Wednesday, May 16, 2012

IN OUR LIFETIME

The season that started with a rocket off the right foot of Sergio Aguero against stubborn promoted Swansea City finished with a rocket off the right foot of Sergio Aguero against stubborn promoted Queen's Park Rangers. Perfect symmetry in a 10 month period that felt anything but planned out.

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
I kept the shoes that I ruined at Wembley in 1999, ripped and stained from leaping through twelve rows of ancient wooden slatted seats and the airborne cocktail of a thousand and one drinks, as a badge of honour that I had been there the day the world went mental. That my beloved Manchester City have now outdone even those moments of tragi-comic farce is quite simply beyond belief. Through the shredder one last time, but this time a proper shredding, a proper mangling of the senses to the point that your brain, your soul, your entire crumpled body cannot take any more punishment.

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.

When all seemed lost in that blurred, tear stained 92nd minute with the deathly fingers of despair gripping coldly at our hearts, a twist of the giant familiar frame of Edin Dzeko brought our attention snapping back to the pitch, littered with tired and wasted bodies. Minds numb, legs turning to jelly, the confused noise of despair and anger and heartache echoing around the ground. A helicopter hovered above to take bird's eye shots of our horror (a sparkling new angle on despair) or, as Gareth Barry wondered quietly to himself, to lift the trophy off to the North East. Enter Edin Dzeko, the man ill-served by City's delightful chicken tikka taka silver service football. The man who feeds off crosses had finally been given one, served on a plate direct from the corner quadrant by that little left foot genius David Silva. In the tumult, there was no time to feel sorry for Dzeko, to wave farewell to a player possibly banging in his last meaningful action in a City shirt after a stalled sky blue career. We were all still far too busy feeling deeply sorry for ourselves. What was this last tremulous insult to our battered senses? A meaningless injury time goal just to make it even more painful when the final whistle went? One more strung out tease for us all to choke on?

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.

Got
Meantime, the game in Sunderland had finished. Happy clappies were beginning to get down to the serious business of the biggest piss take in British football history. There was even an old man with half a teddy bear on his head. It was all happening. Ferguson meandered half clapping, half looking around, that face of disbelief at the never-dared-trust-in-it news. More out of habit than need, he tapped away at his watch, as if he might also bring a game 200 miles away to an immediate close too.

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.
  
The.                


Back.                     Of.                                                                                      The.


Net.

+

Cue uproar
Light. Dark. Light. Dark. Light. Dark. LIGHT! White light. ferocious white heat and light engulfed us all like a fireball. Blazing, eye-piercing light, dazzling tumultuous light. A feral scream that had been building for 44 years. Floating, screeching, running, pedalling, paddling, flying, soaring, roaring incredulity. A bees nest. A time-lapse of a giant heap of ants the size of Kilimanjaro. A mosh pit, a giant heaving mosh pit of crumpled, exhausted humanity, dragging out whatever they had left inside and spluttering it, coughing it, vomiting it out. Bubbling fizzing incredulity. Bodies everywhere, on the pitch and off, in front rooms and bars, horizontal, climbing the walls, leaping, flying bodies.

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


11 comments:

  1. I've posted this comment elsewhere, the QPR match was indeed a microcosm of what the last 44 years has been for City fans.

    The first 45 minutes represented the ealry season optimism, the hope that this season would see City win something more than just the toss at the start of a match.

    The second 45 minutes represented the dashing of those hopes and dreams, the crushing disappointment of daring to hoep that City could be, would be successful. This usually occurs around Christmas or after an early round FA Cup exit.

    The 5 minutes time added on represented the arrival of Sheik Mansour and Roberto Mancini who have consigned "Typical City" and "Cups for Cock-Ups" to the dustbin of history and have overseen the emergence of Manchester City v2.0

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lovely stuff. If you want an indication on how 'Typical City' is dead, here's mine.

    When Kevin Horlock scored at Wembley in 1999 I have never given the side more abuse. "Too f'king little too f'king late, f'king typical of you shower of shite", or words to that effect. Dickov's goal 4 minutes later was atypical City, snatching victory from defeat.

    On Sunday when Dzeko scored I bizarrely felt confident. I knew we'd get one chance, and I knew we had the quality added to the desire of 99 to take it. That's the new Typical City. We may suffer some misfortune along the way, but we are now winners, and may that remain the type of club we are for years to come.


    PS - here's mine! - http://haggisinwonderland.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/my-fever-pitch-moment.html

    ReplyDelete
  3. Colin Is The KingMay 16, 2012 at 6:13 AM

    How to obtain legendary status in 10 seconds, copyright S.Aguero...you know, we've not got a poor record against United in a direct competition for a trophy or final...1926, 1968, 1970, 2011, 2012 against 2010.

    Truly a season that will never, ever, be forgotten. Thank you Sheikh Mansour, Khaldoon and management staff, Roberto Mancini and playing staff.

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  4. This post is the Aguero goal of posts - you may never better it. As Tyler would say "Drink it in". Brilliant Simon!

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  5. The last three paragraphs are as perfect as anything that has ever been written about City. It is a sweet hell, isn't it?

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  6. Great great great article. Am now preparing a class action against the club for severe trauma. Bless them. Bless them all. I was in the pub - we have no TV, and the web keeled over at 2pm. One bar City (3 of us) and the other 20 "United" fans from Frome where I live.

    They all piled in at their final whistle to take the piss.

    He who laughs last.

    Please God they don't do that to us again.

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  7. Wow! Just wow! Such a fantastic article. I actually felt like I was there again, sat with 47,500 others watching Sergio's goal again, as teary-eyed as I was the first time.

    Truly stunning stuff, Simon.

    Thank you for bringing it all back.

    Louis Da Silva CTID

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  8. Really good read- kind of put the game in quick stills photography through my head again. Without doubt the most predictably unpredictable team anyone could ever support.

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  9. Thanks for the kind comments, but please don't get the wrong end of the stick. I have to tell you, I made it all up. This is not real. You do realise? This was just based on a strange dream I had the other night. These sorts of things do not really happen.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sitting nervously in a bar in Jakarta expecting the worst (supporter for 50+ years) I could take no more after half time. Checked on line a while later and saw the 1-2 score line and decided to end (temporarily) the pain by going to bed. Refused to check during the night despite waking up many times. Refused to open the Jakarta Post at breakfast but it fell off the table and staring me in the face was a photo of Zaba in the air. Strange to have a pic of the losers, I thought. And the rest is history. Unusual to have sober tears in the Marriott restaurant at 7 am but the staff are always kind to pilgrims.

    I re-read your post from time to time in the hope that it is not really a dream. Still not seen the rest of the game but it is waiting for me along with my fanatical Blue son back in Boston. More tears no doubt.

    David Collins CTBD (beyond)

    ReplyDelete
  11. It must be time to acknowledge all those people who didn't have tears blocking the view that it was indeed Taiwo and not Ned with the final flailing bootlaces. Yes, you are pedantic, but you are also right and now I have finally cleared my vision sufficiently to write again, I can put it down in black and white. And to the other marvellous pedant, who argued the season didn't start with an Aguero thunderbolt, that Dzeko got our first goal of the campaign, well i'm giving not an inch on that one! There's pedantry and then there's pedantry.

    ReplyDelete

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