Wednesday, May 16, 2012


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.

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 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.



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

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Willie Donachie Glyn Pardoe Neil Heaney Ged Brannan Francis Lee Geoff Hammond Ian Brightwell Paul Lake Uwe Rosler Paul Walsh Tony Towers Niall Quinn Steve Lomas Mike Summerbee George Heslop Roy Clarke Roy Paul Andy Dibble Tony Vaughan Tony Grealish Bert Trautmann Neil McNab Andy May Eric Westwood Paul Power  Colin Bell Joe Corrigan Perry Suckling.Shay Given Jeff Clarke Kit Symons Tom Johnson Gordon Smith Terry Phelan Egil Ostenstad Kiki Musampa

Peter Reid, Steven Jordan Gary Megson Steve McMahon, Steffan Karl Tommy Wright David Brightwell Andy Hinchcliffe David Oldfield Trevor Morley Andy Morrison Ian Bishop Paul Beesely Sam Barkas Ken McNaught Jason Beckford Jim Tolmie Mick McCarthy Martin O'Neill Trevor Francis Derek Parlane Rae Ingram Mikkel Bischoff Trevor Christie Paul Simpson Jamie Hoyland Duncan Davidson

Geoff Lomax Barry Siddall Ken Mulhearn Kakhaber Tskhadadze Tony Book Neil Young Steve Redmond Eddie McGoldrick Gordon Dalziel Gareth Taylor Jeff Whitley Glauber Berti Nigel Johnson Dietmar Hamann Sam Cowan Tony Henry Don Revie Tony Cunningham Darren Huckerby

Tommy Hutchison Fabian Delph Bobby McDonald Gerry Gow

Dave Watson  Marc Vivien Foé Claudio Reyna Martin Margetson Tommy Booth Derek Jeffries Colin Viljoen Mike Channon Ivan Golac Dalian Atkinson Geovanni Ian Davies Colin Barret Gelson Fernandes Brian Kidd Alan Harper Kelechi Iheanacho Tony Coton Mark Ward Keith Macrae Michael Robinson Ron Futcher Jimmy Conway Jô Jimmy Meadows Kaziu Deyna Steve Kinsey Paul Moulden Raheem Sterling Carl Griffiths Carlo Nash

Jamie Pollock

Darren Wassall

Joey Barton Shaun Wright Philips Nedum Onouha

Adrian Heath Joe Hayes Steve Mills Paul Stewart Spencer Prior Kevin de Bruyne Michel Vonk Danny Hoekman John Foster Terry Cooke Richard Dunne Alfons Groenendijk Kelvin Etuhu Jerome Boateng Peter Bodak Danny Mills Darius Vassell Billy Gillespie Trevor Sinclair Roger Palmer Dave Bennett Gary Bennett Andy Cole Albert Riera Kevin Horlock Vladimir Weiss Richard Edghill Nicky Weaver Mike Docherty Asa Hartford Robinho Wilfried Bony

Dennis Tueart Peter Barnes

Paul Ritchie Ken Barnes Steve Redmond Colin Hendry Nicky Summerbee Nick Fenton Jason Van Blerk Michael Frontzeck Dave Wagstaffe Steve Daley Georgi Kinkladze Ray Ranson Gary Mason Graeme Sinclair Tony Adcock David Rocastle Steve Howey Glenn Whelan

Paul Dickov Aage Hareide Billy Spurdle Tony Coleman Eric Nixon Sammy McIlroy Michael Ball Shaun Goater Valeri Bojinov Lee Crooks Gerard Wiekens Elano Michael Brown Craig Bellamy Jim Whitley

Murtaz Shelia

Stephen Ireland Neil Pointon Joe Royle Mike Doyle Shaleum Logan Freddie Hill Dickson Etuhu Frank Carradous Kasper Schmeichel Mikael Kavelashvili Felipe Caicedo Richard Jobson Craig Russell Martin Petrov Michael Johnson Jon Macken Denis Law Eyal Berkovic Ian Bowyer Javier Garrido Kevin Bond Gerry Taggart Danny Allsop Tom Browell Benjani Gary Owen Alex Williams David White Graham Baker Tony Grant

