At 102 years old, Old Trafford—the iconic home of Manchester United—has hosted everything from Champions’ League and Rugby League World Cup finals to games of shinty and concerts from the likes of Rod Stewart and Status Quo.
But, before July 26th 2012, it had never hosted an Olympic event. On that day, Great Britain’s men’s football team played their first competitive match since 1971. So, with such a formidable reputation preceding it and being the only Olympic venue in the northwest, how did it fare?
72,000 people flooded into the ground for Great Britain vs. Senegal. Now it was Team GB’s turn, followed by eight more evenings of the world’s best young male and female footballers.
So, what was the verdict? Below is a sampling of various footballers' opinions. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.
“This was one of the best games I’ve been a part of,” said Lauren Cheney of the United States women’s team, after her side won a dramatic semifinal against rival neighbours Canada.
“It’s brilliant [to play at Old Trafford] when you think about what sort of players have played here and what titles they’ve won,” added New Zealand’s midfielder Kosta Barbarouses.
Even the top players enthused, “It’s just a brilliant atmosphere and great for all the lads to play there.” That was the sensation that Chelsea new boy Oscar had the pleasure of feeling, hoping it would be the first of many. ”I really, really liked playing in this stadium, especially because I scored. I hope to come back to play here and score again.”
For fellow kiwi Chris Wood—who plays his club football at West Brom—scoring at the Stretford End, before sliding on his knees at the corner flag was a moment to savour. “It was brilliant,” he said, “I’ve watched Rooney do it thousands of times, it’s nice to emulate him.”
Even the weather gods, who usually have their fun when it comes to Manchester, were on their best behaviour as Neymar and the rest of his Brazil side played Belarus in the group stages. “I really like this stadium, I really like to play here, the weather is very nice,” laughed the starlet, perhaps with a hint of sarcasm. “It is not as cold [as I expected]; the ambiance has been perfect.”
When Brazil returned to the ground in the semifinals, that ambiance was phenomenal. Painting the stadium yellow, the Brazilian supporters were back once more. This time, they came armed with steel drums. Their insatiable samba beat resonated through the entire stadium, impossible to resist, feet and hands moved along to the jagged rhythm.
On the pitch, it was as if the 11 Brazilians had begun to play to the samba beat, passing the ball around magnificently. Their South Korean opponents, whose fans brought the metallic clang of their own drummers, were drowned out and left to watch on helplessly as the samba took control both on and off the pitch.
It was a world away from your stereotypical Man United match. It was distinctly South American, and it epitomised the continental spirit of the Olympic Games. Throughout the tournament, people from every corner of the globe chatted to one another—New Zealanders to Egyptians, Koreans to Americans and Spaniards to Moroccans.
Everybody in the stadium was united by sport, united like the five Olympic rings. Any tribalism you might get at your Saturday League game had gone, much like the league itself for the summer. It was the kind of atmosphere only the Olympic Games could create, and it was, in all, a fitting end to Old Trafford’s Olympics to have such a Carnival feel.
The spirit of Rio, for that one, magical night, was in Stretford.
This piece was written by Phil of The Reporters' Academy, a media production company run by young people. The Reporters' Academy is integrated into the world of media, education and employment, based in two great sporting cities, Manchester and Melbourne, and is officially Inspired by London 2012.