Typical City, One Last Time

May 17, 2012 in Premier League

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The first season I followed football proper was the 95/96 season, when I was 5 years old. I’d shown vague interest before then, but this was the first year I ran full tilt. I collected the stickers, I bought Shoot every week. watched MOTD religiously and took an unhealthy interest in stats. And in one of the most significant decisions of my childhood, I decided to support Manchester City.  Now originating from the heart of Manchester like I do, I could have got away with being a United fan more than most (all you cockneys). But the folklore goes that your supposed to support your local team whatever the cost, so that’s what I did. What a putz. That year, Man United won the title after a ferocious run in with Newcastle, and City…well, City got relegated. On the last day. On goal difference. This is a fresh experience to me today as it was then, a searing introduction to the tragic possibilities of the game and a trial by fire test of whether I could take supporting this ridiculous club. I’ve never looked back.

Since that day, I’ve seen three promotions, three relegations, three different leagues, eight years of Sun Jihai, the undignified decay of Robbie Fowler, three failed England managers and more incidents of bottling it than I could possibly recall. All the while, our local rivals United had a period of imperial domination, conquering everything they faced gloriously and winning a historic treble. Maybe Atletico Madrid fans have a vague idea of what that feels like, but even they never fell as low as their third domestic division. Supporting City was like some horrible roller-coaster where every so often, the ride would stop so Gary Neville could punch you in the face before flying off into the stratosphere, taking the giggling hoards of United fans with him to their unknowable, unimaginable delight . But on Sunday, when City snatched the Premier League title out of the hands of their eternal oppressors in the final seconds, all I could feel at first was relief, with the joy to come later. Relief that I wouldn’t have to go through all that same shit again, and relief that for the first time in my life, I can expect City to succeed and not to fail. It sounds small, but it’s incredible how liberating that is. The darkest years are behind us, and a golden age is ahead.

Now I’m no romantic, so please let me address the deafening objection of this kind readership. Yes, City bought the title. And we did it in a way that no-one has quite done it before (although everyone HAS done it before, at some point or another), an almost literally bottomless pit of resources at our disposable whim. And yes, we didn’t earn these riches. We were picked out of a hat. It could have been Everton, it could have been Villa, it could have been anyone. But it was us. What are we supposed to do? Turn it down? Say no thanks, we don’t want to be Cinderella at the ball. We want to be Oliver in the poorhouse, scrubbing floors, but safe in the knowledge that no one did us any favours. If I believed that any fanbase in the country would come together as one and reject the opportunity offered to us, I’d have more respect for the objection. But it’s mostly just that it was us and wasn’t them. I remember the same jealousy when it happened to Chelsea. It sucks, and it feels like they cheated. But sadly, football doesn’t exist the way we want it to any more. And if it hadn’t been for City and Chelsea and this plague of wealth, then United would have won 9/10 titles, and the Premier League would be being monopolized in a much more potent and potentially endless way.

The QPR game itself was the most agonizing, painful, euphoric game I’ve ever seen in my life, and maybe I will ever see. It felt like in many ways an exorcism of the old to make way for the new. I don’t mean United, they’ll be fighting for the title long after the world has been decimated by Nuclear War, but of City themselves. Of their old ways. We had bottle in our blood, a unique ability to look destiny in the eye, crap our pants and run screaming. For 90 minutes on Sunday, it looked like this ability was returning. It looked like several of the best players in the world couldn’t wash out. It looked like a billion pounds couldn’t wash out. We were playing on a higher stage, sure, but we were always going to be typical City, the kind of team to lose to QPR at home and throw away our title to the neighbours, who would stand over our disbelieving corpse, satisfied that we’d put back into our place. The thought was unbearable. It physically hurt.

But then Dzeko scored. But sure, this was just to make the loss more painful, right? Then Aguero passed it to Balotelli on the edge of the box. This joker, this villain, who had pretty much done cost us the title on account of his ego, surely he would do something stupid, right? Nope, he keeps his composure, and slots a fantastic ball through to Aguero. The one City striker who we can call a hero without reservation. Time stops. He’s going to miss. How could this possibly go in? We’re City. I couldn’t finish the thought because I was too busy screaming with joy. We’d done it. That City curse made one last go at our throats but we silenced it, and became the champions that over 38 games, we’d earned the right to be.

I don’t mean to rub it in, and that paragraph will be a bitch of a read for the editor of this article, but this is much less about beating United then I thought it would be. I thought I would hunt every United fan I knew down and laugh in their face. But I didn’t want to. Not really. They were an excellent team this year, rode us right to the wire and contributed to the greatest title race of all time just as much as we did. No,  I just wanted to celebrate, and appreciate that this happened. And if it never happens again, if the sheikhs get bored and consign City to the scrapheap, I almost don’t care. We had our day. And no-one can take it away from us, no-one can take away how much it means, or how grateful we are that we even got to see something like this. Still, wouldn’t hurt to go and do it again. So let’s do that.

(sorry Aman)