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Going to a match at Old Trafford is always a great experience, but going as a Matchday VIP guest for Manchester United's 3-2 win over Fulham took that experience to another level.
As a Blackburn fan, the last time I thoroughly enjoyed myself at what United proclaim to be the 'Theatre of Dreams' was when Rovers achieved a deserved 2-1 victory there in 2005. But with a four-course meal, all-inclusive bar and one of the best seats in the house, Saturday surpassed many aspects of that occasion. Here's a wee diary of the day...
09.00: Awoke in a panic. "Where am I!?" A shot of adrenaline spurted through my bloodstream. I was in bed at home, alone as usual.
10:28: Arrived in Manchester. Was excited to see that Nick Miller's favourite greasy spoon 'Antonio's' was open. Remembered the time Nick and I bonded over fish and chips before United versus Athletic Bilbao last season. The happiest day of my life.
11.43: Arrived at the tram stop near the ground after a quick and easy journey. Considered buying a half-and-half scarf for Sarah Winterburn as a joke. Remembered her request that I don't make any more jokes.
11.58: Reached the stadium and was surprised to see how busy it was so long before the game. Several hundred fans were milling around The United Trinity statue of Best, Law and Charlton as the atmosphere began to build ahead of the match.
12.05: Entered the Europa suite where I was greeted with champagne and canapés. Embarrassed myself by commending the "ca-napes".
12.30: Manchester United legend Sammy McIlroy was presented on the stage in the dining room to give his thoughts about the match. To be honest I wasn't really listening (I was too busy rooting through my goody bag) but I'm sure he made some excellent points.
12.47: Chris Smalling popped in to say hello and sign autographs. As he was still on crutches, the compere (who, it must be said, had an excellent singing voice) requested that only children aged 16 and under approach the stage to meet the defender. I was politely asked to return to my seat, despite using a serviette to cover my beard.
13.14: I was sat at a table with a chap from FHM who, much to my relief, didn't talk about tits all day, and two other parties. As part of the entertainment we participated, abysmally, in a match-day quiz, which broke the ice on the table. The conversation flowed like wine and the wine flowed like Ryan Giggs' famous run against Arsenal in 1999.
13.45: We were given a choice of starter and main. I opted for goats cheese salad followed by medallion of beef and lamb cutlet served with fondant potato, pickled red cabbage and a plump boiled carrot that rather reminded me of Anderson.
14.00: The official Manchester United magician (no, not Scholesy, laugh out loud) came over to the table to perform a few tricks as we ate dinner. I tried to charm the table by asking if he could magic up a new midfielder. No-one laughed.
14.04: There was a buzz around the room as the starting line-up was announced: Van Persie starts, Rooney on the bench. "You've got balls, Sir Alex. I'll give you that," I thought to myself.
14.34: After finishing a truly excellent meal, we made our way to the seats in the South Stand. As a reminder of the worldwide appeal of Manchester United, Usain Bolt was introduced to the crowd to rapturous applause and chants of "Fergie, sign him up. Fergie, Fergie, sign him up."
At Blackburn we usually have Kevin Gallacher drawing a tombola.
15.03: Much to my delight, Fulham opened the scoring through a neatly worked free-kick. Game on.
15.10: Robin van Persie scored with his first shot for United. And what a strike it was.
15.45: Two more goals, including a strike for Shinji Kagawa on his home debut, had given United a commanding 3-1 half-time lead. We returned to the suite for sandwiches (no prawn, unfortunately) and a cheese board. The beer fairies had also left a fresh pint at my seat. "This is the life," I mused to my new bezzie from FHM.
16:21: A balls-up from David de Gea gave Fulham hope, with Moussa Dembele openly flirting with Sir Alex as he stretched United repeatedly.
16.53: We arrived back inside after a cracking match. After another pint, a cornish pasty and a flapjack I was feeling quite merry. Rafael and Dembele came to collect their man of the match awards and pose for photos. We sang Happy Birthday to several supporters. There was a cake. I made a drunken pact to divorce Blackburn for good and spend every other Saturday in the Old Trafford Europa Suite..
For £299, the Matchday VIP package isn't something you would invest in every week, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable and luxurious experience. It's nice to treat yourself - or be treated - from time to time and if I was United fan I'd definitely be tempted to buy myself an early Christmas present, perhaps for April's Manchester derby.
P.S. Arsenal, Liverpool, Man City and anyone else - I am available for hire. All you need to do is promise that there will be beef, beer and a magician.