Why we all need a Clive the Concierge

Tickets to the English Premier League are a hot commodity.  Tickets to the Premier League between teams occupying the ‘big four’ are even hotter with most games sold out well in advance.  However, with a little persistence and a constant ear to the ground tickets can be sourced.  What do you think the chances are of getting tickets to a Premier League game between two big four teams like Manchester United and Arsenal, three days out from the game without booking a ticket? Low?  Well I somehow managed it and this is how.

Backpacking the UK in 2009, I went on a road trip with three mates from London to Manchester.  Two of the guys I was travelling with had tickets to the game via  family relatives who were season ticket holders.  Chris and I were on the road trip for the ride and if we managed to snare a ticket, great, if not we were going to watch the game in one of Manchester’s busy pubs and enjoy the local nightlife (which is something else).

Arriving in town on the Thursday before the Sunday clash, we set about finding accommodation.  At first we cruised around trying to find a dingy hostel that would be reasonably cheap but the series of one way streets made it near impossible to keep your bearings in the small lanes, alleyways and bumper to bumper CBD traffic.  I was warned not to bother with driving in Manchester as it was a total bitch but me being the stubborn prick I sometimes can be thought if I could negotiate Melbourne and London, surely I could handle the 700,000 township of Manchester.  If you don’t believe me, try it, you’ll be swearing at traffic like a New York cabbie within 10 minutes.

My driving landed us at the entrance to Manchester’s Crown Plaza Hotel which was a welcome change to the hostels I had become accustomed to.  We bit the bullet and paid a little extra for the comfy beds.  The hotel room was £140 a night, unfortunately for the four of us we had to share two double beds in our suite.  At least they were Queen size beds.

It was fairly apparent talking to the local Manchurians on arrival that tickets to Manchester United and Arsenal would be near impossible to obtain three days out from the match, however I was determined to continue to look for tickets no matter how bad the seats may be.

On the Friday I went around the corner to get a haircut.  Refusing to give in I asked the barber the best way to go about getting a ticket to Sunday’s game.  He suggested that I could try my luck with scalpers loitering around Old Trafford on game day or ‘Clive the Concierge at the Crown Plaza down the road’.  According to my barber he was a concierge who had a knack of ‘getting things’.  Not only was I rooming at the Plaza but Clive was also on duty when I got back from my haircut.  Clive advised to leave it with him and he would get back to me.

A day passed and on the Saturday- literally 24 hours until kick off- Clive delivered the goods.  There they were, two season tickets for Chris and I.  We weren’t talking nose-bleed seats, nor were we being charged a premium for our troubles either, all Clive wanted was a fee to cover the cost of one game for his ticket which was £25.  I slung him £60 as I was prepared to pay up to £100 for the privilege.

Game day arrives and nothing could have prepared me for what the day entailed.  The happenings off the pitch were just as interesting, if not more, as the game itself. Having a ticket to the game allows you to take all of it in but some of the buzz you get from the experience was free of charge like the walk down Sir Matt Busby Way on our way to our entry to the stadium or waiting outside where the team buses pull up and seeing the players in the flesh make the short 30m walk from the team bus to dressing room door.

Down the road from Old Trafford on the corner of Sir Matt Busby Way is the Trafford Pub.  The Trafford is exclusively for Manchester United fans on game day.  Think the Royal on Punt Road down the road from the MCG on the morning of the Boxing Day Test but this was an establishment with a little class.  No cheap strippers rattling beer jugs for coins to get their tits out, much cleaner décor and it was a breathing monument to all things Manchester United with pictures of Paul Scholes, Christiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Eric Cantona and George Best among further Manchester United memorabilia adorning the walls.  The back of the pub was packed as tight as a peak hour train carriage full of chanting and singing as only the English can.   A season ticket was the only way in and I was privileged enough to experience it.  If I was doing this in Australia, I would have seriously cracked the shits by now as there is nothing exciting about drinking Fosters in a plastic cup in a Pub where getting to the urinal is damn near impossible.

After leaving The Trafford we made our way to the ground.  You can see the stadium towering over the houses in the neighbourhood, spruikers everywhere in the street trying to sell unofficial Man U fanzines, scalpers discreetly offering tickets, police officers keeping an eye out for any disturbances, merchandise stands selling badges, t-shirts and nick-nacks.  None of it official, how do they get away with this?  Manchester United is one of the most powerful, marketable and recognisable brands in the world.

We circled the ground took in the atmosphere then entered the stadium.  What got me was how immaculate and clean the stadium was.  Not a piece of litter, no old squashed up chewy on the grounds.  The red vinyl throughout the stadium is polished and scarlet red.  The ground itself is without a blade of grass out of place.

Our seats were in the Stretford End, top tier, third row from the front.  Did Clive the Concierge deliver or what?  The Stretford end is where the rowdier supporters sit and Chris and I were surrounded by some real diehards.  We were pretty much directly behind the goals.

The game itself was really something else.  I never knew where to look.  The pitch had the game where such heroes of mine like Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney were plying their trade.  The crowd was non-stop singing, chanting, swearing, supporting, berating the entire match, not in patches but for the entire match.  The crowd around us refused to sit, so to see the game we had to stand.  Police made their way down the aisles getting people to sit, the reply from the local Manchurians was pretty blunt, “Fook off you fooking coont”.  No heavy handed evictions here, it’d start a riot.  Knowing full well they were fighting a losing battle they probably fight most weeks, the police officers copped it and meekly stood around hoping for relative order.

