I do not know when I became interested in football. In particular I do not know when I became a fan of Manchester City. I assume that, like most boys, it happened around the age of 6 or 7. Seeing as the club were in one of their all too few golden spells at the time it might explain how this lifelong affair attached itself to them. Another possibility is that my parents and grandparents are all followers of the red side of Manchester and that I’m just plain contrary, and the fact City had a great team was an added bonus, helping my contrary choice be made much more easily.
The early memories I have of football involve two things which both happened in 1970. The first was I remember being very interested in the World Cup in Mexico. I collected the coins given away by a petrol retailer (like that pictured left – as something of a hoarder I still have some of them), I had a sticker book (which has now gone), and I had a programme size book that I remember poring over. I am confident about the items as they have a physical existence in the way memories are not so my memories of some of the matches comes from later as my memories are in colour and we did not get a colour TV until a couple of years later.
The other football memory relates to the 1970 FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Leeds. I went to school in a village outside Reading. Most everyone supported a London club. When big football matches came up it was the habit to link arms and go round the playground chanting and singing songs we had made up for one or other of the teams involved. I remember the large number of pupils at the school went round chanting for Chelsea. Most everyone did. My brother was not long at the school and, through the same lottery, was a Leeds fan. I remember being one of a handful who linked arms over shoulders and went round the playground for Leeds. I remember there being times when being in the minority felt intimidating. I also do not remember doing the same for City despite the fact they were in the FA Cup Final the year before, perhaps it wasn’t as intimidating? Who knows.
So, all my life I’ve followed Manchester City. As it is held that proper fans should do I have followed them through thick and thin. The great times in the early seventies through the decline in the 80’s and 90’s; till they sunk to the third tier of English football and the famed Manchester derby in City’s case featured the game against Macclesfield Town.(Friends repeated on a regular basis, for it to be annoying, that City stood for Conference [The fifth level of English football] In Two Years.) And then the time of revival and now wealth.
In all the time I’ve followed the club I’ve not seen them often. Growing up in the south I got to an occasional match – I remember seeing the game at Arsenal in the late 70’s when Colin Bell attempted to return from his injury as a treat for my birthday and joining a school friend to see them play QPR in the early 80’s. Not even going to university in the north led me to see them and then returning to the south just seemed to result in me putting it out of my mind. I did see them a couple of times at Reading when their orbits coincided. I got to see a match at Maine Road whilst it was still their home when in Manchester for work. Subsequently, after moving to France I’ve made do with seeing the matches at a local pub with a friend and fellow supporter.
Most summers I’ve been working in the UK but have finished before the football season starts. This season I’m working in the UK for longer so I was present for the start of the football season. Working in the north of England and not the south also means I am in easy reach of Manchester.
I wrote before about my bucketlist. One item I had put upon it was to see Manchester City play a match at their home ground. the Etihad Stadium. The Premier League fixture arranger organised that the first match of the season was to be at home, against Newcastle United. Stories about the stadium selling out its 48,000 seats lead me to be concerned about the possibility of making this dream become a reality. However on the day the tickets went on sale, despite spending half an hour discovering that a device was not working then having to register on the website, I managed to get a seat for the match on Monday 19th August.
I finished work on 19th August at 15:30, went home and changed then walked to the station and collected my tickets to Manchester and back. A pleasant train journey through the Pennines calling at towns in wooded valleys such as Huddersfield and Dewsbury, before sighting the Etihad Stadium from the train in advance of arriving as Manchester Piccadilly. I had received an email from Manchester City setting out a route from the station but I had not brough it with me so I walked around the station but did not find it so headed in what I thought was the right direction. Between the occasional sign for Manchester SportsCity, asking locals and my inbuilt sense of direction I had my first sight of the stadium (pictured right) no more than 30 minutes after leaving the station – not a lot more than the 20 minutes the official route had promised.
On arrival, as planned I headed to the shop (pictured left) and resisted every other form of merchandise offering to entice me so I resolutely managed to get away with a replica shirt for £55. I was given a free copy of the autobiography of Mike Summerbee, which everyone buying something, whether just shirts or just anything, was getting. Near the store was City Square where there was entertainment, drinks and food outlets giving something of a party or celebration atmosphere in the evening sun. After getting some pulled pork in a bun, food at a football match has come on some since I first went, I waited near the entrance for the arrival of the City team. After seeing them safely arrive and trying to insert the wrong part of my ticket into the barcode reader (pictured right) I went through and had my first look at the inside of the stadium then a couple of pints before the match.
I discovered that I had a seat near to the Newcastle United team dug-out with a group of season-ticket holders who had become very friendly with each other. One of them had given up the season-ticket for my seat so they were interested to learn if I was going to be a replacement season-ticket holder for the seat, I was asked also by a couple of people who were interested in getting a season-ticket for the seat. When I sat down the teams were already out warming up on the pitch. City had decided to dedicate the match to the memory of their famous goalkeeper, Bert Trautmann, who had died in the close season so all the players were warming up wearing green goalkeepers shirts with Bert’s number 1 on the back and when they came out for the match (pictured left) the players had black armbands on and there was a minutes clapping before the game started.
I will not write a report of the match, the journalists present can do that better than me, here’s the Manchester City website report, the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, and Daily Mirror. Obviously with City scoring after little more than five minutes, having already having had a couple of chances, gave hope that we would win the match well. I did not relax though until Newcastle had a player sent off when we were already 2-0 up, just before half time. At that point Newcastle had to take a player off to allow them to replace the defender who was sent off and the people around me commiserated with him for being taken off, especially when he was playing so well. I’m not sure the commiserations were totally generous and that they weren’t winding up the player. Not long after the people around me started a conversation with the fourth official about how many extra minutes he would give the two teams, starting with a couple of minutes and bidding it up to five. He gave three extra minutes. There had been a jokey discussion with him about his svelte figure so at half-time he was asked if he wanted a burger to which the response was to just have the lettuce.
I didn’t think there was the time at half-time to do anything other than visit the toilet, further drinks would not be consumed in fifteen minutes without needing a further toilet break during the second half. (people in the concourse pictured right.) The number of people arriving back late from the first-half and having to leave during it showed to me the correctness of this view. Two more goals and an incorrectly, in my view, disallowed goal, completed the match. I clapped the players off (pictured left) and made my way though the crowd to walk back to the station. Leaving the stadium and the floodlights I noticed for the first time how dark it had got. I started on the route I should have taken to get to the ground and, although I’m not sure I had still taken the right route I arrived back at the station in less time it had taken me to do the outward journey. The train stopped in more places on the journey back and had on it some Newcastle supporters drowning their sorrows whilst making their long way home via York, and not expecting to get home before 2 the next morning. For me, I was home before midnight but not much before.
Altogether a fantastic evening in a fantastic atmosphere. A great way to see my first match at the Etihad. Not just the score but the fellow supporters, the atmosphere, everything made up a great evening.