Manchester, the mecca for Manchester United FC fans, has a very humble cricket ground, mainly used for Lancashire County, away from the glamour and glory that London's Lord's basks in. But on the last weekend, Manchester's otherwise simple and quiet ground, that can hold upto 26,000 people turned into a cauldron of cheers and colours, with 'arch enemies' India and Pakistan coming face to face for the most anticipated ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup match, that ended in India winning by 89 runs. It is believed more than 600,000 people had applied for tickets, and more than 1bn viewers watched it across the world.
Just before the match, memes were doing rounds, especially ones about the recent Kashmir attack and mocking Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan- offending the Indian audience. The ambience on Sunday 16th, which was expected to be tense, was actually quite calm, with Indian and Pakistani fans sitting together peacefully, cheering for their respective countries- actually giving hopes for the countries’ future bilateral ties.
Whilst most of the attendees were British Asians, more than one-fifth of the crowd was visiting from abroad, including bollywood stars like Ranveer Singh, Boman Irani and Saif Ali Khan, whose father Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi was a legendary Indian cricketer and team captain. Saif was seen wearing a team India jersey and waving the Tricolour. He was joined by Pooja Bedi’s daughter Alaia Furniturewalla, who is playing his daughter’s role in an upcoming film. Also attending were business tycoon Nita Ambani, who was seen waving the Indian flag from the gallery along with some of her children and Indian politician Shashi Tharoor, who was in the UK to speak at the weekend’s Jaipur Literature Festival. London-based bollywood singers Rageshwari Loomba and Kanika Kapoor were also among the star audience. The dynamic High Commissioner of India to UK, HE Mrs Ruchi Ghanashyam was present at this historical match, and was joined by Manchester's Mayor Andy Burnham.
India and Pakistan supporters flaunted their team’s jersey, wearing innovative hats, face painted, cheering and waving flags. Some were seen dressed in traditional clothes, stitched out of the Indian tricolour, some in saffron wearing Narendra Modi mask, and others were witnessed shouting ‘India Zindabad’. Two-thirds of the audience were backing India. The fear of rain and eventually a washed out match did not dampen their spirit, and many were seen on social media organising car-pools from London to Manchester and return on the day. Even trains had Indian flags displayed across their windows, while the Manchester airport was said to be expecting 10 private jets to arrive from Asia. Rooms at the expensive five-star Lowry hotel where Jose Mourinho stayed during his tenure as Manager of Man U FC was sold out.
The Lancashire County Cricket Club, which owns the Old Trafford, reportedly came up with a special menu for its hospitality boxes, including vegeterian and Halal food. The breakfast menu included Channa Masala, Aloo Sabzi and Aloo Parantha, while Lunch included Butter Chicken, Lamb Achari, Daal and Naan. The Times reported that one of the hospitality boxes, costing upto £1800/person was booked by Kuljinder Bahia, the owner of Southall Travel.
EY estimated the six World Cup matches in Manchester would generate £32mn for the local economy.
Alisha Venkatraman, who came from Nottingham, which is an hour drive from Manchester, told Asian Voice, “I got 2 bronze tickets pretty last minute. While there was this fear of the match being washed off like the previous ones, it was such a good game till it lasted. We had fun, amazing Indian food in the counters and felt like we were back in India. It was an experience of a lifetime. Only I hope it never rained ”.
Tarang Katira, who made a day trip to Manchester by train from London to see the match said, “Overall my experience was great. Phenomenal atmosphere. Great cricket. The rain delays and the time it took to restart play was not ideal, but despite that, the players and crowds managed to make it a memorable day!”
But not everybody has had the best experience for the money and time they had invested. Madan Raj and Surath Uthayakumar went all the way from London with friends to watch the match, but were disappointed that they had to go hungry the whole match, due to the unusually long queues at food stalls. They said, “We enjoyed the game. But the management at the stadium was strictly average. The food queues were extraordinarily long and tedious. If we stood in the queue, we would have missed seeing a considerable part of the match. So we had to be literally on liquid diet. And the weather did not help either.”
Lakshmi Kaul, Head of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII-UK) spotted a couple in half Indian and half Pakistani jersey. Her tweet that was retweeted 21.5K (21,500) times said, “Spotted this couple at the #IndiaVsPakistan @cricketworldcup game and was intrigued by their jerseys! Husband is from Pakistan, wife from India so both stitched up India-Pak jerseys & wore them! Both are Canadians, watching the game in England, rooting for peace #SpiritofCricket.”
Community celebrates together
Sandip Patel, Pradip Saxena and Nilesh Rathi from Dhamal Events organised a massive community event to bring families together to watch India-Pak match on 4 huge LED screen under one big roof. On Sunday, 1500 people including volunteers were gathered at the Harrow Leisure Centre to cheer for India. The group has been showcasing the three weekend matches involving India (v/s Australia, Pakistan and England) at a ticketed gathering, also had Indian street food, cheerleaders, bouncy castle and free face painting for children to keep visitors entertained.
Mainly advertised locally through leaflets, posters and social media, the organisers had two criteria for tickets, while children between 5-12 years paid half the price and below 5 went free. Their priority tickets included front row seating with tables as well as goodie bag, voucher for food and drink and an Indian flag. Water was distributed for free to all. Speaking to Asian Voice Sandip said, “When people think of going for a match it has always been a gents' day out. Our idea was to bring families together in an environment that is enjoyed by evryone in the family, from women to children to elderly. We have even kept separate entertainment for children to keep them engaged. We will be showcasing the India vs England match on Sunday 30th and there are demands to organise such community viewing for semi final and final, if India qualifies.”
Other venues that had organised community viewing included Sattavis Patidar Centre (capacity 350), Blue Rooms (capacity 300) and The City Pavillion. Most of the well known Indian clubs and restaurants with a tv or screen were booked from morning 10 till late evening to watch live cricket match on the TV, while enjoying delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner with friends and family. After the match finished, people gathered at Ealing Road, Wembley, outside Queensbury station, Green Street and Southall to celebrate India's victory against Pakistan.