What passed in between and particularly what passed in between minute 46 and minute 95 of the very last game of this never-to-be-forgotten trail of emotional carnage, will go down as simply the most heart-rending, coronary-inducing second half of professional football that even the good and battered folk of Manchester City have ever witnessed.
|Letter for Mr Lost Hope of Manchester|
This was not simply an attempt to rid ourselves of 44 years of hurt and exasperation; it was not simply a long awaited moment of glory in the sun; it wasn't just getting monkeys, little (red) devils and the inexorable weight of history off our bent shoulders: this was a battle made in Manchester, against the old enemy, an enemy who has rubbed our noses in the dirt, ridiculed us at every opportunity and, right up to the very last opportunity (for that is quite clearly what this was) written us off as a music hall joke and a bad taste in the back of the mouth. Suddenly, with a sonic bang the size of a meteorite storm, the mockery of three decades exploded in the faces of our tormentors. Just as the final ignominy of defeat in the cruelest possible way stared us all squarely in the chops, as the mockers prepared their grandest trumpeting of all, the world tipped swiftly on its axis and emptied them all into the car park at Sunderland.
How had it come to this? With an unorthodox goal from the foot of Zabaletta meant to calm the frayed nerves, our beloved City suddenly returned to its Benny Hill roots. We had seen it all so many times before, but here was a custard pie being prepared for us by Chef Fate that would drown the lot of us. We would surely cease to breathe under all that blubber and slime.
We had an unlikely equaliser (when did Lescott last do one of those?), a pantomime villain, whose shameful antics actually helped tot up the injury time that would later on come in pretty useful) and a familiar twist of the knife that transported us all back to the days of Raddy Antic in a split second. Mackie's downward header was perfect. I was back in my youth immediately, a time when anything that could go wrong at City generally did and in a way so spectacular, it was always impossible to shake it away.
Time moved on in its own comforting way. The agony would soon be over at least.
Mancini, an increasingly ragged, forlorn and spent-looking figure on the touchline, waved his arms like a threshing machine. Go forward, get up, go again, move your legs even if your brains are saying "get me out of this pit of hell". He swore blindly in Italian, then in English, unsure whether he was still in control of his mind. Run one last metre for the cause. As with Kevin Horlock in 99, most of us just sat, rooted, cemented to history, locked in with our tin drum and our tattered banner reading "Manchester City: Cup For Cock-ups, winners 2012, Winners yet again. Winners For All Time.". We were set to keep the trophy this time. My mind, a confusion of wild thoughts and diminishing hope, raced from Horlock to Goater to Dickov. It seemed so long ago, yet so fresh, now that City were revisiting Pandemonium County and skipping about reacquainting themselves with the furniture of disaster. We had reveled in our Jamie Pollocks and our Jason van Blerks before kick off. Thank God, never to see the likes of that again. Gone but not forgotten.
But here they were, knocking loudly on the front door, shouting through the letter box, "Hey it's us, Jamie and Jason. Let us in! We've brought cakes and everything!"
I could hear knocking, certainly, but it turned out to be my knees, my teeth and my heart. there was no Jamie Pollock at the door. No cakes. Maybe not even custard.
Two-two with ten man QPR, who'd have believed it possible? The team with the worst away record in the league, led by good old Sparky Hughes, leading at City, with their pristine home record. The words must have skipped through the head of Ferguson, preparing for for the sky interviews: the lack of class, the no-history, the noisy neighbours put a sock in it, the endless endless jibes about never recovering from a screw-up like this. Fergsuon it had been, who had spoken of Devon Loch and of hoping that something funny would happen.at the Etihad. Well here we were, all dressed up for a party, staring down the gullet of the biggest choke in football history. It was going to be funny but as usual not a single soul in the ground would be laughing. The joke, yet again, would be on us.
