A Rare Opportunity
Murrayfield Stadium – There are some places that you’ve always wanted to visit but football isn’t played there.
Sometimes, you go just to scratch that itch and in the past, I’ve seen Iron Maiden play at Twickenham and I’ve watched Stoke City play many times at the Bet365 Stadium…
Ok, that last one’s a joke but I have seen some pretty awful football there over the years. Anyway, when I heard that a prestigious friendly was going to be held at Murrayfield Stadium, I had to jump on it.
I’ve travelled on trains that go past the stadium many times and I’ve always thought it looks a beauty. Manchester United versus Olympic Lyonnais at the home of Scottish rugby?
Having spent the first three weeks of the new season watching local games in the northeast, it was time to take it up a notch.
Murrayfield Stadium – The Journey
Of course, further away means disturbing much-needed beauty sleep and six o’clock should only be seen once a day!
Feeling disturbingly groggy and miserable, I eventually flushed myself through the front door along with Mrs Hopper. She was as disturbingly wide awake as I was groggy and miserable.
With the cobwebs slowly dissipating, we boarded the 07:05 bus to Newcastle and arrived around an hour later. There were plenty of early signs that it was going to be a pleasant, sunny day and hopefully, that would bear fruition as the day progressed.
We strolled from the bus stop through the city centre, making the usual stop-off at Greggs.
From there, we walked another five minutes to the train station and found that things haven’t changed since last season.
Same Old, Same Old
We knew there were strikes planned for the 20th, 22nd and 29th of the month. With this in mind, we checked the latest information the night before setting off, to make sure all was ok. There were some services that ‘may be subject to short notice cancellations’ but reassuringly, Lumo were not one of these.
We smugly strolled up to the departures board, surrounded by people muttering about cancelled trains. That was when we saw “08:42 Lumo service to Edinburgh – Cancelled”.
We joined the milling throng of people muttering about cancelled trains and waited our turn to speak to the besieged train staff. Of course, they couldn’t help us with any info that we didn’t already know.
I noticed that the 08:47 LNER service (it left ten minutes late) to Edinburgh was running, so we headed to platform 2 and got on board. When there is chaos on the trains, train companies often allow customers of other train services to jump aboard. We just didn’t wait for official confirmation is all…
Our tickets weren’t checked on the journey up, so I’m guessing my assumption was correct and people from all different companies were being allowed aboard the crowded train.
Allegedly, the cancellations and delays were caused by a train hitting something between Newcastle and Edinburgh but I can’t find anything to back up this story online. Interestingly, it was the day before a strike and certain staff were taking ‘action short of striking’ ahead of the strikes themselves.
Coincidence, or a blatant lie? I don’t know. What I do know, is that my levels of trust in train companies are such that I have to question it.
Anyway, the upshot of the story is that we arrived at Edinburgh’s Haymarket station around 10:45.
Murrayfield – Pre-Game
With plenty of time before the 2 pm kick-off, we headed to the Roseburn Bar a short distance from the stadium.
It took around fifteen minutes to make the walk from Haymarket to the Roseburn Bar. Almost as soon as we came out of Haymarket we started to see street vendors selling half-and-half scarves, as well as the more traditional United red and white ones.
People don’t miss an opportunity, do they?
Speaking of which, I was quite amused to see a temporary bar outside one of the guest houses along Haymarket Terrace/Roseburn Terrace. A row of tables with what looked like alcohol recently bought from an off licence stacked up and ready to go.
Along the way, we got some idea of the makeup of the fans attending today’s game.
While there were more Mancunian accents than I had heard since binge-watching Shameless a couple of years ago, there were also a large proportion of Scots in United shirts. As for Lyon fans, they were pretty much non-existent apart from an isolated one or two here and there.
No French ultras in town today then, unfortunately. I know it was only a friendly but it was quite a prestigious one. I had been hoping to see a few of these famous ultras make the journey across the Channel.
Oh well, c’est la vie as they say in Lyon… so I’m told.
Murrayfield – Roseburn Bar
We were in the Roseburn Bar before 11 am, which turned out to be a stroke of luck. The place was pretty empty when we got there and we ordered two pints of Tennents at a cost of £9.40. While not cheap, by Edinburgh standards, that’s not too bad.
We found a couple of comfortable chairs in a side room and plonked ourselves down, grateful to be out of the warm sun.
By the time we were halfway down our pints, the place had started to fill up and our cosy little corner was darkened by people standing in front of us, as there was nowhere left to sit. By the second pint, it was choc-a-bloc.
After enjoying our drinks, we headed for the stadium at around 12:30. We wanted to make sure we had time for a walk around the stadium and with events like this, you never know if there are going to be unforeseen problems with tickets etc.
Murrayfield Stadium – Exterior
There were already plenty of people queuing up at the gates, despite the turnstiles being opened half an hour earlier.
We purchased our digital tickets via Ticketmaster a few weeks earlier.
Temporary Ranting Intermission
First up, the price.
