Most of the 74,000 or so Manchester United fans at Old Trafford remained in their seats to applaud the squad after a gruelling season that is still yet to come to a close. In front of them, lined up together having their picture taken, were 13 academy graduates.
It was a timely reminder of what Manchester United Football Club is about. And so was Sunday’s game itself, a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. Josh Harrop’s debut goal embodied that.
The six reserve players who started were confident, comfortable, brave, arrogant. They tried things, they had no fear of the bigger audience, playing in front of a stadium that many of them came as young fans. Instead, they rose to the occasion, playing just like they do in front of a predominantly empty Old Trafford on under-23 matchdays.
That photo did the rounds on Twitter. It’s so special because, in just one snapshot, it encapsulates what the club stands. Giving youth a chance. Having the faith.
It was, of course, somewhat forced. José Mourinho did this because he had to, the Europa League final is just three days away.
But nevertheless, it was special. Seeing Josh Harrop run away in celebration, jumping into the air and embracing Axel Tuanzebe was a magnificent moment.
For all the trophies, there is no better feeling as a Red, or for any football fan, than seeing a youngster score on his debut like Harrop did. Seeing a Stockport-born United fan jump up, screaming into the faces of fellow United fans similarly enthralled; that’s football.
Because for all those trophies, it’s those moments in time that really make football what it is. Those few seconds of pure emotion, ridiculous happiness, joy and pride; that’s what football, sport and life is about.
The 13 players lining up - not all of them will make it (three of them already have in Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard). But it’s a remarkable achievement on a proud day for all those who moulded these players; coaches like Paul McGuiness, Warren Joyce, Neil Ryan, Nicky Butt, Tommy Martin, the parents who drove them to and from Carrington every evening, bought the kit, let them spend every hour of every day kicking a ball on the streets. This doesn’t happen at every football club, and it’s what makes Manchester United special, breaking records, giving youth a chance.