By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published May 29, 2017
A week ago, 23-year-old American pop singer and actress, Ariana Grande had just ended her concert performance in the packed out Manchester Arena in England. The patrons, many of them children, were heading for the exits, still in costume, with bunny ears attached to their heads. Several of their parents were outside awaiting them to bring them home. High school boyfriends and girlfriends held hands as they headed to the doors. Friends, filled with excitement – chuckled and laughed – still amazed that they had witnessed their idol in concert. Numerous parents, who had accompanied their kids to the concert, held their children’s hands – in a protective fashion – as they guided them through the crowded maze, thinking only of getting home and getting home quickly.
In one quick expansive bang, the left side of the Arena erupted in chaos, as Salman Abedi, a Libyan expat, had detonated an improvised explosive device, more commonly known as an IED. The explosion killed 22 individuals, several of them children and parents who attended the concert. Also killed in the blast were parents who came to pick up their kids to take them safely home. Ironically, Abedi, the alleged bomber, was only 22 years old.
“Skin, blood and faeces were everywhere”
Kiera Dawber told CNN, “There were just bodies scattered about everywhere … it was just chaos.”
Abby Mullen, who attended the concert, wrote on her Facebook profile, “As we were leaving a bomb or explosion went off metres in front of me. People’s skin, blood and faeces were everywhere including in my hair”
Two nights later, Manchester United Football Club was due to tackle Ajax in the Europa League finals at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. Manchester United and Manchester City football clubs are bitter rivals and are both coached by two coaches, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, who have had many battles over the years coaching other clubs, including Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. For the most part, they are the antithesis of each other in football philosophy and approach and like oil and water, they are often immiscible. Mourinho, the frequently pragmatic coach, builds his teams on strong defence while Pep, the idealistic coach, builds his team on great offence, thinking the best defence is a strong offence.
However, despite the adversarial relationship between the fans and the polarising philosophy of the coaches, last Wednesday, several Manchester City fans were supporting and cheering on their arch-rival Manchester United against Ajax in the Europa final. In the depths of tragedy, sworn enemies can emerge as friends.
During the match, one Manchester United fan raised a poster over his head which read, “Come on United, do it for Manchester.” The Manchester the fan was referring to was not Manchester United the club. The objective of the night was not winning another cup or title, adding to their prestigious lot, in order to indulge in bragging rights against their city rivals. No! The Manchester the fan was referring to was the city of Manchester, which was broken and desperately in need of a triumph and a ray of happiness, to bring them together after a Monday of mourning.
Manchester City and Manchester United have donated a combined £1 million to a ‘We Love Manchester Emergency Fund’, set up for the victims of the Manchester bomb attack.
According to ESPNFC, City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said: “We have all been humbled by the strength and solidarity shown by the people of Manchester in the days since the attack.
“The hope of both our clubs is that our donation will go some small way to alleviate the daunting challenges faced by those directly affected and that our acting together will serve as a symbol to the world of the unbreakable strength of the spirit of Manchester.”
Since the retirement of long-time coach Alex Ferguson in 2013, Manchester United have not tasted League or European success. In four years since, they are on their third manager, having disposed of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal in short order. This was United’s first opportunity to taste European success, albeit in the less-favoured Europa League, and end a practically lost season in the Premier League, which saw them finish sixth and out of a top-4 Champions League spot. United’s only hope of Champions League qualification lied in them beating Ajax in this final. Nevertheless, the hearts and minds of the United players and coach were on the people of their fellow city, Manchester.
Before the match commenced, Manchester United players were all donned in black armbands and the moment of silence at the beginning of the match, in memory of those killed or injured in the catastrophic attack on Monday, eventually became a moment of applause and was indicative of resulting triumph.
Manchester United beat Ajax in the final 2-0 on the back of goals from last summer’s signings, Paul Pogba, the most expensive footballer in the world, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, another luxurious signing, whose jersey number just happens to be 22.
With the people of Manchester in mind, Mourinho declared after the match, “If we could, we would obviously change the people’s lives for this cup, immediately. We wouldn’t think twice. Does this cup make the city of Manchester a little bit happier? Maybe. But we just came to do our job.
“We came without happiness we should bring with us because when you come for these big matches you come happy, you come proud(ly). And we didn’t. We just came to do our job.”
Pogba was on the pitch two years ago in a match against Germany when Paris suffered one of Europe’s deadliest terrorist attacks, which resulted in 130 persons being killed. After the Europa League final and in reference to terrorist bombings, Pogba remarked to BT Sport, “These things are terrible all over the world, in London and in Paris. We went out focused [on winning] and we won for Manchester and the country”. He added, “We played for the people who died [in Manchester].”
In moments of unspeakable tragedy, persons often divided by race; gender; religion; philosophy; political views; and even football clubs, can find commonality, can cheer for each other’s success and can share each other’s pain. These moments when what separates us are minuscule to those things than bind us, marks the hallmark of the human spirit. A spirit, always triumphant.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.
This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on May 29, 2017.