For those of you who thought that the season was over and all that's left is the EURO's, you're wrong! A Sunday night charity match in Manchester will prove to be my last outing this season, as promised in my "End of Season Review".
|People walking around on the M6, how exciting?|
Anyway, moan over. Soccer Aid is an event celebrating it's tenth year and the fifth match for Unicef. This worthy cause was another chance for the likes of Robbie Williams, Michael Sheen, David Seaman and United favourite Jaap Stam to lace-up their boots and put on a show for a very busy Old Trafford in front of the ITV Cameras. Of course, events like this are always for the greater cause, and this one is no different. With over £5.3 million raised upon time of writing, it really is amazing to see football fans, celebrity lovers and general charity givers meeting up for a one-off match at one of England's most prestigious grounds. Old Trafford is a huge, albeit cramped, stadium and it boasts the title of being the biggest club ground in England- and at over 75,000, a lot of fans have seen a lot of success there over the years!
|Not a bad little ground|
Considering my usual outings take me to places like The Scholars Ground, Moss Rose and Marston Road, it's safe to say that my last three visited grounds I've been to are certainly out of my norm. Having visited Wembley for Non League Finals Day, followed by a visit to Camp Nou a couple of weeks ago, Old Trafford was amazingly only the third largest ground I'd been to within the last three weeks. Alas, it was still very much a heavyweight of world football and at least one or two others were there alongside me!
|Anyone for a sardine?|
With a quick purchase of a programme on my way in, we took our seat and had a quick glance to see who was in the Starting XI for both sides. I had instantly recognised a few of my all-time favourites in Ronaldinho, Dida and big Sol Campbell, meanwhile my girlfriend had spotted Olly Murs. And it seemed that looking around this was the pattern of a lot of the audience. With sections of screaming girls cheering on the former JLS member and current England Celeb striker, Marvin Humes, mixed in with hoards of Ronaldinho and Edgar Davids fans, it was certainly a mixed bunch, to say the least. At this point, it's best to be honest and say that I was here to see the ex-pros. Seeing World Cup winner and former AC Milan right-back strut his stuff was much more exciting to me than seeing John Bishop fumble about and give away the odd handball. Having said that, I was impressed by some Celeb players, and despite knowing basically nothing about Mark Wright, it has to be said that he was a solid left-back- unlike his opposite number Sean Fletcher. England started very brightly and looked destined to score sooner rather than later. Humes played some good link-up play with Robbie Fowler and Olly Murs on the left-wing was just too quick for Cafu. Having watched Soccer Aid on more than one occasion on TV, I was very familiar with the usual format of the game and knew that the goals wouldn't come until the Celeb Goalkeepers went in net after half-time. No matter how much pressing England did, the chances of them beating Jaap Stam and Dida in the Rest of the World team were slim to none.
|0-0, there' no getting past the ex-pros|
On the break, Ronaldinho and Edgar Davids cut through England like a knife through butter, and at times Phil Neville just couldn't get a foot in to prevent some good play from Rest of the World. Sergio Pizzorno, of Kasabian, ran down the wing like a bullet (some would say that he surged!) and he looked like the main threat for the opposition. It never quite came off for him though, and he could not do what he'd done in the past and beat Seaman in the England goal. If you haven't seen his 2012 chip in this fixture, check it out- stunning finish! With half-time drawing near, Robbie Fowler scuffed a great chance wide and Olly Murs came close with more than one chance. If I was being critical, I'd say that he had to score at least one of them- at least two of them were clear-cut chances. With a few wild drives from Robbie Williams's Stokey mate Jonathan Wilkes flying over the bar, the half was brought to an end it was time to grab a pie and a beer.
|So many people, why are there so many people?|
Expecting prices to rival that of Wembley, I prepared myself with a £20 note hoping that it would cover the cost of a couple of beers, a hot dog and a pie. And to my delight, I arrived at the counter to find a generous "6 items for £12" deal which included two hot food items, two drinks and two snacks- spot on! Armed with a Meat and Potato Pie, a big bag of Walker's Ready Salted and a fairly average Thai Lager, I was pretty chuffed to say the least. We used the remains of half-time to have a skeg around the walkways and have a read at the Man United trivia posts on the walls. For example, did you know that the fastest ever shot recorded by a United player at Old Trafford was from David Beckham in 1997? There was also a wall dedicated to "Brothers who've played for Man United" and also a bit about tallest, smallest, heaviest and lightest players ever to have lined-up at the "Theatre of Dreams". Quite a nice touch.
|They also had a set of goalposts with a TV inside, just for fun|
Back on the field, half-time was being used for a penalty shoot-out for random competition winners who now had a chance to beat the England great, David Seaman. The first guy I saw, mid 50's, scuffed a shot straight into the big shot-stopper's arms and was denied a moment of glory- which I hope for his sake wasn't a part of the live coverage. Then, came a moment of unintentional commentary comedy as a youngster took his penalty. Now, I know that people shouldn't laugh at this sort of thing, but they do! As the little kid hit his shot home, the man with the microphone shouted out "and he scores, despite the power of Seaman!", which raised more than a few smiles in the area we were sitting. An innocent mistake, but a note that when kids are around, not to shout out about the "power of Seaman". Anyway, enough with the immaturity, time to bring on the real comedy as the Celeb keepers took to the field. In a half that promised goals, ex-front man for "Top of the Pops", Jamie Theakston, popped on his England jersey and Comedian Patrick Kielty did the same for ROTW. It's safe to say that the audience had perked up a bit by this point, as the big-guns Dimitar Berbatov and Jermain Defoe took to the field with hopes of embarrassing the new Goalies. Jack Whitehall, Kieron Dyer and Fabio Cannavaro were all on the field by this point too and the game was under way. England continued on the front foot and within 5 minutes of being on the pitch, Defoe had the ball in the back of the net twice. Unfortunately for him, both were ruled offside. It is worth noting here that I am a huge Defoe fan, always have been, and I'm sure that if it weren't for the emergence of Kane, Vardy and Rashford, he'd be in Roy's 23. If it were me, he'd have a slot over Sturridge, but that's another story.
