A childhood supporting Manchester United, a scrum of family and friends wanting tickets and a rather bizarre superstition about a lucky toilet are combining to make today’s trip to Old Trafford a significant one for Brighton’s Shane Duffy.
The Irish international has strengthened his reputation as one of the Premier League’s most reliable and characterful centre-backs this season, building a partnership with Englishman Lewis Dunk that makes Brighton amongst the toughest teams to break down.
But, even after two seasons in the Premier League, a trip to the Theatre of Dreams still holds an extra excitement for the 27-year-old who has yet to return from Manchester with a victory.
“It’s a special game, of course,” he said. “Especially for family and friends back home. I’ve had to get a lot of tickets for people because they are all Man United fans. My mates are texting me saying ‘I’ll let you score as long as you let us win’. It’s good banter!
“I actually grew up a United fan, at least until I was about 13 or 14 when I stopped. So, I have some good memories as a kid. I had all the kits and my mum put me in them watching the game.”
It wasn’t until Duffy, who was born in Derry, started to play football regularly that his United obsession faded and his own career started to take priority.
“It was always United and Celtic for me in those days,” he said. “Then when I started playing I stuck with Celtic and that’s the team I followed. But in England I would say Man United. My mum was buzzing when I scored against them this season.”
That goal, in August, was a vital one. It was Duffy’s first ever goal in the Premier League and helped his side to a 3-2 victory at the Amex which signalled Brighton were going to be no pushovers again this season – having also beaten United at home 1-0 last term.
The only thing missing for the Seagulls is a similar victory on the road – in fact they are yet to take even a point from one of the big six away from home. So scoring at Old Trafford for Duffy, who already has four goals to his name this campaign, would be something extra special.
He said: “I would be loved by all the Liverpool fans in Ireland and hated by Man United fans wouldn’t I? It would be a big thing. In Ireland it’s always Liverpool or United - that’s how it is. Going to Old Trafford and winning would be a big thing for me. Not many teams go there and win. It would be a special thing in my career, a memory that would always stand out. So, it’s one I’m looking forward to. I’ve had a few chances so I’m hoping for third time lucky.
“A win at one of the big six has got to happen at some stage. I think the key is you have to believe you’re going to win the game. Some teams go there and are almost beaten already. But you have to go there and think ‘why can’t we beat them?’
All the pressure is on United to beat us three or four nil, that’s what people expect. But those in our changing room don’t think that way, we know we’ve got a good team and will give them a tough game.
Taking three points against an Ole Gunnar Solskjaer-inspired team that has won six on the bounce is not going to be easy. Especially when Duffy is up against Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard. But should it happen it would be a significant landmark in Brighton’s history, too.
“We need to start picking up wins again,” said Duffy, whose team are currently 13th in the table.
“United do concede a few goals so the aim is to go there and score this time, maybe from a set piece, and give ourselves a chance. We played well there last year which was one of our best away performances. On another day we would have scored a couple and it would have been a big result but we ended up losing 1-0. Hopefully we can go there and play similar to that and put a few in the net.”
To do that Brighton would need a fair bit of luck, but Duffy has a rather unusual solution: the defender says a bizarre superstition over which toilet to use in the changing room at Old Trafford could be the key.
“It started a couple of years ago,” he said. “I like to pick a lucky toilet at away games. If there are three cubicles, for instance, and somebody is in my one I have to wait. I can’t use it. Sometimes I’ll even move people across and say ‘get out of there’ even though the others are empty.
“It’s weird, I know, but all the boys know about it. I don’t pick which cubicle until I get to the ground - and then I pick one and stick to it. When I go to Old Trafford I’ll do the same, I’ll pick one when we arrive. It’s the weirdest superstition and I get a few looks, of course. But that’s what superstitions are like, isn’t it? I hope it helps us!”
Duffy insists he has no other strange superstitions to worry about on the way up to Manchester from the south coast of England. But he did switch his squad number from 22 to 4 this season and has been happy with his change in fortunes in front of goal since doing so.
“I fancied a change and I hadn’t scored in that number,” he explained.
As soon as I got the new shirt our kitman said ‘you’ll score four goals now this season’. I’ve got four already so I hope he’s wrong. Another one at Old Trafford would be perfect…