I Rossoneri (e bianchi)
Almost straight after our return from Oslo we were back on the road again, to Wales where this year’s pre-season concludes in Cardiff with a game against AC Milan. There’s been a couple of League games at the Cardiff City stadium over the past 6 years, but we haven’t visited the much more impressive Millennium Stadium (now the Principality Stadium) since the 2005 FA Cup Final, an undeserved defeat to Arsenal.
In 2001-06 United played there a further 6 times (2004 FA Cup Final, 2 League Cup Finals & 3 Community Shield matches); this will be my first trip though, for the much less prestigious International Champions Cup.
Our opponents, AC Milan, are a team we’ve faced on many occasions in European competition, the most recent trip to Italy being in 2010. Our first meeting in 1958 was just months after the tragedy of the Munich air disaster, where United’s patched together team heroically lost in the semi finals. We’ve always met in the European Cup/Champions League, with Milan boasting 7 European Cups to United’s 3, however this season both clubs were due to compete in the Europa League (until Milan received a FFP ban), showing how far we’ve fallen in recent years.
Pre-Season Money Spinners
The much criticised “Game 39” proposed by Richard Scudamore over a decade ago never really got off the ground, but did lead to the pre-season Premier League Asia Trophy taking place every two years. Meanwhile the discussions amongst the ‘top’ European clubs about a breakaway league, and UEFA’s expansion of the Champions League continue to gain momentum. All designed to generate even more revenue for the top teams whilst destroying the core leagues, thankfully none have really prevailed, yet.
The International Champions Cup is a quite clearly an effort to try and fill this “void” of more regular matches between Europe’s big names. It’s actually a competition UEFA haven’t managed to get their hands on, even if the format isn’t far off their plans with a protected status in the Champions League. Whilst the organisers label it a competition between “the world’s top soccer clubs” in reality it’s almost exclusively European teams.
It’s a competition that doesn’t really know what it is itself, with the format changing every year since it’s 2013 inception. It features friendlies in different counties, with previous editions seeing “country winners”, whilst from 2018 there’s been a single winner based on a league table (with teams playing 3 games each). Pre-season friendlies are always played at a lesser pace, and the International Champions Cup is no different, with no team clambering to be crowned champions. United won it in 2014, who knew.
Travelling to Cardiff
There are no direct flights from Manchester to Cardiff, and the prospect of going out of the way to change at Dublin, Belfast or even Amsterdam didn’t seem too attractive. Likewise, the train has few direct options; the 3h 15m journey can be done for £58 return (or £39 with a 26-30 discount) but most return legs require a change, and a 4+ hour journey.
It meant that the 190 mile drive was about the better option, and certainly cheapest with petrol costs split between 4 passengers (£15 each). Travelling south from Manchester we took the M50 just after Worcester to avoid the traffic crossing the Severn bridge. Of course, it was the busy area of the M6 around Stoke that inevitably caused delays on the journey.
The City of Cardiff
With a two night stay we wanted to be as close to the main sights as possible, which wasn’t too difficult given the relatively small size of the city. The Holiday Inn Express (Cardiff Bay) was well placed, a short walk from both the bay and the city centre.
Cardiff Bay is perhaps the epicentre of the city, certainly in terms of culture and things to see. A massive waterfront locked in by a huge barrage, the bay home to notable tourist spots, restaurants and views. Roald Dahl Plass, a square dedicated to the author born in Cardiff, and the copper-coated Millennium Centre sit close to the seafront. We took advantage of a ferris wheel to take in views around the bay; the 5 star voco St. David’s Cardiff (where United were staying) to one side, and a reformed Norwegian church to the other. Much of the rest was nature.
It was perfect weather to walk around the barrage, a few miles all the way round by the time you connect back to the edge of the city centre and over the River Taff. We unexpectedly found Cardiff Castle, which sits right in the heart of the city. Dating back to the 11th century and surrounded by so much history, it’s renovated walls stand right opposite a busy, modern high street. My personal favourite pub of the trip, the Goat Major, was right on the corner of Castle Street – full of pictures of the military mascot, unintentionally amusing.
There are plenty more sights and places to see outside of the immediate city, Caerphilly Castle to the north and Barry further along the coast, and a slightly longer trip would have given time to do some of this. A broken phone means this entry’s picture-less, for now…
One particular dominating city centre monument is what we came to Cardiff for, the Principality Stadium. It’s so central, much like St James’ Park in Newcastle, with the huge spires holding up the retractable roof visible from all over the city. A short walk from the nearby bars and main high street, it’s perfectly located for pre and post match drinks.
The 74,500 capacity stadium (making it just smaller than Old Trafford) was around 90% full for the match, with tickets priced around £45 (through Ticketmaster again, as with the match in Oslo) and largely seemed to be full of Welsh United fans. AC Milan had a few hundred fans behind one goal too. Given that Cardiff City play at their own stadium, a few miles to the West, it didn’t count towards my efforts to do the 92, though well worth a visit.
One of the features of the Millennium Stadium is it’s retractable roof, which can be opened in just 20 minutes. Despite the low 20 degree weather in early August this strangely remained shut all game. Perhaps intentional to help the players pre season fitness but not ideal for the fans.
The match saw another strong XI from United, Rashford with an early goal before Milan struck twice. Lingard made it 2-2 with 20 minutes to go, and given this was our last pre season game Ole made just 7 changes through the latter stages of the second half (rather than a full XI changes like in previous matches). We went straight to penalties and it was all square before De Gea saved from Daniel Maldini (son of Paolo), with Daniel James writing the headlines by scoring the winner in front of his home crowd.
The end of the match came with an announcement that Benfica had “won” the International Champions Cup, to little fanfare. The match once again highlighted that there are gaps in United’s squad, though Harry Maguire was still to add. It’s going to be a long season with a lot of patience required for the young team Ole has started to build. A nice way to see in the season in an impressive ground though, even if we couldn’t drink in the stands. Let’s see what the Europa League brings then.
Total travel costs: £15
Miles travelled: 380
Accommodation: £90/night (double room – £45pp)
Match ticket: £45 (+£6.50 fees)
Average cost of pint: £3.60
Attendance: 66,000 (est.)
Match played 03/08/19