Old Trafford in Manchester, England
October 21, 2008
In the visitors' locker room at the legendary Old Trafford, the members of Celtic F.C. waited to go onto the pitch. Some of the players were nervous, as they had not been here before, others were perfectly calm. They were wearing their road kits, which looked strangely like the kits for the Australian national football team. Any Socceroos out there will know what that is. The shirt was yellow with green piping on the collar and the sleeves with the Celtic crest on the left breast and the Nike Swoosh in green on the right. The shorts were green with the players' number in white on the left leg and the Celtic crest on the right. The numbers and player names on the back were black due to UEFA rules about number visibility. The player names were arched over the numbers and were all in lower-case letters. The socks were yellow with green piping on the top rim. Finally, they were given the go-ahead to go onto the pitch.
They walked through the halls of Old Trafford until they reached the players' tunnel, where they encountered the players for Manchester United, who wore their red shirts with the AIG logo on the front (It must have sucked for them to be sponsored by AIG considering what happened later) with white shorts and white socks. At the top of the shirt was the Red Devil in black on a white background, which came down the shirt in a white stripe with a thin black line down it. It paused for the players name and number before continuing on the tail of the shirt with MUFC and then the thin black line down the white stripe again.
But anyway, let's move on. Among the Celtic players were American midfielder Scott Michaels and Japanese forward Taichi Kamiya. After about a month-and-a-half of frustration, including getting into a fight with each other that resulted in a suspension for the Villarreal match, they were finally getting to start at the famed Old Trafford. To say they were excited would be an understatement.
Scott was thinking if only his grandpa could see him now. Sure, his parents were most likely watching, and his little brother Jimmy most likely was as well, despite the younger Michaels' disinterest in soccer. While waiting for the signal to enter the pitch, Scott looked to his left and saw that we was standing next to none other but Manchester United's golden boy Cristiano Ronaldo. Scott's eyes were fixed on the guy, who looked at Scott and gave him 'what's up' nod, which Scott returned before looking away. Holy shit! He was standing next to the best soccer player in Europe! It wasn't anything romantic; it was just nervousness on Scott's part. Here he was at Old Trafford! What was he getting himself into? He shook his head to clear his thoughts as he remembered his dad's advice that he gave to him and Jimmy.
"Whatever you do, don't get nervous before a game. You'll perform badly and you'll make mistake after mistake. If you do get nervous, just think that it's only another game and nothing special."
Scott heeded his dad's advice. He thought to himself, it's only a game, just like any other. That it of thinking managed to calm him down until he thought, I wonder if Maggie—no! Stop, Scott. She most likely is watching, but you need to focus! Remember, it's only a game. Take a couple of deep breaths and remember it's only a game, just like any other. Scott took those deep breaths and felt himself calm down a little bit.
"Mister?" A small to his right said. He looked down at the little kid, one of the match day mascots that was holding his hand. "I'm nervous," the kid said in his Manchester accent.
"So am I," he said. "But I'm not trying to think about that right now."
A bit back in the line, Tai Kamiya was also nervous. He was standing next to Man U striker Wayne Rooney. Tai was doing his best not to shake in his cleats, but unfortunately, he could feel his feet shaking. He thought about his friends and family back in Japan. Were they watching? He knew Sora was watching, because she said she was watching. The nerve-wracking was probably worse than the Bronze Medal match at the Olympics. Sure Japan lost that, but the feeling of nervousness matched what he was feeling right now.
Stay calm Tai, he thought to himself. Take deep breathes and think of something else. This is just another game. But this wasn't just another game, and that was what kept him nervous. He couldn't think of anyone else who was making their first start in the frickin' Champions League! And at Old Trafford! When he was a kid, he dreamed of playing here, not on the opposition, of course! You'd think that his experience in life-or-death situations in the Digital World would give him experience for this, but apparently not!
Meanwhile, in Glasgow, Sora had invited Maggie over to watch the match with her. She had to hide Koromon and Yokomon, though, because she didn't know whether or not Maggie was a DigiDestined or not. At about 7:25 Glasgow time, she heard a knock on the apartment door. It was Maggie.
