Christmas Holidays (in the UK),

December 2010

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Old Trafford is an all-seater football stadium in the Trafford borough of Greater Manchester and the home of Premier League club Manchester United, whom I have supported since 1968, albeit from the far continent of Africa, long before the introduction of television in the country located at the southern tip. I can still recall being in the lounge of my parents home with two of my elder brothers, Gordon and John, huddled around a valve radio set, when United made history in that year and became the first English club to when the European Cup (forerunner to the current Champions League). Glasgow side Celtic had become the first Scottish and British side only one year earlier. Founded as Newton Heath LYR Football Club in 1878, the club changed its name to Manchester United in 1902 and moved to Old Trafford in 1910. In 1968, under the management of Matt Busby, when Manchester United won Europe's leading club competition, it was a mere ten years after the Munich air disaster that claimed the lives of eight players. Those were the heydays of Denis Law (a hero when I was a kid), George Best and Bobby Charlton, the latter of whom survived the ill-fated Munich air disaster. The current manager, Alex Ferguson, is the most successful manager in the club's history, having won 26 major honours since he took over in November 1986.

The ground, given the nickname the Theatre of Dreams by Sir Bobby Charlton, has been United's permanent residence since 1910, with the exception of an eight-year absence from 1941 to 1949, following the bombing of the stadium in the Second World War.  During this period, the club shared Maine Road with local rivals, Manchester City. The ground underwent several expansions in the 1990s and 2000s, most notably the addition of extra tiers to the North, West and East stands which served to return the ground almost (as an all-seater stadium) to its original capacity of 80,000. Future expansion is likely to involve the addition of a second tier to the South Stand, which would raise the capacity to over 90,000. With space for 75,957 spectators, Old Trafford has the second-largest capacity of any English football stadium after Wembley Stadium, the third-largest of any stadium in the United Kingdom, and the eleventh-largest in Europe. The stadium is approximately 0.8 km from Old Trafford Cricket Ground and the adjacent Manchester Metrolink tram station.

 

Old Trafford, Manchester

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Move the clock on 42 years to 2010 and here I found myself at this hallowed ground on Boxing Day, along with my brother Gordon (out on a visit from South Africa), his daughter Michelle and grand-daughter Micaela, to watch a Premier League game between Manchester United and Sunderland. Owing to Michelle's perseverance, we secured the tickets for the game, intended as a surprise birthday present (a few days later). We had struggled to maintain the secrecy, it has to be said and finally broke the news on Xmas Eve, after weeks of planning. Our seats were located at the top of the north stand of Old Trafford, costing 38 for the two adults, 33 for Michelle (as a member) and 15 for Micaela, as a minor. We left Bromley in south London around 08h30 on the Sunday morning and reached Manchester in good time, able to find parking in the grounds of a school at a cost of 10, some fifteen minutes walk from the stadium.

It was touch and go up to that point as to whether we would actually get to see the game. Icy wintry conditions in the preceding weeks had brought much of Britain and its transport networks and systems to a virtual standstill. A game in Blackpool the previous day (Saturday) had been called off due to the pitch being unplayable. United's game, scheduled for a three o'clock kickoff, went ahead however, due to the underground heating system 10 inches (25 cm) under the pitch, composed of 23 miles (37 km) of plastic pipes. Fortunately, it had proved an entertaining game which United comfortably won 2-0, thanks to a glorious performance from Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov, who scored both goals, one in each half.  We had thoroughly enjoyed the game and the atmosphere had been terrific, the crowd responding to any measure of creative play with appreciative applause. Having said that, from the upper reaches of the north stand, we were far removed from the sections of the ground, notably the Stretford End, where the crowd spontaneously bursts into song in an effort to spur the team on to greater heights. This is by no means a vintage United side in the creative sense (compared to previous sides), having curtailed their spending on new players, yet they found themselves leading the Premier League race come Christmas.

 

 

 

A special Boxing Day Christmas surprise for my brother, Gordon - tickets to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United.

