We’re not really here.
The fans of the invisible man – we’re not really here.
I wrote an article back in 2010 trying to explain what the definition of ‘we’re not really here’ was to me. Back then, eight years ago, I said 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. It seems an appropriate time to bring that article back to life and up to date – a lot has happened in those eight years after all.
There could be no more fitting tribute to Dave and Sue in the 250th issue of the best fanzine in the land (and all the world) to indulge myself and the readers in a journey that was once more tragedy than triumph. It’s also a cracking way to put those loyalty doubters at bay, particularly after last month’s silliness.
So here’s to Dave and Sue. With King of the Kippax first on sale on 24th September 1988 at Oakwell, when I was just six years old, it’s a credit to the talent, dedication, hard work and quality of them both and the team around them as to the longevity of the much-loved fanzine. Where others have been and gone, Dave and Sue have persevered to bring us a superb monthly publication full of quips, satire, facts and top drawer writing. We thank you for your dedication to the cause as we embark on a journey so incredible, so phenomenal, only us blues could ever believe it would happen – because we lived and breathed every moment.
My City journey began in the late 1980s. I was always close to my older brother, Simon, so when he started following a football team called Manchester City, I made like most easily-influenced siblings and did the same. I’d skip into primary school and stand talking to the boys about football instead of playing with all the other girls. The love affair started when I was about nine – and is still just as passionate 25 years later.
Although my fandom began at a similar time to when King of the Kippax originated, my first match came a few years later. Simon had been allowed to go to games for years: me being the delicate flower I was (a girl – unheard of now!), I wasn’t allowed to go until I was old enough. I was living and breathing City; going into school wearing my precious Umbro jacket, talking tactics with the only other blue in my years, Adam Barratt, being mocked by the glory fans in my class, but desperate to experience the beautiful game for real.
After nagging my Mum and Dad for seasons, they finally relented, and my first game came on a school night. Wednesday 15th March 1995 was the date: I was 12 years old and City played Everton away. We bought our tickets for £12 in a portakabin outside Goodison Park. City drew 1-1: Terry Phelan was sent off, Mauritzio Gaudino scored but David Unsworth equalised with a penalty late on. That was it. Going to a game only served to fuel my love for City.
Almost bizarrely, my love for City flourished at a time when the Blues were floundering on the pitch. I wasn’t in it for the glory like most of the Liverpool and United fans at my school. Going to a football match was an alien concept to them. I was in it for City – and was in over my head. I think at one point it really did become an obsession: my walls were covered in pictures of the players at the time. Most girls would have boy bands or a hunky pin-up on their walls, but not me. I had Peter Beagrie, Nicky Summerbee, Niall Quinn and Paul Walsh. There was hardly an inch of the wallpaper in my bedroom that wasn’t covered with photos of the players (and that lasted for a good eight years).
But it took a year to then persuade my Mum and Dad to let me venture to Maine Road. The landmark date was Saturday 13th April 1996 – three days before my 14th birthday. It was Sheffield Wednesday at home. I loved Maine Road: I know none of the stands matched, it was in the heart of Moss Side where gangland shootings were popular at the time and it was a bit of a shithole, but it was our shithole. It was where most of my memories were made – for better or for worse (mostly the latter). On that day of my first game sat in the Kippax, an Uwe Rosler strike was enough to give City a 1-0 win, but was far from the saving grace in a season that saw the Blues relegated from the Premier League.
The tears flowed but it only stemmed to make me ask to go to more games. So I did – and it was March 1997 when I sent in my first contributions to King of the Kippax. I’d written a match report for the 0-0 draw against Sheffield United and an article about ‘Premier Passions’: a BBC show that had followed Peter Reid during some of his time at Sunderland. Dave and Sue had very kindly obliged me and published both pieces – I was still at high school, but had a huge passion for creative writing, so this was massively encouraging for me.
It was around this time that City were at the peak of their decline. The 1996/97 season we had been to quite a lot of games. Simon had passed his driving test, so we could go to games more regularly, so when the 1997/98 season came round, we took the plunge and got our first season tickets. I was also the club mascot for City. On Saturday 7th March 1998, City played Oxford United at Maine Road. I led the team out at the tender age of 15 (!) and felt a sense of great pride as I applauded all four stands (five if you include the Gene Kelly!). But, amazingly, the rot had well and truly set in. That day, City got beat 2-0. By Oxford United. At the end of the season, we were relegated to Division Two.