The first goal of our game was a screamer scored by Andre Arshavin.  Arsenal 1-0.  72,000 Man U fans silent for half a minute while 3,000 screaming Arsenal fans in the back corner of the ground (that’s all they get) are going wild.

15 minutes into the second half and there’s a penalty.  Rooney is going to take it.  The build up to the penalty makes me want to jump off the top tier of the stand I’m that restless.  The crowd well and truly on their feet are chanting ROONEY, ROONEY, ROONEY, ROONEY over and over.  He doesn’t disappoint and the roar that intense, loud and dense you can’t even hear yourself going off tap. 1-1 and the fans have lifted it another decibel.

What happens next is a bit of a fizzer but the diehards don’t care- own goal.  The roar doesn’t quite match the Rooney penalty as it takes a couple of seconds to filter through the entire stadium as to what exactly happens.  A few United players punch the air in delight and it’s apparent they’ve come from behind to take a 2-1 lead, a lead they hold until the final whistle.  To add insult to injury the Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger, is sent off and ends up in the crowd in view of the game to the delight of 72,000 patrons.

Game over and that’s it.  The crowd disperses and makes their way back home.  The once in a lifetime experience has been experienced.  It’s all over.  The lads and I meet up and have our last meal together before we go our separate ways back home.  I decide to head up to Scotland for a week to slow down, give the liver a break and enjoy some of the more natural attractions of Britain.

On the Monday morning Clive is on duty again as we check out.  We thank him for the effort he went to and he welcomed us to come back anytime where he’d try to deliver again.  Apparently the Crown Plaza also has access to hospitality packages at Old Trafford as well so there were a few paths to my goal of seeing Manchester United on their home turf.

English Premier League tickets are incredibly hard to come by as you will be often reminded when you enquire about it when you visit the UK.  On my trip I saw two.  Fulham vs Everton at Craven Cottage was the other.  I was directly behind the goals front row that day.  I watch Tim Cahill head a goal right in front of me.  I watched Fulham peg the deficit back to win 2-1 and spent the post-game in a Fulham pub chatting to Fulham members listening to their stories.  Men in their 40s and 50s telling me stories about the time they were shot with tear gas in Rome when watching the national team play Italy in the 70s.  Really unique experiences and nothing a travel company charging you £300 for a sterile, organised experience could ever provide.

Tickets to Premier League games can be sought.  You just need to keep your eyes and ears open and enquire.  Someone always knows someone who can get a ticket.  Not all Premier League teams sell out their games either.  Wigan and Wolverhampton may not be the hottest tickets in town but it’s still the Premier League and fans are just as passionate and the chants and singing just as humorous.

I have done the whole organised travelling thing and I have just rocked up somewhere and see how it went.  Seeing Manchester United was the highlight of my trip and probably the greatest sporting event I have witnessed in the flesh and this is from someone who has watched an AFL Grand Final and seen Test Cricket at the MCG with 80,000 other people.  I made it happen by asking questions and trying my luck.

If watching the Premier League is a goal for your trip to the UK as it is for many Aussies who visit the mother land, keep enquiring, look out and take the opportunities that present themselves.  You might get to Old Trafford, you might end up watching Wigan in a stadium half full but it’s still the Premier League and the fans are passionate wherever you go.

Travelling is its most exciting and amazing when you don’t play to a strict itinerary.  It’s not the most relaxing way to do things but you get to the most amazing places and meet some great people if you are prepared to have a crack, roll along and let the tide take you for an adventure.

Comments

  1. Richard Jones says:

    YEP, Jared, nothing like watching the mighty Man Yoo play at home on the “Field Of Dreams.”

    With the giant Matt Busby statue out the front.

    In late 2008 we were lucky enough to snag tix, courtesy of a Lancashire-based mate who barracks for Bolton Wanderers and wouldn’t be seen dead at Old Trafford. Unless Bolton was playing, of course.

    The Wanderers’ fan lives just 15 mins. from the 2 Old Trafford venues (the other one is the home of country crik. club, Lancashire) so we had a pleasant walk there and back for the game.

    Oh, yeah. Man Yoo flogged Stoke City 5-zip. Cristiano Ronaldo swerved a free kick into the top right hand corner after just 3 minutes. He repeated the dose at the other end in the 2nd half.

    The Stoke fans gave him buggery all match, but they copped plenty from the United faithful. And on that topic I have NEVER, EVER heard the sort of language flung about at a sports venue as I encountered that afternoon at Old Trafford.

    Arsenal wasn’t even playing but diehards behind us were singing some shocking ditties about Arsene Wenger and what he might get up to in his spare time. Women and children were seated all around, too.

    Makes slagging off Collingwood or Hawthorn at the G sound very tame, by comparison.

    BTW, natives of Manchester are known as ”Mancunians” !!!

  2. Jared Newton says:

    Arrrrgghhh. I thought I had it wrong, I was looking it up and couldn’t find it so I took a stab.

  3. Greg Mallory says:

    I have really enjoyed this article.I have experienced both Premier League soccwe & Rugby League mainly in Wigan in the 1980s and in 2005. In 1986 Wigan (then in the 3rd Division) defeated Norwich (then in the First Division) 2-0, goals scored in the 78th & 79th minute. It was a FA Cup match & it propelled into the final 8. The ground erupted, I leapt out of my seat in a spontaneous outburst.
    In 2005 I saw Arsenal at Wigan, very slick but Arsenal only won 2-1.

    Greg Mallory

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