I sat in my seat with a hollow feeling the like of which I had never experienced before. This was worse than a derby defeat, this was worse than a relegation. Manchester City had managed to let me down again, they had managed to snatch away all my hope and expectancy, to leave me wondering for the millionth time why I put myself through this year after year. All the football insecurities I had carried around with me like a drenched duffel coat since David Pleat skipped across the Maine Road turf had returned. Why always me?
There was little anger around me in the ground, just shock and dejection. A stunned silence, haunted looks aplenty. The man in front of me stood throughout, but at times I didn’t even bother peering past him to watch the match, rooted in my seat as another aimless cross sailed behind the hoardings. THe clock sped towards 90, and it was all over, that much was clear. Then, a goal. A clenched fist, but it changed little. Maybe Sunderland could grab a late equalizer, and similarly, maybe Cameron Diaz would drop by the next day and ask me out on a date.
The final whistle was moments away. Almost time to slink home in silence, to sit alone with the television off and ponder how this day that I had built up to all my life could have ended like this. Then I’d have to wake up the next day and instantly be reminded that they were champions once more, and I would never be allowed to forget it.
And then…..the noise. Pandemonium. Unbridled joy, never before witnessed on quite this scale. Bouncing off endless people, hugging strangers, utter chaos, thanking a god I don’t believe in, shock, a few tears (high pollen count), and the greatest feeling of relief that I will experience in my time on this planet. Someone punched me in the mouth (accidentally I presume). A quick dental check, no blood. Suddenly, life seemed a whole lot better. Had this really happened? If so, how?
Only City would have done it this way, only they could have made life so ridiculously difficult when a routine victory was expected from the team with the best home record in the division against the team with the worst away record. But because this is how City tend to operate, it gave every City fan a moment that will never be forgotten, which will never be matched.
Moments like yesterday remind us why we love football. Could you imagine life without it? It has so much to answer for. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks, I have had bouts of nausea lasting days, and have thought of little else apart from a title race that I had given up for dead only a few weeks ago. Oh to be rubbish again.
Last season’s FA Cup triumph and this season’s title is payback for suffering spread over three decades, the moment I’ve waited for since 1982, but many fans never get the chance of such rewards, so I am grateful. However, a promotion, beating your bitter rivals or even a last-minute winner is often enough to keep our faith, to keep us believing. Popular belief over the past few years has led me to believe that City were a universally hated club now, the oil money having hoovered up a merry band of mercenaries in a vain attempt to buy the league. Imagine then my surprise at the many messages of congratulations that I received post-match from fans of all clubs. City won fans yesterday because the day presented football at its most compelling, it showed why it is the greatest sport, perhaps why the Premier League is the most entertaining league. Every neutral would have reacted to what happened in some form or other. And as for United, well we always like to see the most successful side knocked off its perch, it’s part of our national identity, and just means they have been rather successful in the past.
Now, every monkey has been removed from City’s once-massive back. The first Premiership title is always the hardest to win, just like the first trophy was so hard to achieve before last season. In one respect the pressure is lifted slightly now, but it will be just as hard to retain the title now, and Mancini will be expected to make an impact in Europe too.
The celebrating went on late into the night. Heaving, clammy bars were stripped dry, songs were sung throughout, and the fans staggered home content and exhausted in the pouring rain, for this is Manchester. The neighbours were very nosiy indeed.
I woke up today with a sunburnt forehead and a bruise on my shin the size of a melon. I watched Match of the Day three times, I watched Aguero’s goal at least ten times (with commentary in three different languages). I bought every newspaper. I devoured Twitter and Facebook, and the football message boards. I laughed at Paul Merson’s meltdown on Soccer Sunday, and, because football is a cruel world sometimes, took a guilty pleasure in watching the United fans at Sunderland react to our winning goal. I watched Sky sports, I watched Match of the Day again, I wrote this blog.
The smile will remain for days, even a six-hour training course tomorrow can’t stop that, but the smile is mostly for others too – the great friends that any football fan gets to share such days with, and the lasting memories that go with that. It’s for the great ambassadors at the club who have truly earned this trophy, such as Mancini, Silva, Aguero, Richards and Aguero, and the backroom staff too, like Life President Bernard Halford, who has served the club for over 50 years.
The sun is shining once more, and it’s time to go into the centre of Manchester and watch the best City team I’ve had the pleasure to follow parade the Premiership trophy round the streets of the city. Manchester City, 2011/12 Premier League Champions. Blimey. This is how it feels to be City.