long gone by now, and I stepped out looking for an info booth of some sort. I found one close by, and picked up some Underground maps for my co-workers, but didn't bother to wait in the lineup to ask where the Great Eastern Hotel was located. I had been assured by Barry that I "couldn't miss it", since it was "right outside" the station.
The plan was for Barry's Dad to meet me in the lounge, and we'd head up to the Olive Branch Pub outside White Hart Lane where Barry would meet us. Barry was coming to London via Ferry & Bus from Denmark, so he didn't have enough time to get to London to meet me himself. At the Olive Branch I was to meet Mike Dobbin who had my booked and picked up my train tickets from London to Manchester and from Manchester to Glasgow a week later. I headed up the escalators towards the street exits from the station. I thought that even though I was about 45 minutes early, I would just sit and have a pint in the Hotel while I was waiting. I stepped out past a McDonald's (they really are everywhere aren't they!) and onto the street. I looked up and down the street, but saw no sign of any Hotel. I figured I was on the wrong side of the Station or something. There was another exit from within the station, so I walked back in and out of the other exit. Another look around, but still no Hotel. I decided to go back to the McDonald's area, since there seemed to be some people around there who I could ask. I found a security guard standing outside, so I decided to ask him. "Excuse me, do you happen to know where the Great Eastern Hotel is?" I asked. He smiled and perked his eyebrows, they said in his Cockney accent "You're lookin' at it aren't ya!", and pointed to the 50 yards of vertical scaffolding up the street. DOH! I told him that I was supposed to meet someone inside it, which he found quite amusing. He asked me if I was sure, and I knew that I was. He told me it had been like that for the last six months, and I had no chance of getting inside since it's been closed the whole time for renovations!
At this point my first sudden wave of panic set in. I was now in danger of missing a United match, and I couldn't let that happen. I left the security guard, still laughing at me (I had definitely made his day) and heading back into the station to try the phones. Barry had emailed me his phone number, as well as Jack's number "just in case". Well, that case had arrived. After 2 attempts I gave up on the phone. For a computer programmer you'd think I could operate a simple pay telephone, but I was in too much of a panic to read any instructions, so screw it.
I sat down and thought about my situation for a minute, and came to the conclusion that things were not that bad. If I waited out on the street, then I couldn't possibly miss Barry's Dad because he would be the only other person trying to get into a Hotel which had been closed for six months. Sure enough, as 13:00 approached, a black cab pulled up and out came an older man who looked around for a second and then bent down to ask the cab driver a question. I quickly determined that he was obviously asking where the Great Eastern Hotel was, as the cab driver pointed to the scaffolding. I was found.
Barry's Dad, Jack, was wearing the pre-described white turtleneck, walked up toward me "Bill?" he asked. "Yes, hello Jack. I'm very glad to meet you." I said. We then decided to have a pint before we headed on to White Hart Lane. A fine idea indeed. The nearest pub had a huge tv screen and was showing some kind of football match previews, which we both found a bit annoying. We finished up our pint and headed on to White Hart Lane.
We headed back into Liverpool Street station, and made our way to White Hart Lane Station. Jack had his wife's cell phone with him, but we were both novice phone operators, and I had already given up on the pay phone earlier. We managed to get to the right station though, and called Barry himself who was on a bus on the way to London. We were walking towards the stadium amongst all the Spurs fans, heading to the Olive Branch Pub. Barry said he wasn't sure if he would have enough time to get to the Pub before the match, but he would definitely try. We decided to meet after the match in the same Pub anyway, just in case.
Mike Dobbin gave superb directions, which I read out to Jack on the way to the Pub, and we found it with little trouble. Once inside I was spotted immediately, and I recognized Mike from his ListPic. The second phase of my mission was complete. Mike and I exchanged cash for train tickets, and my transportation arrangements were now in hand. Jon Leigh, his brother Duncan, Mike Dobbin & several others were already there. It wasn't long before the Mad Dane himself turned up looking more wet than tired. Barry brought a group of Danish supporters with him, and the first ever Red11.org Webmaster meeting was born.
