With Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Manchester City justifiably laying claim to being the finest ever Champions of the Premier League, it’s worth looking at why City fans are just that…City fans.
In this age of social media where #footballbanter can easily and regrettably escalate into online abuse, some of the milder insults hurled in the direction of many a Manchester City fan is to label them as a ‘Plastic’ or a ‘Gloryhunter’.
It’s by no means a term of derision reserved exclusively for City supporters, but it’s one regularly trotted out by keyboard warriors, keen to undermine the loyalty of fans, many of whom have been through thin, thinner and anorexic times, following the often Not So ‘Super City from Maine Road’.
It goes hand-in-hand with the ill-informed or just pig ignorant, chants of the imbecilic ranks of opposing supporters. ‘Where were you when you were shit?’ they ask City fans, in the perverse belief they somehow command the moral high ground.
Obviously these misguided morons never do their research. Many of them are probably still graduating from crayons and moving up to felt tips. If they took time out from licking windows and did some research, they’d see City averaged home attendances nudging 30,000, while slumped ignominiously in the third tier during 1998/99.
City used to be heralded as ‘everybody’s favourite second team’. It was an unwelcome ‘accolade’, based on the sympathy vote of being in the shadow of United. Everything changed on September 1st, 2008. Sheikh Mansour took ownership of the Sky Blues.
Overnight, City literally became the focus of every green-eyed, disaffected football follower on the planet.
Instead of Mario Balotelli’s famous question ‘Why Always Me?’, supporters of clubs the length and breadth of Britain, not least in Liverpool, London and Newcastle, were querying ‘Why Not Us?’
It’s a bona fide question, but every other club’s disappointment was massively outweighed by the incredulity, joy and disbelief of those associated with Manchester City Football Club.
Here was an intensely loyal fan base who’d ridden a football rollercoaster like no other, one which took every proverbial kick in the ‘spherical objects’ and turned it into a badge of honour.
Prior to the Abu Dhabi takeover, Tom Cruise and the Mission Impossible film franchise would’ve more than met their match, if they’d gone in search of glory hunters bedecked in City sky blue.
As for finding hordes of ‘plastics’ – that would’ve been limited to local landfill sites or environmental recycling plants.
Rest assured if you were a City fan prior to ‘The Money’, your loyalty should never ever, for one nano second, be questioned.
Your credentials are ‘impeccable’. You are a true blue, well versed in your understanding of the self deprecating term, ‘Typical City’, with all the scars to prove it.
But what are the origins of allegiance to our beloved City? The answers are manifold, some obvious, some slightly more obscure.
The big ticket answer for many who have suffered through decades of under achievement is that they’re Manchester born and bred, blessed with parents who bestowed a blue blood birthright upon them.
Undoubtedly being a City fan has – for prolonged periods – been a very heavy cross to bear. It’s an analogy light years removed from where not one, but two, Jesus’ have risen to prominence in City’s match day line ups.
Whereas Navas became a City Premier League Champion and two-time League Cup winner before returning to Sevilla, he never quite nailed the art of crossing.
Fast forward to the here and now and a certain Gabriel Jesus is shaping up as a potential world-beater, a Brazilian superstar in the making, who will crucify opposition defenders for years to come.
It’s a joyous prospect as Pep Guardiola prepares to take City to hitherto unknown heights with a squad awash with skill, speed, youth, creativity, belief, guile, spirit, experience and resilience.
The transformation from ‘Typical City’ to perennial title and/or cup winners is well underway.
In the immediate aftermath of The Centurions’ record-breaking Premier League triumph, and the prospect of even better to come, it’s the easiest thing in the world to be a 21st century City supporter.
But what of my own humble origins and why did I swear a lifetime of allegiance to the City cause?
Having been ‘created’ in Cleethorpes on the East Coast, I cannot lay claim to Mancunian blue blood.
Indeed, my first experience of watching football was from the terraces of the Osmond Stand at Grimsby Town’s Blundell Park, back in the late 1960s.
My Grandad Anderton took me to see The Mariners play Doncaster Rovers in the old 4th Division. I’d only just started primary school and my football education was in its infancy. Grimsby lost 2-0. My abiding memory was that of Grandad buying me a pink and white coconut bar en-route to the ground. It was my half-time treat.
Such were the levels of ‘excitement’ as Town plodded to inevitable defeat, I kept mithering my poor old Grandad. When would half time dawn?
A lifelong Grimsby fan, the ageing John Lovell Anderton must’ve been disheartened by the disinterest displayed by his one and only grandson. With barely 20 minutes played, the coconut confectionary was surrendered.
I’ve always maintained a healthy affection for my hometown team, but my true football love is Manchester City. It stems from one woman and one man – my friend’s Mum and Francis Lee.
As kids we would play street football. We’d assume the identity of various star players of our time. My best mate was Stephen Scott and he supported Queen’s Park Rangers, hence he was Rodney Marsh.
