It’s a bit of a surreal feeling trying to write my article in the middle of July. I should’ve found some time to sit down just as the season ended, while my feelings were raw, but the truth is I’ve had a relentless few months, and this is the first bit of time I’ve had to gather my thoughts and put pen to paper. Even now, to turn black and white into colour, I’m currently sat 37,000 feet in the air on an Emirates a380 plane, somewhere between Dubai and Bangkok, heading to see my Dad. Free time is a rare thing with two young children, and with my youngest asleep next to me, I had to grab the opportunity with both hands to reminisce about that colossal season and to look forward and speculate as to how we remotely attempt to follow up both 100 points and treble-winning seasons.
I’ll talk about summer first, because as incredible as last season really was, it didn’t half take a hit on me, for many reasons. For the first time in my life, I have been glad of the summer break, and the past couple of months have been a breath of fresh air. We’ve enjoyed great amounts of family time together. We went on our annual holiday to Cornwall, and spent two weeks there building sandcastles, swimming in the sea, watching remarkable sunsets, eating fresh fish, drinking wine and beer and making memories for life. We got really lucky with the weather too, as we went mid May and all bar one day was wall-to-wall, glorious sunshine. It seemed that the majority of June was a complete and utter washout, so I’m relieved it didn’t rain on our parade.
But, despite the summer months not quite living up to the standard set weather-wise last summer, we’ve had a truly wonderful time together. My eldest, Vincent, has now finished nursery for good and is starting school in September, with my youngest, Noel, looking to start nursery at a similar time. It’ll be a huge period of change for us, so I’m just trying to make the most of the time we have together and savour it as much as possible, because once they start school, that’s it. I chose to have these early years with them both, I felt like I’d only live to regret it if I didn’t and I can’t imagine how bad a feeling that would be, as they already grow up far too quickly anyway without having looked back once it was too late at the what ifs. It’s also an exciting time for me, as it means that I can look at my options too and see which direction I’d like to go in once I’m ready to go back to work. We live our lives to live, and I really feel like we’ve squeezed the juice and are raising two very happy, sociable, smart little boys. I couldn’t be prouder: as much as I love City, of course they’re my priority and always will be.
So we’ve just enjoyed a couple of days in Dubai and are off to Thailand to spend a week in the sun with my Dad and his wife out there. He has a few different bases in the Far East: Shenzhen, Xiamen and Bangkok, the Chinese bases are for work and the Thai apartment is more for relaxation. The plan is to have a couple of nights in Bangkok, then head for the beach to soak up some rays and ride some jet-skis. Our youngest is with us, while my eldest is on his annual holiday with his Dad. I am lucky to enjoy a very amicable relationship with my ex, one thing I’m grateful for, and he sends me photos and regular updates during the one time a year he enjoys time away with his boy. These nuclear families are becoming more of the norm nowadays than the traditional ‘married with kids’ of past years, although it goes without saying that I wish they were just as common.
So far, I’ve really enjoyed the switch off from football and, apart from the transfer news I can honestly say the detox has done me the world of good. Time in the sun, having sand between my toes, the waves soaking my skin and the sound of my childrens’ laughter filling my ears has been exactly the kind of break that I didn’t really know how badly I needed it until it came around. I almost feel bad admitting it, I usually hate summers with no football. How brilliant was last summer with the World Cup?! But this season left me with a very different feeling, and I’m sure I’m not alone in it and I have no shame either in admitting it. I’ve needed the space to reset and clear my head after the stress that came with the run-in last season, but it won’t be long now before we’re getting ready to do it all again.
WE ARE LIVERPOOL. THIS MEANS MORE
Let’s go straight to the end and try and get to the root of explaining just why last season left me so shook. A Carabao Cup final win against Chelsea, an FA Cup final mauling of Watford and a neck and neck Premier League-winning campaign meant that our beloved blues enjoyed a historic domestic treble win. Of course, the latter as we all well know, was much more of an endurance test. In fact it got to the point where my enjoyment was being replaced by an emotion I wasn’t really familiar with following my football team – dread.
The title race between us and Liverpool turned a bit into the stuff of nightmares for both sets of fans of the teams involved. A thriller for the neural undoubtedly, but as the weeks headed towards the business end of the season, we were constantly leapfrogging each other in the League. The battle became stressful, toxic and tedious.
