The Champions League anthem rises around a packed Etihad Stadium. Pep Guardiola’s Premier League leaders emerge from the tunnel to take on Dutch champions Feyenoord like a who’s who of European football’s elite... Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Yaya Toure, Bernado Silva, Raheem Sterling, Matthew Murray...
Wait a second, Matthew who?
It’s not a mistake. Rewind the Sky+ and watch if you have to. Shortly before 7.45pm on Tuesday evening, Derry lad Matthew Murray emerges alongside £30 million Brazilian full-back Danilo for an experience the football mad nine-year-old is unlikely to ever forget.
“The whole experience is difficult to put it into words,” explained Matthew’s dad, Charlie, “We were very proud parents watching him but the look on his face when he came back up to me after it was something I will never forget. He’d met players like Aguero, Sterling, De Bruyne, Yaya Toure and Kyle Walker. He only saw Pep Guardiola on his way off the pitch but got a pat on the head off him.
“To be so close to the players, to be standing in the tunnel on a Champions League matchday - it was an amazing experience.”
Matthew was a winner of Mastercard’s ‘Priceless Mascot Experience’ which takes young fans right to the heart of Europe’s premier club competition. He was one of 22 lucky winners who accompanied the players out prior to this week’s Group F encounter which is only one part of an incredible week for the Oakbridge Park lad who had to keep a secret from the 56,000 odd fans in the Etihad.
“Matthew’s a true ‘Red’ but we decided we had to set our loyalties aside for the evening though I had him warned not to be jumping up if Feyenoord scored!” laughs Charlie referring to his son’s allegiance to the Red half of Manchester.
“We set our allegiances aside for 90 minutes because it was an opportunity you couldn’t miss and Mastercard were absolutely superb in everything they did and how they treated Matthew.
“We flew over on Tuesday but I think Matthew could have flown without the plane he was that excited. He was still flying as he went back into school. He couldn’t wait to get in and tell all his friends about the trip and show them the pictures of him with Danilo and the other players at the Etihad.”
The only disappointment for Matthew was that he couldn’t share the prize with his twin brother, Nathan who had also entered the competition.
“It was a bit bitter-sweet at first when Matthew won and Nathan didn’t because the two boys do everything together. They are in the same class at St. Patrick’s Primary School, they both play for Foyle Harps and they are rarely far apart.
“We are all big football fans. The two boys play football, they talk about football - everything is football.
“But Nathan understood and was very proud of his brother and happy for him, as was his big sister Emma who was watching at home on television.
“We were really taken aback at how well everyone at the club treated the kids. The City people were so down to earth and treated Matthew so well.”
And Matthew’s magical footballing week doesn’t end with his top billing at the Etihad. This weekend the Murray family travel to the other side of Manchester to watch United take on Shane Duffy’s Brighton at Old Trafford.
Not a bad seven days to a football mad youngster!
“We had already planned the trip to Old Trafford and it’s great that they will both get to see Shane Duffy playing as well.
“Matthew and Nathan are both football crazy and both play for Foyle Harps, Shane’s old club so we can’t wait.
“The whole family is going but it’s is such a coincidence that it happens to be the same week.
“Matthew cannot believe the week he has had. For a nine year old child, to experience that, a sport he watches every week, players he sees every week, is priceless.
“When we met the City representative at the Etihad, they explained Matthew and the other winners were VIPs. “They got changed into the Mastercard kit which they got to keep and had to wait in the tunnel for the players. He said that was the only time he began to get a little nervous
“The player selection is all done randomly and I didn’t even realise who Matthew had walked out with until he was back up in the seat with me.
“Danilo asked Matthew how he was and they had a quick chat before walking out into the packed stadium with the Champions League music going. It was a truly magical experience for him.
“When he came back up to me in the stand, the look on his face, he was in awe of everything. He said it had been brilliant but couldn’t believe he was doing something he watches on television ever other Tuesday and Wednesday.”
A left winger by trade, Matthew lines out alongside centre-half, Nathan, for Foyle Harps and this week’s experience has only whetted the appetite of both to play at the highest level possible.
“They both dream of being footballers and have been trying to kick a ball since they were walking,” adds Charlie. “It has been an unbelievable week for Matthew and both myself and my wife, Rosemary, are so proud of him.
“All we need now is a United win on Saturday to cap it all off.”