Wednesday 5 May 2010

We're Not Really Here...

People who are unfamiliar with the Manchester City chant ‘we’re not really here’ often eagerly ask what the meaning is. I was asked to partake in some private research for the club last summer and that very question was asked of me. Why are City fans the fans of the invisible man? Why aren’t you really here?

The answer probably differs for each and every blue who has their own memories and take on their history of supporting the club. It is inevitably different for fans that span various generations. But for me it’s pretty simple. It’s a representation that I can’t quite believe I’m here compared to where I’ve been in the past as a City fan. The memories are colourful, plentiful and special. From every fan along the way, they are part of what it means to have been there, seen it and bought the shirts along the proverbial roller-coaster ride.

For me, memories are all about parking up on a side road with my brother Simon in deep Moss Side to be greeted by an exuberant child asking if they can ‘mind the car please’. After advising the youth we would pay up post-match if the car was still intact, we would head into the Beehive pub for a couple of sneaky pre-match drinks before setting off on foot to the ground. The walking consisted of turning down a man selling jerk chicken off a makeshift barbecue outside Buntys off-licence to opt for sausage, chips and gravy from the Blue Moon chip shop on the corner of Maine Road.

Recollections of queuing up to get in the club shop on match-day (which was flanked by bouncers), walking around the back of the North Stand, past the away support to the Kippax turnstile, guessing which number game it would be out of my season-ticket book along the way. Once inside, heading up the concrete steps to my seat in Kippax CC Lower and reading the match-day programme while the two teams warm up on the pitch. The congregation of regulars that surround you slowly occupy their seats in anticipation of kick-off with the away day visitors filling up the North Stand to the right.

The clock ticks down and before you know it its Saturday, 3pm. The teams emerge from below the Main Stand to the guitar introduction of Oasis’ ‘Roll With It’ and a mighty cheer goes up. Whether it’s Brian Horton or Joe Royle on the touch-line, Tony Coton or Eike Immel in goal, the loyalty never wavers, refuses to falter. The Kippax seagull blows wildly in the breeze and Helen’s bell rings consistently. The minority that occupy the ‘Gene Kelly’ stands shiver in the rain as the Kippax tannoy states that Mr Banks is on Level One. Chants from the North stand urge the Platt Lane stand to give them a song and an almighty roar engulfs the ground as Uwe Rosler volleys home. The scoreboard still stays on 0-0 but the City faithful know they’re ahead. Some things never change.

A vast multitude of moments drench the memory banks. Too many to distinguish between: Uwe Rosler chipping Peter Schmeichel at Old Trafford after a sublime through-ball by Georgi Kinkladze. The Georgian’s tears on that dark day against Liverpool in 1996 but his unequivocal brilliance and ingenuity lighting up my season-ticket single-handedly. Steve Lomas, Garry Flitcroft, Peter Beagrie, Niall Quinn, Tony Coton and Paul Walsh. Gerry Creaney’s last minute winner against Charlton, a disastrous own-goal by Tranmere at Prenton Park handing us a point from nowhere and watching Bolton win the First Division title on our own turf. Barry Conlon getting a standing ovation during a 6-0 demolition of Swindon Town, a 28,000 set of collective tears during Lakey’s testimonial and being forced to leave St. Andrews early after Murtaz Shelia scored only to find out on the M6 that we lost the game. Richard Edghill, Kit Symons, John Burridge, Martin Buster Phillips (the first £10 million player, allegedly) and Kevin Horlock.

Leading the team out as a mascot at Maine Road in October 1997 against Oxford United at home only for the Blues to lose 2-0. Jamie Pollock’s own goal adding to Vinnie Jones’ post-match celebrations for Queens Park Rangers as storm-clouds literally gathered after a penultimate ominous result. Playing Blackpool the first day of the season in Division Two to a sell-out crowd of unbelievable believers and getting soaked to the bone at Springfield Park when the Goat scored the winner. Watching Millwalll tear the North stand apart while police helicopters circled in the sky. Jeff Whitley, Andy Morrison, Paul Dickov, Nicky Weaver, Michael Branch and Terry Cooke. Taking to my seat in the Kippax to watch the play-off screening at Wigan only for City to concede within the first couple of minutes then witnessing the hand of Goat before running onto the pitch in sheer ecstasy having reached Wembley during the second leg.