It’s hard to put into words what those ‘dark days’ really felt like. We’d go to Maine Road always expecting a defeat. Anything else was a bonus. Relegation was like being drop-kicked in the stomach: a cold, desolate feeling that swept over you, leaving you limp and numb. We were the laughing stock of football. The butt of everybody’s jokes. As United continued to dominate, we were left to commiserate. Constant humiliation – it’s all we ever knew.
But we stood in solidarity. We renewed our season tickets and went to more away games. We watched us play Northampton Town, Walsall, Macclesfield Town and Colchester United. We watched Millwall rip up seats and throw them at the North Stand while the helicopters circled overheard during a 3-0 City win. We watched Stockport County beat us at home 2-1. We sat through thousands of minutes of scrappy, scruffy, shitty football – and watched us finish third in the League – facing the possibility of promotion only via the Play-Offs.
After running on the pitch when we beat Wigan to get to the final at Wembley, I had no idea what to expect. City were favourites, but we knew anything could happen. I still remember that day like it was yesterday. The emotions resonate with me even now. 2-0 down and we didn’t look like scoring. Commentator and ex-manager Brian Horton screaming, ‘that’s it, that’s game over.’ Then Kevin Horlock and Paul Dickov somehow took it to extra time. The penalty shoot-out: words can’t describe the roller-coaster of that day. From facing Division Two exile head-on to Nicky Weaver’s mazy run as we all went wild. City were back.
That’s when the fun really started. For seasons, we went go home and away following City. Planning my life around the fixture list is all I’ve ever known. Travelling the length and breadth of the country following the Blues was a pleasure and a privilege: from the Riverside, St James Park and the Stadium of Light to Oakwell, Valley Parade and Elland Road. From Highbury to Hillsborough, Prenton Park to Pride Park, we had the time of our lives with our disposable income following City.
When Joe Royle left, it was time for a new era and Kevin Keegan brought with him his trademark ‘we’ll just score more goals than we’ll concede’ approach. At that point, the football we played was more than we could’ve possibly dreamed of. Scoring over 100 goals in a season, beating United 3-1 and watching Eyal Berkovic and Ali Benarbia play in our midfield was an absolute joy. Players like Paulo Wanchope and Nicolas Anelka playing for our club, getting pissed up and down the country watching City. For me, that was living the dream. It may have been the best of times, it may have been the worst, but up until leaving Maine Road, I’d cherished every minute of the highs and the lows.
It’s all part of ‘we’re not really here’ for me. When I think back to Maine Road, the memories begin with parking up on a side road with Simon in Moss Side, to be greeted by an exuberant child asking if ‘they mind the car please.’ After advising them we would pay up post-match if the car was still intact, we would head into the Beehive pub for a couple of pre-match drinks before setting off for the ground. We’d often turn down the man selling jerk chicken outside Bunty’s off licence for sausage, chips and gravy from the Blue Moon chip shop on the corner of Maine Road instead.
Recollections of queuing up to get in the club on match day, 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, we headed up the concrete steps to my seat in Kippax CC Lower and read the match day programme while the teams warmed up on the pitch.
The clock ticked down and before you knew it, it was 3pm (yes, Saturday at 3pm, those were the days!). The teams emerged from the tunnel at the Main Stand to the guitar introduction of Oasis’ ‘Roll With It’ and a mighty cheer went up. Whether it’s Horton or Joe Royle on the touchline, 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’ stand 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 says 0-0 but the City faithful knows 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 match tickets 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 (horrific). 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 March 1998 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. Relegation to Division Two (gulp). 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 against Wigan. 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 Gerald 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 Road 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 at Millwall, 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 watching 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.
Witnessing Michael Tarnat’s wonderful free kick at Ewood Park before embarking on the epic journey to Lokeren via Luton, Heathrow and Brussels. Upon arrival, enjoying a two hour taxi journey to the ground and 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.
