I was talking to a very good friend of mine, Ian Cheeseman, recently, speculating about the long-term future of City and the what-ifs. We were wondering what direction the club would go in and musing over the future of the current fan base if we ever won the Champions League.
I already know people who have left their season tickets behind, whether it be for financial reasons or personal, but then it made me think. Could I ever turn my back on my football team? Just the thought of answering the question made my heart drop.
What would I be without Manchester City?
The way of life
For around 25 years, I’ve planned my life around the football fixtures. Before children and responsibilities in general came along, I used to go home and away across the country following City. This meant almost every weekend was spent travelling and supporting my team. Whether it was London, Liverpool, Leeds or Leicester, I’d be there. Sometimes we’d stay overnight, meaning the weekend was taken up with following the Blues. 3,000 of you who have the loyalty points, the time or the supporters’ club memberships, still do this. You lucky sods.
I still mark the fixture list on the calendar (as soon as the rearranged television fixtures come out – no point beforehand!) and add on all cup games. If a friend asks to meet on a Saturday? ‘Let me just check my calendar,’ of course, largely meaning the fixture list. So City have dictated my social life for a quarter of a century already. When I say that out loud, it sounds really sad, doesn’t it? But it’s more than just a hobby – it’s a way of life. It’s all I’ve ever know for a huge chunk of my life. It’s all we’ve ever known.
These days, with having two boys under the age of four, finances and circumstances at the moment mean that we are sharing a season ticket, so we take it in turns to go to the home games. We have dropped down the pecking order points-wise for away tickets, so following City away is now once in a blue moon. Which is fine by me, as it makes it all the more special when we do get to do it. It’s unrealistic to think we could do any more right now all things considered. We can take Vincent to the games as he’s four and really enjoys it, but Noel is almost two and still hasn’t mastered the act of sitting still, so the thought of taking him for the sake of it and chasing him round the stand for 90 minutes isn’t really an appealing one.
It goes without saying that we never miss a game. So the ones we get to – fantastic – the others, like many other people, we watch on the television or on a stream. Does it make us any less of a fan? Absolutely not. These are the sacrifices we inevitably have to make as we make decisions throughout our lives. Living vicariously isn’t always possible when you have a budget to manage and two little humans to feed, dress and entertain. Most people have responsibilities, with decisions to make. A lot of the time, life is a balancing act. Trying to keep everything in balance, everybody happy, everything afloat, can prove so difficult. But the one constant has been City – and that won’t change any time soon.
It’s in the blood
I know so many people who were named after former City players. Colin, Mike, Francis…the memories of those legends of the past will forever resonate through generations: not only because of their skills on the pitch, but because fans during that time created a further legacy for them, by naming their sons after them.
It’s not an easy thing, thinking of what name to give your child. I remember when I was pregnant with my first born, I wrote down a list of potential names to consider and the pressure and practicalities of giving my child that name for the rest of their life weighed down on me with such a heavy burden. All of my friends and everybody that knows me knew it would have some City connection.
But he was always only ever going to be called Vincent. Captain Kompany has earned his place in City’s history with his typically solid, swashbuckling defending displays over the years. Some may remember him for his unfortunate injury record; I for one will only take away the positives, and there are so many to choose from. His attitude is faultless, his heart is golden and his heroics have helped towards many of our trophies. The signings of Stones and Laporte have inevitably seen the Belgian fall down the pecking order, but I’ll always be able to tell my Vincent the stories of just how pivotal a part his name sake played in the story of City’s successes over the years.
My second born was slightly tougher. I didn’t want him to have a name that he could potentially be one of a few in his classroom, so that ruled out Kevin, David, Joe. Many people said Sergio to me and laughed, but it did actually get to a point where I seriously started to consider it. I mentioned it to Adam and his response was laughter, of course. He’d definitely be the only Sergio in his class, that’s for sure! I thought Serg for short was pretty cool too, but, ultimately, we both decided to go for it as a middle name, with Noel (of Gallagher, Oasis, fame) as his first name.
So, with sons called Vincent and Noel Sergio, it’s pretty hard to escape which football team I support. That’s a conscious choice I opted for and one that will stay with them now for the rest of their lives. It’s in their blood. Vincent has been to quite a few games now; he’s seen us lift the Premier League trophy at the Etihad and the Capital One Cup twice at Wembley. Noel is yet to go because, basically, he doesn’t sit still yet! But hopefully one day, like many fans before them, our match day traditions and love for our team will strike a chord for them. One day they’ll be going in Mary D’s supping pints before the game. One day they might meet their girlfriend because of City. One day they may have a hand in naming their child after the next generation of City heroes. One day.