Yes, this was a prestigious friendly. Yes, this was at the national stadium for Scottish rugby but tickets going for £90 plus?
The ones we bought were for the southeast corner of the stadium and cost £35. At least, that’s what they said they would cost. By the time you add £4.40 (per ticket) for a ‘service charge’ and £2.95 for a ‘handling fee’, that comes to a total of £81.75 for the two.
For a digital ticket! What handling fees? There is nothing to handle! £8.80 service charge for two digital tickets?
We as a nation have gotten so used to being ripped off in everything we do in life, that companies just keep on ripping us off.
Digital tickets were the only sort of tickets available, so if you didn’t have a smartphone, you couldn’t get in. Another facet of modern football that I don’t much like. Along with programmes, ticket stubs are another nice reminder of games attended.
Fans from the digital age will have very little to look back on regarding mementoes when years have passed by.
Rant over… for now.
It appeared that the same turnstile area covered everyone’s tickets, no matter where you were located in the stadium. Despite the potential bottleneck, the queue moved quite quickly and we were soon having our phone tickets scanned and inside we went.
A Quick Tour
As you can see from the photograph above, the sun was still shining and there was an atmosphere almost like a group picnic. People were sitting on the grassy banks enjoying overpriced food from the multiple snack bars surrounding Murrayfield. Kids and their parents were wandering around taking in the atmosphere with smiles on their faces.
There was one surprising omission from the rip-off catalogue, no ‘special souvenir’ programme. This was their one chance to rip me off and they didn’t take it.
Our seats were located in the area that you can see on the left of the photograph above. We started our wander by heading off to the right.
On the northwest corner of Murrayfield is a large building which houses Murrayfield Ice Rink. This is home to the Edinburgh Capitals ice hockey team.
We popped inside the stadium in this corner to get a few views from the opposite corner to where we would be sitting.
Just around the corner on the west side of the stadium is another rugby stadium. This is the home of Edinburgh rugby team and the set-up reminded me of Hampden Park (Hopper Tales #35), with Lesser Hampden adjacent to it.
As I’m not a fan of rugby, I didn’t bother going to take a look but I have seen inside as we have passed it a few times on the train and it’s a tidy, yet small-ish stadium.
This brought us around to the southwest corner where the stadium shop is located.
Obviously, the majority of the stuff on sale in there is related to Scottish rugby and Edinburgh Rugby Club. I did however manage to get a silver thistle pin badge that would be a good addition to my collection as a reminder of the day. Only £1.95, too.
Excellent value considering I saw someone pay over £85 for a shirt in there!
With the time now edging along, we headed up the steps and into our section of Murrayfield.
Murrayfield Stadium – Exterior Gallery
Murrayfield Stadium – Interior
Once inside the stadium, the concourse is a little sparse. A bleak concrete walkway with toilets is all there is. Understandable, given that there are so many food and drink stalls outside. It also means there are no bodies to fight your way through to get through to your seats. A lot of stadiums seem to encourage milling around on the concourses, so this was a nice change.
With a capacity of 67,144, Murrayfield holds considerably more spectators than Hampden Park (51,866).
I have to say, of the two, Murrayfield has a better feel to it, though I guess that is just personal preference.
The one thing I wasn’t too keen on, was the fact that our seats were exactly where the roof curves down to meet the East Stand.
Only a minor aesthetics grumble because it certainly doesn’t impede your view of the action, it simply disrupts your view of the rest of the stadium at the far end.
As with many international and large club stadiums, you feel somewhat detached from the action with it being so far away but I’m not sure there is a way around that.
Budding architects of the future, start thinking about it.
Floodlights are built into the roof and the playing surface is of natural grass.
Murrayfield Stadium – Interior Gallery
Pre-Game View of Murrayfield
The build-up to the game was in keeping with what you would expect from a Cup Final, with pyrotechnic flames and an ‘enthusiastic’ lady on the public address system.
She was clearly Scottish but sounded like she was desperately trying to be Bruce Buffer, calling out the contestants for the UFC… and failing.
On a few occasions, she made mistakes that drew titters from the peanut gallery and I strongly suggest she tries to be more herself in future and stop trying to be someone else.
There is nothing wrong with being Scottish, folks!
A bagpiper belted out a rendition of the Proclaimers classic, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), followed by the PA system blasting out the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”.
Then the teams came out to rousing applause from the fans.
Match Build-Up and Kick-Off
Manchester United v Olympique Lyonnais – The Game
This season, I won’t be doing blow-by-blow reports on the match and will be deferring to the people who do it better. If you wish to read about the game, you can click on the following link to do so.
To summarise this game, I had a hard time staying awake.
With the early morning start, a couple of pints of Scotland’s finest and a bore-fest of a game.
Club stars like Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Casemiro, Anthony Martial, Fred, Luke Shaw and Christian Eriksen all missing, it’s not too surprising.