Stuart Pearce taking charge of the club; playing goalkeeper David James upfront during a 1-1 home draw against Middlesbrough in May 2005, missing out on UEFA Cup football through a Robbie Fowler missed penalty. Only scoring 10 goals at home throughout the 2006/07 season, with Joey Barton being our top goal scorer - netting six goals. Bernardo Corradi, Georgios Samaras and Emile Mpenza. Sven Goran Eriksson replacing Pearce and City getting beat 8-1 to Middlesbrough at the Riverside. Thaksin Shinawatra buying the club for £21.5 million in June 2007 despite having been charged with corruption in Thailand and having his $2 billion assets seized. The City directors knew this and still approved the sale – knowing Thaksin had zero funds. Mark Hughes being appointed as manager – and then came the best deadline day we’ve ever known.
It’s the 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.
We went to the brink a couple of times. The Swales era. Who knows what could’ve happened if Kevin Horlock wouldn’t have scored that goal back in 1999. Or Paul Dickov. God only knows what might’ve happened had Sheikh Mansour not chosen City: at one point the club was borrowing money from the bank against television money that hadn’t yet been paid to City, just to pay the bills. City even asked former shareholder John Wardle if he could lend them money to pay the players. Thaksin was a fugitive on the run and nobody at the club really had much of an idea a) where he was and b) what was going to happen. The club was in a state – then came 4th August 2008. Sheikh Mansour – the seismic shift in the order of Manchester City Football Club. A defining date in the stature and future of the club.
I’ve just come back from my 10th trip to Wembley watching City. I’ve seen them win there seven times, with three losses. I’ve watched them win the FA Cup, the League Cup three times, the Community Shield and the Premier League twice – soon to be three times. How I wish I could go back in time and tell my 15 year old self – it’ll all be worth it. Everything will be alright. The loyalty you’ve shown - that never wavered and only strengthened through the relegations and humiliation - will pay off in the most flamboyant and elaborate way. One day the football club you support will be the envy of not only rival supporters, but other clubs and have the critics who really know their football salt, fawning and adoring.
When Mansour bought the club, his open letter to the fans stated, ‘we intend to build a team capable of sustaining a presence in the top four of the Premier League and winning European honours.’ The papers screamed the headlines FANTASY FOOTBALL: Manchester City, now rich beyond their wildest dreams, plan of handpicking the best players in the world to build a legacy the likes never seen before in the world football. No player is out of reach. Names were banded about – the word ‘project’ has never been so overused. It was an exciting time – but we never really believed how far it would go and just how these ambitions would come to fruition.
Those bad days, the really bad days, will never be forgotten. They’ll only serve to make sure I really appreciate and savour the best football I’ve ever watched at my football club. In a way, they affect how critical I am of the football we play now. It’s hard to be harsh when you’ve sat through half of the rubbish I have. Thousands of minutes of absolute tosh; football that bad it was hard to see the light back then. These are the heady, glory days I never thought I’d ever witness nor enjoy at Manchester City.
The Mancini era was as good as I thought we would get. Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli, Yaya Toure, Joleon Lescott, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Samir Nasri, Gareth Barry and David Silva. The 6-1 derby win. The win at Newcastle: absolute bladdered, celebrating with a load of Geordies who hated United almost as much as we do. 93:20 – quite possibly the single best ever moment we will enjoy as City fans because it involved not only winning the Premier League, but denying United of that in the final minute of the game. The FA Cup win bringing the banner down. The Mancini years laid the foundations for the club to build on towards an exciting era, the likes most Blues have never seen before. Manuel Pellegrini continued this, adding two League Cups and a Premier League trophy to the tally, but with the greatest of respect, it was more of an interim move until a certain Spaniard was available.
The here and now is this: Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are playing the best football ever seen in the Premier League. It’s inventive, creative and innovative. It’s hard work on the ball and even harder work off it. It’s probing, pressing and passing. It’s delightful, mesmeric and magical. Superlatives barely do it justice. Some of the old guard still play their huge part in it – Silva, Aguero and Kompany – but the new generation of recruits are having a huge say and playing their way into the history books. Leroy Sane, Bernardo Silva, Ederson, Gabriel Jesus, Kyle Walker, Danilo, Phil Foden, Brahim Diaz, Tosin Adarabioyo and Lukas Nmecha.
