15 September 2001
'A GAME TOO SOON'
by Red Kelly
4 Manchester United 3
Premier League Saturday 15th September 2001
The enormous weight of the previous week was still hanging heavy on my
shoulders, so much so that I couldn't possibly have gone to this game.
The decision had been taken away from me anyway because we were due at
the wedding of some good friends that afternoon, but in any event, for
me, it was a game too soon after this week of tragedy.
Sir Alex said, 'Things have happened this week that have never happened
in my lifetime. It leaves you feeling numb. But the great thing about
football is that it can lift people. Football, of course, will not help
the pain of those who have suffered but it can help those who have been
shocked by the tragedy. It brings people together.'
There is undeniable truth in those words and there are many who went to
the game who would testify to that, but as Ryan Giggs had also said, 'I
wonder about the wisdom of playing games right now because people's minds
aren't focused on football - it has no real relevance or meaning when
you look at the bigger picture."
The individual would choose what was best for them. But, each morning
I have woken since September 11th the first visions that have come into
my head, with depressing regularity, are the most powerful images I have
ever seen - of the planes flying into those twin towers. I know I will
never be rid of them. They are indelibly etched on my memory as a haunting
reminder of that most shocking of days, made all the more poignant because
we stood on top of that World Trade Center a few short months ago and
marvelled at the magnificent view.
The previous night Gina came to us after a nightmare. She recounted a
devastating tale that we had been in the viewing gallery on top of the
Twin Towers when the plane struck. It's funny what your mind pieces together
in times like these, but she had remembered the large scale model of New
York City that was on display up there and she and Karen had been admiring
it when there had been a huge explosion. I had shouted over that we should
get out as quickly as possible, and as a terrible panic ensued, I hurried
them to the stairs and we picked our way down. But we never made it.
Everyone I have met, spoken to, or corresponded with since that day has
been under enormous emotional stress. To expect anyone to play a game
of football only 4 days after an event which will inevitably change the
world forever was, I think, asking too much. Any game would surely be
nothing but a bizarre lottery where anything would be possible. All I
knew was that I had no heart for football.
On that Saturday afternoon Karen and I left for the wedding ceremony.
It offered us a chance, through the love of two people, to learn how to
smile again. But even then the stark reality came back to haunt us as
it transpired the question, which had lead us to this day, had been popped
as the 'happy couple' had stood on top of the World Trade Centre. Even
the couple who sat next to us had only just returned from New York and
had been stood at the top a few days ago. It brought home how much the
towers meant. How they were a symbol of strength and beauty to so many.
And it made us realise how fortunate we are that we are not one of the
thousands of innocents buried beneath.
As the afternoon drifted into early evening, the ability to enjoy ourselves
was gradually returning. I still had no idea whether United had won, drawn
or lost, but it didn't matter. Under normal circumstances I'd have been
sneaking outside to listen to the radio every opportunity that came my
way, but nothing will ever be that kind of normal again.
It wasn't until Sunday that I made the effort to find out the score. I
had taped the highlights program because I knew that at sometime I would
want to watch, and I had decided to do so that morning. I hadn't even
looked at the sports section of the newspaper when I sat in front of the
screen and as I watched the game I was surprised at my own reaction. When
Laurent Robert's early free kick flew past Barthez I thought that must
have been it - 1-0 game over - job seen to be done. When Van Nistelrooy
equalised with such a beautiful reposte - I felt hope. It was a hope soon
dashed when a rather freakish goal put Newcastle in front once more.
My fast-forward through the commercial break almost continued past their
third - a depressing blow. By this time I was resigned to the worst, but
to my surprise a rekindling of my desire was about to kick in. A spell
of 2 minutes when first Giggs pulled one back and Veron equalised once
more tied the game. At 3-3 I was convinced my encounter the night before
had been mere sour grapes and I was convinced we were going to win. It
was as if I was watching the game 'live'. The passion and hope were still
there. The desire for ultimate victory there too. So, when their 4th found
it's way into the United net I was gutted. That it had taken a massive
deflection made it worse.
In comparison to the sheer terror we had all witnessed a few days before,
the game mattered very little - but it was clear that it did matter. I
had heard from good friends in New York and Boston that they would definitely
be watching in their regular bars because it would be a chance for them
to get together with friends once more. As we have all experienced, supporting
a football club bonds you to others, and during a time when terrorists
seek to destroy, these bonds are part of what will see us through. And
what struck me was - that to combat the horror and devastation of violence
we have to prove we can carry on, and that means a return to whatever
is now deemed normality. To survive this mindless evil which cares not
for death and destruction we must get on with life. Out of respect for
those who are no more we must seek motivation to rebuild.
Just as it was with Manchester United after Munich - the United States
will rise again. The phoenix will emerge triumphant from the ashes.