Monday 23 June 2008 Loyalty article

Picture the scene; it’s Saturday 17th October 1998 and a bitterly cold and rainy autumn day. I am stood on the home terrace at Springfield Park shivering and dripping wet, my long blonde hair gone from straight to matted in a matter of minutes. I have lost sensation in all of my toes and my fingers it’s so cold and forty minutes into the game it’s still goalless. City, then fallen giants, have failed to score against then-lowly Wigan Athletic for 40 whole minutes.

The condition of the pitch is atrocious, with pot-holes the size of craters deep into the turf. The ref is blowing his whistle at every tackle and any slight incident, unaware of how to play the advantage or when a player fairly wins the ball. The ground is open-air terracing- only two thirds of the home end is full and it’s obvious that the majority of those are blues. I for one am stood in my City shirt. I knew for certain that I would be bed-ridden with the flu for the two weeks following the game yet there I was, waiting for City to find a breakthrough.

Sure enough, the fortnight after the game was spent by me in bed instead of at college. Why did I put myself through it? The same reason I went to Lokeren in Belgium in the UEFA Cup. Why I went to Sunderland away on a Tuesday night when I was in work at nine in the morning the following day and why I went to Gillingham away just for a pre-season friendly fixture. To watch my chosen football team. To show my loyalty to them.

But what makes somebody support a particular football team? Deciding who to support is a big enough decision. It’s a decision that demands loyalty and perseverance for the entirety of your life. Do you go for the geographical option: your local team? Do you go for the inheritance option: the team a family member supports? Whatever you do, don’t go for the glory option (choosing to support a team who has recently won a trophy, for that reason only). Mine was the time-honoured classic- inheritance. City are in my blood through my uncle and my brother, so it was only natural that I became a blue.

Once you have chosen your team then you have to stick with them. This is the loyalty part. I suppose in a way it’s like taking marriage vows; ‘for better for worse, for richer for poorer. In sickness and in health, ‘til death us do part’. If you take supporting a football team seriously it’s a huge commitment. It can dominate your life; constantly checking Sky Sports for any transfer news, planning days off from work to co-inside with home and away days, not to mention spending hundreds, if not thousands of pounds on season tickets and replica shirts. This football business is certainly not for the fickle or faint-hearted.

What defines loyalty? Loyalty is about backing your team through the good and the bad. It’s not thinking twice about renewing your season ticket despite relegation; turning up come rain or shine to sing your heart and soul out for the lads to influence the team to victory, or reassure them in defeat. Loyalty is something inspired when things aren’t as good as they should be, yet celebrated when your team is the most in-form side in the Premier League. This applies to any team, whoever you support.

In my experience, supporting Manchester City is a true labour of love. Through relegations, promotions, chairmans and managers. Inconsistency and controversy. Embarrassing defeats (8-1 at the Riverside anybody? 4-1 at Lincoln City?) and dubious signings (Lee Bradbury, Georgio Samaras, Martin Phillips). Normally at City, just when you think its plain sailing, everything goes wrong. There’s rarely a storm cloud that is adorned with a silver lining and the saying ‘typical City’ has become a cliché. City are a club that fascinates and is adored by the media for their ongoing sagas, constant managerial merry-go-rounds and for, at times, being a general circus act.

When we got beat 5-0 by United in November 1994, I was very tempted to take the next day off school due to sheer embarrassment, but I went in and faced the music. When we got relegated to not only the first division, but the second, I wore my shirt with pride. I renewed my season ticket and watched City play Blackpool, Northampton, York and Wycombe. Wembley against Gillingham? I was crying my eyes out with joy, a multitude of mixed emotions, after an inexplicable comeback and penalties.

Through the good, the bad and the downright ugly, that is what it’s all about. No matter how bad is gets you should never give up on your team. Being a face in a crowd of thousands if the atmosphere is so charged is one of the best feelings; together in raucous chanting, clapping and general merriment with one aim- to help your team to victory. You might be blessed to follow a team laden with trophies or you might support a team who drift around in mid-table obscurity. Who struggle to fill the ground or who play in the lower leagues. That is irrelevant. Even if you are unsure of the club’s future and where the club is heading, be proud of whom you support and wear your shirt with pride and passion. The new season isn’t far away. Don’t be fickle- be fantastic.

No comments: