An Old Trafford Expedition


It was in the middle of Friday afternoon that our Operations Manager called me across to her desk for a moment. My natural paranoia and insecurity made this a trepidatious walk, especially when she asked me if I was working Saturday. My shifts do not include Saturday working. Did I have any plans for Saturday. Nothing specific, I answered cautiously. Would I like to go see West Indies vs New Zealand, at Old Trafford, in the World Cup?

And so I went back to Old Trafford, for the first time in seventeen years (for a cricket match) in ample time for the 1.30pm start of only my second Day-Night match ever.

Just thinking of being there was wonderful, before a single ball was bowled, even if a single ball were not to be bowled because of rain all-day. I have always loved the atmosphere of being in a cricket ground, and Old Trafford in particular. I haven’t been here for cricket since the Saturday of the Sri Lanka Test in 2002, when I took my then elder-stepson for his first day of Test Cricket ever, and I haven’t been inside the gates since a late summer Sunday in 2008, when my then-wife and I won tickets via The Big Issue to see R.E.M. in concert (my seventh time, her first).

Old Trafford, long before my time

The nostalgia of the journey was enough to thrill me Friday night, thinking of the ever-unreliable 203 to Piccadilly Gardens, the Metrolink to the Warwick Road Station (I’m well aware that they pretend to call this stop Old Trafford now, but to me it’s Warwick Road and it always will be: I’ve passed through here far too many times, to see Lancashire, or England, or United for it to ever be anything else). It used to be possible to roll up at the station and, even as the train was slowing, see the Ladies Stand Scoreboard and get an instant update, but that was nearly forty years ago. Ah, but getting out here and walking down the length of the ground to the turnstiles…

On the other hand, when it came to working out practicalities, such as equipping myself with food and drink for the day, I ended up choosing a route I’d never taken before, which was the ever-unreliable 203 the other way, into Stockport, a bus to East Didsbury and the Metro from there to Trafford Bar (which used to be called Old Trafford and which confused me and left me with a long, hot walk the first time I went to the ground on the train) to change for Warwick Road.

The first thing I was looking forward to was seeing just how much the ground and the feel of the match has been changed by the re-orientation of the pitch. All my Old Trafford memories revolve around such things as the Warwick Road End, and the Stretford End, and sitting square-on in the Pavilion, which is how I saw Shane Warne bowl that ball, Graham Gooch handle the ball and Dominic Cork take that hat trick, the only professional hat trick I’ve seen live, in the flesh or on TV.

So this is a return to old glories with a vengeance, or old memories at any event. Oh, I have missed being there!

As for the teams, short of watching England, I couldn’t ask for better than the West Indies, even in their decades of decline. I am a veteran of the Blackwash season, of Viv Richards outscoring England by himself in 1984, and of the lump in the throat moment, a few years later, when I got into another International on the day, he scored 75, and when he was out I suddenly realised this was the last time I would ever see him walk off a cricket field. My favourite batsman ever.

And I’ve history with New Zealand as well, a One-Day International here where Richard Hadlee cut loose with the bat in the closing overs, culminating in 24 runs off the final over, and before that being at Headingly on the last day for their first ever Test win in England. This could be good, weather-permitting.

The usual travel paranoia set in, even though I went out early enough to get to the ground and back and set off again and still be on time. Not that that mattered, strictly: this was not catching a train at  fixed time, I could arrive late and still enjoy myself to the full.

There was an unscheduled stop en route, a stop off at the Collection Centre for an undelivered package. The queue was incredibly modest for a Saturday, especially in comparison to some I’ve endured. On the other hand, there must be something fated about buses with the numbers 2 and 3 in their route, because the 23 I was waiting for was incredibly late…

There was a tram waiting at East Disbury and a return ticket was only £3. The attendant recommended I get off at Firswood and walk from there, avoid those travelling from the City Centre. I debated the wisdom of this – it was a warm day for walking – but took his advice. Left out the station, turn right, and suddenly I was on the road Steve and I used to park, going to see United.

