A Year without Football
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.
The 2020/21 European Season In Review
United failed to really progress on last season’s three semi final defeats, other than in the Europa League, and whilst it was great to finally get back there were so many great games and trips we missed out on as supporters this year.
Trips Made: 1 (Gdańsk)
Trips Missed (All Games Played Behind Closed Doors): 7 (Paris, Istanbul [Basaksehir], Leipzig, Turin [Real Sociedad – moved from San Sebastian due to Covid travel restrictions], Milan, Granada, Rome)
Miles Travelled: 1,716
Furthest Trip / Shortest Trip: Gdańsk – 1,716
Cheapest Pint / Most Expensive Pint: Gdańsk – £2.05
Average Travel Cost: £189
Whilst there’s just the one trip to review here, I can’t beat the habit of summarising the spectrum of costs like in all my previous season reviews. Similar to the disrupted 2019/20 season these stats were well down on the last few years where I’ve averaged five European matches in a season and around 9,000 miles travelled. A cup final that was reasonably priced too! Not quite making it onto my list of most expensive matches with United, with tickets between €40-130 (£35-112).
Sticking again with my usual synopsis, ‘highlights’ is perhaps not the best word to try and summarise the 2020/21 season. We did of course start the year in the Champions League, a tough group with PSG & RB Leipzig started well with wins against both before a shock defeat away at Istanbul Başakşehir. Subsequent defeats to the first two left us in third place in the group and down into the Europa League. Competing in the latter stages of the Champions League should always be the aim at United, up against the best is where we want to be, but there was a small bit of consolation when the ticket prices for the final were released; the categories rising from €70 (£60), €180 (£155), €450 (£386) to €600 (£515)! Another shocker from UEFA.
There was a hope towards the end of 2020 that supporters might soon be able to return to grounds, and a home Premier League match against Leeds in December was lined up as a return for fans. Rising Covid cases however caused further lockdown restrictions and a prolonged delay. It made the prospect of any trips to the enticing Europa League games unlikely given very few countries were even allowing home fans to attend.
The was relatively little competition in the Europa League, and so after seeing off one of the strong opponents in AC Milan it always felt like United were strong enough to reach the final. I’d priced up flights which were pretty reasonable at £75 return direct to Gdańsk, however with UK and most of Europe under strict travel restrictions it didn’t seem like a sensible gamble. It might have been doable, though quarantine rules meant the official club day trip for once was the best option. Probably not an experience I’ll repeat in a hurry; whilst convenient in these circumstances and affordable (albeit discounted by the club to help cover our £200+ in Covid testing) it was a long 28 hour day with just a small bit of broken sleep on the 2hr flight home. It left little time on match day to really explore the city, something that’s really important for me on a trip to a new place.
So no Super Cup final in Belfast, a shame as a visit to Northern Ireland would have been another new country for me, and instead we look ahead to 2021/22 in the Champions League. There’s a good chance that travel restrictions will remain in place for most of this year, especially as we approach winter where the impact of the virus is likely to increase. With the UK close to being fully vaccinated there’s confidence that domestic games will be back to normal by August, so here’s hoping there’ll be some trips abroad to look forward to as well.