His mother, Margaret, had a soft spot for Franny. For some unknown reason, I ‘became’ Francis Lee in the highly competitive knockabouts in Braemar Road.
I shudder to think how different it might’ve been had I opted to be George Best, Bobby Charlton or another non-City icon from my childhood.
As a six-year old, I was ‘Franny’ despite never having seen him play or knowing that much about City. Sadly, Mrs Scott passed away this week aged 90.
When I grew up she used to tell me to call her Margaret, but I couldn’t. It didn’t sound right. She was and will forever be ‘Mrs Scott’. I owe that lovely lady a debt of gratitude I can never repay. She inadvertently set a course for me from which there was no turning back. Once a blue, always a blue. Thank you Mrs Scott, I’ll cherish the memories and hope you’ll be watching City from a sky blue heaven.
My loyalty was further bolstered by a certain Bobby Kennedy, City’s left back immediately prior to the glory years of Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison. He took over as Grimsby Town’s Player-Manager when I was just seven years old. His daughter, Lorraine, was my first ‘proper girlfriend’ at Thrunscoe Primary School. Another City thread was woven. Lorraine, a fine sprinter even as a little lass, later went on to represent Bradford City and Scotland in women’s football.
As a kid I’d be lucky to catch a glimpse of City if they featured in one of the two games on Match of The Day’s highlights, and only then in black and white. We weren’t posh, we didn’t have a colour television.
The saturation TV coverage of today, with Sky, BT, BBC, ITV and online streaming, wasn’t even close to being a droplet in my childhood.
My first ever City match was Crystal Palace away at Selhurst Park on August 19th 1970 – a 1-0 win. Alan Oakes scored the winner.
My Dad – an eminent journalist – wrote to Joe Mercer a few weeks before the game. He explained it was to be my City 'debut'. He asked if it’d be possible for me to meet the players.
He received a typed response, personally signed by Gentleman Joe, in which the City Manager was delighted that ‘...young David was a Blue...’ and that City would do all they could to beat Palace on the night.
However, Joe stated, if City were to lose the game there might be some ‘industrial language’ that wouldn’t be appropriate for the ears of a 7-year old boy. Regrettably he couldn’t accommodate my Dad’s request.
It was a lovely letter – sadly lost a long time ago – but one which only served to enhance my Sky Blue passion.
I can recall TV footage of City winning the League Cup against West Bromwich Albion in 1970 on a mud heap of a pitch. The turf had been churned up days beforehand as Wembley hosted ‘The Horse of the Year Show’.
Even more vividly, I remember seeing a grainy monochrome BBC TV News clip of Tony Book, hoisted high on his City team mates’ shoulders, holding the European Cup Winners Cup aloft in rain soaked Vienna.
I was at Wembley with my Dad in 1976 when Dennis Tueart struck that wonderful bicycle kick winner against Newcastle. For some bizarre reason we were in with the Toon Army at the wrong end. It didn’t matter, we were happy and the Geordies didn’t give me, my Dad, or our travelling companions, the Rector of Healing, Jack Abbott, or Lincolnshire Headmaster, Keith Walton, both true blues, any grief.
Like every other City fan, none of us could have imagined in our worst nightmares that it’d be a 35-year wait before we’d, once again, win ‘major’ silverware.
Even so, there was plenty to keep us occupied between the mid-1970’s and the dawn of Arabic ownership, some of it pleasurable, most of it pretty painful.
The unlikely 1999 2nd Division Play-Off comeback is a standout memory. From 2-0 down and staring into the abyss of another season in the 3rd tier of English football, came a truly iconic victory. It was ‘Typical City’ in reverse.
City played two Get Out Of Jail cards that day, thanks to a late Kevin Horlock goal and Paul Dickov’s late, late equaliser. Nicky Weaver’s penalty shoot-out heroics ensued as Joe Royle’s men, bedecked in that loudest of City shirts, sent the massed ranks of City supporters into unexpected ecstacy.
It was a marvellous high amidst a myriad of desperate lows as City bounced up and down the divisions.
Having ravenously devoured Wembley wins over Manchester United and Stoke City to lift the FA Cup in 2011 nobody – absolutely nobody – could have prepared themselves for what would unfold 12 months down the line, as City were crowned Champions of England after a 44 year hiatus.
Pep Guardiola’s City may have Jesus in their ranks in 2018, but Roberto Mancini’s City of 2012, resorted to a revival of biblical proportions, resurrecting their Premier League title bid when all seemed lost.
Far from rising from the dead on Easter Sunday, 2012, it appeared Arsenal had laid City’s Premier League ambitions to rest, as Mario Balotelli was sent off in a wretched 1-0 defeat at the Emirates.
Eight points adrift with just six games to play, Sir Alex Ferguson’s prophecy that City ‘would never finish above United in his lifetime’, sounded horribly true.
But City, far from being pumped with embalming fluid, took a giant swig of the elixir of Premier League life and proceeded to smash 12 goals, concede just the one and amass nine points from wins over WBA, Norwich City and Wolves.
