Well the Watford game feels like so long ago now, but the first game of 2018 saw Pep keen to prove a point. After the draw at Selhurst Park, Pep went full strength – and the 3-1 win set City on their way again. Burnley next in the FA Cup, and despite the early goal, a superstar innings from Sergio Aguero saw the Blues sail through to face Cardiff with a 4-1 victory.
Another Cup game, this time against Bristol City, and Pep rotated but still managed to secure a slender 2-1 advantage to take to the return leg at Ashton Gate. Then came Liverpool.
I am never confident about going to Anfield. I don’t think I’ve met any City fan that is. But this season, I just felt that if we ever had a chance to get the win there, it was now. It’s been the season for breaking many records, so why not? They play open, probing football, which suits us to a tee, so why couldn’t we go there and get the win?
Much like water is wet and grass is green, the 4-3 defeat brought to an end our unbeaten run and chance of being ‘invincible’ this season. Did anybody actually really believe that would happen though? It was a crazy 10 minute period in the second half that saw City fall apart and Liverpool capitalise on uncharacteristic errors. I’m trying to brush over it and not be too harsh because, of course, at the time of going to press, we are still 12 points clear after a phenomenal season.
Newcastle next and the 3-1 win was convincing enough to put us back to winning ways, with a hat trick from Aguero. The returning leg of the Carabao Cup Semi Final saw City secure a place in the final against Arsenal with a 3-2 triumph, and a 2-0 win against a filthy Cardiff City side just days later sent us into the fifth round of the FA Cup to face our old foes Wigan at the DW Stadium.
So overall another fantastic month for City and it’s easy to underestimate just how difficult January can be. These games are coming thick and fast – the price you pay for cup run success. But it’s almost time for the Champions League knock-out games against Basel, and a very tough couple of weeks for the Blues with Arsenal in the Cup Final, in the League and Chelsea in the League all coming in the space of a week towards the end of February/early March.
It’s hard to believe that yet again we’re all talking about how a disgustingly reckless tackle has escaped without the punishment it deserved. Cardiff City’s Joe Bennett’s tackle on Leroy Sane was that brutal, the German’s leg practically bent as he went in studs up. The referee, Lee Mason, deemed the tackle only worthy of a yellow card. We now live in a football world where a tackle that horrific, which he seen Sane sidelined with ankle ligament damage, receives the same punishment as taking your shirt off does. How is that fair? It’s not. Something desperately needs to be done; it’s been a familiar sight so far this season and it’s continuing without many batting an eyelid.
But it’s been fantastic to see Aguero back in a run of form – despite the persistent whispers surrounding his potential departure this summer – and I’m gutted to see Sane sidelined for what looks like (at the time of going to press) the foreseeable future. Kevin De Bruyne has been up to his usual sublime tricks – that free kick against Cardiff City being a cracking example. Behave Kev! Good to see Bernardo Silva too putting in some exemplary performances of late too and really showing there are two Silvas at the club who can be just as magical. Excited to welcome Laporte on board and see what he has to offer – young and full of potential.
There have been a few question marks hanging over John Stones and his recent run of form; after coming back from his injury he’s made quite a few big, sloppy errors that have cost us goals. It’s so frustrating to see, because before he was out he was in a stupendous run of form and looked solid at the back next to Otamendi. I don’t like singling players out and I’m sure he’ll find his way back to that form, it’s just been slightly concerning to watch of late.
MAN LIKE DAVID
When everybody saw the team sheet for the Spurs game and realised David Silva was missing due to ‘personal reasons’, the rumour mill went into overdrive. Some of the rumours bordered on ludicrous, some were much more sinister.
In his own time, Silva came out himself and addressed the rumours. He thanked the club, his team mates and Pep for their understanding in the matter, and the fans for their well wishes. He then went on to explain that his son, Mateo, was born prematurely, and is fighting a daily battle to survive.
When I read this, I was gobsmacked. How he could even get on a plane to England in the first instance id beyond me. But to fly over and put in the kind of performance he did vs. Watford is nothing short of phenomenal. He must be in utter turmoil: people often think football is a matter of life and death, but a good dose of perspective can tell us otherwise. Football must be the absolute last thing on his mind. Being with his son and partner every precious moment and minute would absolutely be his priority.
I admire the way the club and Pep have handled Silva’s situation – but it doesn’t surprise me. When I worked at the club, I suffered a miscarriage. The club couldn’t have been more supportive. I don’t think they were to know just quite the extent it affected me – for years afterwards – but as an employer they were extremely sympathetic and sensitive to my situation and for that, I’ll always be grateful. It’s good to hear that stance is consistent throughout the club – from top to bottom.
He’s missed games to be with his family – and rightfully so. The club will always be here no matter what, that goes without saying. But amongst Silva’s trauma, he’s still managed to remain a consummate professional. He’s been travelling between Manchester and Spain to support both his team and his family and not once has he delivered a sub-standard performance during that time. It’s utterly remarkable. We all knew we were lucky to have a player of his calibre and trickery at OUR club, but through all his heartache to remain so dedicated to his work too, well, makes his really worth his weight in gold.
The vast majority of blues during his silence remained respectful to his privacy and need for time. The handful who speculated that he had cancer? Well, it beggars belief doesn’t it. Mindless idiots.
CITY WATCH PODCAST
It’s been another eventful month for the City Watch Podcast. I’ve actually missed the past couple due to being struck down with this horrendous flu that’s been doing the rounds – try cleaning shitty nappies and entertaining two under three year olds while suffering from that! It’s been a really rough couple of weeks, but I’m finally coming out of the other side now thankfully.
But before that we had our television debut at the Podcast. I’ve done bits and bobs of TV work in the past: I was asked to present a package on City once for North West Tonight a few years ago and it’s not exactly a medium I feel particularly comfortable with. Like most women, I am very paranoid about my looks. It stems back from being bullied at high school and needing a six hour operation on my jaw. So, despite my selfies, I am very insecure and feel much more comfortable behind a microphone or a keyboard.
So imagine our surprise when Liverpool Football Club TV got in touch with City Watch and Ian asking if they could come and film the Podcast and do a few interviews with us as a feature for LFCTV ahead of the big match? Ian, Jordan, Adam, Stuart and I headed to the XS Manchester Studios in Spinningfields in Manchester to conduct a ‘faux podcast’; basically we had to pretend to record our podcast while they filmed us. The two guys that came from LFCTV, Paul and Miles, were fantastic and we all had a really good laugh with them.
Despite feeling completely both out of my depth and my comfort zone, the final product was a delightful five minute package of the growing popularity of podcasts, along with a preview of the Liverpool-City game. If you missed it, the links to it are on both my Twitter and the @City_Watch Twitter account. What a great experience to be involved in though – and all of this, along with my contributions to the City Watch Podcast, have stemmed from writing for King of the Kippax again. I’m forever grateful to Dave and Sue for including my ramblings/rants/anecdotes and musings in their much-adored publication. I will always try and do them justice!
THE MANCHESTER/TRAFFORD POWER STRUGGLE
It feels like every month I’m talking about that lot next door. You know, the ones with the gobby Portuguese manager and the fans who mock us for having empty seats but can never be arsed to run up anymore because they’re stopped winning trophies? Oh, THAT lot. The ones who belittle us for the amount of money we spend on players despite playing £89m for Pogba (a former player of theirs – doh!), £90m for Lukaku and £450,000 a week for their latest acquisition, Alexis Sanchez.
But the hypocrisy that seems to run through the veins of everybody linked with that club is quite outstanding. Take Gary Neville for example. I (obviously) used to despise him when he played for United and when he became a pundit for Sky Sports I like others joked about cancelling my subscription. But he proved me wrong: he came across as a fair and balanced pundit, actually capable of giving praise to City and criticism to United when rightfully deserved.
But this season, it seems like the mask has slipped and true colours are shining through. For some reason, Gary seems to be sniping more towards City, with comments loaded with resent and jealousy. Perhaps he’s upset Pep chose City and they got lumbered with Mourinho? Perhaps he’s suffering from amnesia and fails to remember that United have long been the pioneers of spending big on players?
Or perhaps, like many United fans and other fans and pundits this season, he’s suffering from City Flu. In Gary’s case, symptoms include: harping on about how many trophies your club used to win, pointing fingers about spending money despite your club paying £450,000 a week to a new signing who was desperate to sign for your rivals and picking fault in a manager’s way of setting his team up to play, despite having been sacked from your one and only job as head team coach.
As if Martin Tyler’s commentary vs. Liverpool wasn’t bad enough; actually saying that Mane’s goal was ‘justice’ because of the red card he had received at the Etihad? The red card he had in fact rightfully been given due to his high boot ripping Ederson’s face apart. Neil Custis seems to be on a daily crusade to spread his anti-City nonsense to anybody stupid enough to listen, a la Duncan Castles and Matt Law from The Telegraph questioning the essence of Financial Fair Play because we want to pay Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte’s buyout clause (at the time of writing this, we just have). Yet, no similar questions asked to Liverpool when they paid £75m for Virgil Van Dyke? People think we’re paranoid, but the anti-City media agenda has never been stronger and more apparent.