Going to the Twin Towers, Wembley, and singing Blue Moon at the top of my voice. Feeling the disappointment, anguish, agony, amazement then utter disbelief and seeing Dickov sliding on his knees. Holding my head in my hands when every penalty was taken, crying throughout. Watching Weaver do his unpredictable run. Jumping on my seat and bouncing to M People’s ‘Moving On Up’, realising the great escape really was possible. Only a season later, Ewood Park full of City fans celebrating back-to-back promotions.

Travelling to Gillingham in the hot sunshine for a pre-season friendly with my mate Spenny hanging out of the car window while we played ‘Blue Moon’ excessively over Tower Bridge, a Gerard Wiekens wonder volley giving City three points at Elland Road and substitute Shaun Goater earning a standing ovation when replacing the substituted George Weah. The Ipswich Town Cup game postponed due to a waterlogged pitch after a sporadic ten minute spell of torrential rain, being affected by smog inhalation after visiting the Riverside and being spat on from the tier above at Anfield. Carlo Nash’s first four touches of a game being picking the ball out of his own net four times against Arsenal at home.

The Goat’s hat-trick being almost marred by Spenny getting head-butted outside Turf Moor, coming back from the Hawthorns depressed after a 4-0 drubbing and travelling to Highfield Park to be impressed by a new signing called Ali Benarbia. Making the journey across the Pennines with six thousand other Blues to watch an incredible team performance during a 6-2 away victory, only for City to lose 4-0 against Wimbledon at Maine Road the next week (the joys of the Kevin Keegan era). Paulo Wanchope, Eyal Berkovic, Stuart Pearce, Lucian Mettomo and Steve Howey. Travelling to Oakwell on Hallowe’en to get stuck in terrible traffic on the M62 and arrive at half-time, having missed all three of City’s goals. Darren Huckerby applauding an empty away stand, New Year’s Day hungover at Bramhall Lane. Topping the First Division, signing a French player by the name of Nicolas Anelka to partner the Goat upfront then going to Villa Park only to reach Hilton Park service station and realise we’d lost our four match tickets. Going to Highbury and leaving empty-handed but leaving St. Andrews with all three points. Driving to Gresty Road with no ticket and sitting outside listening to the cheers only for the City team coach driver to invite me aboard to listen to the game with him.

Wigan fans coming up to me after their Cup victory at the then-JJB Stadium claiming revenge for the ‘Hand of Goat’ incident. Being knocked out by Wigan only for Gary Neville to feed the Goat in a 3-1 final derby at Maine Road victory and the Bermudan hero equalising at Old Trafford during the return fixture. Having to pay a tenner for two drinks in a pub outside Stamford Bridge before witnessing Chelsea’s 5-0 drubbing of City after four hours of driving, then encountering a horrific eight hour drive back from St. Marys after Southampton beat us 2-0. The final game at Maine Road against Southampton, with City typically getting beat 1-0. As if the end of an era wasn’t hard enough to stomach, the horrific and unexpected tragic passing of Marc Vivien Foe on June 26th 2003.

Driving to Ewood Park to witness Michael Tarnat’s wonderful free-kick before embarking on the epic journey to Lokeren via Luton, Heathrow, Brussels and a two hour taxi journey. Spenny’s luggage only turning up when we checked in for the flight back to England. Sitting in the home end in Deepdale and getting ejected for singing Blue Moon and having missiles thrown at me. Sylvain Distin, Mark Bosvelt, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Darius Vassell and Andrew Cole.

It’s these collective, eclectic and stupendous array of memories that have helped define my personal ‘we’re not really here’ stance. It’s being aware of the past when I dare to dream in the present and for the future of the football club I support. More memories will be created along the way, but for now I’ll treasure the ones I have in the hope that my heart remains intact along with my sanity. It’s never been easy but then nobody said it would be when I pledged my sky blue allegiance all those years ago. If it was easy, would that be my team that I know and adore? I don’t know, but being a fan of the invisible man means the blue moon for me will always be steadily rising. I’m an optimistic realist, for me we aren’t really here, but we should be really glad that we are.

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