Manchester: Pride of the North
Tuesday 23rd May 2017 seemed like any other day until I came downstairs for breakfast and my Dad immediately told me that Manchester, our city, had been the victim of a terrorist attack. I remember standing there in absolute shock certain my Dad had gotten it wrong somehow. Terrorist attacks always happened in London, not Manchester. This sort of thing simply didn't happen to our city. Yet as I sat down and watched the news, I had no choice but to accept the horror of May 22nd 2017.
As, I suppose is natural when such an event occurs, I immediately tried to think if anyone I knew might have attended the concert. I was lucky, no-one I knew was in the Manchester Arena that night. So many others were not so lucky.
For those who attended the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena on May 22nd 2017, that night should have been a night to remember for the best of reasons. Instead what was a dream come true for so many, ended in a nightmare for all.
The attack occurred at 10:31pm in the foyer, where hundreds of parents, teenagers and children were about to head home having just enjoyed a night of great music. But at 10:31pm a 22-year-old suicide bomber detonated a nuts and bolts shrapnel bomb, designed to cause as much pain, destruction and devastation as possible. It did. 22 people lost their lives, the youngest of whom was only eight. Around 800 people have been left with physical and psychological injuries.
So how did Manchester react to the devastation wrought upon it?
With Bravery. When the bomb went off members of the public stopped what they were doing and rushed to help, completely disregarding their own safety. The emergency services were soon on the scene and doing all in their power to save as many lives as possible.
With Love. The next day people gathered in St Ann's Square and laid floral tributes. As they stood in the square, they began to sing the Oasis song, "Don't Look Back In Anger!" It was a powerful message from every Mancunian to those who thought their attack would tear us apart. No matter what you do to us we will not allow hatred to contaminate our lives. Our love is stronger than your hate. I honestly don't think I had ever been more prouder to be a Manc.
With Unity. Manchester rallied together as one and nowhere was this more noticeable than in our football teams; Manchester United and Manchester City. The phrase 'A City United' became popular and on Wednesday 24th May 2017 Man City fans joined United fans in cheering on Man United in the UEFA Europa League Final. A final that to Man Utd had become more than just a football match; it was a chance to help their city to heal by giving them something to celebrate. That night in Stockholm the United lads did Manchester proud, beating a young Ajax team two-nil. They dedicated their victory to the victims of the terror attack and their manager, Jose Mourinho, stated that he and his players would gladly give the trophy back in exchange for the lives of the 22 victims. A sweet thought but sadly the world doesn't work that way, no matter how badly we wish it did.
Finally, with Strength. Manchester did not stop after it had been attacked. It carried on, learning to live as best it could with the deep scar that had been torn into it; and we weren't the only ones. Two weeks after the attack Ariana Grande showed a bravery and courage that excelled her 23yrs when she returned to the city to stage the One Love Manchester benefit concert to raise money for the We❤️Manchester Emergency Fund, a fund that helps survivors as well as the families of the 22 who died.
The concert was held at Old Trafford Cricket Ground and Manchester turned out in force. It was an incredible concert with performances from the likes of Katy Perry, Liam Gallagher and of course, Ariana herself. Those who attended the concert on May 22nd were all invited and it was wonderful to see them there enjoying the concert. There were many memorable moments from that concert. Who could forget the police officer dancing in a circle with a group of children? Or the choir of school children who sang with Ariana? Or listening to the crowd belt out Ariana's One Last Time back to her as she struggled with emotion through the song? It was beautiful and emotional.
Not long after, Ariana became Manchester's first honorary citizen and rightly so. After what she had gone through, she didn't have to come back to the city and yet she did. And when she did her first thought when she did come back was to help in any way she could. A remarkable young woman indeed.
One year on and Manchester again showed the world its bravery, love, unity and strength. On May 22nd 2018, the first anniversary of the Manchester Terror Attack, a commerative service was held in Manchester Cathedral attended by the Prime Minister, Prince William and survivors, as well as families of those that we lost. Many gathered outside the cathedral, in a show of silent support to those within. At 2:30pm all of Britain came to a stand still to observe a minutes silence in remembrance of those we have lost. Later that evening thousands gathered beneath the warm May sunshine in Albert Square for a Sing-Along. They listened to choirs of the city, including one made up of survivors, sing various hit songs before the choirs joined forces to lead the crowd in a Sing-Along of popular hits that included, Don't look back in anger and One Last Time, which has become synonymous with both Manchester and the attack.
Watching thousands of Mancunians belt out those hits again made proud to be a Manc. And, you know, if this attack has taught me anything it's this. The people who did this to us, thought that they could make us bow, bend and break by targeting and attacking the youth of our city. Clearly they don't know a damn thing about Mancunians.
This year is the third anniversary of that terrible night and this year it will be spent in lockdown, with the world fighting a very different enemy, the Coronavirus. Regardless, those 22 victims will be remembered in everyone's own unique way but one thing is certain, they will never be forgotten.