But back to United and their ways. They simply can’t handle the fact that City are the better team and have no idea how to cope and deal with it. As I mentioned last month, they were used to being showered in success and trophies; they don’t like being forced to watch such uninspiring, average football.
It isn’t me being arrogant, of course. We couldn’t be arrogant if we tried. It’s the current Manchester-Trafford power struggle. The Sanchez saga: Sanchez wanted City, City wanted Sanchez. United want what City want and offered an unjustifiable amount of money for him. City rightfully stuck to their guns and morals and let Sanchez go to a team that are used to throwing money at problems. A club whose supporters, pundits and manager have the guile, stupidity and hypocrisy to mock us for spending despite their recent transfer endeavours.
There’s one thing money can’t buy. Class. Integrity. Respect. The past is yours, the future is ours.
A WALK DOWN WEMBLEY WAY
Once upon a time, I remember watching Joe Royle’s Everton play United in the FA Cup Final at Wembley. It was 1995: I was a 13 year old girl watching City play, well, not quite the most attractive football I’ve ever seen us play (am I being too polite?!) Although I was understandably thrilled to see Everton beat that lot 1-0 and lift the Cup, I was also hit with a bit of the green eye.
‘I’ll never get to see my team play at Wembley,’ I lamented. ‘I’ll never get to experience what it’s like to go and watch City play in a Cup Final, let alone win it.’
Then, four years later, I found myself watching my team at Wembley for the Division Two Play-Off Final against Gillingham. A day so overwhelming , so full of emotion and so important in the club’s history, I find it quite difficult to put into words quite how I feel about that day (I’m welling up just thinking about it).
Although it technically wasn’t a Cup Final in the traditional sense, it was monumentally crucial to City and the future of the club.
Fast forward 19 years and it’s almost astonishing to believe that I’m now planning my 10th trip to Wembley. Double figures. I’m not sure how I’ve gone from dreaming of a Wembley Cup Final to getting to visit the place 10 times – it’s unbelievable and we are so lucky to get to watch our team, play there so often (no Spurs no, that doesn’t count!).
What about all the memories we have made along the way?
That Manchester United Semi Final, which was on my birthday no less. Potentially the best birthday ever, one spent getting absolutely legless in the Green Man pub for the first time, following by more drinking on the roundabout and some very drunk tears at the final whistle. The FA Cup Final that subsequently followed against Stoke – the solitary goal from the big man Yaya Toure bringing the banner down after 35 years – and all the Jagerbombs that followed. All the celebrations in a drunken stupor, swinging off the bars on the Tube on the way back to our hotel singing ‘Oh Adam Johnson’ (!!!!) over and over again.
It was back down to Wembley just a few months later, in August, to face United again in the Community Shield – my first experience of defeat there. Say no more.
But we didn’t have to wait too long to go back again to play Chelsea in the FA Cup Semi Final. That meant more drinking at the Euston Tap, more cans on the roundabout and a 2-1 win, sending us through to the final – against Wigan.
How weird was that looking back? We had gone down for it with my good friend at the time, Mike, who was a huge Wigan fan. We had been mates for years – and teased each other over the ‘hand of Goat’ goal that helped City beat Wigan to the Play-Off Final back in 1999. To go from that to playing each other in the FA Cup Final, for us, was just baffling.
We stood on Wembley Way together just gobsmacked. It was a really surreal moment. All those years ago, joking to each other about Shaun Goater and Stuart Barlow and now, here we were, about to watch our teams face off in one of the biggest games of the year. Some blues even laughed seeing our rival shirts together and chanted ‘you’ll never be her husband’ (I was there with my fiancé at the time too, who was a blue). We even took Mike on the roundabout – he was the only Latic on there. We had such a laugh. But that was before the game.
Well, as for the match? Rumours afterwards were rife that Mancini had lost the dressing room and that was the players’ revolt. It was such a sickener though. When the heavens opened and that Ben Watson header went in just as we were all preparing for extra time – it was a gut wrenching moment. But I was genuinely happy for Mike. When we met him afterwards, he was crying his eyes out with happiness. We did Jagerbombs with him and had a great night. That was a horrific result though, there’s no mistaking that. Coming out of Wembley was awful. It still haunts me to this day (even though we’ve seen much worse!).
It was Sunderland next in the Capital One Cup Final in 2014. I had just split with my fiancé, who I had not only my season ticket with, but lived with and had just found out I was expecting a baby with. It was a bit awkward at the time because we had a lot of mutual City mates, but this Wembley trip was very different because being pregnant of course meant that I couldn’t drink.
