Sat. Jan 16th, 2021

Man Utd

News

This is life around Old Trafford during a pandemic

4 min read

It’s Wednesday – derby day – and the streets around Old Trafford are all but deserted.

In more normal times Sir Matt Busby Way would be thronged with thousands of expectant supporters making their way to the ground for one of the biggest games of the year.

But since the pandemic struck and professional football was initially suspended, then allowed to continue without fans, it’s been a different story.

Matt Bonilla is the general manager of The Trafford, a long-standing supporters’ pub just a stone’s throw from the stadium on Chester Road.



Matt Bonilla, general manager of The Trafford pub

On match days the cavernous boozer – its walls lined with United memorabilia and signs saying “half and half scarves” which are beloved by tourists are banned – would normally be packed out with more than 1,200 fans knocking back about 4,500 pints.

But it’s been closed ever since the UK went into lockdown in March.

Matt, 30, said: “The last time we were open was for the last derby.

“It’s a match-day only pub, so we didn’t open in the summer when pubs were allowed to reopen.

“It’s been hard, it’s been very hard.

“For lots of our regulars this is their only point of contact with their mates.



A solitary security guard stands outside the ground before kick off

“For a big midweek game we’d normally open at 3pm, and we’d be packed.

“The atmosphere would be electric.

“People are shoulder to shoulder, the indie tunes are on, there’s chanting and dancing, loads of banter – you get goosebumps sometimes.

“It’s an iconic pub and the last thing I want is to see it close down.

“I really, really miss it.

“I’m trying to keep in touch with all the regulars by posting stuff on Facebook and we’ve been using the time to improve the pub – we’ve done stuff like put an outdoor bar in.

“But I can’t wait for that first day when we can reopen again. The big question is when will that be?”



Dermot Palmer

Dermot Palmer, 87, has lived in one of the terraced houses on Sir Matt Busby Way for more than 50 years.

A cricket fan, he’s only ever been to one United game, when the club gave local residents complimentary tickets.

Even on non match-days he says the street is busy with fans shopping at the megastore or just coming to visit the ground.

But during lockdown life has been a lot quieter.

He said: “We used to get coach loads of Chinese tourists going past from the first thing in the morning.

“But we don’t get anyone now. It’s very quiet.

“On a matchday like today fans would be fans sitting on the wall, chanting and throwing rubbish in the garden.

“It’s very different at the moment.



Memorabilia hangs from a resident’s window

“But there’s only ever been one time when we had some trouble.

“They were playing Leeds when Tommy Docherty was manager and a fan was being chased and tried to run into next door.

“Someone threw a bottle and it smashed next door’s window, but the club sent someone round to fix it.”



Sean Stokes

Stood behind the counter just up the road at the United Cafe, Sean Stokes says Old Trafford ‘is a ghost town at the moment’

“It’s dead,” he said.

“Some days I might serve eight or nine people all day.

“Normally on a match day there are 70,000 fans streaming past.



Sean Stokes, cafe owner.

“For an hour and half before kick off it’s kamikaze – it’s just non-stop.

“We’re a bar as well, so we’ll have fans inside singing, the hatch would be packed. The atmosphere is really good.

“It’s enjoyable to work. You’re so busy you look forward to kick off so you can get 90 minutes rest.

“Now it’s just totally different.”



“We used to get coachloads of Chinese tourists going past from the first thing in the morning. But we don’t get anyone now. It’s very quiet.”

As Sean poses for a picture we get chatting to a customer as he waits for a cup of coffee.

He doesn’t want to give his name but says he lives in a flat on Sir Matt Busby Way and earns a living selling scarves and merchandise to fans.

But since lockdown he says he’s had to find new ways to make money.

He said: “When the Chinese tourists first started turning up in face masks I asked one of the tour guides what was going on. That was the first I’d heard of it (the virus).

“Then when the Chinese tourists stopped turning up that’s when I knew it was getting serious.

“Normally I’d be out there practically every day, because there’s always some fans knocking about.

“Now there’s no point, there’s no-one about.



Sir Matt Busby Way on a quiet derby day

“Before Christmas I was going into Manchester selling facemasks and I’m on eBay selling stuff.

“The internet has kept me going really. I’m just doing whatever I can to get by.

“It is what it is.

“You have to fit in with the way of the world and this is the way of the world at the minute.”

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