It’s that generational support that is so vital to the club. City are focusing so much at the moment on attracting the global and corporate fans. I’m all for that and I encourage that entirely. But what about the local fans? The fans that have been there since day one? The great Grandfathers, who took the Grandads, who then passed on their support to the Mums and Dads. The families throughout the years: aunties, uncles, cousins, sons and daughters that went week in, week out at Maine Road and now turn up at the Etihad without fail. That hardcore support that City relied on during the club’s plummet to Division Two, are still going, but will eventually, slowly stop. We have to make our best effort to pass on our allegiance to our children and encourage them to partake in our hobby just as passionately as we have done throughout the years to ensure the fan base remains. I want them to be able to enjoy it just as much as I have done – even when the day out was much better than the football!
It’s a different generation now though. The club has evolved beyond anything it ever looked like when I started going. The stadium, the players, the management, the football, the philosophy, even the mentality has started to shift. ‘Typical City’ was the tag we all used to refer to – the new ‘Typical City’ norm is winning. A winning mentality, a winning habit and winners across the pitch. The losses sting perhaps more now, because they’re so few and far between. The football is mesmerising, hypnotic but just as addictive. Like a habit so hard to shake, to quit, to walk away would be impossible. Not even the heaviest of hearts could make such a decision. It’s blue blood – that will never change.
Memories for life
So many memories I have throughout my life, are memories that I’ve made involving City. The good, the bad and the ugly. Every single boyfriend I’ve had with the exception of one have been City fans. I met my current boyfriend, Adam, through Twitter and this only happened because he was a blue. The first time we met was at the Etihad. Some of our best memories together have been shared there, falling in love and having our baby boy, Noel Sergio. We’ve celebrated many of our successes together and it’s one of the hobbies that we share and enjoy as a couple.
Ten trips to Wembley when at one point in my life I thought I’d be lucky to ever experience one. The first time securing promotion to the then Division One by the tip of our fingernails, the second beating United to pave the way to the third - ripping the banner down by winning the FA Cup. The nights out that have ended in spectacular hangovers, the days seeing the joy on my little Vincent’s bewildered face. Finding a copy of King of the Kippax at my Grandad’s house after he passed away from prostate cancer, only then discovering he read my work. Going to games with my Mum, Dad and brother as a family, together, before they divorced and Dad moved to Hong Kong. Celebrating our second Premier League title on the pitch when I was 20 weeks pregnant with Vincent, only to run on again, this time with him celebrating on his knees arms aloft, after our third title win. Travelling down to Stamford Bridge with Adam’s Mum and Dad on my birthday and telling them an hour before the game that I was pregnant with their third grandchild.
I’ve only scratched the surface. Every match brings different memories – and there have been hundreds. Whether with friends or family, strangers or colleagues, football has this often unique way of unifying people. It’s tribal, it’s infectious, but, ultimately, we’re all family. It’s a bond we all share, a tie that binds us. What would I be without these memories? Where would my life have taken me? Who would I have met? Would I be happy?
The goose-bumps, the sighs, the eye rolls, the agony and the ecstacy. The bruises, the aches, the sore throats and the limbs in the celebrations. The rivalries and the harmonies. I’ve experienced every emotion possible following City; I’ve invested my heart and soul to the club. The results define your mood every weekend – who was that guy who said football wasn’t a matter of life and death, it was so much more? Ah, yes. Well, you’ve got to say, he makes an excellent point.
The opportunities it’s created
As I’ve written about previously, I first started writing for King of the Kippax when I was 15 years old and still at high school. It was largely down to Dave and Sue that I continued down the path of writing. I loved English at school and I knew I had to do something in life connected to it: I was writing all the time in my spare time, so it made sense to try and pursue it in some way. The encouragement and confidence that Dave and Sue gave me inspired me to eventually go to university and study a degree in Sports Journalism.
It was my passion for everything City that extended into my writing. I wrote opinion pieces, player profiles, match reports, features and about personal experiences. I was more than capable of writing impartially about other teams and still am, but it was all things blue that kept me up until midnight. I sent off work and wrote voluntary for many different organisations, I was invited onto radio programmes by the BBC and the now defunct Key 103 (now Hits Radio). I wrote match reports for the Mirror and articles for Football Fancast.
