Given almost the entire 2020/21 season was played without fans in the grounds we’ll be forgiven for not being able to recall it well in years to come. The final home fixtures of the Premier League season were the first to be open to supporters, however missing out on one of just 10,000 tickets in the ballot meant the match against Villarreal was my first United game since March 2020. Despite being a European final it was somewhat subdued by continued Covid-restrictions and a 25% capacity crowd, the above shot being the moment prior to kick-off. Defeat on penalties completed an anti-climatic season and also robbed us of the exciting prospect of a Super Cup final in Belfast in August.
What a strange old season. 8th March 2020 was the last time I properly stepped foot inside Old Trafford, well over 14 months ago; the last European trip, to Bruges, was a few weeks prior to that. Whilst I’ve dipped into non-league football at West Didsbury and Chorlton, I’ve had to make do with watching United on tele for more than a full season, almost to the point that it’s lost meaning.
A huge appeal for football fans and groundhoppers are the trips to the more obscure parts of the country, and to the grounds that have long made up the English game. In a previous post I’ve looked at the biggest football stadiums in Europe, but there’s so much interesting history about some of the oldest football grounds in England.
Whilst there some clear favourites in my round up of the best retro Manchester United shirts, it was hard to keep the list to just 10. Even in the days when new shirts, for the most part, lasted two full seasons, there are plenty to pick from United’s red, white & black (and the odd blue!)
It’s approaching the end of 2020 and I haven’t been to see United since March – 8 months devoid of trips to Old Trafford, around the country or across Europe. The 2020/21 Champions League group stage has started without away fans and neither that nor the domestic competitions seem likely to be allowing supporters in any time soon.
First off, it feels a little redundant to preview a season which is clouded in uncertainty, and where it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to attend matches until 2021, but this is just the state of the world attempting to live with Covid-19.
Writing this in August, the start of the 2019/20 season feels an age away, with the pre-season trips to Cardiff & Oslo now over a year ago. The first competitive fixture against Chelsea in the league was August 11th – 370 days ago from the final games of the 2019/20 season against Sevilla.
Nostalgia is very prevalent in popular culture, from remakes of classic films and music group revivals to celebration of a brand’s history. Football is no different, with fans constantly looking back at the “glory years” or a period that they remember fondly.
A fairly convincing group stage saw United finish top, avoiding the difficulty of facing one of the seeded teams, Europa League group winners or stronger Champions League drop outs. Of 14 possible opponents there was a real mix of locations, with Germany the only country represented more than once with 3 teams. There were familiar foes in the form of Olympiacos, Shakhtar Donetsk and Cluj, as well as new potential trips to APOEL of Cyprus, Ludogorets of Bulgaria and Getafe of Spain.
The Europa League, for all it’s drawbacks, does guarantee trips to the more obscure parts of Europe, and the 2019/20 group stage draw didn’t disappoint. Sandwiched between a trip to Alkmaar, north of Amsterdam, and a 3,000 mile trek to Astana in Kazakstan, was a meaningful return to Belgrade.