Divide and conquer is one of the oldest tricks in the book. If Wednesday’s terror attacker had that goal in mind, he failed miserably. An already close-knit city has formed an even tighter sense of community. Things that are usual cause for division have been shelved. Manchester stands together.
They say by not carrying on with life, the terrorists win. That’s why after the 1996 Manchester bombing, a Euro ’96 game was played the next day, and the Manchester Arena continued to host events the following week.
This time can be no different. The Courteeners will play Old Trafford Cricket Ground on Saturday, and the team from the football stadium still face a Europa League final tonight.
To give an example of this togetherness, a week ago, this Manchester City fan was trawling the Internet for an Ajax shirt. It was going to be worn as I cheered on the Dutch side. The idea of ever supporting Manchester United – up until the events following Ariana Grande’s concert – seemed alien, unlikely: downright impossible.
Now, for tonight at least, it would be preposterous not to get behind a team flying the flag for Manchester. Many of the players – especially younger members like Rashford, Lingard, and even Pogba who lived in the area from the age of 14 – will feel a personal connection. The same goes for members of staff making the journey.
It also goes for the 9,500 United fans in the Friends Arena, and the thousands more travelling to Stockholm to show support.
They will all become the embodiment of a mourning but determined spirit.
For weeks, the press has made The Red Devils favourite to claim the only major piece of silverware that has yet to grace their trophy cabinet. The tragedy aside, it was always going to be a harder game to call than those assumptions.
Ajax are a younger side that play free-flowing football – when given the chance. It sets up an interesting match where the pragmatic Mourinho style will be expected to absorb the early flurries and eventually see off the promising Dutch side.
AC Milan probably had a similar idea heading into the 1995 Champions League final until Patrick Kluivert had his say. United need to make sure nobody becomes the new Kluivert tonight. It would have been easier had Zlatan Ibrahimović been able to signoff his Man United duties on home turf.
Instead they will look to other – rested – faces for success. There are enough mature heads, with plenty of experience, in the Manchester United contingency to ensure the sense of occasion, and the gravitas of events back home, do not overwhelm. You can imagine someone like Rooney using it as motivation to propel the players forward rather than sink with the burden.
After the terror attack, the United players observed a minute’s silence in training. Tonight, they will be greeted with ninety minutes of raucous support from the red and blue sides of Manchester. Sure, at the start of next season, if they’re sitting in Pot 2 of the Champions League draw, it’ll be mildly annoying.
But for now, they have nothing apart from unequivocal support as they represent a great city, unity, honest people, the innocents affected, and the freedom of our way of life.
This City Stands United.