Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The ultimate victory

For those who want to understand the true meaning of the events at the Etihad Stadium last Sunday, read no further than the sub-title of this blog.

Sunday’s game was the perfect microcosm of what it is to support Manchester City, the new Champions of England.

The game is now days away, but for me and I should imagine most other City fans, the unbelievable high remains.

I’ve been writing this blog since 2009, I’ve been a City fan since the day I was born in 1981, but nothing, nothing can truly describe what happened on the turf of the Etihad last Sunday.

As the game drew to a close, and as the realization dawned that defeat was, unbelievably, after all that we had done, cruelly upon us, I found myself experiencing something particularly unpleasant.

For this was a new strain of Cityitis, the debilitating disease we had all hoped had been eradicated. Now, suddenly, unexplainably, from out of nowhere, it was back, and not only that – now it was stronger than ever before and with a new, particularly cruel and virulent twist. In the past, we had always been haunted from a position of weakness. Now we were being haunted on the edge of the glory. I could see the headlines being written as the game closed in, and all hope ebbed away.

But not this time.

Just when the chains of typical City threatened to pull us back into a dungeon of despair, this City team stood up and proved they had what it took to win the title.

By now, we all know the story. 2-1 down, the clocked ticked into injury time, with United still winning at Sunderland.

Everything we tried during that second half just didn’t come off. We tried intricate passes through the middle, crosses from both flanks, shots from distance.

To their credit QPR defended brilliantly. In many ways the game reminded me of a Barcelona-Chelsea Champions League semi-final in 2009 at the Nou Camp, where Chelsea invited the Catalans onto them and just flooded the penalty area with bodies, limiting Barca to very few clear cut chances.

That was the case here. We had a massive amount of possession, crosses, shots – but hardly any of it was incisive.

And so, by the 92nd minute, we were staring down the barrel of a gun. Enter Edin Dzeko. A corner from David Silva, so often our man of the moment this season, found the head of the Bosnian who powered it down the centre of the goal past QPR keeper Paddy Kenny.

The darkness had descended, but now, somehow, from somewhere, a glimmer of hope had reappeared. Time was still against us, but I found myself thinking: Could it be?

Mancini, normally so collected on the touchline, was raging at his troops, urging them back to the restart. The pressure was white hot. It was unreal.

It was the last attack of the season. From the restart, we wrested back control of the ball from a QPR side that until now had been so stubborn, so resolute in their defence.

But they were cracking at the base. As often happens in games where one team goes for the jugular, and another team just defends, defends and defends, one goal was all it took. The Dzeko strike was crucial. Suddenly, as the Blues swept forward, with the last chance upon our shoulders, the gaps, the angles that we had sought so incessantly throughout the match, finally started to appear.

And commeth the minute, commeth the man. A string of City passes through the heart of the QPR defence found Sergio Aguero in the area. The Argentinean skipped the first tackle, composed himself, and fired the ball past Paddy Kenny into the back of the net.

We had won the Premier League. From the pits of despair we had come back. We were Champions, in the most unbelievable fashion imaginable. As one fan put it – this was Roy of the Rovers on speed.
We had stared down the barrel of the gun, but this time, as our world closed in on us, a millisecond before the trigger was about to be pulled, we ducked, swiveled the gun around and pulled the trigger ourselves.

This was escapology of the highest order.

From desperation, from frustration, from despair, to the heights of elation, the heights of ecstasy, to the heights of our history, in minutes. No Blue will ever forget Sunday 13th May 2012.

Some teams torture their supporters but no-one is as sadistic as City. Thirteen years ago we were staring into the abyss in the old Division 3. Today we are champions. No. No team does it like quite like City, because City are City. And no team ever will. There is no story quite like that in modern football.

We deserved this title. Having defeated our closest rivals home and away, having played some of the best football the league has witnessed, this is our time. And this is City’s year.

It is too early to turn to next season. For now, Blues will enjoy the magnitude of what happened last Sunday. And no-one can begrudge them that.

They have suffered long enough. But now, the Blue Moon that has been rising since 2008 has well and truly risen. I can only applaud the club for how it has gone about achieving this most special of trophy wins.

As one fantastic chapter closes, another exciting chapter opens as this club – Manchester City, the champions of England – continues to go from strength to strength to strength.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Jakarta’s responsible ‘Mancunians’

Manchester, la, la, la! Manchester, la, la, la!

The famous Mancunian chant came not from the night of Manchester, but from the early morning of Jakarta, Indonesia.

It came not only from the throng of City fans, but also from an equally large group of United fans, both of whom had gathered in an outdoor café in the centre of the capital to watch what was billed as one of the biggest derbies ever.

The tension that reverberated throughout this match was there for all to see and feel. It rained down from the stands, onto the pitch and into our café through the big TV screen that was propped up by a tree.

Watching the game at 2:00 am in the morning was surreal enough, never mind that Jakarta’s streets and main thoroughfares, normally seething with the city’s 11 million vehicles, were eerily empty as we made our way to the café unimpeded. 

The stress normally felt by navigating your way through the traffic was gone, only to be replaced by something much worse, a feeling that many City fans know all too well - that very particular mix of both the dread and the hope of what is about to materialize as Derby day approaches. Times that by a thousand for this particular encounter, and then some.

We arrived at the venue and a black grill gate, swung open, revealed a makeshift and uneven car park – much akin to that outside the stadium formally known as Eastlands a couple of years ago - with rows of cars, vans and motorbikes piled in. On the left hand side of the enclosure was the café; big screen in the corner, marquee over the top to protect the electronics from an unexpected monsoon, red shirts on one side, blue shirts on the other. City vs United - in Jakarta.

Once inside the café, I was amazed at the pre-game build up. The chanting started, and for the large part it was spot on – and not a foreigner in sight apart from yours truly. The City fans sang “Hark though hear” and the United fans came back with “Glory, glory Man United”. “City till I die” was met with “We love United, we do!”

At half time, being the only bule (white man) in the crowd, I was asked if I wanted to join the City supporters club in Jakarta. For right of entry, I had to give the names of three City managers before Roberto Mancini. A Sven-Goran Eriksson, a Stuart Pearce and a Joe Royle later, and I'd been blooded, a membership card being temporarily given to me to confirm my membership (a ritual performed by all of Jakarta’s 500 City supporters club members, with the card was immediately given back to the organizer because there was only one in existence!).

With the Blue half of the crowd a little giddy given their team’s lead, the organizers of the event reminded everyone to be respectful of the opposing side’s fans. The request was observed almost perfectly, with nothing boiling over as the game’s tension grew higher and higher – a far cry from the antics of Mancini and Ferguson on the touchline of the Etihad.

I was mightly impressed with the restraint shown by both sets of supporters – how City fans didn’t bait their United counterparts I don’t know, and likewise how United fans didn’t let the frustration at their team’s performance boil over is beyond me.

It is a far cry from many drinking establishments in England, where for some the rivalry is too much, the prize too big, to resist mocking the opponent and therefore getting into a skirmish.

Indonesians love football, and don’t get me wrong - they are no strangers to football hooliganism. The Jakmania, which is the 100,000 strong supporters club of one of Jakarta’s teams Persija Jakarta – boasts unhealthy rivalries with Viking (supporters club attached to Persib Bandung – based in a city about three hours drive away) and Bonek (supporters club attached to Persebaya – based about 500 miles east of Jakarta).

However, there was something admirable about the way these Blue and Red Indonesians were managing supporter relations. With not a Munich chant in sight, I suddenly felt further than ever away from the hatred and the acidic atmosphere of Mary D’s.