They’ve taken away the tunnel under the Warwick Road Station, the first of many unwelcome changes I experienced. There are new entrance gates, just outside the station, making entry easier. My seats, plural – I’d have sold the spare if anyone had been asking but there were plenty of spaces inside, including a dozen or more directly in front of me, so I hope the touts took a bath – turned out to be in Stand C Lower, four rows up from pitchside. My first ever visit to Old Trafford, for a John Player Sunday League match against Somerset (whose ranks included a young, misprinted, ‘J.T. Botham’) was to the old Wilson Stand, which this has replaced. In fact, I was sitting practically where the big screen was placed in 1993, the one that showed me (and Mike Gatting) just what Shane Warne did with that ball.

I couldn’t believe the ground. It wasn’t just the re-oriented pitch, nor the mega-high temporary stand on my immediate left, occupying the old Stretford End. But I barely recognised anything. The Pavillion was still the same, though its classic lines are now horribly overshadowed by two floors of overbuilding that make it look almost invisible. But the rest of it: practically everything I knew had been torn down, ripped out and changed out of all recognition.

You could have seen some shots of how it all looked from my perspective, but as I soon as I switched on my digital camera, the battery died on me. With the lens out. Bugger. Stock shots only.

Old Trafford Pavilion as I remember it

I don’t like it. I want them to put it back the way it was. But I’ll have to learn to live with it. It’s still Old Trafford, and I belong to Old Trafford, and I will have to learn to get comfortable with it. There are no Scoreboards! God almighty, what have they done?!

West Indies won the toss and elected to bowl. What a start! There was an LBW appeal off the first ball, turned down, reviewed and given! The second ball was puhed firmly into the gap between mid-off and extra cover, for a quick-run three that became an all-run four thanks to a misfield. The third was a dot ball, Williamson ran three off the fourth and Munro was bowled off the fifth! Add another three and New Zealand were 10 for 2 off one over.

I was already pissed off at the incessant urge to fill every non-playing moment with noise, masquerading as music, the inter-over urges to get the crowd involved (we’re not supposed to be involved, the players are the ones who are involved, we’re here to watch them play) and most of all the rock guitarist soloing on a bat-shaped electric guitar.

It wasn’t even the kind of World Cup fireworks we were getting in earlier games, just a steady, slow accumulation of runs, with no sixes and only occasional fours, thanks to some tight fast bowling, and skilful field placing. But Williamon and Taylor stuck together. It took them to the 24th over to bring up the hundred, with Williamson reaching his 50 a ball later, and Taylor doing the same one ball after that. There were overs and batsmen to spare but without some acceleration, they were going to struggle to get past 225 – 230 runs.

They were gradually doing that when Taylor’s attempted lofted drive off Gayle only went to Jason Holder, score 137, 35th over, 130 run partnership, cue more fucking guitar to spoilt it all. The crowd were getting stupid now: Williamson was three short of his hundred so, in order to help him concentrate, they started a bloody Mexican Wave: how 1986. He finally got there in the 38th over after being kept on 99 for several balls, with his first four since he’d reached his 50.

The serious low point was a burst of Robbie Williams between overs. Williamson immediately started forcing the pace, in the hope of getting away from that but the 250 still didn’t come up until the 41st over.

There had still been no sixes and the first attempt at one, by Latham, just went straight up for a mile or two and into Cottrell’s hands without him even having to complete his follow-through. Kill the guitarist! One finally arrives, the first of only four, in the 44th over. It was Williamson, and he added another but fell two short of his 150, skying one off Cottrell, who now had four wickets. It’s still among the top half dozen highest individual scores I’ve ever seen. Cottrell couldn’ quite pull off a Michelle (Pfieffer, five-for, get it?) but he did slip in a run out off his last over. 300 was just about possible but two catches in the deep by Cottrell, off the last two balls, left New Zealand short at 291 for 7.

Lunch was barms from the Sandwich Pound in Stockport plus a lengthier than usual swig from my litre and a half bottle of Diet Coke. I’d conserved it well, aided by the sun being mostly behind me, and the stand, until mid-innings, when it started to pour down a bit on the back of my neck. I was actually re-hydrating less than I do at work. Then again, I wasn’t spending all my time talking.

Old Trafford Pavilion as it is now

The West Indies inning started at 6.00pm, all the floodlights fully aglare, though they wouldn’t actually be needed for at least the next two hours, an ecological lesson we could all learn from. The West Indies started slow, so much so that they were one down for only 3 in the third over. Mind you, their first six came rather quicker, Gayle lifting the ball in the sixth over. It was the cue for him to start swinging at them, but when Pooran followed suit it was up and down and out: 20 for 2.