The beers were ordered and the cameras came out. I admit that by this point I had been awake for the better part of 24 hours (the remaining time was attempted plane sleep), which helps to explain the large bags under my eyes (no, not the one with all the newspapers in it!). Jon Leigh & I had a good talk about the IMUSA and the current takeover situation. Our talk helped to give me some more ideas on how we as a website can help with the anti-takeover effort. Barry and I agreed to think more about it, then whirled about shaking hands, firing off questions and snapping photos.
Jack and I left the group to head to our seats, which were in the HOME end, and we made arrangements to meet the others back at the Olive Branch after the match. The security guard searched through my bag looking for bottles or cans, and took my word for it when I told him there was nothing but clothes and overnight supplies in there. I suppose the accent made my explanation more believable because he let me go without searching any further.
Jack and I found our seats with little trouble. We were sitting behind the Spurs goal in the HOME end, and United was attacking away from us for the first half. It didn't take long to find out where the away supporters were seated, as we could hear and see them over to our left in the corner. As the teams came out, and were announced, it was obvious that a few rests were being given out today. Yorke was out, Cole was out, Ole and Teddy were on. That didn't surprise me, since Teddy usually plays when we're against Spurs and Yorke had a small injury we thought.
The travelling REDS were in good voice, and for the first few minutes they had everything to sing for. It wasn't long before Giggs bolted up the middle and sent Beckham off up the right wing. Walker saved a shot from a cross back onto Giggs' head, but Ole was there to shove in the rebound. 1-0 to the REDS and the away fans broke into the inevitable "one nil, in the real thing…". An obvious reference to the League Cup defeat 10 days earlier. A few minutes later I thought I was watching a replay as Beckham ran up the wing and crossed another ball right onto Ole's foot. "2-0 in the real thing…". By this stage we were obviously not Spurs fans, as the crowd around us couldn't help noticing the smiles on our faces (not to mention the clenched fist pumping and quiet celebrations).
At this stage Jack and I thought we could be watching another rout, but then the cards came out. I won't try to describe my disgust at the way the match was officiated because others have already done it. We were forced to defend for more than half of the match, and we weren't prepared to do that with one of our best defenders sent off. We did hold on well for a while, and in the 60th minute a roaring rendition of the "12 Cantonas" was belted out by the entire away section. I could only wish I were over there singing along. Two Cockney Spurs supporters behind us remarked that they were "surprised they still sing for him", to which the other replied "he's probably surprised himself". Any UNITED supporter wouldn't be surprised of course, because we know a legend when we see one. It's a matter of respect now.
Apart from a very near goal by Stam in the second half, we couldn't really manage much of an attack with only 10 men and Teddy up front. Andy Cole came on late, but he had no support to make an impact. The match ended, and even though it was a draw, it felt like a loss. We were winning for so long that we had become used to the idea of getting the 3 points. When the final whistle had blown, we felt as if we'd been robbed. Jack and I headed back to the Olive Branch where we met back with Barry, Dave & Mike. Barry told us about how he had remarked before the kickoff that the referee was a good one! Wow, how wrong could he be! After getting ourselves some refreshments, a plate of mince pies was offered up for free to every table in the Pub. (That's "mince" not "mice" by the way - hahahaha sorry Barry!) These really hit the spot, since by this stage the last time I had a decent meal was back in Toronto before I left for the airport. Plane food doesn't cut it when you're travelling to see United away. They should have special meals for travelling REDS. I'll have to suggest that to Air Canada.
We quenched our thirst, and said our good-byes as Dave from California headed out. Mike, Barry, and me were on our way into London for dinner and Jack offered us a lift as he was heading home. We headed to Jack's car, and piled in. Barry was on the phone with Jack's wife when a copper decided to pull us over. Apparently we had just entered a no-enter zone, although none of us had noticed. The policeman asked if Jack had been drinking, and he did have one drink after the match but that was well over an hour ago at this point. Being honest about it, Jack admitted the drink and was then asked to take a breathalyzer test. Barry cut the phone conversation short, and left Jack's wife with "we've just been pulled over by the police, gotta go, bye!". Needless to say she was a bit upset.
As Jack was behind the car talking with the Policeman, the three of us tried to remember if Jack had more than one after the game, but we couldn't be sure. That made the breathalyzer quite interesting, as we all waited while the officer ordered the machine to be dropped off. Jack passed with flying colours, and was told to produce his license and registration or something at his local police station within 48 hours ( I think ). No harm done in the end, but a bit of a shocker nonetheless.
