Manchester United victory brought some Mancunian smiles back, if just for a while
However briefly uplifting the 90 minutes in Stockholm, they are incomparable to what has gone and what lies ahead
Supporters of Manchester United cheer prior to the UEFA Europa League final match against Ajax in Stockholm. Photograph: Soren Andersson/ AFP Photo
In the heart of Manchester, they were singing again. About 20 minutes before kick-off, in the heaving Old Nag’s Head off Deansgate, Manchester United men – and it was almost exclusively male – were serenading Denis Law to the tune of Lily the Pink. They have done so for 50 years.
Ten minutes later, the last song played before turning on the television commentary was Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. Of course United fans have their own chorus: “Giggs Will Tear You Apart.” Here was happiness.
Were a visitor not to have known what occurred a few hundred yards away at the Manchester Arena on Monday night, they might even have surmised the scene as carefree. The minute’s silence, observed without a sound in the Old Nag’s Head, would have reminded them otherwise.
The visitor does know. There were a group of German men over for a Father’s Day trip – it is on Thursday in Germany – and when they heard about Monday they had black T-shirts made with the logo: “Father’s Day ’17 – Fuck the Terror”.
They were not for turning back and having seen the brutality of December in Berlin, when 12 people were killed, this group understood the enormity of Monday.
But they knew they were visiting an altered city, one where the most important event of the week had changed from being a football match in Sweden to mass murder down by Corporation Street.
Since the attack on a concert where a huge percentage of those attending were young girls, Manchester has struggled to cope. Naturally, people fall back on generalisations and even the well-intentioned risk sounding glib. For all the talk of spirit, 22 people are dead and there will be funerals for weeks to come. However briefly uplifting the 90 minutes in Stockholm, they are incomparable to what has gone and what lies ahead.
Rallying cries are understandable, though. It used to be said: “What Manchester does today, the world does tomorrow” and that was back in the 19th century. This is part of why we associate Manchester and Mancunians with a certain swagger and, in modern times, music and football have helped re-define the city’s image.
Yet Monday will now be part of our idea of Manchester and of Manchester’s sense of itself.
If it is possible to speak of a city having a swagger, then it was possible on Wednesday to speak of a different atmosphere. Travellers arriving at Piccadilly station in the early afternoon were informed over the Tannoy of the UK government’s raising of the threat level from severe to critical and were told to be aware of suspect packages.
Inside and outside the station, armed police patrolled while not far away colleagues raided a flat on Granby Row.
Shabby and chic
The hordes who fly across the Irish Sea each week to see United and City will be familiar with the landmarks and street names. They will know that within a 10-minute walk through the city centre Manchester exposes both its shabby and sleek.
From Piccadilly down towards Deansgate, there is a parade of sights: commuters heading to the station, hawkers selling tat, Jehovah’s Witnesses handing out copies of Watchtower with its front page question: ‘What Is The Purpose Of Life?’, homeless rough sleepers and lads whacked off their heads on another modern vice called Spice.
It is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural walk. They were all there, so too a hopeful man with a trolley laden with red T-shirts proclaiming the “Euro Final” and the line: “There will be thousands of Reds without tickets or beds.”
But there were also those police guns and a sealed-off cordon down by the Manchester Arena, which includes England’s National Football Museum. And on the front pages, pictures of young girls gone.
They once banned football here – back in 1608 when it was called “football on ye streets” – but, at the end of an unfamiliar day, it was welcome. A Manchester United victory brought some Mancunian smiles back. And some music.