Result: Manchester United 2-2 AC Milan (5-4 pens) – (International Champions Cup (Glorified Pre-Season Friendly)
Venue: Millennium Stadium (Saturday 3rd August 2019, 5.30pm
The final weekend of pre-season finally came around to signal one of my most anticipated trips in quite some time. I’d been looking forward to getting back down to Cardiff for another visit, what with my trip to City being a rather rushed, short one, though I was expecting my return to be a watching brief at a Cardiff Met Welsh Prem game. However, when this “International Champions Cup” contest was announced for one of my long-term and fairly unlikely targets, I was in no doubt from that moment that I would be there – a bonus being, of course, that I could watch United whilst finally managing to ‘tick’ the Millennium Stadium.
Having had to miss out on my previously intended game – when Spain were the visitors – here a few months back, this was quite the pleasant surprise and I was upbeat and ready to go by the time I’d caught the 9.30am departure from Manchester through to Cardiff Central. It was a good job I’d pre-booked a reservation too, as the train down was absolutely packed and, indeed, by the time we got to Cwmbran, no one could manage to board. Having said that, a two carriage service at that time was something of a joke though, knowing the old Arriva service well, it seems that TfW are following the same mission statement.
The journey down was spent opposite another pair of lads travelling down to the game. I only really got talking to them in the last hour as they were working through the final few train beers each had in tow, though I was given a can of Coors on account of our shared journey-suffering. Dylan and Tom, cheers lads and hopefully your return journey was a little more restful than mine ended up being….but more on that later. For now, I arrived into Cardiff for just after 1pm and after the lads and the rest of their travelling party headed off on their way into town, I did the same but on my own pre-constructed itinerary. Starting off with a visit to the Callaghan square (where a number of things around there are named after politicians), I back-tracked slightly and headed for my first planned stop for the day – the Duke of Wellington. Unfortunately, the Duke was serving in plastics only and, to my immense horror, this became the norm throughout. Amstel down and I continued on my merry way.
I continued on along past an island of stalls and towards a church and rather grandiose museum where I came upon both the Old Market Tavern and, just across the way, the Owain Glyndwr. In the former, a pleasant surprise was had initially as I saw that they had Punk IPA on draught – but then I was brought crashing back down to earth by the £5.05 price tag. Ouch! After spending my time here watching dual TV’s showing both the First Ashes Test and Salford City’s league debut (see both of my blogs here and here for both versions of that ground), I headed for The Owain Glyndwr, hoping for a cheaper time of things. Sadly, this wasn’t the case as the Mephesto IPA came in at £5.25 and was something of an acquired taste, but still decent enough nonetheless. A welcome bonus was that the F1 quali was added to the former two sporting events here, so I was in my element. Lovely stuff.
From there, I made my way up towards the castle end of the city centre and popped into the Goat Major, the place being packed full of United fans outside. Inside it was a little more spacious and I opted for a Heineken (£4.05) in here to get back onto more familiar ground! A few lads here had the unfortunate happening of trying to start off a song, only for no-one to join in; though they took that well at least! Anyway, upon finishing up there, I began to back-track towards the stadium, coming across the nearby Tiny Rebel (kind of) taphouse as I did so. Entering inside, it was again a popular stopping point and with many a beer to choose from, I reckoned I’d play it kind of safe and go for the Clwb Tropicana (£4.95) owing to my liking of tropical stuff and the back-of-my-mind feeling I’d had it somewhere before.
A final stop was made in the neighbouring City Arms (actually a revisit following my brief terminated one a half-hour earlier) before I reckoned I’d make an early-ish entrance to the ground. This proved inspired as I initially headed in for some food having not seen any programmes out and about, before spotting someone with one as I was queuing for a bite to eat. Asking where he got it, he said “outside the ground”, to which I took he meant before coming in….not the obvious answer of OUTSIDE. A failed attempt to playfully bribe a security guy to find me one followed before I eventually found a steward who could point me in the correct direction which, it turned out was just around the corner which I took to be blocked off. Idiot. Panic over and with a £5 (decent sized A4 issue) bible in tow, I returned to my block once again and returned to the queues for a steak pie. Worth the wait too; piping hot it was.
Taking my pastry-based snack up to my seat, the impressive expanse of the ground opened up in front of me and I have to say, what a ground it is – made all the better by the closed roof, meaning this would be my first “indoor” match. Yes ok, that’s a stretch, but let me have it?! I took my given seating entrance, but this turned out to only mean that I disturbed the whole row I was joining as I continued right on over to the far side seat….right next to the next set of steps up. “Oh, but of course” I muttered to the guy next to me, a fellow United fan who I’d soon come to know be named Dan. A relative local, I talked to him throughout the majority of the game (though he may have wished he’d chose one of the other 65,000+ seats at points!) which, as it would turn out, would be a highly enjoyable affair.
As I said a little earlier, the Millennium Stadium really is an impressive structure – from both outside and in. It is a bowl shape with all corners filled in of course and is the same size the whole way around courtesy of the roof system. Each of the stadium’s sides made up of three tiers, with the bottom tier appearing to be a fair bit smaller than those above it, especially the top level, though this may be skewed somewhat by the large square-like areas behind the goals where both middle and top tiers merge. The dugouts, dressing rooms and tunnel are all located straddling the half-way line and were just to the right of the corner in which I was sitting. Not much else to say, really, so let’s get straight on with the action!