It started promisingly enough, with wave after wave of chances in the first five minutes for United. Anthony Lopes was called into action to prove what an outstanding talent he is in the Lyon goal, but the action soon fizzled out.
The one moment of class came from United’s forgotten man, Donny van de Beek in the 49th minute.
Eighteen-year-old midfielder Danny Gore put a delicious cross across the face of the goal and van de Beek applied a volleyed finish that did it justice.
Lyon, incidentally, are managed by ex-Reds favourite Laurent Blanc, who was a powerhouse at centre-back for United and the French national team.
Speaking of ex-favourites, Jonny Evans got a good round of applause from the United fans as he warmed up in front of them on his return to the club this close season.
Full-time – Manchester United 1 Olympique Lyonnais 0
Attendance – 48,484
Entrance Fee – £35.00 (plus £5.87 in various fees)
Programme – N/A
As with all things Premier League and the business it has become, I can’t post highlights from the Manchester United YouTube channel, as it is protected content.
Instead, I have included the French language version from Lyon’s channel.
Manchester United v Olympique Lyonnais – Match Highlights
Manchester United leave Edinburgh and head to the United States before facing Premier League rivals Arsenal at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on July 22nd. They will also face the newly promoted Wrexham on the 25th in San Diego. Real Madrid the following day in Houston and finally, Borussia Dortmund at the Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas on Sunday 30 July.
United’s league campaign kicks off on August 14th with a Monday night home fixture against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Lyon will next travel to Belgium (RWD Molenbeek) and Spain (Celta Vigo), before heading back across the Channel to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on August 5th.
Their Ligue 1 campaign begins with a trip to Strasbourg on August 13th.
This was a rare chance to tick off one of British sports iconic stadiums and I’m glad we went.
Murrayfield is a great place to visit, as is Edinburgh!
The downsides are the obvious expenses related to watching a Premier League team and the players mostly just going through the motions. People aren’t dumb and they see this, which made for a largely apathetic audience.
Overall, it was a good experience and if you like rugby, I’m sure you would love a visit to Murrayfield Stadium.
If you get tickets for the southeast or northeast corners, my advice would be to go for the lower seats.
Edinburgh – After the Game
With our train not being until 18:09 and the game finishing before 4 pm, we didn’t feel any urgent need to rush back to Haymarket station. We let the crowd disperse before heading out of our seats, before joining the herd outside the stadium.
The herd was slightly thinned by some heading for the tram stop off to the right but there was still quite the bottleneck heading along Roseburn Street.
After turning the corner by the Roseburn Bar, we were back on the Roseburn Terrace/Haymarket Terrace road to the station.
I chuckled to myself as we walked past the guest house that was selling alcohol from its front car park. It was doing a nice trade thank you very much. Entrepreneurship is alive and well in Edinburgh.
Haymarket Train Station
Barriers separated the masses as we approached the station. Left into the city centre, right for the tram stop and ahead for the train station. It seemed like the vast majority wanted the train station and it was like a queue for the Nemsis at Alton Towers.
Police and security staff were making sure that only a certain amount of people were allowed to enter the station at one time. I was glad at this point that we hadn’t hung around the stadium any longer, as it was clear this wasn’t going to be quick.
While we were standing waiting for our turn, a rogue seagull overhead decided it would be funny to defecate on me. (I’m being polite ma!)
At first, I thought someone had thrown something but then I felt a warm ooze sliding down my arm. It seems the seagull was correct because it drew a few amused giggles from people around me and I must admit, I’d have laughed if it hadn’t been me, so I can’t complain.
One lady standing nearby said, “It’s supposed to be lucky”.
Yup, I have all the luck, me…
Having wiped myself clean with every available tissue in Mrs Hopper’s bag, we finally got inside the train station and made our way to a relatively empty platform heading for Waverley.
It seems the main focus of attention was the Glasgow line on the opposite side.
We caught the 17:01 back to Waverley and got a coffee and snack while we waited for the 18:30 train home.
As we passed through Berwick-upon-Tweed (Berwick Rangers – Hopper Tales #48), with the tide in and the sun still shining, I couldn’t help taking a video of one of my favourite scenes in the country.
The train departed on schedule and we were back in Newcastle by 20:15, giving us time to get to the bus stop for the 20:29 bus home.
Arriving just under an hour later, we got through the front door five minutes later and Mrs Hopper warmed up the big pan of pea and ham soup she had made the day before. It always tastes better the next day, doesn’t it?
Next Up for Hoppers Guide
Up next for us, is another northeast club.
Heaton Stannington, who we have already seen once this season in their friendly at Newcastle Benfield, will be facing East of Scotland League Premier Division side Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale.
Quite a mouthful, that.
With trains on strike yet again, our choices were limited to local games reachable by bus and we are happy to visit another one of the excellent clubs in the Northern League Division One.
Onto the next!
Edit: Lothian Thistle HV has pulled out of this fixture, so we have changed our focus. We will instead be heading to Tow Law for the game between Tow Law Town and Chester-le-Street United.