Manchester: The colour is red. Overwhelmingly red. It’s actually a sea of red.
As I walked into the hallowed portals of the Manchester United stadium on Sir Matt Busby Way in Old Trafford on a rather laid-back Wednesday afternoon, with just a hint of a chill in the air in what is the second-busiest city in England after London, I told myself: “No wonder Manchester’s football legacy has so famously been associated with red — the shirt colour of the fabled Man United.”
And I say that with full knowledge and acknowledgement of the other famous side from the same city that has been far more successful in recent times than United — Manchester City.
But coming back to the point: The entire United stadium and even the flooring of the inner precincts of the club are a riot of red.
After what was an exhilarating one-hour guided tour of the club and the stadium, as I was on my way back to the Old Trafford tram station on Wednesday, I happened to pass by the Old Trafford cricket stadium, home to Lancashire County Cricket Club. It looked such a quaint little place.
Not much of a hustle and bustle, but decked up all the same for the World Cup cricket match between India and the West Indies, that was to begin in less than 17 hours’ time.
Jump cut. Around 10.30am on Thursday, waiting at one of the gates to be frisked before being allowed into the Old Trafford cricket stadium, I told myself: Manchester is indeed the city of the Red Devils — as the famous football club is often referred to in popular Premiership parlance — but for now, it’s the city of the Men in Blue.
Sorry, there were innumerable women fans of the Indian cricket team as well, who had turned up in their numbers, proudly sporting their favourite team’s shirt colour.
The possibility that the Blue Army would pathetically outnumber their Caribbean rivals was very strongly felt about half-an-hour ago while I was waiting at the Piccadilly station to catch a tram to Old Trafford. The platform was full of blue shirts. And the crowd was swelling, prompting one of the railway safety stewards to make repeated announcements about the expected arrival time of the next tram to Old Trafford, even as the public address system cautioned commuters: “Due to the West Indies-vs-India World Cup cricket match, trams to and from Old Trafford could experience possible delays,” or something to that effect.
Few minutes later, one of the stewards came up with a novel idea, asking some of the stadium-bound passengers to translate the announcements about tram movements in Hindi.
Makes sense, or so I thought. It reminded me of my tour guide at the Man United stadium the evening before who had said: “I work as a tour guide at this stadium, but tomorrow, I’ll be at the cricket ground, watching the match. Whenever India plays here, there’s a big crowd and it’s quite fascinating.” Minutes later, even as he was meticulously explaining what goes on inside the room for post-match press conferences on match days at Man United, as one of the visitors was eager to catch the score of the Pakistan-New Zealand match, he seemed only too happy to digress: “Last heard was, New Zealand were in trouble.”
The Black Caps lost the match.
“This International Cricket Council World Cup has brought good business to Manchester in terms of visitor numbers. The hotels are all full. And when you have a sell-out crowd attending an India-Pakistan match, like it happened on June 16, it’s good news for the city,” Ryan Johns, an executive with Marketing Manchester — the tourism arm of the city — told Gulf News over a perfect portion of fish and chips at Mrs Sarah’s Chop House on Cross Street the night before the India-West Indies match. At the stadium on Thursday, aloo chaat was unsurprisingly giving fish and chips a run for its money.
So barely a few minutes after the India-West Indies encounter ended on Thursday, when Indian captain Virat Kohli tweeted “Don’t know about football, but Manchester was blue today,” I knew exactly what he meant!
From the Piccadilly platform to the ‘Great Indian Food’ kiosk at the cricket stadium; from Sir Matt Busby Way’s sidewalks to the Old Trafford tram ticket booth … Manchester on Thursday was all about India as the city kept red aside and embraced blue. And there was divine intervention, too, to set the mood music right — a clear, sparkling blue sky right through the day exorcising the threatening prognosis of fickle English weather.