"Hello, Maggie," she said as she bowed in welcome.
"Hello, Sora," said Maggie. "Are ya ready for the match?"
"I sure am!" Sora said. The two the sat down on the couch and looked for the match on TV. They managed to find the match on STV, the only channel where the match was being broadcast free in Scotland.
Back in Manchester, the players were ready to go. Well, they were ready to go when they were brought to a utility corridor that opened up to the player's tunnel. For anyone who does not know where the players tunnel is, it's in a corner between the Stretford End and the Main Stand; in other words, the southwest corner of the stadium. Then, the players heard the music that they had been waiting for and got ready to enter the pitch. Then, the announcement came.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Old Trafford, the Theatre of Dreams! Will you please welcome Celtic and Manchester United!" The players were then given the signal to leave the players tunnel and enter the field. As the players left the tunnel, led by the FIFA officials and their respective team captains Gary Neville for Manchester United and Stephen McManus for Celtic) and holding the hands of the match day mascots, a deafening roar surrounded them as they entered the pitch onto the field. Although a fanfare was playing over the PA system, the players could barely hear it, since it was being drowned out by the crowd noise. The two teams then proceeded to walk to the midfield line a few yards in front of dugout. Manchester United stopped where they were, while Celtic lined up right next to them on the other side of the field. The two teams were finally in one line with the officials standing between the teams as the crowd noise at Old Trafford continued.
Then, the UEFA Champions League anthem began, which just increased the roar of the crowd. For neophytes Scott and Tai, this was practically a dream come true for them, being able to play in one of the biggest stages in soccer and in one of the most famous arenas at that. A contingent of volunteers flapped the UEFA Champions League logo in the centre circle, a tradition for every match.
"Ils sont les meilleurs
Sie sind die Besten
These are the champions
Les Grandes Équipes
Back in Glasgow, Sora and Maggie were applauding for Scott and Tai. For their friends to be here, in the Champions League, it was just an immense feeling of pride for the both of them.
In Manchester, Scott and Tai could barely contain themselves, and Scott, who had been trying so hard, finally cracked a big smile. But the player next to him, Aiden McGeady, told him to calm down. Tai also could barely contain himself, but unlike Scott, he did not smile. Well, maybe just a little. Then, the anthem ended, and the people flapping the Champions League logo at midfield departed the field while Celtic and Manchester United shook hands. Although they most likely couldn't hear them, there were 4,000 Celtic fans in attendance that night in the upper part of the East Stand of Old Trafford, But they were going: "(Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap-clap) Celtic!" and repeating this chant several times. Then, the two teams posed for a ceremonial photo before running into their ends to begin preparations for the start of the match. Manchester United would defend the Stretford End. Celtic was in a 4-5-1 formation, which looked like this:
1 GK Artur Boruc
12 DF Mark Wilson
4 DF Stephen McManus
22 DF Glen Loovens
3 DF Lee Naylor
46 MF Aiden McGeady
5 MF Scott Michaels
6 MF Gary Caldwell
19 MF Barry Robson
25 MF Shunsuke Nakamura
16 FW Taichi Kamiya
While Manchester United was in a 4-4-2 formation, which lined up like this:
1 GK Edwin van der Sar
2 DF Gary Neville
15 DF Nemanja Vidić
23 DF Jonny Evans
22 DF John O'Shea
7 MF Cristiano Ronaldo
24 MF Darren Fletcher
8 MF Anderson
17 MF Nani
9 FW Dimitar Berbatov
10 FW Wayne Rooney
Before Celtic got into position, they got into the Celtic huddle which they do every game. "Alright buys," said McManus." Let's show these guys what where're made of all right? Let's go!" The players then broke the huddle and got into position. Scott would have gotten into position behind the centre circle, but Gary Caldwell called Scott to centre circle.
"Ya used tae kick off in college, right?"
"Yeah, I did," replied Scott.
"I know it's crazy," said Caldwell. "But yer're going to kick off."
"What me?" said Scott. "Sure!"
