MatchDay Memory–Heaven on Earth

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Over the last ten years, major European sides have come to the US in search of gaining fitness, growing their brand and making a little money. In the summer of 2003, I went to the East Coast to get as close as heaven as I could, as Manchester United, FC Barcelona and Juventus FC all came to the States at the same time to play each other. A group of us (one die hard United supporter, one Arsenal fan, one guy along for the ride and me, who liked all the clubs, a topic I plan to tackle at another time) went to New York City and Philadelphia.

The prelude to the trip was crazy as I flew from Lansing, Michigan to Birmingham, Alabama, where I hopped in a car with my mom to drive to Mississippi for the Neshoba County Fair. If you have never experienced the Fair, then I won’t get into that now but will just say it’s hot.  There was a reunion for myself and my 15 first cousins that was not to be missed. After a weekend at the Fair, I got back on a plane to Lansing, where I repacked, slept for a couple of hours, then drove to Detroit Metro Airport so I could catch a plane to NYC.

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Our first night there we went out to the famous Nevada Smith’s (which has since closed)  to have a couple of drinks with United supporters. The next morning we took the train out to Rutgers University to watch the Reds train. The event was amazing, and you don’t realize how good these guys are until you get up close and watch them play.  After an hour of watching Fergie take them through their paces, I wondered how do these guys ever lose?

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The next day Manchester United took on the Old Lady of Italian football at the old Meadowlands.  I wore my Juventus jersey to the game so that another guy could wear my United jersey. I was in a no-lose situation. A night of fine goals, with a superb free kick from Giggs opening the scoring. Then the Red Devils carved open the Bianconeri for Scholes to score the second, and Ruud Van Nistelrooy scored a fantastic third after a clever ball from Veron. Juve grabbed a consolation goal from Nedved with 20 mintues to go before Solskjaer added the fourth after good vision from Forlan, who later missed an absolute sitter. So quality goals from United, an appearance by Pele, and a crunching tackle on Nedved by Keane for good measure. Plus Tim Howard got some love as he had moved from New York to United in the weeks before the tour. I got some gas wearing the black and white stripes but it was worth it.

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The hours before and after were agonizing. I guess the way you get to games is by taking a bus, which we spent hours waiting for. I didn’t bring a snack and when I don’t eat, I get cranky, and that’s not a good thing. Then after the game we had to wait forever for the bus home and it was raining. When we finally got back into town I just wanted to go to bed.

The following day we spent walking around NYC. We visited a museum, don’t ask me which one, then I spent the rest of the day at Central Park, enjoying the sunshine and people watching.  Later that day we saw Juan Sebastian Veron on the streets and I took a picture of him and my friend, which was pretty cool. (He was transferred to Chelsea later that summer.)

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Then it was off to Philadelphia and the new Lincoln Financial Field for Manchester United against FC Barcelona. In the off season there was a battle for Ronaldinho’s signature, with the Brazilian playmaker eventually signing with the Blaugrana instead of the Red Devils, and the pro-United crowd booed him every time he touched the ball.

Barcelona were in a period of transition. The club had a new President in Joan Laporta, a new manager in Frank Rijkaard, and besides Ronny, several new transfers—Quaresma, Rüştü, Márquez, Van Bronckhorst, Iniesta, Víctor Valdés, Oleguer.  Look at those names.  Many of those would be in the squad that would win back to back La Liga titles and the Champions League in 2006.

For some reason I don’t have many memories from the match other than FCB’s khaki kits.  United won again with Forlan scoring twice in the first half before RVN notched another goal just before the end of a 3-1 win.

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After the game, we headed to the Dark Horse, another United bar. I honestly don’t remember much of that night so that’s that. What I do recall is multiple levels and people playing darts. The next morning it was back on the train to NYC to catch the plane back to Detroit.  A whirlwind trip that was fun, memorable, awe inspiring and exhausting.

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As for United, after their American adventure, they returned to Manchester playing Sporting Lisbon and Stoke City on the way, both 3-1 losses on their way to a third placed finish in the Premier League.  But after the Sporting match they signed a certain Cristiano Ronaldo who would be the linchpin of another Fergie dynasty.

I tell anyone who will listen, if I go to Europe, I’m never coming back. If I had everyday access to coverage of these teams, including possible match days, I would figure out a way to make that happen. Forget 7:30am kick offs on American TV or internet feeds or watching highlights a day or two after. To actually be at the cathedrals of my favorite teams would bring me an indescribable joy.

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  1. That was an enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing the memories.

    I was wondering about the demographics of the rest of the fans. If you are able to answer/recall, MOSTLY were they Americans, foreign transplants, or supporters who traveled across oceans to see their teams play. No doubt all were represented, but I was just wondering who was filling up these stadiums.

    • everyone from all countries. there were several groups of british ex-pats trying to create the right environment.

  2. Nice post, it is interesting to hear an alternative view of pre-season friendlies and how important they are for fans who cannot get a chance to travel to Europe to see their team.

    • appreciate it. people forget that only 10 years ago, the parade of European and South American teams was unheard of. now it’s an every summer occurrence. united came back right away, which i didn’t like, but i get it. mourinho now sets up camp in LA every summer. elisa from forza futbol gets some really good access i guess, which would be cool.

  1. May 3rd, 2014

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