What occurred next defies proper description, but Ferguson will only have considered it funny, in the manner of strange, but not amusing. Not a chuckle will have passed those claret coloured lips, not a toot on the bordeaux-coloured hooter. Nothing. What occurred next scorched images into our subconscious that we will take to the grave with us. Every one of us, blue, red or neutral. For once the fates looked down on the heaps of pitiful, wrecked hopes, the old men staring glassy-eyed, the children blubbing, even the kid trying to dismantle his seat with a rolled up tshirt and the world tipped again. It tipped De Jong forward, dragging the legs of a man who has made a thousand and one meaty tackles to guide the ball carefully into the path of Aguero. It reached the Argentine, who had run himself into the ground, the superstar with the ego of Joe Bloggs. He touched the ball forward, backed by the primal screech of 48,000 lost souls. Once again, the wall of opposition defenders reared up in front of us like the breakwater at Devonport Docks. Ten men or twenty. It mattered little. There was and had been no way through QPR's sumptuous 15-0-0-0 formation all day long.
The ball jittered forward to Balotelli, a peripheral figure in these final excruciating weeks, but now came his moment. Like Dzeko, Balotelli now stood up to be counted. The apparently flaky, untrustworthy party boy with the penchant for bathroom barbecues, stood tall in the middle of the heaving scrum and played his part in the unfolding miracle. Falling off balance from a rugged knee to the backs of his legs, the Italian managed to prod it, staggering, back in to Aguero's path. The noise and the heat and the clamour gripped the whole place one more time. Minute 94 on the clock. Hearts not in mouths but somewhere on the floor, in the gutter, under our shoes. There was still a wall of red and white to pass. Nedum Onouha, of all people, standing firm like a brick barrier. The crowd sucked Aguero past the ex-City defender's outstretched foot, one twinkle-toed touch pressing the ball past the ends of Onouha's desperate flapping boot laces.
Time stood still. Darkness, light, darkness light, darkness, light. The very eye of the storm. The tumultuous noise was funnelled down into a vortex of tight emotion, into a tiny neat cube the size of an ant. Silence. Darkness, light, darkness, light. A trembling shadow cupping its hands over its ears and eyes. The scene blurred and flickered, as if the Gods themselves were preparing to batten down for one last seismic jump. Aguero steadied himself, looked up and unleashed an arrowing shot past Kenny's flailing left hand. And. In. To.
Back. Of. The.
How could they do this to us? Again.
The whistle went almost immediately. City's 44th goal attempt, in the 94th minute of the last game of the season to win the title on goal difference. Ahead of Them. And Him. The heroes stacked up in my flying mind: Zabaletta of all people with the first goal, his first goal of the season, a man of the old school of hit get hit dust yourself and move on; Yaya Touré, that giant galloping foreman in midfield, reduced here to a limping pedestrian and still popping the pass through for Zabaletta to score. On one bloody leg! Gareth Barry and his eternal bridesmaid's role, mopping up, mopping up, hoovering up, watching the big bird in the sky come to take his trophy away; David Silva, playing on through loss of form and shattered limbs to set up Dzeko's equaliser; Dzeko himself, discarded and ignored but bearing no grudges; Joleon Lescott breathing the biggest sigh of relief; the little thief Tevez, not at his best here, but what an impact he had made in the miraculous six-win streak that had seen us home; Clichy the unsung hero down the left engulfed in the giant safe arms of Joe Hart, that man of iron; and then the two main men: Kompany the rock at the back, strangely beaten here by Traore for the stunning second QPR goal but a fist pumping marvel all season long; and Aguero, for ever to be remembered for the goal that brought the house down, the goal that changed the course of football history just when we were resigning ourselves to More Of The Same.
And there was poor Brian Kidd. On the pitch again, just like that other time. And Mancini, the orchestrator of this grande festival of the insane, dancing into the arms of his staff like a marionette suddenly freed of its strings, wobbly legs and electric arms thrashing at the air. When he had stopped, he looked to the stands, maybe searching out his frail father, patted his heart and made a very Italian gesture, which Mancunians will translate as "I nearly shat myself there".
But it is a different world we wake up to today. One ripe with possibilities. Gone are the mocking voices, the brickbats, the music hall jokes, the pitiful droning of the Terry Christians of this world. The world has woken up to Manchester City and its wonky DNA.
It finally happened. In our lifetime and in his and its manner of deliverance has only served to make the wait all the sweeter. For those a little long in the tooth and those new to this drama alike, a cathartic moment of release from all those demons chasing us up hill and down dale.
Thank you, City, for carrying us all through such a sweet sweet hell.
|Sergio approaches the Mosh Pit|