"Alright then. When the ref blows his whistle, that's when you start!" Caldwell had to yell a bit when trying to explain because of the noise. Then he dropped back to position. Scott looked around him. Aiden McGeady was on his right and Barry Robson was on the left. Then, to the roar of the crowd, the referee blew his whistle and Scott kicked the ball to Aiden McGeady. McGeady then took it up to midfield before sending the ball to Tai. Tai then tried to maneuver past Darren Fletcher, but he jammed his foot in between Tai's legs to get at the ball. Tai then tried to make a spin move to get past Fletcher, and was partially successful, getting it to his countryman Shunsuke Nakamura. Nakamura then snuck past Ronaldo, but Ronaldo managed to get the ball from Nakamura.
Now Manchester United had possession, much to the delight of the 72,212 that were not supporting Celtic. Ronaldo got past midfield but was confronted by Scott Michaels. Ronaldo tried to use some trickery to get past Scott, but he wasn't buying it, having settled down a little bit now. Scott instead stuck his foot in between Ronaldo's legs, which got the two tangled up for possession of the ball. Ronaldo kicked it out to Wayne Rooney, who took it past Scott, who then, knowing the Ronaldo no longer had the ball, went after Rooney, who passed to ball to Berbatov. He then won a free kick. The game was in the second minute. The ball was at the corner flag. Portuguese winger Nani kicked the ball from the corner but Celtic managed to clear. In the first two minutes, Celtic managed to stop a Manchester United score.
On to the twelfth minute; in this minute, Celtic had their best chance to score at that point in the game. Tai had the ball and was being pressured by Gary Neville and Jonny Evans. He faked to the right, and then faked to the left then back again to try and draw Evans ad Neville off, which partially worked, because Evans was caught, Neville wasn't. Tai then tried to pass to Scott, who found Aiden McGeady at the edge of the penalty box. He was confronted by John O'Shea but managed to jinx past him and fired a shot at van der Sar, who made the save. The Old Trafford crowd voiced their pleasure at McGeady's missed opportunity.
In the fifteenth minute, United came close to opening the scoring. During a failed attempt to score, Celtic conceded to ball to United in United's box. John O'Shea gave the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo who raced into Celtic territory with Scott in hot pursuit. Ronaldo tried some tricks again, but Scott wouldn't have it and tried to take the ball from Ronaldo, but was unsuccessful when Ronaldo successfully passed to Wayne Rooney who tried to make a cross pass, but Stephen McManus conceded the ball, giving United a corner kick. Nani, after a slight delay, kicked the corner, but Glen Loovens headed the ball over the bar, which resulted in a successful stop for Celtic.
Back in Glasgow, Maggie and Sora watched the match intently, groaning at every missed opportunity and every time United failed to score. "This is so nerve-raking!" Sora said.
"Aye," said Maggie. "This is a hard-fought match, it might go scoreless."
"If it does, at least we get a point out of it," said Sora. Maggie nodded in agreement and then the two ladies cheered when Tai got a hold of the ball in the seventeenth minute.
Speaking of which, Tai raced from the Celtic side of the field to the United side as fast as he could on the far side of the pitch. Anderson tried to get to him, but Tai managed to spin around with the ball between his feet and got past Anderson, but that slowed him down considerably. Darren Fletcher then tried intercepting Tai coming in at full speed, but Tai broke to the left to avoid Fletcher for a clear shot of the net. With an open shot, Tai fired a rocket right at the net, but Edwin van der Sar got enough of the ball to deflect it away. His opportunity wasted, Tai gave the turf a little kick in frustration. But he knew he'd get him sometime.
"Oh, man, that was a close one!" Sora said, almost in a sigh of disappointment. When Tai had the ball, she had jumped out of her seat and yelled 'go, Tai, go!' as he ran into the United end, but she crashed when van der Sar made the save for United.
"He was close!" Maggie said. "I thought he would score there."
"Well, it was a good chance, but he probably shot it too far out of the box for it have any chance to go in," said Sora.
"Aye, I guess yer're right," said Maggie.
