United in the West

No, this isn’t about a club based in Tarneit.

Now, let me preface this by saying I love Perth. I do. I know as a part of the #DPRV I’m supposed to despise everything north of the Murray and west of Mt. Gambier, but I will admit, Perth might just be my favourite city in the country. From the incredible views at King’s Park to cruising the calm waters of the Swan River. From the smiling Quokka’s on Rottnest Island to stunning sunsets at Cottlesloe Beach. Even throw in an away day victory at Perth Oval, I’ve never once had a bad day in the West.

So, what does one do when you hear a club that you’ve followed from afar for almost 15 years is visiting what might be your favourite city two time zones over?
A club that, despite their storied history, have seem to have lost their way in recent years?
A club whose expectations have dropped from title contenders to simply qualifying for Europe?
A club that is effectively being run by an accountant?

You drop everything and go, obviously. Whatever the cost.

The city is buzzing. Red shirts adorn the streets on every corner. For a moment, you forget about the club’s recent troubles and remember just how celebrated and adored a club like Manchester United is. Pre-match festivities are lively, as songs about Eric Cantona, George Best, Sir Matt Busby as well as club legends Alexis Sanchez and Fred ring out around Crown Towers. Optus Stadium is a sea of red, the stadium announcer listing the line-up is barely audible above the crowd:

“…number 4, Phil Jones…”

then it hits you-

“…number 18, Ashley Young…”

we are shit.

One thought enters the mind: Did I really just spend roughly two weeks wages to watch a mid-table Premier League side take on an A-League side you get to watch three times a year?
Well, yes, I remind myself. Absolutely. How could you not?

As is always the case when world famous clubs visit our shores, they’re automatically given home team status, which is a bit of a bugbear for myself personally. But to hear This Is the One by the Stone Roses ring out as the players enter the field will make the hairs stand on the back of any United fans neck. So this time I’ll let it slide.
Lead out by fan favourites Young, Nemanja Matic and Jones, United walk out in the new away kit resembling something of a snakeskin pattern, perhaps in reference to comments made by Paul Pogba earlier in the week.

The first half between United and Perth was largely uneventful. New signing Daniel James demonstrated he could run fast. Jesse Lingard drew a fine save from Perth custodian Liam Reddy. Tony Popovic set up his undermanned side to be disciplined and to frustrate the United forwards, as he rightly should, and so it proved.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer rung the changes at half time, bringing on other newcomer Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who showed throughout we may actually have a competent right-back on our hands. I’m calling it early, but “AWB” will be a steal at £50 million, mark my words.
On the hour mark, Pogba’s deft flick fell in the path of Marcus Rashford, who swivelled and finished into the bottom corner on the turn, giving the red faithful something to cheer at last. Rashford, while capable of producing remarkable goals, isn’t generally known for a scrappy, instinctive striker’s finish, so that was pleasing to see.

What was not pleasing to see however, was Luke Shaw hobbling off with what seemed to be a hamstring injury. Suddenly the thought of Young playing another full season at full-back, this time on the left, was plaguing the minds of more than a few in the stadium, no doubt. As it were, young midfielder Jimmy Garner came on his place and fired a rocket past Tando Velaphi (remember him?) and all of our problems were instantly solved.

Two-nil to the Red Devils it finished, and while it wasn’t the 15-0 scoreline many had predicted, and the tie never really resembled anything much more than one of those end-of-training session seniors vs reserves matches, where the seniors have all the ball and you just find yourself chasing after the seniors star winger with the flashy fluro boots, and you’re trying not to put in a challenge because you know you’re no chance of winning the ball and you’re actually more likely to end their season with a mistimed lunge, but it doesn’t matter because you can’t get near them anyway and slowly find yourself drifting into midfield, hoping no-one notices… I digress. Sure, it wasn’t the most inspiring viewing for the neutral, but there was still a feeling of satisfaction among the supporters as they made their way back across the Matagarup Bridge, many of whom would have just seen their heroes for the very first time.

With Manchester United out of action for three days, time was spent being a tourist and doing touristy things, including boarding a ferry to Rottnest Island. I’d just like to add in here, Quokkas are the utmost precious creatures on this Earth, and we must protect them at all costs.

Wednesday rolls around, and with a quick stroll into the Perth CBD comes a feeling of being… outnumbered? One smaller pub is heaving with Leeds fans, and lilywhite shirts are everywhere you turn. This was no more apparent than making our way past Gloucester Park en route to Optus Stadium, where thousands of Leeds supporters had gathered. It may have been fifteen years since the two clubs last faced off in a league fixture, but it was clear the rivalry between Manchester United and Leeds United was still as strong as ever. A few choice words harmlessly chanted towards each other, as you’d expect. In fact, as you would hope, if one is honest.

Unlike the earlier game the previous Saturday, this one got off to a flyer. Man United, back in the traditional home kit of red shirt, white shorts (!!!), and black socks, made the perfect start. Wan-Bissaka, by this time already cemented his place as the greatest full-back in the world, ran onto a perfectly weighted through ball from Pogba to cut across for young Mason Greenwood to open the scoring. Twenty minutes later, Rashford shrugged off a Leeds defender and put one on the floor with a delightful piece of skill and slotted home to double the advantage. It was at this stage you wondered if even Perth might give Leeds a run for their money. Of course, the last time Leeds and money were mentioned in the same sentence they ended up in League One, so maybe it’s best to leave that one alone.

As it was against Perth, Solskjaer fielded an entirely new XI for the second half against Leeds, including promising young prospects Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and, erm, Jesse Lingard. Instead, it would be Phil bloody Jones, no longer sporting the pink boots, to head the “home” side further in front. (I’ve done the research, Leeds is closer to Perth than Manchester, so Leeds should’ve been the home side. Then again, Stone Roses.)
Halfway through the second half, Gomes and Chong combined magnificently to find space in behind the Leeds defence, with the latter earning a spot kick. Anthony Martial, whom the English press said he’d had no chance, now definitely did have a chance to put the final nail in the Leeds coffin. £50 million wisely spent, as Tony Martial scored once again for the reds.

Flights and accommodation for Perth is usually a pretty expensive ordeal, but to do it all four-nothing? Ouch. Hard not to feel sorry for the Leeds faithful. I guess they can be thankful it was a meaningless friendly, and that they’re not Melbourne Victory supporters such as yours truly for whom Perth away days rarely end well.

For United (Manchester) however, it was a positive display, highlighted by the attacking potency shown by the aforementioned youngsters Greenwood, Gomes and Chong, as well as the midfield solidity provided by Scott McTominay.

The real winners were of course the fans, turning up in droves to fill the world-class venue twice over to make good use of the cup holders located at every seat. Isn’t that brilliant?!
As the last of the fans finally made their way back over the Swan River into the West Australian night, there was a tangible sense of fulfilment, and dare I say, relief, safe in the knowledge nobody had to be subjected to witnessing a Romelu Lukaku first touch.