After I graduated and had the weight of not only years of voluntary media experience, but a recognised qualification too, it was working on BBC Radio Manchester’s hit City radio show, Blue Tuesday, that led to my job at City. I worked there for three years: I got to interview all the first team squad, to celebrate those trophies with them and to help out many worthy charities with signed club merchandise. I have many unbelievable memories that I will treasure from during my time there.
Since then, my children have become my immediate priority and focus. But I still take great pleasure in writing for King of the Kippax and have been lucky to have worked alongside my friend Ian on the City Watch Podcast, an iTunes Top 10 Sports Podcast. I still dip a toe in the water whenever I can and writing will always be one of my favourite hobbies. Who knows, perhaps in the future, I may have an opportunity to revisit it as a career. But, without my club, the love, knowledge and passion for my team, Dave and Sue and the unwavering support from Ian, I wouldn’t have even thought about going down this career path, and for that I have to be grateful.
The people you meet
For me, this is one of the most important parts. Without City, there are a lot of truly wonderful people that wouldn’t be in my life. I have met so many friends who I have only met because they are City friends, and their friendships have actually become stronger over time than many of my friends whom I have known for many years.
A lot of people criticise social media, but it’s played a huge part in being able to connect with so many fellow fans and meet up with them at games. I love meeting people I follow on Twitter at games. We’ve all discussed it many times and there’s just no way that our paths would have ever crossed in life had it not been for City. I’ve met fans from across the country, even across the world. When we went out to Dubai, we met up with a few blues out there and watched the game at their Official Supporters’ Club. If I ever happened to go on holiday during the season (usually a big no-no!), the first thing I’d do is find out where their Supporters’ Branch is to be able to go and watch the game.
It was because of my family, namely, my Uncle Bob and my brother, Simon that I decided to support City. But as the years have gone by, friends and colleagues have become so important in my life. I’ve already mentioned Ian: he’s a genuine, loyal and deeply passionate person and by far the biggest blue I know. I’ve known him for almost as long as I’ve known Dave and Sue, who are both truly caring, wonderful and generous people, for whom I’m always grateful for publishing my musings.
Twitter is full of amazing, funny, brilliant people who I’m lucky to call friends. Maddie, Abbie, Nicki, David, Dan, Kathy, Nicola, Juli, Barbara, Anne, Richard, Nathan, Alan, Ryan, Deb, Samantha, Jenny, Rach…I could write a paragraph of names and smile thinking about all the memories I’ve shared throughout the years, both individually and collectively, whether at an away game, or at Wembley, or at the Etihad.
To you, reading this, those names probably mean nothing. You will have your own band of friendships that you’ve formed down the years going to City. Or perhaps you go to every game with your Mum, your Dad, your children or your partner. Those rituals, those routines, those experiences that fill your heart with so much joy (and sometimes, pain), you wouldn’t swap for anything. Imagine if you didn’t have that. You may have also lost a precious soul who was a blue and that will continue to happen: we’re all not getting any younger, so that’s why it’s so important to encourage all the young blues to carry the news. Their legacy can be their future.
I’ve reached a conclusion. I couldn’t remotely imagine my life during the season without City.
Times are hard, money is tight and people are being stretched even more than ever. This leads to having to make tough, heart-breaking choices. Like I said, we share a season ticket at the moment, because our children are both young; we can’t afford to have two and our childcare situation means that more often than not, we have to alternate going to games. I know a few people who do that.
I know people who are not as fortunate and can’t afford to go to games at all. Or people who have given up their season tickets because they feel like the club is moving too far away from their core working class support, towards attracting the corporate clientele. I also know people who have moved abroad and have to work their lives around not only the fixture list, but factoring in time differences to be able to make kick offs to watch the game. The club may be attracting a new, global fan-base: they have to, to help with merchandise revenue, but there have been plenty of ex pat and foreign blues there long before the money started rolling in.
I also, sadly, know blues who don’t think foreign fans count towards being genuine supporters. They are no friends of mine. Unfortunately, as well as meeting plenty of fantastic, genuine City fans, you do meet the odd dickhead along the way. I’m sure you know who you are, and thankfully, social media has plenty of ways to prevent such people from engaging with you, if you so wish.
All this passion, this dedication, this tribalism. All this energy and effort directed towards a football team. But it’s not just a football team. It’s City. It’s all we’ve ever known. It’s all we ever will know.
I’ve already mentioned that, without City, I wouldn’t have met my boyfriend, Adam. I had a season ticket with my ex, Chris, Vincent’s Dad. So, without City, I definitely wouldn’t have the two beautiful, healthy children I have today.
Now, if that isn’t something to be truly thankful for, I’m not sure what is.