Back in Manchester, United finally broke through. After battling through 29 minutes, United had a corner kick. Nani kicked the ball out to John O'Shea who received the ball and then flicked it to Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov, who was standing a bit offside who then nudged it in from six yards out into the goal. Celtic tried to call for an offside call, but the appeal was in vain; 1-nil to United. In a sense, that goal changed the flow of the game. Up until then, Celtic had battled hard, but now United's goal was giving them an air of anxiety. Artur Boruc, the goalkeeper, was furious, as was Strachan, who tried to appeal to the line judge that Berbatov was offside, but the appeals were ignored.
Meanwhile, Sora and Maggie watched in anger as Berbatov's goal went in, completely shocked that the official had not raised his flag for an offside. The two ladies shouted some very un lady-like things at the official in response, but since they were watching on TV, the official couldn't hear them.
Luckily for Celtic, that was the only goal United would score in that half, as Celtic managed to hold them for the rest of the first half. They did come close in the 39th minute when Scott Michaels had the ball in the United zone, defended by Cristiano Ronaldo.
"You want a piece of me?" Scott said in a rare lapse of judgment. But luckily for him, it didn't matter because thanks to a spin move he borrowed for his gridiron-playing brother, he managed to get past Ronaldo to advance towards the United box on the near side (A/N: near the dugout). With a clear shot, he fired a rocket right at the goal, but van der Sar managed to catch the ball, preventing the young American from evening the match up. Just like Kamiya, Scott was thwarted by the goalkeeping of Edwin van der Sar.
But despite the fact that United was running all over them, Celtic managed to keep the score the same until halftime. When the whistle finally stopped, Scott let out a sigh of relief and then bent over and grabbed his legs, panting in exhaustion. These guys are fast! He thought to himself. No wonder they're European champions!
Tai, meanwhile, was also exhausted from that one half, although he hadn't done as much running as Scott. But, exhausted is exhausted, and he felt he needed a drink of water, fast. He walked up to Scott, who was bent over, and said, "You want to quit?"
Scott just shook his head and said, "No fucking way."
During halftime, the Celtic players rested before they would go out to play the second half. Strachan was telling them what they were doing wrong and what they were doing right. What they were obviously doing wrong was letting Manchester United get close to the goal. What they were doing right was containing United. During the break, Scott drank as many Gatorades as he could to try and finish. He was most likely going to have to go a lot later on! Tai, meanwhile, stayed quiet, unlike at the Olympics where he tried to rally his team in the second half; except the United States dominated that half. So he felt that if he stayed silent, the team would be able to rally from behind.
So the teams got the signal to come out for the second half a few minutes later. Scott had the misfortune of being next to Cristiano Ronaldo, who had become sort of a rival, who said, "Are you tired?" in his native Portuguese accent.
"A little," replied Scott. "But I'm energized enough to beat you."
Although Celtic fought valiantly in the first half, things would get worse in the second half. Although United did not go on a scoring spree, things went downhill from there on. It started in the 47th minute with Scott Michaels sprinting down the field in the United zone, attacking the east end of the stadium. Scott fired at van der Sar, but the ball sailed wide right past the net. Scott mentally kicked himself for that mistake. United would score again in the 51st minute. Scott had the misfortune of fouling Brazilian midfielder Anderson outside the zone, giving Manchester United the free kick. Luckily for him, the referee did not give him the yellow card. Cristiano Ronaldo took the kick, sending it at Boruc, who made the save, but a familiar face stepped in (not literally) as Berbatov slid home the rebound to give United a 2-0 lead and sending Old Trafford into a frenzy. Scott was furious at himself for allowing that to happen.
But it got worse for him 10 minutes later. It happened around midfield when Scott was fighting with Wayne Rooney for control of the ball. Both players' feet were trying to get the ball and then somehow they got tangled up, which tripped Scott. And then the last thing he saw before blacking out was the knee of an oncoming United player.
The next thing Scott remembered was when he came to a short time later, looking up at the Manchester sky with the club's trainers surrounding him. "Scott, are ye okay?" A voice said. Unfortunately for Scott, his vision was blurry and it felt as though the left side of his face hurt like hell. He tried to touch his eye, which told the trainers that he had regained consciousness. "Scott," said the same voice. "How many finger s am I holding up?"
Scott could barely see what fingers the guy holding up. "Um… four?" He asked.
