Originally written for and published on http://www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk in December 2010
One Saturday morning in 2005, Blackburn were playing at Old Trafford and on a hung-over whim, I decided to go to the game on my own and buy a ticket for the United end.
In what I had previously perceived to be one of the harbingers of the Apocalypse, Blackburn won. Being a solitary Blackburn fan amongst all the furious United fans I stayed silent with a smug grin on my face.
Flash forward 5 years and I’m en route to a repeat of this fixture, this time at the hospitality of Manchester United for the VIP Europa Suite experience. In my previous forays into football fan espionage, this would be the furthest behind enemy lines I’d ventured.
I arrived at Directors Entrance where I was to be greeted by a club representative. As the other media guests arrived I was immediately outed as a Blackburn fan having forgotten that I’d admitted it in an email when making arrangements. With my cover blown, I was forced into plan B; adopt the guise of affable fan of the plucky underdogs fully expecting a heavy defeat. Little did they know that I’d secretly put a tenner on a Rovers’ victory that morning.
We were taken through the tunnel for a pitch side tour. As we stood in front of the United dug out, the guide treated us with an encyclopaedic knowledge of every possible fact about the ground, most notably that just below the away stand, United have a selection of cells for any wayward fans to be kept before being taxied to the police station after the match. We were advised that these were very seldom used.
It was then to the Europa Suite, a huge room laden with tables beautifully set out for the pre-match meal. The food itself was very good, four courses interspersed with helpful waitresses seemingly intent on getting me drunk. I shan’t fall foul of your ploy to soften me with drink, I figured, as I sunk my fourth glass of wine.
There was all sorts of entertainment put on with a compere, a pub-style quiz in which we performed abysmally. Just before we took to the stands, Gary Neville arrived, bizarrely through the gents toilets, to pose for photographs for all the adoring fans…. and me. Then it was time to take to our seats, with a great view adjacent to the half way line. A fantastic place to view a smash and grab Blackburn win.
Berbatov loves Blackburn Rovers
Ok, bit of a nervy start but I think…GOAL. Berbatov.
Ah. Well not a great start but at least..GOAL. 2-0.
With each of my fellow guests greeting each goal with a wry smile my way, I respectfully applauded whilst my confidence began to wilt away like ice in a kettle.
Well if we just get to half time 2 down then we can….GOAL. 3-0.
The only solace I took was that after each United goal, a secondary cheer from the home fans greeted one Blackburn supporter after another being forcefully ejected by police and taken down to the previously under-used cells. By half time it was 3-3 by my reckoning; 3 goals to them, 3 arrests for us.
Back to the suite for half time drinks where our preferred tipple had been laid out at our tables waiting for us, a lovely touch. In search of alcoholic reprieve, I sank my pint in less time than it took United to score another immediately after we’d retaken our seats. Big Sam obviously gave an epic half time speech.
Goal after goal passed by with my seated ironic applause as Rovers capitulated until the score board taunted me with the 7-0 scoreline. No more arrests either. With 8 minutes remaining, I joked that we could just score one goal per minute to grab an unlikely victory and ALAS, in came a corner as Samba rose to nod in at the near post. My loud jumping celebration would, under normal circumstances, earn me abuse at the very least, but the prawn sandwich brigade merely looked on with pitying smiles.
Back to the Europa Suite I trundled for post match refreshments, which equated to lashings more wine in an attempt to drown my sorrows at the expense of my victorious foes.
Finally, the Man of the Match arrived, again confusingly through the gent’s toilets, as The Count from Sesame Street (Berbatov) posed with fans to celebrate his Premiership record-equalling five goal haul.
My only consoling thought as a Blackburn fan was that at least I’d been well fed and watered as I was thoroughly humiliated. Small mercies maybe, but something to hold onto.