Mike, Barry and I walked through London, took a few photos, and found a restaurant for dinner. While we waited outside to get into the restaurant, Barry called Paul Windridge for a chat. After a few minutes he passed the phone on to me, and I had a good talk with Paul. Unfortunately Paul couldn't make the match that day, so we weren't able to meet with him in person, but I'm glad we had the chance to speak to each other just the same.
Eventually we made it into the restaurant and I devoured my meal. My body was equally hungry as it was tired, and after eating my body could concentrate entirely on being tired. We said our thanks to Mike for all of his help, and Barry & I headed for Epsom where we were to spend the night at Jack's place.
London was bustling with people that night. I couldn't believe the number of people out in the streets, which made Toronto seem like a ghost town in comparison. The music was blasting out from neon lit disco's and people of all ages were fighting the crowds going every direction. We made it to the train station where Barry bought the day's newspapers for reading on the train. We spotted our train time on the board, and the next thing I know Barry was gone. He had shot over to a lad wearing a United shirt sitting on bench with his girlfriend latched onto his side. "What did you think of the match?" Barry asked him. At this point I had just caught back up with him, and was wondering if Barry had recognized someone he knew. As it turned out, the lad was from Manchester, and so was his girlfriend. They lived in London now and hadn't seen the match yet. Barry described the match to him, and we introduced ourselves. They were quite amazed that neither one of us lived in England, and had managed to go to see United. Barry explained our connection, and gave him an Red11.org card. They were both very friendly, and said they would keep in touch. As it turns out, we just got an email message from him the other day!
The train ride to Epsom was interesting, as I fought with my eyelids to stay open, and the two teenage girls infront of us realized that one of them had left their bag back at the Pub they were in. Oh no, panic stations as cell phones were produced and calls were made to salvage the lost purse. They were acting as if a United flight had left for Europe and Alex Ferguson had realized he'd forgotten Peter_Schmeichel!
The entertainment was enough to keep me awake, and Barry was obsessed with getting off at the right stop since he'd missed it during his last journey! No problem though, we managed to get off at the right stop, and Jack arrived shortly after to take us home. A much-appreciated shower and I crashed for the night. I was absolutely drained. After all, I had been awake for over 30 hours, so I wasn't surprised when I opened the bedroom door and a bright golden light surrounded the bed which rose from the floor and lifted me into it.
Sunday Dec 13-1998
When I woke up, Barry was already in the kitchen with Jack. A cup of coffee and breakfast was much appreciated. We relaxed for a little while and headed into Epsom to do a bit of shopping. Barry got the phone out again, and we gave our graphics man Sam Hayward a call. It was great to speak with Sam, and unfortunately he was working that night and wouldn't be able to meet us at the airport to see Barry off home again. I took the opportunity to thank Sam for all the great work he's done for us at Red11.org. We talked about the possibility of the three of us meeting up in England next time, and had a few laughs.
Pete is truly a great Manchester United host, and I can't thank him enough for all of his help when I'm in Manchester. The next call was to Linda, who assured me that she would be in the Throstle's Nest Wed night before the Chelsea match, so we arranged to meet each other there shortly after 5pm.
With the important calls done, we finished our pints, shook hands, and went our separate ways. Barry was off to Denmark, and I was off back into London for a train to Manchester. As I got back on the Heathrow Express, and forked over another tenner, I reflected on how Barry had lived up to every expectation of the "Mad Dane" I was expecting, and how bloody expensive this train was.
Mad Dane? Mad Dane?
When I arrived back at Paddington, I was virtual expert at the ticket machine, and followed nearly the exact same sequence of events I had done 36 hours earlier, minus the Info Girl and unexpectedly large queue for tickets. I got off the train at Euston station, and had to walk over to the train section carrying my suitcase. It was now that I wished I'd had one of those wheel-trolley things for pulling my case, since my arms were going numb with strain.
I parked my arse down on my case and sat in front of the huge board listing all of the trains, and remembered what Mike Dobbin had said to me in one of his emails. He thought that I could probably make the earlier 8 o'clock hour train instead of the 9 o'clock hour train that he had booked for me, but we took the safe bet just in case. As it turned out, he was right, I could have made the earlier train, but I didn't mind the rest.