But perhaps most impressive of all has been the improvements Pep has made to players he inherited. Raheem Sterling, Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne, John Stones (post injury slump aside), Nicolas Otamendi and Fabian Delph. Even Aguero, whose work rate has improved massively under Pep’s reign. Otamendi is now the best centre back we have at the club and one of the best in Europe. De Bruyne – what can possibly be said that hasn’t already? He’s a remarkable box-to-box midfielder, who works tirelessly creating opportunities, with stunning vision, movement and passing. Sterling giving Aguero a run for his money with the amount of goals he’s scored this season. Fernandinho, possibly the most underrated player in the Premier League, he plays such a crucial role as our main defensive midfielder.
City are now a global brand. Gone are the days where I used to go on holiday and people used to ask who the football shirt I wore belonged to. When people used to believe there was only one football team in Manchester. I used to have to explain who I supported – that’s crazy. Supporting City used to be greeted with either laughter or the sympathetic head tilt.
‘Awwww, little City.’ Yes, I got that a lot.
Despite all the trophies, I think the moment that the change has hit me was only a couple of weeks ago. Going to Wembley, for the 10th time, and beating Arsenal 3-0 in the League Cup final, only to play them again just a few days later in the League and beat them again 3-0, is nothing short of astonishing. That’s a mark of how far we have come. I will never forget watching the Arsenal invincibles and being in awe of that team. Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira. They used to beat us – hammer us – consistently.
This time in particular was Wednesday 11th April 2001. I mentioned it before. Arsenal were apparently under strength – and they still scored four goals against us in the first 35 minutes of the game. Carlo Nash resigned to just picking the ball out of the net. We were hopeless: Arsenal were on a different level to us and we just chased shadows for 90 minutes. All we could do as fans was applaud the travelling side – at that point, they were the team I aspired to. That was the kind of football I wanted my team to play. Unforgiving, punishing, full throttle, captivating football. It would never happen.
But it has. Oh how it has. Goosebumps football. Standing ovation football. Imaginative, defining football - the likes never seen before in the history of English football. Beating Arsenal twice in a few days so easily, whether they are a shade of the team they once were, sent a psychological shockwave to me. This is what you wanted Emily. This is the football you could only ever dream about, being played by your football team, beating the opposition team you once applauded off the pitch instead of applauding your own team.
But it is hard to believe that’s my football team. Arrogance will never happen; we are all in awe of what is happening at City and accepting this is still a struggle for me. Surely not. Really? We are the best team in English football. Even saying it is weird!
How is it possible? I watched City get beat by Stockport County, Wycombe, Lincoln City, Blackpool, Wimbledon, Oxford United and Bury. I turned up and sat through the lot.
So don’t tell me I haven’t paid my dues and that I’m not loyal. I’ve visited 52 away grounds (I know that may not seem a lot, finances dictate that) singing Blue Moon at the top of my voice. Now we have people supporting us for the glory – one day the thought of that would’ve been laughable! My eldest, Vincent, has never seen City get beat. Out of all the games he has been too so far, including two cup finals at Wembley, he’s yet to see them get beat. How do I even begin to explain to him what we went through? I’ll show him the photos, the videos and the programmes. But you only truly know if you lived through it yourself. The pleasure off the pitch and the pain on it. The days of singing at the Platt Lane from the Kippax to try and keep us entertained throughout 90 minutes of dross. Those days may be gone, but for me will live forever.
I am an optimistic realist. I’m absolutely loving every single second of supporting the most dominant force in English football at the moment. It takes a bit of getting used to following the team that everybody wants to beat. It’s uncomfortable and doesn’t come naturally, but to hell with the haters. Two fingers to the green-eyed types that cite money as our biggest success. They only wish it would happen to their club.
But it happened to ours. Pep came to ours. It’s our football club breaking the records and wowing football fans with spellbinding play. It’s us that are blessed to watch it week in, week out. To watch Silva weaving his magic through midfield, De Bruyne floating a pinpoint ball in for Aguero, Ederson assisting from a goal kick and Sane dancing down the left wing. They play in sky blue, for Manchester City, in 2018. For us to admire, adore and applaud. Never has loyalty been so richly rewarded, so unequivocally deserved. Long may it continue. Long may we enjoy. If it all ends one day? At least it happened. We’ll be here no matter what. It’s all I’ve ever known.
We’re not really here - but we should be really, really glad that we are.
To Dave and Sue – thanks for the memories. In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, a huge part of this club and the humour that helped us fans through it all. Thank you.