Monday, 31 December 2012

That day

I wrote this at the time and after trying (and failing) to get it published in a magazine (WSC now you ask, optimistic I know, but I did expect a reply at least) did nothing with it. Reading through it now I find it a little cringey if I'm honest, but having been contemplating 'putting it out there' for a while decided that now was the time to bite the bullet. So here it is:

Writing this over a week later, and despite all the euphoria that’s still eminent, I can still distinctly remember just how bad I felt for those last 20 minutes at Manchester City’s title winning match against Queens Park Rangers. As a friend said when we were having a pint following the victory parade the next day, it was complete disbelief that the current club could make you feel worse than they had at the lowest points of the last 20-30 years but somehow, they had done that. A thing that compounded it personally was having been a nervous wreck all week, Pablo Zabaleta’s goal just before half-time, had allowed me to drop my guard and make some post-match plans which I’d previously refused to do.

I was looking out of the window at the club shop/car park at the back of the stand when Edin Dzeko equalised but still couldn’t really face going back to my seat. I just turned and looked at the gangway/stairs and can’t remember anything of that minute or so until Sergio Aguero’s winner. The noise of just before a goal/chance happens is pretty unmistakeable and I think this had prompted me to move towards the stairs. Then the goal miraculously arrived, and in the predictable mayhem, I was back with my Dad, eldest brother and nephew within seconds and saw the players in a heap on the floor.

I’d left my seat on around 70 minutes. Unable to bear to watch what was (or, more accurately, wasn’t) going on in front of me, I went to the concourse at the back of the stand and paced around for a while. I’ve no idea when, or if it was prompted by a particular crowd noise, but I found myself at one of the bars that had closed. Then in a moment, uncontrollably, I broke down in tears. I was trying to tell myself that as a 32 year-old man who lives a happy life, I should be above crying because the football team I support is getting beat. I’d been through far worse in my personal life (it was, after all, a football match.) Who hasn’t? I’d been through far, far, worse in my City supporting life. But there I was unable to move, sobbing away, hidden in a corner.

A couple of days later I was discussing these feelings, in comparison to those at our relegation to the third level away at Stoke 14 years ago, with a colleague. While it’s undeniable that fateful day in the Potteries was horrible, and a more damaging moment for the club than Sunday ever could have been, it didn’t have the intense pain that throwing away a league title in a game where we were 1/8 favourites to win did. I’ve attempted to make some kind of analogy since and the best I can come up with is that whilst being made redundant should be a far more serious matter for a person, would it feel as painful as that immediate moment of realising you’ve lost a winning lottery ticket?

A few minutes later I’d got myself together a little but still couldn’t face the fact that we were going to throw away our first league in my, and only the second in my Dad’s, lifetime. What was I going to do after the match? How would I get home? What would I do when I got home? What would I do over the summer? All these thoughts ran through my head with very few answers. Strangely a moment of clarity, and even comedy, popped into my head. At least having cried out of view of the pitch, I’d ruled out being captured by a TV cameraman or photographer which would make me a ‘celebrity’ in newspapers, clog up facebook feeds and see me on t-shirts sold outside of Old Trafford I thought.

As much as I had played this down, and told people it was entirely about us winning the league, rather than beating them, the fact Manchester United would win were we to fail, did I’m sure, have an effect on me. I was thinking how I could expect to hear many of the things I’d regularly dismissed as bollocks. “United know how to win at this time of the season” “don’t ever take Fergie on at mind games” and so frustratingly, as I find it the most annoying of cliché’s, “typical City.” All these things would be stuffed down my throat and I’d have very little in the way of comeback.

As the majority of the match had been, much of this is a blur, but the moments after I’d re-joined my family in the stand: full-time and the pitch invasion, the trophy, the singing. Were all things I fortunately could, and did, enjoy. We hugged, there were more tears and the feeling of elation, but more so the relief, was something I’d never experienced at a match. A picture was taken of the four of us and when my girlfriend saw it she commented that she’d never seen my Dad show such emotion about anything before. 

The car on the way back to my parents was a bit subdued, undoubtedly due to exhaustion, and when we got there the two of us just sat and a had a beer in near silence watching Sky Sports News. Later I laughed with my parents that eating spaghetti bolognese in their front-room two hours after we’d done a thing I’d spent my twenties telling friends I’d never see happen (it wasn’t approaching a viable conversation topic in my teens), wasn’t really the way I’d imagined celebrating City winning the league. And although spending the evening in a relatively quiet pub didn’t have the exuberance the celebrations in central Manchester would have, having that time with my Dad, who was responsible for, and had accompanied me to watch the football club I love for the last 26 years, was exactly how I wanted it to be.

Despite the previous night’s beers and the fatigue of not having slept properly for much of the previous few weeks I was wide awake quite early on the Monday morning and, still unable to relax, spent a couple of hours pacing around my parents' house. I made my way back to my flat near the city centre where I continued the pacing around for another few hours, interspersed with crying a bit (lot) more watching various youtube clips, before making my way into town ahead of the parade. Getting to the pub and seeing a lot of my friends, many looking as exhausted as me, was oddly, the best I’d felt for a while and everyone was pretty much telling the same story about the anguish of the second-half although they’d all seemingly managed to stay in view of the pitch. After a few pints and joining in a few songs, we went out to watch the parade and without wanting to sound over-dramatic (again), I can honestly say it was the happiest I’ve ever felt. I’d lost my friends who I was with but, in a way, was happier being on my own. Talking to strangers, the odd person I recognised, parents with their kids and so on. Just the full spectrum of people who were there, all so happy, had me beaming when I walked back across town after seen the bus go past and having showed the players and management my gratitude for what (I’ll let them off for the second-half) they’d given me, my family and friends.

It wasn’t until later in the week that I began to feel normal again, my voice had stopped shaking when talking to people about it and I was having the best, settled, sleep since before the derby two weeks before. In all honesty I hadn’t been myself in the period since we’d dragged ourselves back in contention around a month earlier. With each game and week that passed, the traits of broken sleep, always being pre-occupied, unable to concentrate in the office, became worse and worse before it peaked in the days before the QPR game. I specifically remember that it was the Wednesday morning when I woke up and decided winning this fixture was now the most improbable result ever. It was a feeling that seemingly swept across Manchester as someone on the City message board I frequent asked later that day: ”How have QPR become Real Madrid in my head all of a sudden?”

Another aspect that told me I was regaining some normality in daily life was that I began to feel regret that I hadn’t actually seen Aguero’s goal (I have done since by the way, it’s out there if you look hard enough) as in the immediate days after, with the adrenaline still pumping around me, I really hadn’t been that bothered. As you may have gathered from my reluctance to make any post-match plans though (which having done that at half-time, I then began to hate myself for,) I am something of a superstitious fan. So if not seeing it was the little part I played in Manchester City becoming the champions of England, it was worth it. A billion times over.