When the hour rolled around I called my cousin in Manchester to tell her I was on my way, and she told me she would leave a key outside in a disclosed location for me, since she was on an early shift in the morning and was off to bed. Sounds easy enough, I said. When I got to Piccadilly Station, the queue for taxis was enormous. I finally worked my way to the front of the queue, and poured myself into the cab. I told the driver the address, and he had no idea where that was. I had been there last year, and had this exact same problem, so I was well prepared. I produced my Manchester A-Z map book before he could ask me another question, and pointed to my cousin's street. He took the book and we were on our way. When I finally reached my cousin's house it was 12:30am, and she was well asleep. I had to wait for the cab to bugger off so I could search for this key which was hidden outside. After 5 minutes of looking all over where she said the key would be, I contemplated sleeping on the doorstep, since I had a week or so worth of clothes in my case to keep me warm. Just as I was about to give up, I found the key and headed inside. It doesn't take me long to fall asleep, and tonight was no exception.
Monday Dec 14-1998
When I woke up, my cousin had called to tell me she was on her way home from work already. It was noon. Obviously I was tired. I phoned Duncan Drasdo to let him know that I was indeed in Manchester, and was looking forward to meeting him on Wednesday night. Duncan was the reason I had a ticket for the match, since his wife couldn't make it that night. We arranged to meet at the Throstles before the match Wed night. I then called Pete Hargreaves to let him know I had arrived, remind him of my cousin's address and get a time from him on when he'd be coming to lift me on Wednesday night. No answer at Pete's, so I left a message on his machine.
The rest of the day was spent in tourist mode with my cousins. This included a "Pub Quiz" night, during which I became the American geography and history expert, and I'm not even American!! We lost by a point, since I didn't know what year Elvis Presley was drafted. The fact that I was a Canadian saved me from a lynching, as I was apparently supposed to know the answer. I had to remind everyone that they should consider themselves lucky that I knew any American history at all, since I'm a Canadian!
Tuesday Dec 15-1998
I woke up early because I had big plans. I wanted to get to OT to do the stadium and museum tour which have eluded me on my previous visits to OT. I was finally in town on a non-match day, so the tour was on. I took the train into the city and asked the info lady how to get to OT. She directed me to the underground platform at Piccadilly, and I was all set.
Another ticket machine experience was uneventful, as I was now a virtual expert at the ticket purchasing machine. I began to wonder if we would ever become so automated. The one thing we don't seem to automate is transportation ticket buying. Anyway, I headed onto the train, and it turned out to be a streetcar. As we drove up the street, and through Piccadilly Gardens, I looked at the postcard I had bought and tried to picture the trees with leaves on them, and the flower beds with flowers in them.
Winter just isn't as picturesque as the summer appeared to be on my postcard. But you can't see UNITED in the summer! I didn't have to think much about whether I'd rather see UNITED or a park full of flowers. The train pulled up to Old Trafford station, and I hopped off. This was vaguely familiar. On my first trip to OT in '95 I had been at this station with 4 other mates of mine (3 Irish, one local) and we walked this famous route to OT to see UNITED vs Aston Villa.
I followed the road right to OT. It was definitely strange to walk to OT along a mostly empty road, and to see the forecourt with cars parked on it. I thought to myself that it must be this deserted at Maine Road too - on match days!! I found the museum easily enough, and bought my ticket for the tour. I spent the majority of the hour in the museum since the next tour was nearly a full hour later.
I couldn't believe how much information had been compiled and presented in this museum. It really is worth a look if you've never been there. After passing the turnstiles there is a wall on the left which depicts the history of the famous United crest. I found the reason for the omission of the words "Football Club" from the current version of the crest. The reason given is to make the crest simpler and more easily reproduced. Obviously it's easier to reproduce on replica merchandise etc., so the club can make more money. How sad. Imagine what would happen to the club if Murdoch gets his way! The crest would be the least of our problems!
A full wall is dedicated to the youth system that United has created. Current stars like the Neville's & Ryan Giggs' histories are mentioned as the wall explains how the young players of today become the stars of tomorrow. A separate room is dedicated to the Munich tragedy, and it is well deserved.
