Northern Ireland Trailblazer, Conor O’Kane, give is the low-down on his recent trip to London where he got to see his team, Manchester United, play in the FA Cup Semi-Final.
I am a member of Manchester United Disabled Supporters Association (MUDSA), and because of this I received an email on Thursday 14th of April stating it was the last chance to apply for the ballot to the game for the FA Cup Semi Final at Wembley. I thought to myself “I’ll apply here, nothing to lose”. When I woke up the next morning, I was shocked to find out that I was successful in my application. Here’s when I started to panic & get excited, all at the same time! This was a chance to see my beloved team Manchester United play, not just play but playing at Wembley! But then reality hit me and I thought “uh oh, this game is in 8 days, I’m in Northern Ireland here and i have so much to organise”. I began to doubt myself and think it wasn’t possible. So I brainstormed for a bit & gathered my thoughts. I was desperate to go so yes, it was possible. I wasn’t going to let this once of a lifetime opportunity slip though my fingers.
As the day progressed, I still hadn’t told the person who was going with me… my day! So that evening, once I returned from Powerchair Football, I said to my dad “what are you doing next Saturday? Do you fancy going to Wembley?” It took him over two hours to actually believe that I was serious (I’m known to be a wind up merchant). So after telling my mum & dad what I had applied for and how much this trip meant to me, dad agreed to go with me.
Saturday 16th April, just one week to go. I looked up the flights and I booked myself & my dad an Aer Lingus flight to London Heathrow from Belfast! I couldn’t believe what I’d just done, it still felt like a dream. I just kept thinking “I’ve just booked flights to London for seven days’ time “.
At this stage, I still had no hotel booked or anyway of getting from the airport to Wembley. This is now the time to mention my cousin, Sean who really made this trip possible and it is down to him that I got to enjoy this amazing opportunity. Fortunately for me, Sean works in London. So I called Sean, told him I had booked flights and myself and dad were going to Wembley. We discussed different options for taxis, buses etc. I did think a taxi would be great but it seemed a wheelchair taxi to my hotel from Heathrow was minimum £85 one way. Sean then came up with a fantastic idea: hiring an adapted vehicle. This actually worked out the same price as a return taxi. So this enabled us to have some flexibility for after the match. We headed in to London city centre that evening to see the sites.
Finally all that was left for me to do now was to book my hotel. So after pricing round I made the decision of booking the Holiday Inn Wembley. I could have got a cheaper hotel elsewhere, but because I’m a London novice, coming from Northern Ireland I thought I’d prefer to stay near the stadium for safety, parking and traffic congestion after the game. Holiday Inn Wembley is a 5 minute walk / stroll in your chair to the stadium. You can actually see the stadium from the hotel. So that
was everything in place, and I was heading to London the following weekend! Throughout the week leading up to this trip I had a number of headaches from contacting Aer Lingus for the Special Assistance for getting my wheelchair on the plane hold, to sending identification documents to Sean for the hire of the car. May I add that I came down with a sore throat this week as well.
But everything got put in place, this was finally it… we were off to London.
Day of departure to London…. I woke at 4am on the Saturday 23rd April. I was pretty groggy after only having 4 hours sleep. With the help of my mum, she got me up & ready to drop myself and dad to the airport for my 7:40 flight. It was very smooth flight and the staff at Belfast City Airport where first class & very helpful getting me on to the aircraft. We arrived into London at 9am where we were met by Sean with the hired car. We went for breakfast and then headed to the hotel.
The build up to the game was amazing and we soaked up the pre match atmosphere. Being proper tourist, we walked around the stadium buying merchandise and taking a few pictures. Once inside, I had the best view I could have asked for. What I particularly liked was that they put me along with the Manchester United fans, so I joined in on the chants & songs. After a 90+ minute winner by Anthony Martial, United won 2-1 and the place was buzzing. I really enjoyed the atmosphere coming out but I must admit it was very crowded getting out of the stadium back to the hotel. Advice: for anyone in a wheelchair that feels intimidated by big crowds, hold off a good 20 or 30 minutes before exiting. No one wants to leave early!
After the game we came back to hotel to meet Sean and my other friend Barry (who also works in London)! I was very lucky to be able to see them both on my brief visit. We all went for a quick bite to eat and the three of us let my dad get some rest and we headed in to London city centre that night for a mini tour around. We didn’t go in anywhere as it was quite late, but as we had the car hired I thought it was a good opportunity to go for a drive and see some sights. I finally got back to the hotel in the early hours to get a few hours’ sleep. Sean then collected us the next morning to drop us back to Heathrow for our return flight home. Overall this was a very enjoyable trip to London. I used it as a bit of a tester with regards to flying with one person with me etc. I’ll definitely go back to London for a longer stay as I’d like to see and do more.