For many, being a football fan is pockets of isolated joy, amongst a sea of hell. Arsenal fans pretend they are football fans of this ilk but alas, they are not. Manchester United fans want to be these football fans, but can never be. But for fans of 90% of other football clubs, those small moments of joy are few and far between and the lows almost feel normal. The highs? They feel ephemeral, fleeting, but euphoric.
May 12th was one of those days. The backend of Cardiff City’s season was a season of turmoil, tragedy and controversy. Relegation felt unfair and everything else felt demoralising. But May 12th, despite all that came before it, was a moment that made you realise why you follow your football team all over the country. A day where everything was forgotten about for 90 minutes. Manchester United 0, Cardiff City 2.
Despite relegation having already been confirmed the week previous, I’d never been so sure that Cardiff were about to win a game. We travelled up on the train and the mood was buoyant as if United were there for the taking. The feeling I had, you’d be sure we were the team in the top half and United had been relegated.
One better, I was completely sure that we’d get a penalty. I put money on Bobby Reid to score first because he’d taken penalties previously that season, when Victor wasn’t playing. So, frankly, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing owes me money for that lost bet.
For the first time all season, it felt like the game had been won before it began and I can’t figure out why. Sure, the pressure was off, but that didn’t feel like good enough reason. Could it have been that, at that point, United were just tumbling under Ole? It felt like they were as poor as they had ever been under Solskjaer and it was just a case of not conceding and we would win.
Old Trafford is a greenhouse
It was a hot day, sure, but Old Trafford is a greenhouse. I’ve never been before because I’ve never had reason to, so it was a stadium that always intrigued me and always felt modern. Alas, I just didn’t bank on a plastic roof over the away fans.
It was a warm day, you didn’t need a jacket, long sleeves were a mistake and the greenhouse made the heat more magnified. The bar at half-time was as rammed as usual and despite a four-pint minimum, the lad in front of me bought eight ciders and it felt like a proper day out. Everyone was buoyant.
The last proper fun away day
The current season hasn’t been fun for a number of reasons. It started badly, Warnock left, Harris came in and the season has been incredibly frustrating. And now it’s on hold. While there’s been some good days out – Forest away for example – some of the other away games have been incredibly frustrating.
Old Trafford just felt like everyone was on the same hype. Away days can be the best thing in the world or the worst, but this one? It was one of the best. Everyone was in good spirits. It makes a difference when the sun is out and the pressure is off, but it was just unreal.
Looking to the future
When you think of the attacking four who started that day, you realise that we never really got the best of them over the course of last season. Kenneth Zohore had a poor season – perhaps not all his fault – but against United, you got the sense another corner had been turned and he could have been setting himself up for a huge season back in the Championship.
Bobby Reid was busy and linked up neatly with Zohore and the wingers. He was integral to the second goal, taking defenders out the picture and allowing Josh Murphy to get in behind. He looked like a man who was showing what we missed all season.
NML scored twice, finishing his season on a high. He had Diego Dalot for dinner for the penalty and scored a tap-in for the second. On his day, Mendez-Laing is absolutely unplayable and hugely explosive. He ended the season in brilliant form and a promise of more to come.
Murphy looked like he was finally recapturing some of earlier season form. He drew defenders and goalkeepers well for the second goal, laying it into the path of Mendez. This four would soon become two and NML would get injured. That final day of the season promised so much, but we will always have Old Trafford…
Beating Manchester United
We’d had a season where we’d not pulled off any major shocks. We’d pushed Arsenal close twice, taken the lead at Chelsea away and been a red card away from a draw against Tottenham away, but we’d not got a result over any of the top six and this was our last chance.
It also goes back to when I was a younger Cardiff fan. I remember us beating Leeds and getting draws against Arsenal and Tottenham in the cup. Getting an upset was still beating teams like Wolves and Fulham. Going to Old Trafford and getting a win was a pipe dream to an 11 year old Ben.
But we did it and we did it deservedly. It was also sweeter because it was over Ole and it was funnier because we’d already been relegated. Being able to sing from the away end ‘2-0 to the Championship’ was genuinely hilarious. Old Trafford was stunned into silence for a large part of the 90 minutes and when they came to do their lap of honour, the away end swelled with pride. We even got to call Ole a wanker as he sheepishly walked passed the away end.
It was class. It was fun. Leaving the ground and walking back into Manchester was a dream and we stopped off at a bar and watched a bunch of fair weather football fans who’d assumed they’d have seen a United 4-0 win that day. Instead, they realised that Ole had led them to a 2-0 loss to a relegated team. Don’t you just love to see it?