I drove down on the day with my brother. We went and met up with some friends near the roundabout and I saw said ex-fiance getting drunk on his own – what mixed memories these Wembley experiences are bringing back! But two absolutely incredible goals from both Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure meant my brother was spinning me in the air with delight and the League Cup was ours. I decided there was no better way to announce my pregnancy than at Wembley with a pre-written handmade sign, so at the final whistle that was unveiled and the news was met with much bittersweet happiness from my friends and family.
A couple of years later and we faced Liverpool in the Capital One Cup Final. What a difference that time had made personally – I was heading down to Wembley for the ninth time with my boyfriend, Adam, and my then 18 month old son, Vincent. It was quite possibly the proudest moment I’ve felt; walking down Wembley Way carrying my little boy, having been there just two years previously with him in my tummy. I’d gone from going to Wembley on the piss with my mates, to going there and experiencing a family day out.
We had the most fantastic day. Vincent couldn’t quite walk, so we booked a hotel next to Wembley and took him round in the buggy at first (we even ventured near one of the allocated drinking establishments, The Crystal, although the less said about that place, the better!), but then as kick-off approached, we ditched the wheels and carried him round. We bumped into so many of our friends too, who all got to be a part of Vincent’s first Wembley experience. The game? Well, it was all about Willy. The goalkeeper that everybody had baulked at starting ahead of Joe Hart turned out to be the penalty shoot-out hero. Winning on penalties with Yaya Toure blasting the final one home was a dramatic end to a very emotional day – and walking out with my family at the end under the blue arch with another trophy was everything I’d dreamed of and so much more.
The most recent trip to Wembley came last year, in the FA Cup Semi Final. By this time, we had welcomed a brother for Vincent, Noel Sergio. But we decided that Noel was definitely too young to take and Vincent was with his Dad that weekend, so we opted for a weekend on the booze. We stayed at the same hotel again and went down on the Saturday, which confused many Chelsea and Spurs fans as we walked down to our hotel in our shirts on the day of their game. We met up that night with some of our City friends and went for a night into the capital, for food and cocktails. Oh what a night. There were some very sore heads the next day as we headed to the Green Man.
Drinking the day of the game was a struggle, but we graced the Green Man and the roundabout with our presence and reminisced about the times we’d been there before. This time there was no final: Arsenal beat us 2-1 after extra time with the deciding goal coming from none other than that man, Sanchez. But the controversial decision by the linesman to disallow a goal for City that should’ve stood, with the linesman claiming the ball had gone out of play when in fact it hadn’t, left many City fans feeling robbed.
I remember spotting a couple of men back at our hotel wearing FA blazers, so I took the opportunity to voice my disapproval. They were both Brighton fans, so excited at the prospect of facing us in the League next season, and while one of them seemed to dismiss us and walk away, the other actually took the time to have a talk to us. He was sympathetic to our cause (although that doesn’t give us the Final place we deserved), and admitted that the decision was wrong. He said the FA were implementing the use of VAR next season (this current season) as a trial to see how and if it works. He said obviously had it been in place that day, the goal would’ve stood and we would’ve been through to the final. Too little, too late.
Many memories made and many more to come no doubt. What a time it is to be a blue and what a journey we’ve had throughout the years. This time round, we will be going to Wembley with Vincent again, as Noel is too fidgety to take just yet. He wouldn’t sit still. This time Vincent will be able to walk down Wembley Way himself and sing City songs he’s learned by going to the Etihad. But there will come a time when we will all go together as a family, and hopefully a time too when my boys will go together with their friends and, eventually, their own family too.
For me, these Wembley trips represent significant points in my life. They each come with their own unique stories, much like everybody’s journeys down there. As long as City keep performing the way they do on the pitch, these trips will continue to grace our lives and live long in the hearts and minds of us all. My Wembley record stands at: played nine, won six and lost three. I’m hoping that perfect 10 gives Pep his first trophy of many as City boss – would be nice to see my Vincent watch his namesake lifting silverware again in a stadium that holds so much sentimentality for us all.
Hope you all have a fantastic time down at Wembley or wherever you will be watching the game. February is a reasonably favourable month for us at the moment: a trip to Turf Moor to face Burnley followed by Leicester at home in the League. Basel in the Champions League followed by Wigan away in the FA Cup rounded up with the trip to Wembley to face Arsenal in the League Cup. It’s definitely not a bed of roses, but it does feel like the calm before the storm if you look at March’s fixtures…
One thing is for certain – they’ll be plenty to talk about next month.
Same place, same time?