The day United were all ‘at sea’ in a Manchester derby - as seen by the Millwey Rise scribe

PUBLISHED: 12:41 24 May 2020 | UPDATED: 12:54 24 May 2020

The cruise ship Azure at dock in Cadiz, Spain. Picture; DICK STURCH

The cruise ship Azure at dock in Cadiz, Spain. Picture; DICK STURCH

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At 5pm, on Friday, October 14, 2011, all pre-departure checks were completed and clearance granted P&O’s Azura let go all her lines, thrust off the Ocean Terminal berth and manoeuvred out into the Solent, writes Dick Sturch.

Manchester derby success for the blue half of the city. Picture; DICK STURCHManchester derby success for the blue half of the city. Picture; DICK STURCH

An easterly course was set north of the Isle of White where shortly after the pilot disembarked the ship.

We cleared the Nab Tower.and steered south westerly into the English Channel towards Cape Ushant off the north western tip of France and onward to the Meditteranean.

We cruised for two days, crossing Biscay and down the Iberian peninsula towards out first port of call, Cadiz. The sea remained calm and the weather warm. On board we quickly found our way around.

Perhaps not that quickly as we lost ourselves and our cabin several times in the maze of corridors on various decks. Luckily though, I did find what would prove to be the epicentre of televised football, ‘Brodies Bar’.

The cruise ship Azure. Picture: DICK STURCHThe cruise ship Azure. Picture: DICK STURCH

This proved very important, as, the next day, Saturday, Liverpool were playing Man Uchester United - a game I had a definite interest in. We were assured, providing the satellite signal remained intact, the match would be screened at 1pm on Saturday.

After a walk around the promenade deck and the on board shops we had a snatched lunch. I left my wife sat out on the balcony of our cabin and swiftly made my way to ‘Brodies’.

That is, after first getting out of the lift on the wrong deck, then alighting on the right deck but turning in the wrong direction!

Much to my surprise when I arrived at ‘Brodies’ there was plenty of room at the tables in front of the big screen as well as all the many smaller screens around the bar. I ordered the requisite pint of lager from one of the very attentive bar personnel who asked me which team I supported?

Sir Alex Ferguson. Picture: PRESS ASSOCIATIONSir Alex Ferguson. Picture: PRESS ASSOCIATION

I replied ‘Liverpool’, to which he responded ‘Me too, Liverpool are a good team. Bob Paisley is a good manager’, (at that time the Liverpool manager was actually Kenny Dalgleish. However I did offer by a reply a placatory.’Yes, very good’).

As the match progressed ‘Brodies’ gradually filled, though still remained quite comfortable and somewhat restrained accept for the occasional outburst of flowery language following an over zealous tackle or the referees decision.

I did hear the drinks waiter, who had taken my order, ask someone else, ‘What team you support?’ The reply came back ‘The Reds’! This left him quite perplexed, but, he responded with an enthusiastic ‘Me too’ - but without mention of a manager!

The game, goaless at the break, became more exciting after Steve Gerrard scored Liverpool`s goal from a free-kick midway through the second half. But the greatest roar went up when Hernandez equalised for United with only minutes left on the clock.

The game then became quite frenetic and ‘Brodies’ came to life accordingly until the final whistle. The result left United two points behind league leaders Manchester City, who they were playing the following Sunday and ‘Brodies’ were again reminding everyone that they would be televising it providing there was a satellite connection. A palpable murmer ran through the bar. I had the feeling next Sunday`s match would prove a little more animated than today`s.

We knew we were in Spain as we walked through Cadiz and saw all the Barcelona shirts with Messi’s name emblazoned across the back.

Old Cadiz is on a peninsula surrounded by sea and in its centre the Cathedral ‘Santa Cruz de Cadiz’ with its golden dome gleaming in the Spanish sun. The surrounding narrow streets were equally as bad as the corridors on the ship as we tried to find our way around, but Cadiz is well worth the visit.

This is not a travelogue, but we left Cadiz bound for Barcelona. There we did the usual ‘Citi Bus’ tour which took in Barcelona FC’s famed ‘Nou Camp’ and Guadi’s ‘La Sagrada Familia’.

