By Mary Cunningham
Two days after a suicide bomber killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert in Machester, England, locals gathered in pubs around the city to cheer Manchester United to victory in the UEFA Europa League final in Solna, Sweden.
Ordinarily, soccer is a big deal in Manchester.
United has a fierce rivalry with Manchester City, the area’s other Premier League team. But yesterday’s 2-0 triumph over Holland’s Ajax was bigger still because it means the team qualifies for the Champions League next year and the millions in revenue that brings in. Plus, Manchester United has had a lackluster season. It needed something to celebrate.
But the win was more poignant, because though the game was played hundreds of miles away in Scandinavia, it was an opportunity for the team’s fans to get back to what they know after a harrowing 48 hours in which details about the attack and its victims emerged in grisly specificity.
“We’re upset about what happened, but we always find a way to be happy when United are playing,” said Steve Donogohue, a Manchester United fan who has been an ardent supporter of the club since 1963. “This is a cosmopolitan place, and we’re a strong group of people, and we just get on with it.”
“It’s there! @ManUtd have put a small smile back on Manchester’s face #europaleaguefinal,” roared a tweet from the @ILoveMCR Twitter account almost immediately after the final whistle was blown in Stockholm. Briton and former Manchester United midfielder David Beckham also weighed in via Instagram.
“Tonight was more important than sport … Yes a big night for Manchester United but an even bigger night for the city and for our country … At a time when we are grieving for the families that have lost loved ones we have a sport that has brought a little happiness at a difficult time.”
For the several hundred people who watched the game at the Printworks, a large pub and club in Manchester city center that was only admitting Manchester United fans — along with the odd scheming journalist with the mendacity to tell a whopper when necessary — it was a tense and emotional affair.
When Manchester took an early lead, tough-looking grown men jumped up and down and shouted joy-laced profanities at each other. There were firm, long hugs and the beer flowed, and spilled, easily. In what seemed like unison, one phrase rang out: “Get in!” — a British phrase that expresses victory or happiness about something.
Like every Premier League club, Manchester United has a long list of songs and chants, past and present, that fans recite in good times and bad, and that are virtually inscrutable to the uninitiated. They have titles like “We are the Busby Boys” (an anti-Manchester City song) and “We’ll never die” (a reference to a plane crash in Munich in 1958 that killed 23 of the team’s players). Those were sung over and over at the Printworks.
Snippets of these songs could be heard as fans spilled out of other public houses and on to the streets after Manchester United’s win.