The friendliest man who will ever live welcomes journalists to Old Trafford for a living. Or does he do it out of love for the game? If he is paid, however much, it isn’t enough.
In this reporter’s experience, he was there in 2017, he was there on Saturday, and he will be there again on Tuesday when India play New Zealand in their men’s World Cup semi-final. At least, this reporter fervently hopes so.
He is tall, blessed with a booming smile and a voice that leaps tall buildings, and of a certain age. He’s an uncle. An outrageously friendly uncle.
“Mornin’! Mornin’! Yer arright?! Everything OK?!”
From his accent he is unquestionably a man of the North, so here’s hoping he doesn’t mind the Australian aspersion cast by describing him as a human boomerang. Besides, in these parts that’s less offensive than labelling him a Londoner.
You can answer his not quite questions in the affirmative as convincingly and as often as you like. But that won’t stop him asking after your well-being from the instant he sets his bright eyes on you through the glass doors approaching the front desk, bounds all the way across the lobby with you, and until the moment the lift, which of course he has hailed for you and is holding the doors, closes and shuts him out of your life.
One day some cynical, hungover hack is going to tell him things are not “arright”. Not at all. In fact, they are shockingly bad. And you know what else, outrageously friendly uncle? It’s your fault. So there. Now what are you going to say?
“Mornin’! Mornin! Yer arright?! Everything OK?!” …
It is to be hoped no hack who arrives at Old Trafford is ever hungover or cynical enough to do something so heartless. We live in such a cold world that any warmth we can find is to be cherished.
Thank you, outrageously friendly uncle. Please be there on Tuesday, and forever more.
Doubtless, the hordes of India supporters descending on Manchester for Tuesday’s game will experience something similar. They should: Mancunians are as warm and welcoming as their city is gothically beautiful, if a touch on the chilly side. Even in what the British call summer.
If you have to hurry somewhere unexpectedly, Manchester is a better place than most. And hurrying India’s fans are, what with South Africa pulling out the performance they have been searching for weeks now to beat Australia on Saturday.
That pushed the Australians down to second place in the final league standings, which means they will take on third-placed England in their semi-final at Edgbaston in Birmingham on Thursday.
It also means India finish top. And so to Old Trafford on Tuesday.
Thing is, the shambling South Africans never looked like beating Australia leading up to Saturday’s game. Consequently, many of India’s fans — and the shoal of reporters following the team — would by then have booked travel to and accommodation in Birmingham secure in their assumption that they would be cheering on Virat and the boys against the English at Edgbaston.
Thanks, Faf, for nothing, they might say. But they will be a mite more confident about India knocking over new Zealand to the final rather than England. Whatever. Some have had all the bases long since covered.
“All of our 150 rooms have been booked out by Indian fans for Tuesday since last year,” a spokesperson for the Hilton Hotel at Old Trafford said on Sunday. “They had the option of a free cancellation until 24 hours before the match.”
Yes, sports lovers, if you’re staying at the hotel you simply open the balcony door in your room and there’s the cricket, right there. Hello? Room service?
Or should we take ourselves off to Wilmslow Road, otherwise known as Manchester’s Curry Mile — where more than 70 Asian restaurants of all kinds are crowded into less than 800 metres?
“We’re expecting to be really busy, especially before and after the match,” the manager of one of the more long-standing establishments, The Shere Khan, said. “We have a lot of tables, but patrons could queue for half-an-hour to be seated.”
So far, so stereotypical: many Indians bringing with them a significant, if short-lived, boost to the local economy. You know the type — as long as they can find a game of cricket involving their team to watch and a curry to eat, they couldn’t be happier.
Not so fast, Rudyard Kipling. Hang up your prejudices and meet Roshan Shah, one of a group of five fans taking brunch at the Ezra and Gil, a fashionable café in Manchester’s rampantly hipsterised Northern Quarter, on Sunday.
So, Mr Shah — a friendly uncle himself, though not at all outrageously — are you looking forward to watching the objects of your adulation on Tuesday?
“There was no plan to do that. We wanted to see one of the matches at the World Cup, and Saturday’s game between Australia and South Africa was the one we chose.
“That’s the only game we came to see.”
Shah is from Jalgaon, 425 kilometres north-east of Mumbai in Maharashtra. He was due to fly home on Sunday evening, having spent three days in England.
He and his friends left behind confidence that they would be followed back to India by a certain trophy.
“We’re just very happy that India are top of the table. They will definitely get into the final now, and I strongly believe they will win this World Cup.”
And Manchester? “It’s been great, a lovely city with wonderfully friendly people.”
See. Told you so. Come on, Indians; come on, come on …