|Still 0-0, for now|
The deadlock was bound to be broke by England, and from a surprisingly spectacular source. England won a free-kick from 30-yards out and it was Mark Wright who stepped up and struck home a great strike past the sprawling Kielty. England 1-0 ROTW. A great strike indeed and one that set Old Trafford alight with joy at the first goal of Soccer Aid 2016. Following this, the ROTW troops rallied- Ronaldinho and Berbatov did not want to lose. In typical England fashion, the self-destruct button was pushed and following a second yellow card, Ben Shephard was dismissed for a poor last-ditched challenge and it was game on again. With that, the pressure told for England and it was the former United man Berbatov who levelled the game following a bit of faffing about from a corner. England 1-1 ROTW. And as if England hadn't already let their opponents back into the game enough, substitute Paddy McGuinness then decided to bundle over Ronaldinho in the box, following some great link-up play with Berba, to give ROTW a penalty. To ensure there was no error, Berbatov stepped up and doubled his tally from 12-yards, which I'm sure would have left a few fans in a state of "No likey!". England 1-2 ROTW. Amongst all of the packed-in action of the second-half so far, it's worth going back to note some of the back and forth duels between Edgar Davids and some of the England players. Having been pounded earlier in the game by Phil Neville and Shephard's red card challenge, it was this time a cruncher from Jamie Carragher, who had himself been subjected to playful anti-Liverpool booing from the United faithful, that seemed to be the final straw. As Carragher and Davids ran towards the touchline, Edgar shoved Carragher and sent him flying as he launched the ball out of play. Following a couple of tasty encounters at the 2014 match between the Dutchman and Jonathan Wilkes, it seemed that the charity match was no friendly for some.
|Even Bishop was having a pop last time out|
So with the game getting a bit more physical, it seemed like the perfect moment for a piece of magic- and when you think of magic at Old Trafford, what do you think of? David Beckham? Ruud Van Nistelrooy? JACK WHITEHALL? With the ball heading out to him on the right-wing, the crowd gave out a shout of delight that he had controlled the pass and not fumbled it out for a throw. What he did next was delightful to watch- he took the ball down the wing for a few paces before unleashing an expertly weighted pass into the path of the motoring Defoe. The rest was formality for the Sunderland man who continued his rich goalscoring form and hit home an equaliser for the Three Lions. England 2-2 ROTW. This goal sparked another change in play, and England grasped the game for the final half an hour. With chances coming and going for Defoe, a bursting run from former "I'm a Celebrity" contestant Kieron Dyer was clipped back to the dominant Defoe who hit home what proved to be the winner with under 15 minutes to go. England 3-2 ROTW. And from a footballing point of view, that was about it. Yes, we'd seen the two guys from One Direction come on to a screeching of young ladies, which was instantly followed up by booing from their dads. There was also a cameo appearance from Robbie Williams and an evil guy from "Game of Thrones", but by this point England were comfortable to hold on and see the game out. In the first half, Mark Wright and Olly Murs were great down the left, as were Davids and Ronaldinho for spells. But in the second, it was all about the star strikers as Defoe and Berbatov showed why they are still playing professionally. With stand-out showings also coming from Jack Whitehall and Cafu earlier on, the only shockers on display really were from Paddy McGuinness and Iwan Rheon who weren't on top-form this time around. Neither of the One Direction players really got into the game, which I can't say was a bad thing.
|Full-time, 3-2 to England|
As the final whistle blew, the whole crowd sounded out their appreciation for all involved with the game. A 5-goal second-half eventually saw Jose Mourinho pick up his first win at Old Trafford since becoming the Manchester United boss, and albeit in charitable circumstances it was a win over the current Premier League champion's manager, Claudio Ranieri. Early advantage for the title race next year, I wonder?
|Just like at Moss Rose|
As the players collected the trophy and did a lap of honour, the majority started to depart from the stands, whilst the die-hard, not in a rush fans stuck around to applaud the winners and the runners-up. Ronaldinho handed over his match boots to a random man in the audience and Olly Murs wore a silly wig, whilst Paddy McGuinness swapped shirts with Dimitar Berbatov and even Peter Schmeichel popped out to say hello. After all this we headed out of the ground to see if anyone was hanging about to see the fans- we weren't in a hurry after the masses of traffic witnessed upon arrival!
|The Sol Campbell fan girls were out in numbers!|
Joking aside, it was yet again quite amusing to see the mixture of fans waiting for different people. Whilst I pushed ahead of women waiting to see Olly Murs, the thing on my mind was to get a picture with former Ballon D'Or winner Ronaldinho. Sadly, this was not to be and he boarded the coach with a simple smile and wink. That's the most upset he's ever made me feel since 2002, but a legend can always be forgiven. Before we knew it, the bus was moving and it was time to head home. A great night that, aside from the traffic, had been a great and also highly fun match experience. Will I come back to Old Trafford, perhaps not, but I'm still chuffed to be able to say that I've been and witnessed what all of the fuss is about. Call me old fashioned, but I much prefer the quiet and homey atmosphere of the 100 or so at a non-league ground to that of a 70,000 group of every kind.
|Girlfriend's departing thought- "We'll watch it on TV again next time."|