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 thePrincipality Stadium) since the 2005 FA Cup Final, an undeserved defeat to Arsenal.
After a 2 and a half month break following the most underwhelming end to a season in years, United are back. Maybe not quite yet in the sense that we want; Ole has had a tough summer of rebuilding and the challenge this coming season will be to close the gap on Liverpool and City. A massive ask given we finished the season over 30 points behind them. It’s another year of the Europa League too, a competition we’d rather not be in but that we’d hope United can go all the way in.
Europe is home to some of the most famous world football stadiums and teams. A mix of modern and newly built stadia, and historic grounds which have evolved over the years. Football stadiums are now designed to meet the needs of a diverse crowd, with safe standing areas just as important to clubs as the concourse and facilities. For fans and the teams themselves, the atmosphere is the most important factor, to help performances and generally show support.
With the 2016/17 Europa League victory, United became the fifth team to win the UEFA ‘European Treble’ after Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Ajax and Juventus. It’s a feat that comprises of the Champions League, Europa League and Cup Winners Cup, and one that few teams can still achieve due to the latter competition being defunct.
One of the bigger debates relating to football fans currently is the topic of Safe Standing. With fans wanting to improve atmospheres in grounds, as well as allow for safer conditions, there’s a lot of momentum behind the campaign. It’s been debated in Parliament and more clubs are taking note of the clear advantages of introducing safe standing areas in stadiums.
For many English football fans there’s little chance to see their team play in European competition; it’s why the supporters at England away games are often from lower league teams. We’re lucky to be able to do that with United, seeing them play in so many countries whether in competitive matches or preseason friendlies.
Whilst there is much focus on the most expensive football tickets, there is little commentary on the other end of the scale, the cheapest tickets. There is a growing focus and efforts to fight the inflation of football tickets both domestically and in Europe, with the FSF’s Twenty’s Plenty campaign one clear success, leading to the £30 cap on Premier League away matches.
Five months ago, Monday 17th December, United had just lost 3-1 away at Liverpool leaving them 19 points off the top of the league and 11 points from the top 4. With a goal difference of 0 and PSG to come in the Champions League there was little expectation that anything would be salvaged from the season. This was a view a shared by the board, as Mourinho’s sacking was announced a day later.
Following the late drama in Paris we were into the quarter final draw of the Champions League. It’s the real business end of the tournament; with it comes the big names, and they don’t come much bigger than Barcelona. Although domestic rivals Real Madrid have won the trophy for the past three seasons, Barcelona added their fifth title in 2015, having also defeated United in the ’09 and ’11 finals.
There’s often talk about the ‘romance’ of football, whether it’s an underdog turning over a giant in a cup game or simply remembering elements of a club’s history – such as Ole’s return to United and back to attractive, attacking football! What better then, than a trip to Paris, a city synonymous with romance and a chance to show what we’re about against the superstars of Paris Saint-Germain.