"Old Trafford: My First Time" is a signature series featuring supporters across the United States sharing their experiences as they make the pilgrimage to Old Trafford, the Theatre of Dreams. This installment features Chris Castaneda from New Jersey.
Think back to your childhood as you are enjoying a normal day at your house. Imagine you are 7 years old and spending time with your favorite uncle, trying to convince him to take part in one more of your Spiderman vs. Superman action figure fights. However, he can’t because he is too busy trying to fix the signal on the TV set. He yells “Come on!” as he moves away from the TV and locks himself in the chair, no one can move him.
This is the precise moment I got my first glimpse of English football. In that very instant I was introduced to a magic world that would eventually completely take over my life.
As a kid spending my first few childhood years in South America, it was extremely rare to come across a live showing of the English league. Fortunately, my uncle had been lucky enough to stumble across a Manchester United vs. Tottenham match in 1993, and after witnessing Cantona making that sublime pass to Irwin the dream was born.
My dream was to watch a match at Old Trafford and it took 23 years for that dream to become a reality. Almost 30 years old now, married and living in New Jersey, after years of savings and months of planning it was time to make the jump. We would be watching the match against Spurs on Sunday, March 15, 2015.
It was my first time in the United Kingdom and I wanted everything to be perfect. The timing, the hotels, the places to visit, everything planned to detail. I have to admit everything was made easier by having the full support of my wife Rita, who has learnt to live with my madness and even shares it today.
After spending a few days in London we made our way up north. I was now on a train heading to Manchester, not being able to fall asleep and get the rest I needed because it was too hard, it was all becoming too real. I was getting closer to the city I have imagined visiting for so long. My wife on the other hand, wasn’t so keyed up. She took one look out the window and she was gone.
We arrived at Manchester on Saturday the 14th. We registered at the hotel and got ready for dinner. It was too late to think about doing anything other than getting ready for the next day, so we decided to stay in and try to get some energy back. Once again, sweet sleep decided to dodge me. The anticipation was growing and all I could do was picture myself at the stadium over and over again, imagining every step I was going to take and what I was going to see first.
Sunday came and we took a cab bright and early to get to the grounds. I wanted to have enough time to appreciate every detail of what I was going to see. As we drove through the streets of Manchester, the anticipation became anxiety; my palms were sweating and my eyes unable to focus until I caught the first glimpse of Old Trafford. At that moment, everything seemed to stop. I tried to yell and tell my wife “Look! It’s there! We’re here!”, but nothing came out. All she had to do was stare at me and smile…she knew what I was thinking.
We left the cab and made the walk down Sir Matt Busby Way. It was four hours before the game but the vendors were already setting up and people were already walking around, in and out of the Megastore. I wanted to buy every scarf I saw, every book and every pamphlet. The feeling I was getting was not something I could explain. I was there standing next the statue of the Holy Trinity, alongside George Best, and I couldn’t believe it.
Rita stood there and watched me walk around time and time again. She tried to get my attention, saying something about taking pictures, but I wasn’t listening. I was too busy trying to process the fact that I was really there, that I was not imagining the whole thing.
I walked towards the Munich Memorial and just stopped in front of it. I read the names and thought about everything I remembered about the tragedy, I reminded Rita of the times I told her about what had happened and then took a picture of the clock. We walked around the stadium a few times, looking at every picture and every statue we could find.
It was finally time to go in. The amount of people waiting to get in was incredible. We got to the line and showed the tickets I had worked hard to get. I walked up the stairs and through the doors and finally into the North West Quadrant. It felt as if I was looking at that classic photograph everyone has seen, but it was real. The seats still mostly empty, the pitch green and ready, the flags in place.
This was the moment for which I had been waiting my whole life. The nervousness and anxiety morphed into delight and happiness. I could not get enough of that view. I was very much still in my own world, there was no one else around. It took me a few minutes to be able to sit down and come back to my wife.
The teams made their way out of the tunnel, the music started playing and the crowd started to sing in full voice. It was only fitting that 23 years after watching that Spurs match I was there now, in 2015, to watch Manchester United take on Tottenham once again. Needless to say the match was incredible, United giving one of their best performances in recent years. We took part in the deafening chants, being so near to the Stretford End that we could enjoy all the madness first hand.
Leaving the stadium after such an experience, and a 3-0 score, left me with a tremendous array of feelings. My passion for the club I have supported my entire life, my gratitude towards the city and country I had dreamed of visiting as a youngster, my love for Manchester United.
Dreams do come true.
Chris Castaneda is a life long Red living in New Jersey. He was born in Ecuador but has lived most of his life in the United States. He spends the majority of his time working as a Digital Interaction Designer in New York City. He have been married for six years and has known his wife for fifteen… seven of which he has spent explaining, showing and sharing his passion for Manchester United.