Meet the Mongolian Man United fan who cycled for 11 months to see his team at Wembley

Ochirvaani Batbold overcame borders, punctures and visa issues to be one of the 83,672 crowd at Wembley on Sunday to see United beat Coventry on penalties to reach the FA Cup final

Ochirvaani Batbold cycled through China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France and then finally England to see Manchester United in action at Wembley. Photo: Andy Mitten
Powered by automated translation

Ochirvaani Batbold, 26, is a Mongolian Manchester United fan who was at Sunday's dramatic FA Cup semi-final against Coventry City at Wembley. His method of transport was likely different from most in the 83,672 crowd. He cycled. From Mongolia, a journey of nearly 7,000 kilometres.

He set off 11 months ago and was declined a British visa three times until he finally prevailed. The National met him before the game on Wembley Way and had just one question: Why?

“I love football,” he said. “When I was a teenager, I started to play football. Also, I started to dream about playing for Manchester United. I played football for 10 years. The first two years of my career started very successfully and I played in the top league in Mongolia, but in the next three years I suffered a lot of injuries and depression. I just tried to play football for another next five years. For me, United is about dramatic comebacks, The Theatre of Dreams, great players, Sir Alex Ferguson, a great story and a never-give-up mentality.

“So, I started looking for another way to make my dream come true. But I didn’t want it to be easy. I wanted to do something that inspires others a lot. So for two years I made a road plan and prepared my body.

“The decision to travel by bike was only made two weeks before the trip. I knew I was going to make a trip and long considered running, but for me to do that I needed a team, a lot of money and a car. So I changed my plans and decided to cycle.

“My family, friends and others found out about my trip a week before I left. I didn't really want to take other people’s advice, because I thought people wouldn’t understand what I was trying to do. And they will only talk about impossible things. I thought if I believe in what I do, I can achieve my goal. I thought if I will go by bicycle, I can see a lot of places and can meet a lot of people. Also I wanted to create memories that will never be forgotten in my life.”

Batbold’s journey started on May 5, 2023. He would wake at 7am and cycle around 100 kilometres each day. His final destination would be Old Trafford, Manchester.

“That would take me 8-10 hours [each day]. I would eat lunch at a cafe but I also carried Borts, an air-dried meat cut into long strips which were hung in the shade.”

The Mongolian nomadic lifestyle and the local climatic conditions gave rise to specific methods of preserving meat.

“So when I only have water and salt I can cook and eat,” explains Batbold.

“I tried to cycle for three days and then take a day off. But sometimes I went without a break for seven days. I went through many difficult days and had around 40 punctures. But I was usually very happy at every moment of my trip because I knew I was getting closer to my goal every day, step by step.”

Batbold set off during the late spring. Conditions were agreeable for months.

“I travelled through China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France and then finally England.

"Central Asia was the most beautiful part of the journey. I met so many good people and I saw so much beautiful nature. In Samarkand city, Uzbekistan, I got the feeling that I went from modern to historical times. I also met a lot of amazing Manchester United fans there. United have fans around the world – I met them everywhere!

“Iran was interesting. Life was very different there from what I imagined, amazing nature and I met kind people. Everywhere I went, not just Iran, I met very wonderful people. The best part of my trip was when I reached the top of a mountain 1,500 metres above and the climb was around 45kms. This felt like the best and worst part of my trip. It was a long and difficult road that seemed endless. In Europe, Austria. Beautiful.”

But one problem threatened to derail everything.

“I couldn’t get a visa for the UK. Visas were OK until I got to the Schengen area [an area encompassing 29 European countries that have officially abolished border controls at their mutual borders]." His original plan of reaching Manchester in December or January was thus put on hold until he could clear a visa. Finally, the Mongolian Government supported his application and he could reach England.

“It’s wonderful,” he said as he stood on the steps of Wembley Way ahead of seeing United for the first time. And then he watched the game.

“It was incredibly stressful for me because I was hoping to see United win in my first match. When we conceded the goal in the last minute, I thought it was over. But fortunately it was offside. Finally we won on penalties. The game encapsulated all the emotions of football. It was an amazing experience for me.”

Batbold will spend the next three days cycling from London to Manchester via Leicester and Derby. He intends to reach Old Trafford in time for the Premier League game against Burnley on Sunday. There’s only one issue. He doesn’t yet have a ticket for the game.

Updated: April 22, 2024, 6:31 AM