by Andy Robinson

My journey begins a couple of years ago when I was told some rather worrying information from the only other Man City fan at work. My mate had received a visit for the first time from his Polish girlfriend’s parents. The father, a big sports fan, requested a trip to Old Trafford to go on the official tour. Anxious to please and in all likelihood unable to refuse anyway my pal was forced to go. During the tour the guide said to my friend “You OK mate, you don’t look like you’re enjoying yourself” and after confessing to being a Blue my friend was astonished to find that the guide was a City fan also – embellishing the comment with “well it’s a job isn’t it ?” This was the second time I had heard this story in a really short period. A thread on City’s fan site “Blue moon” had recently done a piece on meeting other Blues in remote and strange places and after the bizarre but true story of two City fans on a scientific study of butterflies in Vietnam listening for the result of the Gillingham game on the World Service got a mention I heard the “Old Trafford guide” story again. This time the victim was a poor primary school teacher doing his duty on a school trip if I remember correctly. This information has always lingered somehow and so in search of a story and feeling just like Martin Sheen about to journey up river, deep into enemy territory looking for Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now” I paid my £15 over the phone and arranged the visit for one Saturday morning.

So far you have the premise for the article but you can’t really build something around just one question. As the days to the visit into enemy territory got closer and feeling like a member of MI6, I thought about what else could go in the article. First thing I came up with was how when I was a kid we had nothing like this. I would have given a finger as a twelve year old to see where Colin Bell sat in the dressing room at Maine Road. Therefore could I view it through the eyes of a young lad – all overwhelmed and in awe? I also came up with an idea of a brief but fair review of actually how corporate the Manchester United money making machine actually is. Could I do all this in such difficult working conditions – I bleed sky blue after all.

The player’s lounge was nothing more than a nice room at an above average Sports and Social Club.

The first thing that I noticed was that Old Trafford is actually quite good. I have been many times and always been underwhelmed and desperate to leave but it is a mighty fine stadium and after a brief walk around the museum it was time for the tour. I did notice here though that the signs and prices for the museum and tour in reception are posted in nine different languages.

I had been told it would be a party of 36 and the groups set off in 20 minute intervals. As it was Saturday and a particularly busy day my group had 43 in and a lot more females than I would have thought and disappointingly only about four young lads for me to observe as they went around. We started in the best seats in the house where our guide, Roy gave us a brief rundown on the history of the club from its origins to where it stands today. We swiftly moved on to the disabled area where Roy explained the role of MUDSA and told an excellent story about how in a match against Coventry a few seasons ago a fan leapt out of his wheelchair and started to run around the concourse after a United Goal. Incidentally, all the time this was going on a charity event was taking place where people were flying from the stand behind one goal to the Stretford End on a zip wire.

Next we were taken to the edge of the press and TV area, where Roy the guide pointed out “that’s where the experts do their stuff and Mark Lawrenson as well” – which raised a giggle. Next was to be Munich.

A solemn experience and Roy described the events of that day without embellishment, just a factual account of how the event itself unfolded and then the fight to save the life of Duncan Edwards who most argue to be United’s greatest. There was no mention of how those events affected the city, its people and the football world at the time or indeed the legacy it gave United’s future sides to live up to. All in all very tastefully done.

Next, back into the stadium and a look at the player’s lounge and the dressing room. The player’s lounge was nothing more than a nice room at an above average Sports and Social Club. A small bar area, a carpet that I thought looked like it had seen better days and a really massive plasma television. In effect – a smaller version of somewhere you’d like for your child’s 21st or a Christening.

I naturally lined up on the opposition side of the tunnel.

As Roy explained how things worked on a match day with who gets to come in and drink the free beer. He absolutely shamelessly “bigged” up in true “Hello” magazine style the first meeting of young “posh spice” Victoria and the then young, beautiful Adonis that was Beckham the boy and not the man. The large number of ladies in the party absolutely lapped all this up and being honest as a rom-com fan as opposed to a car chase man it didn’t offend my senses. The cynic in me though was chuffed with itself for spotting what Roy was doing. The dressing rooms are just the same as any pro sport dressing room we get to see on occasion on TV – all wide spaces and wood paneling and a whiteboard and big plasma television. A big glass door fridge in the corner contained branded drinks although the players can’t touch them due to drug testing rules (they have fruit smoothies). This may have left some of the party wondering what it was doing there in the first place – nudge,nudge,wink,wink sponsorship deal – but to be fair it was the only aspect of commercialism I noticed during the actual tour. I was then horrified to see showers in place though to the next room at the side. Real professionals must get to have big, sunken footballer baths – it’s the law surely?

Then we were out to line up in the tunnel as the match day atmosphere (match day atmosphere, I can hear my brother’s Wilf McGuiness joke as I write that) played out over the speakers. I naturally lined up on the opposition side of the tunnel and then as we moved around to the dug-outs from inside the stadium – not around the pitch unfortunately; I made my own way to Mr Mancini’s, Mr Wenger’s and Mr Hodgson’s seat. The next bit really impressed me. These new area’s pitch-side where managers can scream and rant at fourth officials and linesmen to their heart’s content –well at Old Trafford the surface is made out of old, abandoned and long forgotten recycled training shoes and as a member of “Environwise” who have used United’s corporate facilities in the past and a tiny, bit Eco Warrior myself I was well impressed. There is also a phone in this area which is only used in European matches and is apparently a “Hot Line” to EUFA although a “Hot Line” for what nobody’s quite sure.

The tour was supposed to last for 70 minutes but stretched to 90 – even on non match days you can’t get away from Fergie time.

Then back down the former tunnel behind the dug-outs which paid homage to Archibald Leitch, the Shakespeare of football architecture and sadly a small memorial plaque to Joe Manning, David Wilson and Terry Everitt who lost their lives in the construction of the last stand built at Old Trafford.

The tour ended with a brief video of Sir Alex telling us all how “he had done the tour many, many times with his grandchildren”. Now, he frightens me when he comes out and does his post- match interview when I am sat at home but when  you are not expecting it and you are in his house so to speak and on yet another one of those enormous Old Trafford plasma TV’s it was frightening. Nothing else for me to do but man up!

The tour was supposed to last for 70 minutes but stretched to 90 – even on non match days you can’t get away from Fergie time at Old Trafford. It was fun, imaginative and informative and as the fans can spend as long as they want in the museum it gives excellent value for money.

With the rest of the party taking lots of pictures and generally being awestruck I was really the only one asking the questions of Roy during the tour and early doors he asked me if I was a reporter or something. I came clean and told him about the “Legend of the City Guide” and he promised a brief chat later.

There are around twenty guides who do the tour both full-time and part-time and anyone who has worked in the leisure industry or run a bar or maybe in Sales or even if you can hold an audience it would be a fun job to do whoever you support and I now know that Old Trafford has a Liverpool spy in the camp and a Spurs spy in the camp.

It also has two, not one but two, very special “Colonel Kurtz’s” who have made the not-so-terrifying journey into “The Heart of Darkness”.