United meanwhile, suffered an unlikely 1-0 defeat at Wigan, before somehow squandering lead upon lead against Everton, as the Scousers snatched a dramatic 4-4 draw at The Swamp.
The Last Rites, which had all but been delivered on Easter Sunday, were now null and void as City rejoiced in a five point and eight goal swing, with just 270 minutes of the season remaining.
Sky Sports couldn’t believe their luck as a fixture, which had appeared a dead rubber just three weeks earlier, became the pivotal clash in a breathtaking Premier League season.
United travelled to City for a Monday Night Football feast with hundreds of millions of TV viewers, not forgetting the 47,259 fans inside an emotion-charged Etihad Stadium, ready to witness the most critical Manchester derby ever.
It was a night when a Glaswegian pensioner edged closer to meeting his maker. Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson was made to reflect on his infamous ‘not in my lifetime…’ retort.
Vincent Kompany’s headed goal ensured City took maximum points and drew level with United at the top of the table. A 2-0 away win at Newcastle meant all City had to do was beat struggling Queen’s Park Rangers at the Etihad, and they’d be Champions.
With literally five minutes remaining of the most pulsating Premier League season in history, Manchester City were on course for the ‘title’ – but not the one they craved after 44 barren years.
The title ‘Typical City’ was set to stick forever, as football’s perennial under achievers seemed hell bent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against an under siege, undermanned (Joey Barton had been sent off) QPR.
As the seconds ticked by the sheer horror of what would be the greatest anti-climax – even by City’s own extraordinarily bizarre standards – had enveloped every man, woman and child sporting sky blue.
Gut wrenching agony gripped the cursed City support, tears of anguish were already stinging reddened eyes as the Blue Moon prepared to plummet from its upward trajectory.
QPR were hanging on to the most unlikely 2-1 lead, and with it, their own Premier League survival. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It couldn’t end this way…could it?
When Edin Dzeko levelled the score at 2-2 three minutes into added time it seemed academic. City had to win to edge past Manchester United and grab the glory on goal difference.
The Cup for ‘Cock Ups’ – once so eloquently articulated by City legend Francis Lee - was destined for the City trophy cabinet until the 94th minute. Sergio Aguero – thigh muscles pumping like pistons – fired a quick give and go to Balotelli, powered into the penalty area, eluded a desperate attempt to bring him down and unleashed the goal of goals to send City into frenzied delight, delirium and untamed bedlam.
Incredible, unbelievable, beyond the wildest imaginings – Manchester City had snatched the title in dramatic fashion beyond compare.
As Martin Tyler said: “I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again. So watch it, drink it in…” and boy oh boy did the City fans gulp, guzzle and quaff the night away!
Six years on it and it was was Gabriel Jesus scoring in the last minute of the season – ironically, the 94th – at Southampton, to secure the win, as City became the first team ever to achieve 100 Premier League points. Pep’s men were justly rewarded for fighting until the end in the bright sunshine at St. Mary’s. The Centurions created history.
The records smashed en-route to the title are well documented, but how can you ever tire of hearing them; 100 points, 32 wins, 16 away wins, 18 successive wins,106 goals scored,+79 goal difference and +19 points gap to 2nd place, most away points 50…and that’s before you drill down into rates of possession, pass attempts and pass completions.
With average home attendances running at 54,000+ in a 55,000 capacity stadium, the juvenile jibes about the so-called Emptihad, are like water off a duck’s back to City fans. With planning permission already obtained for a third tier on the North Stand, further boosting seating levels to 62,000+, the only question is why aren’t City pressing on with expansion plans? Those on the season ticket waiting list would soon gobble up the extra 7,000 seats.
Even more Blues would soak up the Etihad match day experience, if Government gave the green light for the creation of Safe Standing areas. Doubtless it would help pump up the volume from the ‘terraces’, providing an atmosphere befitting the stupendous on-field play.
Success breeds success. Inevitably a club that has won three Premier League titles, three League Cups and an FA Cup in the past eight years, is going to attract fans on a global scale, from a much wider and younger demographic.
One can only hope that the new generation of supporters will be genuine. They’ll hold City dear to their hearts. They won’t melt away if, as and when adversity comes calling. For their sakes and ours, let’s hope they’ll never have to endure ‘character-building’ nights, born of away defeats at the likes of Lincoln, Wycombe and York.
Their support will be built on access to live and televised City games, social media outlets – not least City’s hugely impressive website – where they can see for themselves what Manchester City Football Club is all about.
It won’t be based on anything as flimsy as a lady from Cleethorpes who had a crush on Francis Lee, but if it’s as enduring, it bodes well.
By David Walker
Dedicated to the memory of Margaret Scott - Mrs Scott - the lady who was responsible for me becoming a Manchester City fan when I was just six years old. She passed away last week at the age of 90. I owe her a debt of gratitude and will cherish my childhood memories of a lovely lady and a family friend. RIP Mrs Scott.