Obviously when writing this, my bias will show up. I can’t hide it – some of you already know who I support and I’ll tell it as I saw it, as I usually do when I write a segment of “the view”, but maybe this time it'll be a bit longer. I've gone around many cities looking to watch live football, simply because I love the game so much, but when it’s a game involving the team I love – it's always a better occasion. Wearing the kit, the scarf (or scarves in this case given how freezing it was), screaming to the top of my lungs and settling into the atmosphere I call “home” - all these things just don't happen when I'm at any other stadium. Arriving in Manchester to go to a game is always a memorable experience for me. Swamping into the tram like a sardine going through the quays to get to Old Trafford is priceless. But what always, no matter how many times I’ve done it now in my life, still amazes me and gets my heart pounding is walking towards the stadium and looking at Old Trafford from a distance. Nothing in this world can replace that feeling.
I’d made the journey on my own and was attending the game alone (because I would rather walk alone) and just as I found myself strolling outside the stadium and catching up with some familiar faces, as well as some new ones, little drops of snow appeared; but something was missing – there were no Liverpool fans in sight. Normally the away supporters are easy to spot and noisy around the stadium. But on this occasion, given the fact that it is Manchester United vs Liverpool, for security reasons, they arrive only an hour before kick-off. When I took my seat in the stadium, I got that familiar buzz when I see Old Trafford’s grass. I was sat on Tier 2 of the recently named “Sir Alex Ferguson Stand", a stand not recognized for its atmosphere, but whenever it's this particular fixture, it doesn't matter where one is seated, there’ll always be a good atmosphere.
The talk before the game, and everything that surrounded it, was whether Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra would shake hands. During the build-up to the game, both clubs and managers had confirmed that both players would shake hands and act responsibly as professional footballers. Nobody around me thought it would become an issue…but we were all proven very wrong. When the players lined-up for the traditional handshake (a pointless tradition in my opinion which came about just around the same time as that Premier League “song” did in 2004), Evra extended his hand to shake Suarez’s hand and the Uruguayan pulled away. Evra tried pulling it back before Pepe Reina interfered and this angered Ferdinand to not shake Suarez's hand. One big mess which could have been easily avoided. We have all made our thoughts about the whole issue pretty clear and keeping our partiality aside, whether you’re a Liverpool or Manchester United fan, I think we were all wishing the talk would be about the Football and nothing else simply because it was expected that Suarez would have just shook Evra’s hand and gotten over with it. Suarez's actions only spiced things up more. From where I was sat, I obviously didn’t have a clear view of what followed – but when I saw the replay of the incident, I can’t understand how anyone can say Suarez’s reactions were justifiable.
Anyways, back to matters on the pitch, and United’s line-up was a predictable one as was Liverpool’s (except for the ridiculous exclusion of Bellamy who would've have caused chaos on either flank if he'd started - thankfully he didn't). The game kicked-off and Old Trafford was rocking. Noise levels were extremely high and this was one of the better atmospheres I’ve experienced at the ground. The first half was a dreary affair. Chances were few and far between, and there was a sense of anxiety on the pitch. Liverpool dominated the first few minutes and this was evident when Glen Johnson had a glorious opportunity which I thought it had gone in.
But as the first half went on, United began dominating gradually. Slowly gaining the ascendancy by keeping possession sensibly with Paul Scholes orchestrating affairs. The banter between both sets of supporters was funny, to say the least, as the Luis Suarez chants began ringing all over the place for long periods of time (to be fair – there weren’t any chants that were derogatory to his race, in case anyone was wondering – Dalglish's comments after the game proving that). Despite both keepers never being really tested during the first half, United had the upper hand and created several openings without a proper end product. Welbeck, Rooney and Evra all missed half chances, but there was one particular opportunity which, had it gone in, would have been a brilliant goal. It was when Paul Scholes’ header was saved by Reina. That entire passage of play demonstrated once more why I believe that Paul Scholes is a footballing genius. His movement and vision during any interplay between himself and his team-mates is a joy to watch and it’s a shame that such a good move didn’t end up with the ball in the back of the net.
The big moment of discussion was when Ferdinand tackled Suarez at the end of the first half which, had he not gotten the ball, would have resulted in a red card. Dangerous defending from United on that one, but from where I was sat, the angle looked pretty clear that the direction of the ball had changed thanks to Ferdinand’s touch (replays showed it was the correct decision). However, Suarez gave the impression that the atmosphere got to him and this was demonstrated just as the half-time whistle blew when he blasted the ball straight towards the South Stand near the Liverpool dugout in anger - this created a melee when the players were walking in towards the tunnel - inappropriate actions by the Uruguayan in my opinion.
The second half was a completely different story to the first one with more Football and less controversy taking over. United upped the tempo. Within a minute of the restart, United won a corner and Giggs’ delivery was met with a nod on by Carrick only for Rooney to volley it passed Reina. 1-0 and Old Trafford erupted! A couple of minutes later, Jay Spearing was dispossessed by the ever-pressing Valencia who won the ball back and fed Rooney who was one-on-one with Reina and there was only ever one outcome as he slotted the ball between Reina’s legs. 2-0 within 4 minutes of the restart and Liverpool now had a mountain to climb as the stadium was now in full voice to give United the confidence to go on for more.
A third to kill the game off was almost there when Valencia delivered a pass which Scholes let run through his legs only for Rooney to squander it. A few half-chances and a lot of fantastic chanting meant that we all thought the game was over and living up the atmosphere was a joy personally. Daglish had other ideas though and his triple substitutions of Bellamy, Carroll and Adam piled the pressure on United and with 10 minutes left Adam’s in-swinging free-kick was horribly defended by Rio Ferdinand whose poor deflection fell into the path of none other than Luis Suarez to score. 2-1 with 10 minutes to go and Liverpool fans felt they could get something. I felt I could die during those last few minutes of the game as they gained the momentum towards the end, especially when in injury-time Glen Johnson’s shot from outside the box was fantastically saved by David De Gea. We thought that was the last chance until a minute later Suarez was presented with an even bigger chance to even the score when he had a free header which he somehow miraculously missed (even though he was flagged for offside). Heart in our mouths sort of moment.
The referee blew the whistle and Old Trafford roared as now, at least for the next 24 hours, United would be top of the league. What followed though was a rather amusing celebration by Patrice Evra. It infuriated Liverpool players, even though he was celebrating in front of United’s fans, but it was when he celebrated in front of Suarez that he crossed the line. Perhaps the celebrations were over the top but for Evra it might have been some sort of vindication for the events that occurred at kick-off. Either way, as Sir Alex said after the game, he shouldn’t have done it. Especially as I don’t think that Suarez even noticed that Evra was anywhere near him until the other Liverpool players and Phil Dowd interfered. The security then handled the situation admirably to avoid it boiling over into something out of nothing. Because that's what I really think it was...nothing.
All in all, my first ever United vs Liverpool game is one I’m not likely to forget anytime soon. A great atmosphere and some particularly stand-out performers. Wayne Rooney may have been awarded with the "man of the match award", but there were many out there could have easily collected it. It’s a rare sight that Ferguson doesn’t make any substitutions during the entire 90 minutes, maybe it was a sign of just how much trust he had in the 11 players he had started with. Scholes, Evans and Valencia were those who performed best in my opinion, but obviously the ginger prince was my key man. Leaving Old Trafford, it was another feeling of “see you soon” to a place which has given me so many great memories and which I’ve gone to great lengths to visit a few times a year. Beating Liverpool is always a great satisfaction - as it remains my favorite fixture - but being there for it made it much more sweeter.