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Next
 Posted by Andy Mitten
Aug 1, 2014

From mountains to the Midwest

ESPN FC's Craig Burley and Shaka Hislop break down Manchester United's early schedule and what Louis Van Gaal will bring to the team.

DETROIT -- After a long trip to Indianapolis, the interview began with Kleberson, the Brazilian 2002 World Cup winner, who sat on a bench by the side of his home stadium in America's Midwest. The first Brazilian to play for Manchester United, he began to reminisce about his career.

He'd not gotten past his childhood when it started to rain. Heavily. I picked up the camera, apologised for the weather and made for the only cover in the 11,000-capacity stadium that the Indy Eleven side fill for most matches. That's not bad considering the club is only 1 year old and plays in America's second tier.

As we moved along the running track by the side of the biggest stand, the rain became a torrential downpour, and Kleberson and I had to sprint to a hospitality tent to avoid a soaking. It must have been a farcical sight, for I was running with a camera on a tripod and he had a chair. We both got drenched and stood there laughing.

"I used to live in Manchester," said the 35-year-old midfielder. "I can remember rain like this."

Thirty minutes earlier, I'd walked along the banks of the White River to the stadium in bright sunshine. I've seen little rain since arriving in America 11 days ago, with clear blue skies prevalent as I've traveled across the country.

It was sunny in San Diego when I arrived and sunny as I left Los Angeles last Friday. It was the same in Denver, where Manchester United beat AS Roma 3-2 on Saturday, though there was a storm the night before when I attended an MLS match featuring the Colorado Rapids vs. Chivas USA. That storm produced a rainbow behind the goal across the vast, flat expanse of the prairies.

A spectacular backdrop for an MLS clash at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.

I was taken to that game by Terry Cooke, the former Manchester United and Manchester City winger who also played in the United States, Australia and Azerbaijan ("Tony Adams was manager and they used to bus fans in to watch us play from surrounding villages").

"If you want to talk about weather at this stadium, let me show you this," offered Terry, who has lived in Denver for most of the last decade. With that he produced his phone and showed me photos from a USA vs. Costa Rica World Cup qualifier in March 2013 that was played in a snowstorm. Playing football while blindfolded in a vat of treacle would have been easier.

Cooke is a man who values his privacy and doesn't enjoy talking to journalists, but he agreed to do an interview. After the game, it was clear that he remains popular with fans of his former club, and we went to the United team hotel in downtown Denver.

Former players often lose contact with the clubs they once played for, as personnel move on and faces change. However, when their former team comes to town, they often like to say hello and they'll often ask a journalist how to reconnect.

I told United about Billy Garton, and the club fixed him up with four complimentary tickets for the United game vs. the L.A. Galaxy in Pasadena.

The club did the same for Cooke and, when I told Ryan Giggs that his old teammate wanted to see him, the current United assistant manager obliged. Cooke was made to feel welcome at the hotel, where he saw another former colleague, Andy Cole. The former United striker is part of a traveling party of more than 100 on tour, which includes players and coaching staff, directors, media and marketing people.

- Mitten: Stargazing in L.A.

Former players can be resentful when they struggle to get tickets to watch their former club, but they often don't know the right contacts, who are usually happy to help.

Kleberson, 35, is still playing, so he didn't have time to watch his old club, but he wants to return to Manchester, the city where his son, 10-year-old Klebinho, was born.

The youngster arrived on the day that his father scored the first of his two United goals, a screamer at Old Trafford against Blackburn Rovers in 2003. Klebinho tells his dad that he can't make up his mind whether to play for England or Brazil when he's older. If his family stays in the U.S., he may soon be able to add the United States into the equation.

I arrived in Indianapolis via the California Zephyr train. It was supposed to take 18 hours, from the superbly refurbished Union Station in Denver to the station of the same name in Chicago. It actually took 23 hours, but it offered a great way to travel across the plains of Nebraska, Ohio and Illinois. The line crossed the magnificent Mississippi, too, but the Zephyr's late arrival in Chicago meant I saw only half of a Cubs baseball game rather than the full one I'd paid for.

I did see the full Manchester United game the following night -- though not in person. The pub used by the MUFChicago supporters' group was the venue to view United's game vs. Inter, which was played just outside Washington, D.C.

I was treated very well and introduced to a huge variety of United fans. Old and young, black and white, rich and poor -- sport can be a great social leveler.

There was the old "Cockney Red" ex-pat who went to every game -- home and away -- for decades as well as a local man of 26 who told me that he had supported United for just two weeks. He was a big NFL fan who once had season tickets at the Green Bay Packers, but he had fallen in love with football during the recent World Cup.

He wanted a team to support and chose the seventh-best team in England last season. He's spent a few weeks reading up about the club, bought a shirt, and turned up at the pub where the fans meet. I gave him a gentle quiz, and he answered almost every question correctly before I asked him what he knew about Old Trafford.

"It's old," he replied.

I'm writing this on a flight from Indianapolis to Detroit, via Washington, D.C. Yesterday's mode of transport was a Greyhound bus from Chicago to Indianapolis (a steal at $19 for a four-hour trip) though I'm not sure I'd like to have been the man who was next to me. He was returning to Jacksonville, Fla., 26 hours away and explained that the return bus fare was $200, half the price of a flight.

About 50 travelers were on board, and for the first part of the trip we had a driver who issued his list of orders -- "mobile phones on silent, no drink or drugs, MP3 players turned low" -- in a humorous, firm, tone.

A lady in front of me ignored him ... or maybe she didn't. Either way, she carried on listening to music on a portable, handheld cassette player straight out of the 1980s.

Andy Mitten

Manchester-born Andy Mitten founded United We Stand in 1989, at age 15. He has written 11 books since his career began in 1995 and visited almost 100 countries while working for numerous magazines and newspapers worldwide. Follow him on Twitter @AndyMitten.

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