Ever since the bus incident last season, when Liverpool fans battered the City team coach with bottles and bricks as it headed to Anfield for the Champions League quarter-final – our relationship with Liverpool fans on the whole has deteriorated significantly. Jibes on social media quickly turn into nasty and bitter arguments, with both sides trying to gain the upper hand with petty point-scoring and entirely unnecessary insults, which often turn personal. When the title race really heated up, so did the rivalry. Growing up I was used to watching the United – Liverpool rivalry from a safe distance, but with United favouring a sixth-place finish these days, it’s City that are embroiled with Klopp’s Reds in the bitterest of battles for top honours. City were pitted as the only team that could save everybody from a fate worse than death – Liverpool winning the Premier League for the first time ever. The celebrations would go on for eternity, they’d never let it be forgotten – nobody in the history of mankind could possibly let this happen. Could you imagine? Do you even want to contemplate what it would be like?
I should’ve loved every second season of last season. Watching Pep’s usual brand of brilliant, ingenuiative, ground-breaking football is always exhilarating, but towards the end I was just wishing it was over. I know how bad things have been with United over the years, but I don’t remember it being that toxic with them during the 2011/12 title run-in. I also don’t remember it being anywhere near as bad with Liverpool during the 2013/14 ‘Gerrard slip’ battle. For this season, most Liverpool fans did what all football fans would’ve never thought remotely possible – they became even more unbearable.
Let’s also give a mention to that ridiculous slogan of theirs – we are Liverpool, this means more. How on earth does anything mean more to you? What gives you the brass neck and audacity to say that your football club’s achievements mean more to you than mine? I will tell you for an absolute fact that they don’t. It’s yet more vitriolic bile from an arrogant club who actually believe that their accomplishments in football mean they’re better than any other team. Let me tell you something – they don’t. Even by winning the Champions League, they thought that was a bigger achievement than winning the domestic treble – it isn’t. I’m no fan of the Champions League: I think the fact two teams made the final , that haven’t been Champions in their own domestic League for many, many years makes a mockery of the whole value of the contest. It’s a UEFA corrupt cash cow and I have no personal desire as a fan to win the thing, although I’m well aware next season, it’ll probably have to be Pep’s main focus, seeing as it’s the only silverware to now allude him during his time at City.
I even saw a couple of Liverpool fans wildly suggest that their second place tally of 97 points was worthy of them being awarded a special trophy in itself. Let’s make this abundantly clear in the slim event of any doubt – in the words of ABBA, the winner takes it all. There are no prizes for second place, no matter how desperate you were to triumph. A point difference still equates to a point – and don’t forget, if you think you came close, United missed out back in 2011/12 on goal difference. So take it the way us City fans would’ve had to, on the chin, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but by acting up and spitting dummies out, it only serves to make you look a bit of a, well, a dickhead.
With the upcoming season’s curtain-raising Community Shield being against them, I fear somehow the battle may have only just begun. We were both light years ahead of the rest of the Premier League last year, and I personally don’t believe any other team has done enough to convince me over the course of the summer through signings that the gap will be closed by anybody else. But, with VAR being introduced next season, it will be interesting to see how that affects all teams – particularly Liverpool, who some might say got more than their fair rub of the green last season when it came to penalty decisions going their way. Even with VAR – and we all know the drama that brings with it (Spurs and Raheem Sterling, anyone?), I still think Liverpool will be there or thereabouts – but I think we will be better, more so than last season, particularly as prayers have finally been answered and we have Fernandinho’s rotation partner/successor, Rodri.
PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW
Something else that happened last season that took away from my enjoyment of it all was the news of Vincent Kompany’s departure from the club. I know it wasn’t necessarily a surprise for most concerned, but the news, coming on the morning after the FA Cup win that sealed our treble triumph, took me from flying to forlorn in a nanosecond. I think it’s affected me more than it should and I’ve spent the time since his announcement trying to rationalise why that could be.
I tried to put this into words on one of Ian Cheeseman’s Forever Blue podcasts and it left me very emotional. Like most people, City have always served to be the one constant in my life. No matter what I’m going through, I have always relied on City as a distraction or even to a certain extent, a purpose in life. City have always provided me with a sense of belonging, even when I’ve felt unsure and lost about which direction to turn, decisions to make or what to do. When Kompany joined City back in August 2008, I was still at university studying my degree in Sport Journalism. Throughout his time at the club I have: graduated, got engaged, travelled around the world, got my dream job, found out it really wasn’t my dream job, split up with my fiancé, got pregnant, been a single Mum, met somebody new, been with him for almost five years and had a second child. That’s without mentioning every single phenomenal moment that I’ve been through with City: all the trips to Wembley, the Aguero moment, the 100 point season, THAT Kompany goal.
