Old Trafford saw a beautiful sunset before Thursday’s Europa League match against Liverpool as a big orange ball dipped below the horizon somewhere near Merseyside.
The temperature plummeted, but then picked up inside the stadium in a frantic first half where both teams created numerous chances.
When Anthony Martial gave the home team the lead with a penalty, the roof nearly lifted off the famous old stadium. When Philippe Coutinho equalised, it killed the game and subdued United’s fans.
The second half gave Liverpool a chance to consolidate on the pitch and for their fans to work through their greatest hits of terrace songs in the away section as United were eliminated from a European competition for second time in three months.
Going out was bad enough for United fans, hearing songs about Luis Suarez’s brilliance, bringing on ‘yer Manchester United’, standing on the Spion Kop or Paul Scholes being right because this United team are not very good, only made it worse.
United’s fans stayed to the end. There was no mass walkout, the Stretford End kept singing in defiance, but they knew their side were going out, they know these are grim times in their club’s history.
They have experienced the highs and now they are experiencing the lows. As one fan flag states: “If I hadn’t seen such riches I could live with being poor.”
Liverpool fans let off two flares and smoke bombs. Both looked brilliant, both are banned. Old Trafford’s security is extensive, especially since the Paris terrorist attacks, but short of introducing airport style security and body scanners, fans will always be able to smuggle fireworks into the venue.
Away fans usually find it much harder to get into a stadium which is sold out with home fans for almost every game.
Earlier in the week, with Old Trafford close to sell out but not sold out, United had emailed fans on their huge mailing list stating that they could pay £20 (Dh106) to become a member for the remainder of the season and that would allow them to purchase up to four tickets for the Liverpool game at discounted prices.
Tickets for United and Liverpool games are usually very hard to obtain, now there was a chance to get four for half the price of one on the usual black market price for a league game between England’s two biggest clubs.
Some Liverpool fans took advantage and sat in the upper tier of the East Stand close to their own 3,000 travelling supporters.
You very rarely see away fans in home sections at Old Trafford, but Liverpool could have sold 10,000 tickets, just as United could have for the game at Anfield.
Many diehard Liverpool fans missed out, so there was temptation for some to go in the home end, especially as the tickets were very close to the away section.
If they had kept their mouths shut they would not have been noticed, but with their side going through to the last eight at the home of their great rivals, a handful chose to go to the front of their section closest to the away fans.
There, they unfurled a Liverpool flag and started joining in with Liverpool songs. Initially, the United fans behind them did not know they were Liverpool fans.
When they were surrounded by security and continued to sing, United fans reacted angrily at the away fans in their section and began to move towards them and tried to get at them.
A seat was thrown and fights ensued for which United have been charged. The Uefa charges also concern several counts of crowd disturbances, the throwing of objects and stairways being blocked.
Liverpool have been charged over illicit chants, setting off fireworks, throwing of objects, crowd disturbances and arriving late for kick-off.
The traffic was so heavy that it took an hour to travel two miles from central Manchester to Old Trafford before the game. There were five arrests in the 75,000 crowd.
At Anfield, there had been offensive chants to in relation to the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 made by some United fans. They were not reported to Uefa by officials.
A repeat would have likely bought more charges from Uefa, but aside from two faint repetitions of the song which quickly stopped in one section of the ground, United fans stuck largely to songs about football. There was more peripheral agitating. Liverpool fans travelling into Manchester were met by a large ‘Murderers’ flag hung from a motorway bridge in Salford, a United heartland close to Old Trafford.
Liverpool fans unfurled a ‘Hang the Roma 4’ (United fans who were jailed in 2007 for fighting in the Italian capital) flag in the away end, which was quickly taken down.
On social media, a young Liverpool player, Jordan Williams, posted a picture of an airplane which was taken as a reference to the Munich air crash, although he has subsequently closed his Twitter account and claimed it has been hacked, saying in a tweet: “I would never put anything like that to offend anyone, sorry about this.”
The enmity between United and Liverpool is eternal. Though relations between officials at the two clubs are fine, peace will never prevail between the fans.
Too many of them enjoy the enmity for it to stop and as Liverpool fans sang last night: ‘We’re not racist, we only hate Mancs’.
The fallen giants will not meet again until next season. Liverpool will continue in the Europa League with a game against Jurgen Klopp’s former side, Borussia Dortmund.
Late on Thursday night at Old Trafford, he said that was the one team he wanted to avoid because they were the best in the competition. At least they are still in it.
United? The sun has set another season in Europe and given how bad things are on the field, many of their fans struggle to see when it will rise again.
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