We walked through ‘Las Ramblas’ taking in the sights. One tip to anyone visiting for the first time, don’t have a beer or a coffee in the ‘Rambla’ - two streets back and it`s a third of the price and the atmosphere far more relaxed and friendly.

Cannes was our next Port of call followed by the Italian ports of Livorno and Civitavecchia. In the latter I even saw a large notice in the window of a local bar advertising they would be showing the coming confrontation between United and City.

We then had a day at sea before berthing at Alicante and it was this day, Sunday, October 23, 2011, that would become a black day in the annals of Manchester United and I would witness it in the middle of the Mediterranean ocean.

All week since the Liverpool game the talk aboard Azura was of the forthcoming United and City meeting.

The ship’s daily newspaper built up the expectation with reports from both ‘camps’. It was advertised in our daily programme of events and we were continually reminded it could be seen in ‘Brodies Bar’ (subject to satellite signal.)

It was discussed at most dinner tables. Usually with enthusiasm although not everbody were football fanatics. Some conversations came to an abrupt end. I well remember asking an older gentleman what he thought about the coming United, City game? He informed me he didn`t play computer games and viewed them as a waste of time!

Around the pool, on the decks or in any of the many venues barely a conversation took place without mention of ‘the match’, and then, the day was with us.

Again, the kick-off was at local time, though because of some very talkative table companions, what was meant to be an early lunch became anything but.

I eventually excused myself and quickly made my way to ‘Brodies’ where I was in for a shock. I could hear the noise before I was anywhere near it and when I eventually pushed open the door I came face to face with a tide of red and blue clad humanity.

There was no tables left near the big screen. No chairs close to the surrounding smaller screens. In fact little standing room anywhere in the bar. I did eventually find somewhere that had a view of the screen and even the luxury of a ledge to perch my lager on.

Coincidentally served by the same bar person as the previous Saturday who asked the same question. ‘What team you support?’ I replied ‘Accrington Stanley’, which produced a vacant look and a quick exit.

The game itself was played out to the noisiest television audience I have ever experienced. The commentary was completely drowned out as voices rose in unison with every kick of the game and, when Balotelli gave City the lead, ‘Brodies’ erupted!

The noise continued until the break then settled into an excited hub-bub as glasses were being rapidly refilled in readiness. (The person stood next to me ordered three pints to see him through the second half without distraction.)

Two minutes after the game re-started decibels rose to a deafening level when Johnny Evans was red carded for a foul on Mario Balotelli. The atmosphere which had become a bit fractious in some parts of the bar was aggravated even further 15 minutes later when we lost the satellite signal.

It was restored just in time to see a recording of Balotelli firing home his second goal to put City two up. Again the noise was ear-shattering and within another few minutes Aguero put them three goals clear. I really did think at that stage things may develop into something a bit more serious especially with some of the banter going on around the bar.

I noticed now that the ‘reds’ in ‘Brodies’ seemed to be quickly diminishing as the City supporters celebrated their lead. Then, with 10 minutes of the game left, United scored through Fletcher. At last a glimmer of hope for their supporters whose numbers were now somewhat depleted. Would this be another of ‘Fergies’ famous fight backs? Alas not, three further goals in the final four minutes, two from Dzeko and one for Silva, completed United`s.annihalation. ‘Brodies’ was now ringing to the cheers of City supporters five points clear at the top of the Premier League. Blue definitely ruled with hardly a red shirt in sight. At the end I was as drained as my pint of lager having never ever experienced that level of intensity in any televised match I’ve ever watched. The captain later gave his usual address over the ship’s radio and to rub it in included the result once more

Life on board settled down on the following day.as we docked at Alicante before our onward cruise to Gibralter, our last port of call before two days at sea on our return to Southampton. A final highlight of the voyage was looking from our balcony and seeing my first, (and only) ever glimpse of a whale as the spray from its spout flew high into the air.

It was a magical moment on which to end the cruise and far more relaxing than the recent match in ‘Brodies’ for sure.

● Dick Sturch can be contacted via email at derek-bretondream@hotmail.com


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