• Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and his team lift the UEFA Champions League trophy in Barcelona, Wednesday 26 May 1999. (EFE FILE/EPA/ANDREU DALMAU)Source: EFE FILE/EPA/ANDREU DALMAU
Late nights and early mornings watching a team 17,000km away became an Australian father-and-son bonding experience.
Thomas Mitchell

9 Mar 2018 - 12:01 PM  UPDATED 9 Mar 2018 - 12:07 PM

Growing up, there were two things my Greek father was absolutely mad for:

1) Covering the remote control in plastic so that it didn’t get dirty.
2) Manchester United.

Often these two loves went hand-in-hand: I can still see him channel-surfing until he found the Man United game he was looking for. Each click of the remote, followed by the soft sound of Glad Wrap stretching back into its original position.

While I could never get used to the remote-wrapping idea, I did catch a fever for England’s greatest football club. We spent countless nights (and early mornings) watching the team from the other side of the world, celebrating every goal with hushed cheers as the rest of the suburb slept. We could have been a million miles away, but sitting next to my dad on the lounge, it felt like we were there. That’s the magic of Man United.

My years of fandom saw me accumulate all sorts of weird Red Devils paraphernalia. I had it all: the jerseys, keyrings, pencil case, toothbrush – anything that could be branded and sold to kids. But by far the most valuable thing was sharing it with my Dad.

Red dawn

I have the world's worst long-term memory, but there are moments that I can dust off in my mind and revisit, as if they were yesterday. Most of them come back to this football team.

In 1999, I remember rubbing my eyes as Dad shook me awake in the predawn light. I was ten years old. The UEFA Champions League final was live on SBS. If they won, Manchester United would capture the treble (three trophies in a single season). Half-asleep, but desperate to be included, I took my place on the lounge, as Les Murray’s voice coaxed me from my coma.

Six minutes in, Manchester United fell behind. It would remain 1-0 for much of the game. My Dad was literally hovering on the edge of his seat, as if committing to sitting or standing might somehow sway the result. When the clock ticked over to 90 minutes, the treble seemed long gone – I could see it in my old man’s face.

Then, in 90 seconds, everything changed.

A sloppy corner kick in the 91st minute resulted in a Man United goal. Sixty seconds later, the team scored once more. We’d won 2-1 in injury time! My mother’s “keep it down” protests were drowned out by chants of “Glory, Glory Man United!” as I celebrated alongside my father.

Later that year, the victorious team toured Australia, playing a pair of exhibition matches against the Socceroos. I was desperate to go, but as a child, you don’t have much say in these matters. I whispered a prayer to the football gods: “Let us get tickets to this match.”

I was so happy when we attended the Sydney game, I wore every single piece of Manchester United gear I owned. That day, my dad also bought me a special edition (totally unofficial) Red Devils Down Under tour t-shirt from an illegal street vendor outside the stadium.

I spilled sauce on it. That was devastating, but it was still the greatest day of my young life.

Since then, we’ve continued to bond over the team that has delivered us so many special moments. We don’t get to watch as many matches together these days – life has a habit of getting in the way. Instead, we debrief and discuss in our dedicate football WhatsApp group.

This weekend, as Manchester United prepares to take on Liverpool (a classic match-up for any football fan) I look forward to adding another chapter to our story. I don’t doubt that many other fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, families and friends will be settling in to watch the match and make their own memories.

That’s the magic of Man United.

This Saturday March 10, Manchester United takes on Liverpool in the Premier League, from 11pm AEDT on SBS and SBS HD. 

Follow the conversation on social media: #SBSFootball

Watch daily news and video highlights at The World Game site.

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