Not only have City been my constant through all of those indescribable moments, but so has Kompany. I’ve put the Belgian on a pedestal pretty much ever since his arrival at the Club. I’ve had faith in him even when the vast majority wrote him off and told him to call it a day, ‘if he would’ve been a horse he would’ve been shot by now.’ I’ve fought his corner time and time again: I’ve believed in his abilities, his vision and backed his determination because he’s been there in my life at a time where I was low too. He’s led City to some of their biggest triumphs and been a figurehead and role model for many throughout that. It isn’t just because I named my eldest after him! Without even knowing about it, Kompany’s qualities and moral compass has inspired me to be a better person when times were hard and I needed a sense of direction. What would Vinnie do? He’d never give up, never give in, that’s what he’d do. So neither will I.
I almost feel like it’s a real coming of age moment for me, despite already being 37 and middle-aged. I’ve settled down with my partner, we have two beautiful children and we continue to support City together and encourage our children to follow suit. Without really knowing it, I feel like Kompany was my stabilisers in life and now it’s time for me to close a certain chapter and look forward to what the future may hold in a different aspect and new chapter of my life. A lot of life can be psychological and we often bottle up how we feel about certain things and put on a brave face. I feel like I can now finally let go of certain elements of my past and move forward in earnest. Although initially I couldn’t really imagine a City without Kompany: as a captain, he’s been there through some of the club’s most pivotal moments. He’s led us to victories through grit, guts and determination and dragged us through important wins. I know that no one player is bigger than the club – I am a huge advocate of that. But as a captain and human being, he’s utterly irreplaceable.
But he still has plenty of personal ambition and dreams yet to fulfil and I commend and admire him for that. He couldn’t have left on a bigger high. Our loss is Anderlecht’s gain and I’m sure every blue will be following his progress with a vested interest. Now David Silva has announced that this will be his last season at City and we all know who will be next…Mr 93:20™. All good things must come to an end: it’s the changing of the old guard and the beginning of another exciting era at City, we have to be nothing but grateful and thankful for the part these players have played in the history of our beloved club and the imprint on its history they’ve left. It’s just this one, Vincent Kompany, played a part in a way in a way I never thought possible, and the testimonial game – well, I’ll probably need a full box of tissues to even stand a chance of coping.
A LITTLE RESPECT
I realise that it probably sounds ludicrous to have such a negative tone to an article that essentially should be all about celebrating City’s historic domestic treble (the club can call them Fourmidables™ all they want, but does anybody really count the Community Shield?) It’s not only been the battle with Liverpool fans that has been tiresome, but the media too. Hell-bent on tarnishing City by any means possible, they have done all they can to try and discredit the Blues’ achievements.
It’s nothing new; it’s been going on for seasons now. Thankfully, Raheem Sterling had the intelligence and guile to call the media out for the part they’ve played in constantly harassing and bullying him with their ridiculous non-stories of him shopping in Primark or Poundland, but it’s the tip of the iceberg. Last season, it was constant articles claiming ‘exclusives’ about City’s apparent FFP wrong-doings and foul play – which, depressingly, didn’t even stop after our 6-1 FA Cup victory.
I shouldn’t take the bait anymore. I am slowly becoming immune to it after becoming accustomed to the obligatory negative media takes after something positive happens to City – it’s as predictable as Liverpool fans are unbearable. But it’s time to take a stand. Everybody wondered how City could possibly follow on from that truly remarkable 100 point season – how could we top a campaign where we were head and shoulders in front of the rest of the teams in the Premier League? Where records tumbled and teams were swept aside by a Pep side so majestic, so delightful, with a brand of football that could only possibly be admired and adored?
We topped it by retaining our League title and completing a domestic treble – the first ever club to do so. By winning the Carabao Cup, the FA Cup and the Premier League, we became history makers and record breakers yet again. But for me, it was the manner in which we won the League that should truly be applauded and demands nothing by the utmost respect for anybody worth their salt who understands and watches sport.
For a team to win the last 14 games of a season in a row, to still be competing in all competitions as seriously as possible by using positive squad rotation (and not sacrificing a Cup like Fergie used to do) until our Champions League quarter final VAR knock-out, is nothing short of astounding. To deal with that level of pressure and to be aware that the finest of margins in any situation or alternation during every 90 minute battle could result in possible defeat and the advantage being given to Liverpool, is something only the finest of sportsmen with the strongest of mentalities can cope with. How I’d love to pull up the minority of City fans who actually threw the title towel in during December – try keeping the faith eh boys and girls?
The title race became a bare knuckle brawl, with the final few games, be it Liverpool or City playing, all nerve-shredding and massively anxiety-inducing. I’ve never hoped for an opponent to at least take a point off a team before, just to try and alleviate the pressure even a tiny bit. It became suffocating and stressful. Eventually you realise that it’s best to just try and focus solely on what your team are doing – after the 1-0 win against Liverpool at the Etihad stadium, the title was always ours to lose. But to have the focus, resilience and determination to win every single point available to us throughout those 14 games is what has impressed me by far the most out of anything we achieved last season. If that was any other team, the media and critics would be fawning at the outcome. A slip, a mistimed tackle, a shot off target instead of on – as displayed with the John Stones goal-line clearance against Liverpool and the Sergio Aguero goal against Burnley – it was a title race of the finest margins – but to come out on top after being placed under such immense tension and to hold their collective nerves – makes me proud beyond belief.
