I’d say it was sometime around 4:40pm on Sunday the 13th of May this year when I found myself staring into the abyss.
I could only watch from my seat in the South Stand at the Etihad Stadium as my dearly beloved Manchester City trailed 2-1 to 10-man Queens Park Rangers with just five minutes of normal time remaining on the final day of the Premier League season. It was a match that had meant everything to us, and it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Only an hour earlier, the thousands of people around me had been a colourful sea of excitement and anticipation, but when I looked up at twenty to five I saw dejection, anger and disappointment. Some of them cried and some of them upped and left. Like most of them, I stayed and watched as the dream of a first league title in 44 years drifted further and further away.
I won’t lie, I wanted to leave, I really did. City had been chasing the game for a good twenty minutes by this stage but hadn’t even looked like scoring one goal, never mind the two they’d need to win the title. I don’t know if it was a misplaced pass or yet another unchallenged header back to the half way line by a QPR defender that clinched it for me, but I’m ashamed to admit I gave up and just couldn’t bear to watch any longer.
I thought about heading for the exit but I felt too nauseous to move. I also knew my mum, who was sitting beside me, simply wouldn’t allow it. A million thoughts raced through my mind as I held my head in my hands and fought back tears. I thought of everything this godforsaken club had put me through during my years of support and devotion. I recalled the occasional highs but mostly the interminable lows, and how they all paled into insignificance when compared with this, the almightiest of cock-ups, playing out before my very eyes. The phrase “typical City” had never felt as apt as it did right then.
I also thought of United, who I’d rightly assumed were still leading at Sunderland and moments away from pipping us to the title on a day when even they’d admitted it was beyond them. I conjured up the cruellest and most vile of images; Ferguson and Rooney dancing in celebration on the pitch as they held the trophy aloft, the back pages of the newspapers the following day, and the horrible rats who would no doubt emerge from the sewer to laugh, chastise and gloat on my way home. It was a day that had promised so much but which I knew would take me months, maybe even years, to recover from if it ended like this.
As the fourth official raised his electronic board to signal five minutes of added time, I thought of something else. I thought of the Division Two Play-Off Final at Wembley in 1999 and the two dramatic goals in five minutes of extra time that day that had so enchanted my 11-year-old self and condemned me to this life of City addiction. I remembered how I’d begged my dad to stay and watch when a much lesser City team had gone 2-0 down to Gillingham, and how what had seemed like childish naivety had paid off when he’d cried on my shoulder not long afterwards. It was a comforting thought, but it did little to ease my despair in that moment.
That was until, right on cue, the latter day Kevin Horlock (played by Edin Dzeko) popped up and scored a goal which would have been scant consolation had the game finished 2-2 but gave City a beaming glimmer of hope. My body was still paralysed with grief but in my head I began to dream again. The thousands of people around me came back to life, their spirits resurrected.
What happened in the ensuing few minutes cannot be described in mere words, and I should know. On several occasions over the past three months I’ve attempted to find a way to articulate the plethora of emotions I experienced that day and every time I have failed. There are probably few people left on the planet who aren’t familiar with the moment I’m referring to, but with 93 minutes on the clock Sergio Aguero had played a tight one-two with Mario Balotelli and glided into the penalty area beyond the futile flailing legs of half a dozen QPR defenders before slamming the ball into the back of the net to win the Premier League with the last kick of the season. Words like “ecstasy” and “exhilaration” are all well and good, but they do it a disservice and seem inane and dispassionate when I think of how I actually felt.
That goal, much like Paul Dickov’s in 1999, was on a par with nothing else I have ever experienced in my life. I am passionate about many things, but never have I exhibited such an explosion of joy as I did in that moment, never have I shouted, cried and laughed simultaneously and never have I completely lost myself as I did right then. The unenlightened will find it ridiculous, but it’s testament that in the aftermath of what will rightly be remembered as the finest end to a Premier League season in history, the impact of City’s glory on all kinds of people was totally apparent as the YouTube videos and tributes flooded in from across the globe. It may have taken millions of pounds worth of “oil money” to achieve, but the manner in which City became Champions on that beautiful sunny day in Manchester was incomprehensibly awe inspiring, and everyone agrees.
A lot of demons were banished that day and it will live long in the memory of everyone who was alive to witness it. We’ve already been told that we’ll never see anything like it ever again, and maybe that’s true, but the future is unwritten and I can only hope that I will once again feel the way I did on the 13th of May.
This is how it feels to be City.
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