 

We left the ground and made our way back to the car and able to slip into the traffic with ease. With no trains running on Boxing between London and Manchester on Boxing Day, we had made the decision (as part of the surprise) not to travel back to London but to spend two days in the Peak District, about an hour's drive away. Having been there on numerous occasions with our hiking club, it was the first time I would visit this part of the countryside when covered in snow. We had booked relatively cheap accommodation at Parsons House Farm just outside Hathersage, which, though somewhat primitive, proved adequate for our needs. Micaela was immediately sold on the table tennis table in the pool room and we played one another on the occasions we did not find ourselves outdoors. Upon arrival and being shown to our room which we shared by hostess Debbie, we offloaded our luggage before driving into Hathersage for dinner around eight in the evening. Being turned away at several pubs no longer serving food at that hour, we found ourselves in a cosy Indian restaurant.

 

Hathersage, The Peak District, Derbyshire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being keen as mustard for a walk in the snow the next day, which wasn't greeted with delight by one or two folk in our contingent, I felt that the time would be wasted, besides which, I wasn't prepared to spend the time indoors or drive around for hours doing the tourist thing. Though I had had Mam Tor between Edale and Castleton in mind as a possibility, it was Debbie who provided a feasible alternative for a ramble across the countryside. Billed as an outdoor pursuits centre, the farm is within reached of Stanage Edge, which I had walked with the hiking club some years before. Decision taken after an English breakfast, armed with an Ordnance Survey map, we headed out in the direction as indicated, via a rear gate to the farm, as snow continued to fall. Though not as cold as expected, the crisp, clean air proved refreshing and we kept up a cautious yet steady pace towards Burbage Rocks on the edge of Burbage Moor, the snow crunching delightfully beneath our feet. Using a distinctive outcrop of forest located to our left as was replicated on the map, we reached Upper Burbage Bridge, just where the path, located on higher ground, merged with one from the valley below.

 

 

 

 

 

The wind had picked up and aware of the fact that the girls, not accustomed to regular hiking, had already been pushed to the limits of their comfort zone, we decided not to proceed to Stanage Edge but to pick up a return path on the opposite side of the valley and on the other side of the forest which would see us reach (lower) Burbage Bridge on the A6187. Unfortunately, the path we were on did not take us precisely to where we needed to be, so we trudged up a fairly steep incline of snow-covered grass to reach a path higher up, much to the consternation of Michelle and Micaela, before making our way up towards Higger Tor. Here we met a group of people walking in the opposite direction. To the astonishment of everyone, one of the women in the group carried a baby wrapped in warm clothing, putting our effort into perspective somewhat. Another group of senior citizens passed us by just before we reached a second outcrop of rock which provided a tricky descent over sections which proved quite slippery. This finally led us down to the road. Gordon, in chasing after Micaela carrying a handful of snow, managed to pull a hamstring and was promptly told off by daughter Michelle for failing to "act his age" responsibly.

 

 

 

Two days in the Peak District - a three hour walk in the snow via Upper Burbage Bridge (approaching Stanage Edge) from Parson farm, near Hathersage. Lunch at the Fox House.

 

From the bridge, we made our way up along the roadside towards the bend where the Fox House was located. Hungry and in need of a shower, we ordered drinks at the bar and waited half an hour for a table, even longer for the food to arrive, the young waiter serving us quite obviously totally out of his depth, as chaos reigned in the busy, crowded restaurant. Chinese guests at an adjacent table having long since exhausted all conversation in the period between starters and the main course, waited patiently to be served, yet the blank, silent expressions on their faces could not hide their obvious frustration. Just then their faces broke into broad smiles as familiar friends showed up at their table. They then stood up to shake hands with them just as our food arrived. Our hunger now satisfied, we returned to the farm. I showered. Gordon and Micaela played table tennis whilst an exhausted Michelle slept. In the evening we drove into Hathersage, steeped in the legend of Little John, one of Robin Hood's merry men. Located down a side street from the High Street through the village, we found the Scotsmans Pack, the delightful interior and ambience influencing our decision to have dinner there. We then drove to a pub in Bradwell, just outside Castleton, where we watched a football match on Sky. Back at the farm, we still had the energy for a round of table tennis.


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Christmas Holidays (in the UK)

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Links to other websites:

Old Trafford - wiki

Manchester United - wiki

Manchester United - official website

Parsons House Farm - webpage

The Scotsmans Pack restaurant, Hathersage - webpage