It took a while for our triumphs to sink in, probably because the final few weeks of the season were so busy for me. BBC Radio Five Live kept asking me to go in the studio to discuss the title run-in, more often than not opposite a Liverpool fan, to try and invoke some form of ‘radio banter’ between us. But, as it happened, Lizzi Doyle turns out to be in the minority of being an unquestionably and thoroughly decent Liverpool fan, so it was hard to be pitted as a rival in her company, when all we could do is respect each other and say just how badly we both wanted the Premier League title win. I understand that they’re yet to win it, but just because we have - doesn’t make it any less special.
In fact, this season’s win is right up there for me with being the sweetest title win yet. The Aguero moment stands alone in Premier League history for being quite possibly the biggest adrenaline rush I’ve had in my life (giving birth is a very different feeling, a different kind of adrenaline, so don’t come at me for that!), and I’m not sure that will ever be beaten – although the Kompany goal against Leicester probably comes second to that. At the time I’ll admit, the rush I felt did feel 93:20-esque, that dizzying euphoric, taking-you-to-the-strastosphere hysteria that can only come when a hugely important goal is scored. When the ball hit the net for that goal, and everybody in the stadium realised a) what they’d just had the privilege of witnessing and b) what an important goal it was in our push for the title, the roof came off the place. Let’s not get me started on Komps again, I can’t. But - what a goal.
The phone calls continued and I found myself on BBC Radio Five Live – to my complete surprise I might add – quite regularly. My poor Mum was coming round at 6am on a Monday morning to mind the boys, who were both still snoring, while I was jumping in my car at the crack of dawn to beat the traffic to Salford Quays to go live on air. Then BBC Radio Manchester started to ask for me too and, by the end of the season, I was on BBC Radio One too. It became really busy and really crazy and completely unexpected too might I add. I was doing this alongside Ian Cheeseman’s Forever Blue podcast too. The final day climax was the day after we’d won the League: I did Five Live, Radio Manchester - then back down a floor to Five Live for the rest of the show. This was all with the worst hangover I have had in a long, long time. The decision to watch the City-Brighton game at City Square in the sunshine with a load of mates and far too much beer seemed a good one at the time – although I’m sure I only drank that much to try and calm my nerves. It had definitely been that kind of a season.
The work didn’t stop there. We have our annual holiday to Cornwall every year at the same time in May – which meant missing the FA Cup final. We watched it down there of course, and celebrated with the boys on the beach afterwards, but the media requests kept coming in. I managed to do phone interviews while I was down there, I even did one for BBC Radio One while sat on Fistral beach, which was quite surreal. The last one I did, for BBC Radio Manchester, involved me jumping out of the car the day after the parade, to talk about what made me proud of Manchester. Of course, it was City and their incredible achievements. I’m at a point in my life now where I am starting to think about what I might do with my life once my children start school and nursery respectively, and it’s given me food for thought. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d ever be able to go back to my media career after having children: I’m not sure why, maybe it’s a confidence thing. But, since doing podcasting for the past couple of years, this has given me a bit more self-belief when it comes to whether I’m good enough to put myself out there and speak passionately about the team, and sport, I love. It felt quite ridiculous, little old me, sat opposite Nicky Campbell and Rachel Burden, discussing City. Needless to say, it made my parents very proud!
But because I was so, so busy during those weeks, then away on holiday, then the FA Cup final, Kompany’s revelation and the parade, it honestly took a while for me to digest the magnitude of City’s triumphs. I almost needed to take a big step back from everything, from life, to just sit and take a few moments, to process it all. It was hugely overwhelming. The stress of the run-in had taken over in a big way, I’d even been struggling to sleep (I’m sure I’m not the only one) with it all, so for it to all reach a dramatic conclusion and be resolved in such a remarkable way, it did take a while to come back down to earth again. But it’s been nice to be able to enjoy much less stressful weekends: drives out to the seaside, where doses of Vitamin D make your endorphins dance and sleep is welcomed back like a baby lying on fresh sheets. It’s been the most perfect, blissful summer. I’m just not sure if I’m ready to do it all again just yet…
As usual, the only person I’m trying to kid here is myself. I’ll be there with bells on ready to do it all over again. But let’s take a second to think about what life would be like if it would’ve gone the other way…
Do they even have internet in Timbuktu?