This match in terms of football was an irrelevance. It was nice Benfica wanted to play us, it was nice some of their fans turned up (and delivered a decent pyro show), and it was nice their players seemed genuinely charmed by FC. But essentially the whole day was just a mixture of nostalgia over the last 10 years of our lives and the life of this club, and the feeling that everything is falling into place.
There are of course concerns. There is still no place for Course You Can Malcolms in the ground. Nothing ever lasts forever, but I always felt that the event set us apart from a normal matchday and a normal club. Likewise there was the scandalous decision to bump the price of the programme up by 50p for no other reason than profiteering. We have boycotted matches due to similar behaviour from other clubs with regards to ticket prices, so for me it stank of double standards. Yet whilst this left a bitter taste, there was plenty to feel cheerful about.
Before kick-off we carried a massive surfer flag in. The Giddys had been working on the thing for ages and due to its scale it was difficult finding a space to paint it. The sheer weight of it meant you needed several people just to cart it around. And when it was finally unfurled, you realised that however big it was, it covered only a fraction of the home terrace. In other words, we don’t just have a big new ground, where the attention to detail, right down to the shade of red (3020), is incredible, we also have a HUGE free standing terrace. No rail seats, no partly seated section, no crappy camber – just a massive terrace for us all to bounce around in.
Round the ground, volunteers had hung up some of the older FC flags, some of which I hadn’t seen in a good couple of years. Old friends I used to drink with in a pub in Warrington before the match were working on the tea bar. It was a big trip down memory lane, through almost a third of my life, all in a big stadium that we own.
The Giddys have a nice section down the front, and after just two games it looked amazing, but it was all a bit overwhelming for me. I had to go up in the top left hand corner and share the moment with the friends who have accompanied me along the way, and just soak it all in.
There will be some bedding in still to be done. The bogs are hard to find, the bar was packed (and one inaccessible), the atmosphere was difficult to coordinate and my friends are scattered in a diagonal line from low down near the pitch in the Giddy section to right up in the top. Yet the potential is there and we’re in.
Afterwards, we wandered around to the Miners, and there you saw things slotting into place even more. Here is a left-wing, community driven centre that has been fighting against Moston’s decline for years, and now they’ve even painted it in United colours, and the inside is adorned with FC scarves. They had food, they had beer, they had a band on, and seemingly every single FC fan you’d ever want to have a drink with was there.
Pictures by Russ Hart
For all the foreign grounds you go to where the fans have some cool gaff round the corner from their ground which they organise events in, we now have one too. For all the 50p extra on the programme, cheap football is all we’re offering bores, there are thousands more at FC who refuse to let FC become just another club. All that fight, all the way back to the marches against Glazer, has come together in form of the new ground and the Miners to create something unique in British football, and its utterly brilliant and, above all, its ours.