"Two," said the trainer. Soon, Scott found himself being lifted up and made to sit up. He could see clearly out of his right eye, but his left eye was still blurry. At that point, the trainer pointed his light in Scott's eye.
"We'll have to take ye out," said the trainer. Scott had no other choice in the matter and he was lifted up onto his feet by the trainers who led him to Old Trafford's raised dugout. As he left the pitch, Scott heard the 76,212 fans at Old Trafford give him a cheer. He raised his arm to signal that he was okay, but his eye hurt like hell.
"Well, ye didn't get hit too badly," said the trainer who was pointing his light in Scott's eye. "From what it seems, Fletcher's knee hit ye below the eye, because there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with it."
"What the hell happened," said Scott, who was still in a daze.
"Ye got kneed in the face," said the trainer, "By Darren Fletcher. It was an accident, though, he's probably sorry."
"I'm in the dugout, right?"
"Yep," he said. "Yer're probably going to have a black eye, but there probably won't be too much damage," he said. "I don't think ye hit hard enough to break any bones, so I think you'll be fine. Does it hurt really badly?"
"It hurts, but not too much," he said.
"Then ye might not have any broken bones," he said. "Although we'll probably have tae give ye an x-ray when we get back to Glasgow. Here, take this ice pack."
With Scott out of the game, Celtic had to bring in Paul Hartley to replace him, and Shaun Maloney also came in to replace Nakamura. But for Tai, seeing Scott get kneed in the face, which is how he told Sora how he got the black eye, seemed very eerie, but things would go downhill for him, as well.
In the 76th minute, Tai was also driving down the field battling Darren Fletcher. Fletcher tried to reach into try and get the ball from Tai, but he kept the ball from Fletcher. Suddenly, Tai tripped on a loose piece of grass close to the goal and fell. Unlike Scott, he didn't come in contact with another player's knee when he came down flat on his face. Tai growled in anger as he tried to get up, but was kicked in the lower jaw by Cristiano Ronaldo. It was by accident obviously. Not wanting to look like a sissy, Tai got up off the turf but some pain around his lower lip forced him to put his hand to his mouth. Unfortunately for Tai, because he got up, it allowed United to race downfield and Wayne Rooney found the net with a low shot from 20 yards out to put United up 3-0.
Tai tried to continue on, but when he tried to spit, he noticed something that he did not want to see: blood mixed with his saliva. It was then that Tai realized he had been hit pretty badly and that kick was making him bleed either from inside the mouth or from the lip . Due to the pain, Tai had to walk over to the Celtic sideline while Strachan hastily brought in Cillian Sheridan to replace him.
"Kamiya, are ya okay?" Strachan asked as Tai walked over to the dugout.
"I don't think so," Tai said as he spat up more blood. The trainers rushed over to Tai to inspect him.
"Looks like ye got hit pretty hard," said one trainer. The tone of his voice told Tai that something was wrong.
"Am I going to lose a tooth?" He asked.
"Doesn't look like it," he said. But from where ye got hit, just below the lower lip, ye might get a fat lip." A fat lip? That strangely reminded him of the injury he gave to Scott Michaels a few weeks ago. Was this karma being the bitch it usually is, or was this a coincidence?"
So for the remainder of the game, Scott and Tai watched from Old Trafford's elevated dugouts as their team suffered a humiliating defeat. Although they battled valiantly, Celtic eventually succumbed to its short-handedness and lost in a humiliating manner, as evidenced by Scott and Tai receiving a black eye and a fat lip, respectively; two injuries that were strangely symbolic of the defeat they suffered tonight. Worse yet, their scoreless streak in the Champions League continued, while United cruised to an easy victory, extending their unbeaten streak in the Champions League to 8 matches. At the same time, Celtic's European hopes dwindled with the loss, with them in dead last in Group E with only one point. But with Manchester United coming to Celtic Park in two weeks, Celtic had the chance to redeem themselves in front of the Celtic faithful.
When the team returned to Glasgow, both Scott and Tai were examined by doctors to see if their injuries were serious or not. Luckily for both of them, their injuries weren't too serious. Scott would simply have a black eye and Tai would just have a fat lip. No broken bones or anything.