The game got going as United began the stronger and they were ahead within the first quarter of an hour when Marcus Rashford cut inside and fired low beyond Gianluigi Donnarumma. However, their lead would last only ten minutes as former Liverpool prospect Suso, who had curled just over moments earlier, this time made amends – adjusting his sights to find the top corner, leaving David De Gea grasping at thin air. One-a-piece!
Following their equaliser, Milan began to gain the initiative and almost – indeed probably should have – gone ahead when the energetic Suso provided the impetus once again and delivered a fine ball for Krzysztof Piatek to attempt a diving header, only for his attempted…er, attempt to almost become the perfect dummy, but De Gea was alert to fling himself and divert the ball away. Piatek then had another chance on the stroke of the break, but his lob was palmed over by the Spanish gloveman to ensure the sides headed in level at the break.
An uneventful break which saw a venture down into the concourse for no apparent reason came and went and we were soon back underway. Piatek again spurned a chance when he failed to shoot with any conviction during the early stages. United responded with chances for Victor Lindelof and Andreas Pereira, but either truly troubled Buffon’s second coming. In fact, Lindelof would prove more potent moments later but, unfortunately for him, his side and the majority of those within the Millennium Stadium, it would end up with the ball nestling into his own net.
Another direct Milan attack led to a ball in being met by the head of Samu Castijello and his header deflected off of the head of the Swede behind him and Lindelof was fairly unfortunate to be awarded an own goal to his name. The usual glut of substitutions followed, one of which saw Donnarumma replaced by former Liverpool stalward Jose “Pepe” Reina – who proceeded to become the pantomime villain for the majority of those in attendance, being booed upon each touch of the ball he was afforded.
However,he would become a little more liked when he was beaten with around 15 minutes to play, when Anthony Martial played in sub Jesse Lingard and the Warrington native fired a blistering low drive past Reina to level up the scores once more. A number of youngsters were introduced to the fray for the final ten minutes or so – Angel Gomes, Dan James and Mason Greenwood for United and the likes of Daniel, son of the legendary Paolo, Maldini for Milan. Despite a large amount of pace and trickery from them, there was no more goals despite a late Lingard chance, and so we headed for penalties.
The first eight penalties all hit the net mark – Hakan Calanhoglu, Lingard, Giacomo Bonaventura, Ashley Young, Andre Silva, Mason Greenwood, Rade Krunic and Angel Gomes all finding the net, before the young Maldini was the unfortunate player to miss, the 17-year-old seeing his spot-kick kept out comfortably by De Gea. This left the new signing Daniel James, back in his “homeland” (he is English-born, after all), to win the game and he did just that, converting the fifth United penno to win possibly the most pointless shoot out of all time – Benfica had already taken the tournament. BENFICA!!!
After the game, I had a good amount of time before the train home (ha, famous last words) and so I popped into the stadium-neighbouring Zerodegrees Microbrewery and the neighbouring Queen’s Vaults but, being mindful to get to the station with time in hand, I opted to have just a half of Czech Pilsner (£2) in the former, which was interestingly showing Lancashire’s T20 clash vs Nottinghamshire on a big screen behind the bar, and a can of Dark Fruits (£3.25) in the latter, purchased from a separate, little side-bar. With a good twenty minutes or so until the train, I left for the station just up the road, only to see a kind of organised mayhem, with queues here and there heading in all different directions. I was initially pointed into the Birmingham queue where I was assured I’d be placed on the train back to Manchester (I did have the reservation, after all) but I felt a little iffy after ten minutes waiting and no movement of said queue. A further five minutes of nothingness in terms of help meant the train came and went and wouldn’t you know it, I was stranded. Superb stuff. Clusterfuck.
I was eventually allowed to enter the station after actually getting it through to security what the situation was (though my initial joking denial to move for a family to get through could’ve gone wrong had I not thought on about it!) and, to be fair, the lads in the station building itself did do their level best to try and sort me out a way back. Of course, there was little they could do and so I was left with one option and one option alone. Crewe: end of the line. God, there’s something about that bloody place! Assured that I could claim back money for my troubles (watch out for it whomever is at fault here), I boarded said train which did have one bonus to it – it was empty as anything, meaning a far more peaceful journey back was had than I’d have endured on the Manchester service. Also, my cousin had offered to be my personal taxi for the evening to drop me home from there too, meaning that, all in all, the whole furore had cost me about half-an-hour. Crazy. Back in at just after 1am and with that horrible tiredness pain you get inside your brain itself setting in, that was that until a little later on Sunday morning!
Aside from all that shit at the end, the day as a whole couldn’t have gone much better. The game was far better than expected, the ground superb, Cardiff was fun (despite the plastic crap) and getting to meet some good guys during the day’s events was a pleasure too. Back to competitive action next week for the FA Cup’s Extra-Preliminary Round and with a number of ties jumping off the fixture list, I’m spoilt for choice in where to head….that is as long as the journey back is easier than this one!
Value For Money: 6 (Marked down due to the obvious)