A picture and description is dedicated to each person who was on the plane that day. There is also a row of newspaper front pages from the week of Feb 6, 1958 who's headlines were all about the tragedy. It was apparent from reading them that the full impact of the disaster had not yet been realized. It was only beginning to sink in as the week went on, as the newspaper reports reflected.
The lower level contained a fascinating display dedicated to each player who had ever captained United. An autographed shirt worn by the player, and some other memorabilia of the played was encased below a picture and description of the captain. All in all, it's a fantastic museum, with far too much information to mention. I recommend a visit for anyone who can make it.
The stadium tour was also brilliant. We began at the bottom level of the museum, and started by walking outside around the front of the stadium. We paused to reflect on the statue of Sir Matt, the plaque above his statue depicting the Munich team, and of course the Munich clock.
We then headed inside the stadium and into the disabled section of the ground. From here a few photos were taken, and our guide gave a full description of the west stand. I had one of the other members of our tour take my photo here, he was from Japan so he'd come even further than I did!
Wednesday Dec 16-1998
I woke up from a dead sleep when my cousin came into the room and shook me to tell me I had a phone call. I had slept in again, as I was catching up on my lack of sleep during the past week. Pete was on the phone, and we arranged a time that he would be coming to get me that afternoon. So the plans were made, and I couldn't sleep any more, because in 10 hours I would be in OT watching UNITED live for the second time in 5 days!
Pete arrived on schedule, and it was great to see him again. We went straight to pick up Hal, and May offered me a cup of tea and a mince pie which was greatly appreciated. As I drank my tea, Pete, Hal & May reflected on Nick Coppack's last visit when he came without a proper jacket. There was no danger of that tonight, as I was well prepared with my winter wear. Pete pulled on his winter socks and boots and we were ready for the road. I thanked May again, she is such a wonderful lady, and I was looking forward to hopefully meeting her again the next time I make it to Manchester.
As we arrived at the 'Nest, I noticed Linda had already arrived. I waved to her in the window, and I knew that the match was only hours away now. Linda was on her own, having arrived early after picking up FA Cup tickets or something from the ticket office at OT. It's always a pleasure to meet Linda, and we were able to have a good chat this time.
Duncan Drasdo arrived not long after we had, and my third milestone meeting of this trip was complete. Duncan was a key to this trip, since he was generous enough to offer his wife's ticket for me to see this match. I think Duncan had an advantage for this meeting, since he may have seen a picture of me, but I had never seen any pictures of Duncan.
The away fans were up to our left, and they tried to make the most of their presence. The most they could
offer was "Chelsea, Chelsea, …" to which we all responded
"Rent Boys, Rent Boys…". They even turned into Spurs
fans on us when Teddy was warming up, by treating him to a chorus of Saturday's "Ohhh
Teddy Teddy, went to Man United and you won **** all". There really is no answer to that,
since none of us was sure why he was warming up anyway. Some good songs were aired
The highlight of the night was seeing Andy Cole score right in front of us. He turned on the ball and belted in straight into the corner of the net as De Who-eeee flew in the air to land again with empty arms. Que delirium as we bounced about in delight and Andy put us deservedly ahead. The match was well documented by Our Salford Lass in her report so I'll not go on about it, but the atmosphere in the ground was amazing. I envy anyone who is lucky enough to sit (or stand) in this part of the ground because it is truly a great place to be if you're looking for atmosphere.
We headed back to the 'Nest again, feeling a bit down after letting another lead slip into a draw for the second match in a row. Chelsea really poured on the pressure in the last quarter of an hour, so we took our point and that was that. Back at the 'Nest, another group formed. I can't remember who was all there since we only stopped in for a quick one, but I did meet Paul Busby for the first time when he arrived. Lisa Bailey & boyfriend Evan came with Pete, Hal and I as Pete gave them a lift home. Pete dropped me back at my cousin's place, and again I thanked him for generously helping me with transport.
Thursday Dec 17-1998
The next day was a travel day, as I headed into Manchester on the train and caught the train up to Glasgow for the next leg of my holidays. I had another year's worth of United visiting behind me, and I was already looking forward to the next time I could make it back to the Theatre of Dreams.
Thanks to everyone who helped me along the way, and I'm very sorry if I missed anyone in my recollection. It's tough to remember it all at once.