‘Only in that moment was I aware just what this game means to people.’
Greetings from a rather packed rattler as we bumble back to London after today's game at Old Trafford. It was great to be the person in charge with welcoming back Premier League football to your TV screens.
However, we’re all a bit drained after a packed first day, and to make things worse the trains are a bit of a nightmare as Euston is shut, so we’re going to London via Sheffield.
Mind you, despite writing this whilst perched on my bag by the door, these journeys are a fantastic reminder of the passion across this country for the game we all love.
I’ve just had a chat with two rather depressed United fans who travelled from Grimsby for the game. They were great, if fed up, however I wasn’t too impressed when they tried to sell me a can of their Budweiser for a fiver! I even told them it was 5pm and I hadn’t had anything to eat all day. Actually, in hindsight maybe it was a good job I steered clear of the beer on an empty stomach!
We’ve bumbled past Derby’s ground where the fans will be hoping to see top flight football next season, and we stopped at Leicester where an Everton fan told me that Evertonians will take 5th again as long as Roberto Martínez can deliver some silverware and a Wembley trip.
A good reminder to owners and managers of Premier League clubs that the FA Cup still matters. I’m still shaking my head at how Saints threw away the chance to make the cup final last season. That trophy still retains its magic for me.
It was great to share the show with Paul Scholes today, who I think will be a headline-grabbing and honest expert for us. As we made our way around the pitch after the game we were laughing at the fans chanting ‘come back Scholesy, Scholesy come back’. United would benefit from a player of his class, and about five others of that quality.
Paul referred to United as ‘we’ for the whole show, and it's clear it still hurts him deeply when United struggle like they did today. And he didn’t pull any punches, which isn’t easy with his mates still part of the playing and coaching staff.
He questioned their quality, especially in midfield. He wondered out loud why top, top players such as Kroos and Fàbregas have chosen other clubs over his. He even said United are nowhere near as attractive to players as they once were.
The concern for him, and everyone else who cares about that club is that they’ve not signed anyone for 50 days, and there’s only two weeks of the current window left. Is a late trolley-dash really going to deliver the quality United desperately need?
I know this wasn’t a day to remember for Louis Van Gaal, but it was for me, thanks to his arrival making an historic afternoon.
From having Jenson Button sweat all over me as he planted a smacker on my neck as World Champion in 2009, to giving Becky Adlington a sympathetic hug after her bronze performances in London 2012 that she perhaps knew then, signalled the end of her swimming career.
This job is all about being at the centre of the story, which is where the real thrill lies with being a sports broadcaster. It’s why I always press to be next to the pitch, track or court when I’m working. For me, studios can’t convey an atmosphere the same.
And in my time at BT Sport there have been many ‘goosebump’ moments, but two really stand out. Both have happened at Old Trafford.
Last season I was live on air when suddenly I got a shout in my ear, ‘he’s come out early!’
‘Coming to camera five' said the Director. Suddenly, David Moyes was marching out of the Old Trafford tunnel, to receive a standing ovation on the day there was a plane due to fly above the ground and demand his sacking. I naturally described what we were seeing and the importance of the moment.
Today, it was the same ground, but a new man. With five minutes to go, Steve McManaman, Paul Scholes and I emerged from the old players' tunnel that allows you to access the pitch directly between the two dugouts.
We walked to the mouth of the tunnel and we were then directly between the two sets of players sitting on the bench. Louis Van Gaal was just feet from me alongside a fidgety, frustrated looking Ryan Giggs.
The 4th official held up the board signifying the added time and suddenly there was a sense of belief around the ground. However, it wasn’t to be, and with seconds left I didn’t take my eye off the new boss.
Only in that moment, sitting on that bench with the eyes of 60,000 people trained on him, and holding the hopes of millions more across the world in his hands, I was aware just what this game means to people.
People like you and me, the people I’ve shared this journey with today. And the best news of all, this new season journey is only just beginning.
Right, back to a bottle of water, half a bag of Chipsticks and some more fans who feel just like me – delighted the new season is back!