The tension was both palpable and frenetic. As the fans of Manchester United filed into the stadium that sprightly Sunday afternoon, the only prayer on their wish list was for their darling team to trounce their arch rival, Liverpool.
Too much was at stake!
A defeat for Manchester United might puncture the dream of the team for a record fourth consecutive English Premiership title. For Manchester United fans, that option was too grim to contemplate.
Among the guests of Manchester United at the stadium that afternoon were eight Nigerians who blended perfectly with the crowd and enjoyed every moment of the melo-drama at Old Trafford. They were indeed what Jose Mourinho, the loquacious coach of Inter Milan would call the Special Ones.
To have been selected from the millions of subscribers on the network of Nigeriaâ€™s national telecommunication carrier, Globacom through an electronic draw and travelled to the theatre of dreams, Old Trafford in Manchester, United Kingdom in an all-expense-paid trip, was an unforgettable experience for the winners.
Globacom had on February 18, 2010, entered into a landmark and historical sponsorship deal with Manchester United Football Club of England. It was the first time the team, regarded as one of the biggest in the world, had signed such a partnership deal with any corporate organization in Africa.
The Globacom-Manc-hester United FC partnership is founded on the massive followership the club has in the West African sub region, especially in Nigeria, Ghana and Benin Republic. Man United is estimated to have a teeming fan base of about 13.5 million in these countries.
The trip by the eight lucky Glo subscribers was in fulfilment of the promise the telecommunications giant had made to its subscribers at the launch of the partnership with Manchester United that it would give them a unique opportunity to experience English Premier League matches at the Old Trafford and cheer their favourite club, not in front of their television sets, but right there at the stadium.
Right there they were in the stadium, cheering and jeering with about 80,000 other Manchester United and Liverpool fans as they watchedÂ Man United defeat Liverpool by 2-1. Each time the adrenalin of the game rose to the zenith during the tension-soaked encounter, the winners of the Glo promo also rose like the Mexican wave, displaying the banner they brought with them which read, â€œGlo/Man U: the winning team. Rule your world. Glo.â€
The thrilled winners of the promo returned to Nigeria after watchingÂ the match with tales of star treatment by the Manchester United management.
They included Mr. Boniface Eneji Ogbaniko, a driver with GTZ, a German company based in Jos; Mr. Muritala Rasheed Ajani, a teacher at Christ Grammar School, Shaki; Mr. Babatunde Baderin, an Estate Surveyor based in Ibadan and Ezenwa Paul Emeka, a businessman based in Imo State. Others were Mercy Isaac, a community network assistance with ICAP (International Centre for AIDS Care and Treatment Programmes), Kafanchan sub region; Mrs Theresa Taiwo Makinde, a politician and retired teacher in Lagos State; Mr. Omoniyi Omolade, a hotel manager based in Ibadan and Mr. Ashok Kumar Singh, the Head Rolling Mill, Delta Steel Rolling Mill, Aladja.
Leading the Manchester United delegation to receive the team was Dennis Irwin, one of the biggest legends in the history of the club.
Irwin and two other senior Manchester United officials took the Globacom delegation to the clubâ€™s Museum which has over 200 trophies won in the history of the club, the Munich Tunnel, a memorial in honour of the teamâ€™s players, officials, journalists and others who perished in the 1958 plane crash in Munich, the playersâ€™ hospitality suite where the team relax before and after each home match andÂ the locker room where the players are briefed by the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson before, during and after each home match.
They also took the delegation to the tunnel from where players and officials step into the field on match days, the Dug Out where the managers and reserve players of the two teams sit during matches, the pitch, the stand and the photo studio where each of the winners of the Glo â€œRecharge and Go to Old Traffordâ€™ promo took pictures with the English Premier League trophy Man United won last year and the Carling Cup the team recently won. For the winners, the personal highpoint of the visit was when Irwin presented a personalised Manchester United jersey to each of them.
All the winners described their experience as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Ogbaniko said he never in his life dreamt he could go to UK not to talk of going to Old Trafford to watch an epic match. Mrs Makinde said the entire Isolo Local Government Development Area, where she now serves as the Special Assistant to the Executive Chairman on Protocols, went into wild jubilation when news reached the council that she won the â€˜Glo Recharge and Go To Old Traffordâ€™ promo.
Another winner, Omoniyi Omolade, said, â€œI find myself in Old Trafford. None of my family members has ever had this kind of opportunity before. Being at the stadium live to experience the hustle and bustle, the shouting on top of voices of the fans, the grizzling tackles, the goals, the charged atmosphere, the different songs and the tour of Man U stadium is a story I will always like to tell. I experienced live what I used to watch only on CNN, Sky Sports etcâ€.