The arrival of Hetmyer saw their big partnership underway. Gayle smashed a four and two sixes in three balls but went quiet again, though he still reached his fifty in the 15th over, with the WIndies well ahead of the New Zealand rate and comparative score. I was hoping for a Caribbean victory, both for the memory of Richards, Lloyd, Greenidge, Walsh, Marshall, Holding, Lara et al., but also for the tactical purpose of easing England’s position.

Hetmyer was also out to score runs, two blows for four bring up the hundred in the 16th over. He went to his 50 with a six off Ferguson, whose silly moustache had the Seventies calling, asking for it back (on the other hand, Neesham had an even sillier one).

But Hetmyer’s dismissal by Ferguson not only broke the century partnership but exposed faultlines in the WIndies middle order. From 142 for 2, they went to 163 for 7, five wickets in 22 balls. Somewhere in that, Brathwaite took their score to exactly halfway, 14 balls short of halfway through the overs. The biggest blow was Gayle, hitting one with height but not length and caught by Boult on the boundary. Runs in the bag and overs in hand are all very well, but not without batsmen in hand.

With that clatter of wickets, it felt like the game had gone out of the game and I started to think about leaving. If all the overs were bowled, this would finish about 10.00pm, then everyone would be trying to go at once. Leaving Old Trafford at that hour is one thing if you’ve got a car, but a kettle of fish of a different colour if you’re on public transport, and three legs of it.

Though Brathwaite and Roach seemed to be more concerned about defending their wickets, the 200 still came up the the 35th over and the asking rate was still just under a run a ball. But my mind was made up when Roach fell, at 211, and 8.48pm. Convinced I already knew the winner of this game, and that it could only peter out, I left my seat at 9.00pm, a couple of loud roars ringing out behind me as I made for Warwick Road.

The journey wasn’t too difficult: Metro within minutes at Firswood, a 42 within minutes at East Didsbury, a 203 within minutes (blimey!) at Stockport Bus Station. But I was tired, and aching all over when I walked in, which is what seven and a half hours in a hard plastic cricket seat, your bum alternating at sore and numb, does to you.

I went on-line to check the result. New Zealand had won, but I’d almost missed a stunning ending, with Brathwaite going to a hundred and the WIndies to one six hit off victory, only for the ball to fall two feet short and be caught. I would have kicked myself over leaving that, if I hadn’t been so bloody achey…

So, what was it like? It was a game of two halves, though not in the football sense. Despite the lack of fireworks for the most part, the cricket was excellent. Not having a dog in this show, it was a bit less intense for me, but there was some great shots, some athletic fielding and very good bowling displays (hasn’t Mitchell Santner, the New Zealand spinner, got a bloody funny action?).

But if the cricket was well worth it, the commercial bullshit that surrounded it wasn’t. Yes, call me a fuddy-duddy or an elitist, but the frantic need to fill every down-second with noise, with Making in Large, with urges to get involved, was fucking infuriating, and I know I don’t have a smart phone but every attempt was being made to get the crowd to ignore the cricket and text and tweet and send selfies, and it was a nightmare! Send them all off to re-education classes, this is not cricket in any form that I recognise it, and I shall stick to the TV for the rest of the tournament, especially as they have the sound off where I work

5 thoughts on “An Old Trafford Expedition

  1. I fell out of love with cricket shortly after reaching puberty, but I kind of regret that I did now. I recently read David Tossell’s book, Grovel. Named after the infamous Tony Grieg quote, it documents his teams systematic destruction by Richards, Holding, Roberts etc in 1976. It brought memories flooding back of the days when I would watch test matches from beginning to end. Supporting the West Indies! How could you not? They were the most exciting thing I’d seen.

    Enjoyed getting to see this match through your eyes. Although, you definitely don’t need Robbie Williams between overs.

  2. I have no interest in cricket (in any sport, really), but I thoroughly enjoyed this match report, although some of the more in depth elements (like “From 142 for 2, they went to 163 for 7, five wickets in 22 balls. Somewhere in that, Brathwaite took their score to exactly halfway, 14 balls short of halfway through the overs.”) had me glazing over.

    Oh, and even without having heard it, I’d like to take that cricket bat-shaped guitar and smash it to pieces.

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