When Tai got back to his apartment (he had gone straight to the doctor after getting back to Glasgow) Sora was waiting for him. And she had a genuinely worried look on her face that Tai had not seen in years, making it clear that A) she had seen the match and B) she was upset to see him get hurt. "How is it, Tai?" She asked in a caring voice.
"The doctor said it's just going to be a fat lip," he said. "I don't have a broken jaw."
"Well that's good," she said. She went straight to the freezer and pulled out an ice pack. "Here, I'll help you with this."
Tai tried to refuse her generosity, saying, "No, that's okay, I'll get one myself." But his refusal went ignored when she placed to ice pack on his mouth. It was this act of kindness and the strange tenderness of the moment that caused Tai to blush like a teenager at the softness of Sora's touch. Why was she helping him like this? Wasn't she Matt's girlfriend, what going on? A thousand thoughts raced through his mind until a feeling he had buried years ago that ate away at him for that long a time resurfaced: he was in love with Sora Takenouchi. And here she was, in Glasgow, Scotland, 9,275 km (5,763 mi) from their home in Tokyo, with him!
But an unfortunate indecisiveness and in a sense, stupidity, mostly due to the fact that he buried and denied his feelings for Sora for goodness-knows how long prevented him from telling her how he felt about her. And it was that factor that panged him the most. He had let her go to Matt after they managed to beat MaloMyotismon because he didn't want to hurt his friendship with Matt and he wanted her to be happy. But it was obvious that it cost him a great deal emotionally, enough that to get away from the guilt that he buried himself in his soccer playing.
But was he going to quit soccer now that he realized he still had feelings for her? Fuck no! The truth is, denial or no denial, he still loved to play soccer, even before Sora had started dating Matt, and his love of soccer was genuine, just as his love for Sora. He was here to succeed, and god damn it, he was going to succeed!
When Scott returned to his apartment, he did not have Maggie there waiting for him, since she did not live in the same apartment as him. But she did come to see him about 20 minutes after he got back. When he heard the knock on the door, he thought it was someone else, but he was genuinely surprised to see Maggie there. "What are you doing here?" he asked her in a curious, and non-hostile tone of voice.
"I came to check on ye," she said. "I saw ye take that hit; that must have hurt."
"It still hurts," he said. "But the doctor said I don't have any broken bones."
"Well that's good," she said. "Do ye have any ice packs?" Scott was surprised at the frankness of her question and asked,
"Tae put it on yer eye, that's why!" She said.
"I think I do…" he didn't get to finish his sentence as Maggie went straight for his kitchen with out even getting his approval. Although she was always welcome in his apartment any time, so it didn't really matter. She found the ice pack, put a few ice cubes in it and brought it over to Scott.
"Here, put this on yer face," she said. "It will help tae make the swelling go down."
"Um, okay, just let me—," he tried to tell her that he would put it on himself, but instead she placed the ice pack on his face herself, which caught him off guard. And just like Tai, he suddenly began blushing, turning as red as Rudoph's nose, maybe even redder than that. But Maggie ignored his blush, and kept the pack on his face. Then a strange and unknown feeling began to rise in his chest, a feeling that he had never felt before in his life. It felt almost like butterflies in his stomach, and strange warmth in his chest, and his heart beat rapidly. What was this feeling? Why was he feeling it around Maggie? And why did it feel so… good? Scott didn't know it at the time, but despite the fact that he had only known Maggie for a month and a half, he was feeling something extremely powerful, that he had never felt before, even in high school at New Trier.
Scott Michaels was in love.
 I've been kicked in the mouth, so I know what it feels like. It hurts; a lot.
Okay, so, did everyone like that chapter? If anyone is pissed off at that final 1,000 or so words, then I'm sorry, but they're integral to the story. And for anyone who liked/loved those 1,000 words… you're welcome.
So next chapter is the big game against Manchester United at Celtic park! A game I've been planning and conceiving even before I got started on this story. I got it almost all figured out about how it's going to go, so trust me when I say that it's going to be good! Reviews would be (very much) appreciated.
Mon the Hoops!