|The Etihad Stadium, Manchester|
The Etihad Stadium was built in the eastlands of Manchester as part of the 2006 Commonwealth Games which were hosted by the City. The cab ride to the stadium took us through a mixture of new and old Manchester which has seen a bit of a re-birth in the last decade. The City Campus began with a City@Home building where the staff, dressed in suits, greeted us with a friendly hello and our ticket package. From there we traveled up the main roadway and around to the City Store where everything MCFC could be found for purchase. I have seven jerseys in my collection already, but I couldn't believe the amount of gear available. After everyone made their purchases we headed into the stadium.
We were lucky enough to have seats in the Citizens Suite which is located across the field from the tunnel and player benches in the center of the second level of the stadium. The tickets included a catered meal, match programs, and pre-game activities with former players. The food and service were great, as was expected, but I still nervously awaited the moment when I would walk out into the stands of the Etihad for the first time.
|The East End of the Etihad|
|Pre-Game MCFC Tifo|
City were lucky enough to score a very early goal in the fourth minute off a Aleksandar Kolarov free kick that bent around the misplaced wall and past the keeper. The City fans immediately started taunting the Sunderland supporters with "your wall is sh*t", which was both simple and appropriate. Both teams settled into their ends of the pitch with only a handful of scoring chances and the possession fairly even right up until halftime.
|Aguero Goal Celebration|
We stayed for an hour or so after the match to enjoy a few celebratory cocktails and to take in our final memories of the Etihad. It was amazing how quickly a stadium of almost 50,000 could fill and empty, the campus slipping back into the quietness of the surrounding Eastlands neighborhood.
The one thing that really set Manchester apart from London was the hospitality. In London people were polite, but mostly going about their business with no real communication beyond what is necessary. No matter where I went in Manchester it seemed I struck up a conversation with someone about totally random topics. I explained to many of those people that I was a writer for a soccer blog back in the states and that started several more conversations about Major League Soccer, favorite players and teams, and what I thought of the Manchester teams.
|Back Patio at Dukes 92|
|Old Trafford Stadium|
(Courtesy of Michael Beatrice)
We flew home on Monday morning and that ended the most incredible weekend in my soccer traveling life (keyword is “soccer” so not to downplay my wedding or the birth of my children). Special thanks to Michael for inviting me, Brian and Keith for traveling with me, and my wife for giving me the green light (and the funds) to go. I can now truly say that I am “City ‘til I Die”!