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Published: 15 September 2001

by Red Kelly

Newcastle United 4 Manchester United 3
Premier League Saturday 15th September 2001

The enormous weight of the previous week was still hanging heavy on my shoulders, so much so that I couldn't possibly have gone to this game. The decision had been taken away from me anyway because we were due at the wedding of some good friends that afternoon, but in any event, for me, it was a game too soon after this week of tragedy.

Sir Alex said, 'Things have happened this week that have never happened in my lifetime. It leaves you feeling numb. But the great thing about football is that it can lift people. Football, of course, will not help the pain of those who have suffered but it can help those who have been shocked by the tragedy. It brings people together.'

There is undeniable truth in those words and there are many who went to the game who would testify to that, but as Ryan Giggs had also said, 'I wonder about the wisdom of playing games right now because people's minds aren't focused on football - it has no real relevance or meaning when you look at the bigger picture."

The individual would choose what was best for them. But, each morning I have woken since September 11th the first visions that have come into my head, with depressing regularity, are the most powerful images I have ever seen - of the planes flying into those twin towers. I know I will never be rid of them. They are indelibly etched on my memory as a haunting reminder of that most shocking of days, made all the more poignant because we stood on top of that World Trade Center a few short months ago and marvelled at the magnificent view.

The previous night Gina came to us after a nightmare. She recounted a devastating tale that we had been in the viewing gallery on top of the Twin Towers when the plane struck. It's funny what your mind pieces together in times like these, but she had remembered the large scale model of New York City that was on display up there and she and Karen had been admiring it when there had been a huge explosion. I had shouted over that we should get out as quickly as possible, and as a terrible panic ensued, I hurried them to the stairs and we picked our way down. But we never made it.

Everyone I have met, spoken to, or corresponded with since that day has been under enormous emotional stress. To expect anyone to play a game of football only 4 days after an event which will inevitably change the world forever was, I think, asking too much. Any game would surely be nothing but a bizarre lottery where anything would be possible. All I knew was that I had no heart for football.

On that Saturday afternoon Karen and I left for the wedding ceremony. It offered us a chance, through the love of two people, to learn how to smile again. But even then the stark reality came back to haunt us as it transpired the question, which had lead us to this day, had been popped as the 'happy couple' had stood on top of the World Trade Centre. Even the couple who sat next to us had only just returned from New York and had been stood at the top a few days ago. It brought home how much the towers meant. How they were a symbol of strength and beauty to so many. And it made us realise how fortunate we are that we are not one of the thousands of innocents buried beneath.

As the afternoon drifted into early evening, the ability to enjoy ourselves was gradually returning. I still had no idea whether United had won, drawn or lost, but it didn't matter. Under normal circumstances I'd have been sneaking outside to listen to the radio every opportunity that came my way, but nothing will ever be that kind of normal again.

It wasn't until Sunday that I made the effort to find out the score. I had taped the highlights program because I knew that at sometime I would want to watch, and I had decided to do so that morning. I hadn't even looked at the sports section of the newspaper when I sat in front of the screen and as I watched the game I was surprised at my own reaction. When Laurent Robert's early free kick flew past Barthez I thought that must have been it - 1-0 game over - job seen to be done. When Van Nistelrooy equalised with such a beautiful reposte - I felt hope. It was a hope soon dashed when a rather freakish goal put Newcastle in front once more.

My fast-forward through the commercial break almost continued past their third - a depressing blow. By this time I was resigned to the worst, but to my surprise a rekindling of my desire was about to kick in. A spell of 2 minutes when first Giggs pulled one back and Veron equalised once more tied the game. At 3-3 I was convinced my encounter the night before had been mere sour grapes and I was convinced we were going to win. It was as if I was watching the game 'live'. The passion and hope were still there. The desire for ultimate victory there too. So, when their 4th found it's way into the United net I was gutted. That it had taken a massive deflection made it worse.

In comparison to the sheer terror we had all witnessed a few days before, the game mattered very little - but it was clear that it did matter. I had heard from good friends in New York and Boston that they would definitely be watching in their regular bars because it would be a chance for them to get together with friends once more. As we have all experienced, supporting a football club bonds you to others, and during a time when terrorists seek to destroy, these bonds are part of what will see us through. And what struck me was - that to combat the horror and devastation of violence we have to prove we can carry on, and that means a return to whatever is now deemed normality. To survive this mindless evil which cares not for death and destruction we must get on with life. Out of respect for those who are no more we must seek motivation to rebuild.

Just as it was with Manchester United after Munich - the United States will rise again. The phoenix will emerge triumphant from the ashes.

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