Today I mark an event in my young life that changed the course of everything that followed. The effects of the decision that I made on that day ramify through every week and month and year of my life since then. There have been pitiful lows. I mean, lows that few people could possibly understand and none of us could expect. There have been horrendous false-dawns. And through it all there has been good humour and a sense that as shit as things can get, what other options are available.
Today, September 24th, 2013, in the year of our Lord, marks a most momentous day in the course my life. It is the 24th anniversary of me becoming a Man City supporter.
And oh yeah. I also got married on this date, nine years ago.
The Manchester City decision, hopefully unlike the marriage decision, bore the hallmarks of the reasoning of a child. I decided that morning, probably while musing during Sunday morning mass, that I would join all the other boys in my class and choose an English soccer team to follow. They all loved Liverpool. I needed to find an underdog to back, even if I didn’t have language to express that.
I liked the light blue jerseys that Man City wore. Niall Quinn, the towering Irishman led their forward line. Most importantly, the day before they had demolished the much more famous Manchester United 5-1. I remember thinking, as I turned the pages of the Sunday newspaper, “There’s another Manchester football team?” That sealed the deal.
I was, from then on, as irrational as it sounds, a Manchester City supporter.
I soon set about learning everything I possibly could about the team I had now randomly connected myself with. I liked the buccaneering midfielder Paul Lake the most. Sadly, his promising career was cut short by injury.
In the subsequent years, Man City were relegated a few times. They put us supporters through some hilariously tense moments as they slowly and haltingly climbed back to the top division. The icons of the 90s were less than stellar. Shaun Goater and Paul Dickov are names revered by City fans, but it would be a rare soccer fan who would identify them out of a line up. Even in the rare seasons when we were on the up, City were a shambles.
All that of course changed when the controversy-mired former leader of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra took over the club towards the end of the last decade. Shinawatra is like a sort of south east Asian Denis O’Brien. People in the know seem to think he is a lot worse than he might even appear at first. But he brought some hope to our hope-exhausted hearts.
Forget human rights abuses. Elano played for us now.
Fifteen months later, Thaskin sold the club (he had bought it in June 2007 for about UK£80 million) for UK£200 million. The new owners were the royal family of Abu Dhabi, which seems to mean the new owners actually are Abu Dhabi. The Emirate may not have the most fully developed distinctions between the wealth of the nation and the pockets of the rulers. We thought human rights abuses were an issue under “Frank”. Now the Man City supporter, trained on decades of disappointment, cack-handed management and pitifully well intentioned performances by mediocre players, now faced the strange situation of being the wealthiest football club in history.
Since then, Man City’s fortunes have continued with an eerie consistency. Forgive the “we” in this sentence. See it as a supporter’s idiom, rather than an actual claim to fellowship, co-responsibility or anything resembling a real “we”! We won the FA Cup and the Premier League. But we also lost an FA Cup Final against a vastly weaker team. We won the Premier League, but had to wait until the very last kick of the season to seal the deal. We have crashed out of European competition with every attempt, including one sad night where Mario Balotelli decided to attempt the first on-field gutting of an opponent and another where our star player decided to row with the manager in public. We have signed players for inflated fees and let them go for nothing. We have allowed our homegrown talent to go to waste.
But through it all, I am still in many ways an 8 year old boy, seeking to forge an identity with arbitrary tokens drawn from his prevailing culture. That’s a cynic’s view of course. It is better to say, I am still waiting for another Georgi Kinkladze to appear and amaze us:
Your Correspondent, Niall Quinn’s disco pants are the best