Anxiousness rose sharply throughout my body during the train ride into Philly. Turning to my brother, I could only utter "I can't wait." It would be another two hours before the game began and thankfully I had watched United's greatest goal ever - Ryan Giggs' epic steal, run and shot from the 1998-1999 replay of the Semi-final match versus Arsenal - four times before leaving my house. The only way I could feasibly survive the wait to the game was to watch videos involving Giggs to hold back my emotions. It's hard to prepare oneself for the experience of not only seeing your favorite player live for the first time, but also seeing the two teams you support for the first times live.
My brother and I stopped in for dinner before heading on the Broad Street Subway line and then we were off to the stadium. The first train left, filled to the brim with a mixture of Union and United fans. Lucky for my brother and another train quickly appeared and that's where the fun began. I scanned the train car and saw that the two sets of fans had almost inadvertently segregated themselves into distinct clusters. It became even more evident to everyone on the car when Union fans broke out into a chant of "We stick with the Union" and I was slightly ashamed I couldn't join in with them. The problem was two-fold: one, I'm a supporter of both teams and two, I was wearing a United shirt underneath a United jersey. Would have been a little awkward for me to be chanting with my fellow hometown supporters. Such would be the curse of the night. I couldn't follow the game like a normal fan, rather I was forced to enjoy it as almost a neutral. Thankfully the game proved to be more exciting than the 2009 Peace Cup Final in Seville, Spain, the first professional football match I witnessed live where I was also a neutral fan (0-0 Aston Villa versus Juventus, Villa won on penalties).
Once we got to the stadium, my brother and I headed straight for one of the merchandise tents. I gave a great deal of thought about purchasing some United gear but went and finally purchased myself a Union scarf. The one I bought states "Join or Die" on one side and Philadelphia Union on the other side. This brings me to the following thought: I think that United supporters can appreciate some of the interesting background to some parts of Union sayings, chants, phrases and such. Much of the Union's merchandizing and the Sons of Ben are representative of Philadelphia's historical past. References are made everywhere about Benjamin Franklin and the history of the Revolution. I realize that it's a little awkward for an American to think that Englishmen (and others) to appreciate such things but I believe that true supporters of such an old and prestigious club could understand what I'm trying to convey. Though the Union do not yet have a rich tradition through its own history, it already has embraced the history and tradition of the city.
After gearing up, we made our way to our seats. I was hoping to be surrounded by the Sons of Ben and to revel in the sights and sounds of the game there but we ended up on the other endzone side (remember, the Linc is an American football stadium). Still, the fans around us were more than decent so a good time was had by all. Surprisingly, the two fans to our left were Chelsea fans, two rows behind us were about five Arsenal fans and there were at least 100 Liverpool fans at the game, by my count. The two gentlemen to the right of us were Jamaicans who provided plenty of laughs and good commentary throughout the game.
The United fans that showed up to the game unfortunately seemed to be front runners without any knowledge of United's history. I did meet some fans that were either English or were die hard United fans and that was great. But when the stadium is filled with something like 30,000 United fans, don't you think that the chants would have been heard? There wasn't a single "Glory, glory Man United" going on. It was a pitiful sight to behold. All atmosphere provided at the stadium was through the core group of Union fans, the Sons of Ben. Sitting behind United's goal for the second half, pretty much every discernable noise was emanating from the Sons of Ben. Though some of you may dislike some of the chants, if you weren't at the stadium you won't appreciate how important the Sons of Ben were to the overall enjoyment of the game.
I don't know if my emotions could be properly described by text alone. It is rather unfortunate that the video taken on my phone refuses to transfer to my computer; when a certain person showed up on the Lincoln Financial Field's Jumbo-tron, I shouted with the glee of a kindergartner given his pick of anything in a candy store. By the time the game started, I was enthralled simply by the sight of Manchester United players walking onto the field.
The "11" rose more brightly to my eyes than any other numbers and "GIGGS" seemed to shout at me as though Ryan himself was calling for me to watch.
Then there was the kickoff. For the first 20 minutes or so the Union's Danny Mwanga was the most impressive player on the pitch. Sebastian Le Toux also showed off his technical skill and the Union defense continued its poor effort. On United's side, Danny Welbeck proved he can utilize his talent and wreaked havoc whenever he touched the ball. I was seriously disappointed by the future of the United defense in the first half. While the Union did not score a goal, United's defense as a unit did not play up to the standards of the EPL. Federico Macheda seems to have taken a step back as a target man but he showed off his technical skill with some nasty tricks up front. Finally, Gabriel Obertan run almost freely down the line, finding plenty of room to provide service to the United frontmen.
At half it had sunk in that I had already watched Giggs dazzle for 45 plus minutes. My dream was a reality. I had witnessed greatness and now I expected Giggs to be taken out. That's where I was wrong. For nearly 95 minutes I was given the pleasure of watching my favorite athlete work wonders against defenders that (exaggeration) were half his age.
The second half for United was a combination of efforts by Obertan, Giggs and Welbeck to power United to victory. Obertan continued his great performance from the first half and was rewarded with a goal. Welbeck continued his excellent first half as well, hopefully his forms continues. Berbatov had a good game again and was incredibly unlucky to score (damn crossbar). Giggs kept shifting into a central midfield position, with Rafael giving support up the wing. From that position, Giggs was able to influence the flow of the game, especially for the United offense. And just to note, that should have been a penalty, I probably had one of the best seats in the house to see it (I was right behind the goal, high up in the lower level section).
It finally hit me that the game was over once we boarded the train home. This whole experience has made me want to study abroad in Manchester even more and to attempt to somehow get an internship with Manchester United. I need to be at Old Trafford for a home game, I need to experience a match with thousands of fellow supporters. What a day to be a United fan, what a day to be a Union fan but what a day to be a Giggs fan.