Laurent Charvet

Dave Ewing David Cross Dennis Leman Giorgios Samaras Fred Eyre Wayne Clarke Kevin Reeves David Sommeil Lucien Mettomo Peter Beagrie Wayne Bridge Alan Oakes  Billy Meredith Johnny Crossan Stuart Pearce Keith Curle Sylvain Distin Ali Benarbia Rodney Marsh Curly Watts Colin Barlow Ian Scott Nicolas Anelka Danny Tiatto Andre Kanchelskis Ged Keegan Arthur Mann Paulo Wanchope Nigel Clough Jim Melrose Rick Holden Gary Flitcroft Phil Henson Stan Bowles Shaun Goater Kevin Stuur Ellegaard Robert Taylor Paul Hince Gunnar Nielsen Mark Kennedy Jihai Sun

Frank Swift Barney Daniels Mark Lillis Steve Mackenzie Eric Brook Mick Horswill Paul Cooper Kenny Clements Johnny Hart Eike Immel Ousmane Dabo David Phillips David Seaman Imre Varadi Wyn Davies Paul Futcher Bradley Wright Philips Mike Lester Darren Beckford Ernie Toseland Tommy Caton Neil Lennon Wilfried Bony Alan Kernaghan Harry Dowd Fred Tilson Dragoslav Stepanovic Vedran Corluka Dave Connor Barry Silkman Nicky Reid Clive Wilson Wayne Biggins Dave Wiffill Nigel Gleghorn Gary Fleming Danny Granville John Burridge Clive Allen Mike Sheron Maurizio Gaudino Alf Inge Haaland Ben Thatcher Robbie Fowler Denis Suarez Paul Sugrue Gerry Creaney

Lee Bradbury

Lawrence Furniss Joshua Parlby Sam Ormerod Tom Maley Harry Newbould Ernest Mangnall David Ashworth Peter Hodge Wilf Wild Sam Cowan Jack Thomson Les McDowall George Poyser Joe Mercer Malcolm Allison Johnny Hart Ron Saunders Tony Book John Bond John Benson Billy McNeill Jimmy Frizzell Mel Machin Howard Kendall Peter Reid Reid Bryan Horton Alan Ball Steve Coppell Frank Clark Joe Royle Kevin Keegan Stuart Pearce Sven Goran Eriksson Mark Hughes Roberto Mancini Manuel Pellegrini    

Joe Hart Costel Pantilimon Micah Richards Pablo Zabaletta Joleon Lescott Vincent Kompany Stefan Savic Gael Clichy Aleksandar Kolarov David Silva Gareth Barry Nigel de Jong Samir Nasri Adam Johnson Carlos Tevez Sergio Aguero Edin Dzeko James Milner David Pizarro Stuart Taylor Owen Hargreaves Kolo Touré Yaya Touré Mario Balotelli David Platt Bacary Sagna Eliaquim Mangala Martin Demichelis Stevan Jovetic Jose Angel Pozo Marcus Lopes Frank Lampard

Laurent Charvet.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


The coming of a kind of peace in other more distant parts of the crumbling old empire neither hastened an improvement to things nor detracted a great deal from the fact that the old foes now faced up to each other with the mutual hatred and ferocity reserved for true gladiatorial contests of substance. Nothing of the piddling Liverpudlian skirmishes of yore, nor of oft mentioned struggles with unpredictable peasant tribes from Londinium. Soothsayers implored that defeat this time would mean gradual, painful extinction, whilst to the victors, the spoils of war would be plentiful, bountiful and may even come accompanied by a rose-tinted piece in the Telegraph by Mark Ogden, but don't hold your breath.

Elections in the two territories revealed a widely differing strategy for supremacy. The Old Guard chose to litter their middle ranks with elder statesmen, who many thought of as tired and out of ideas and energy, plus a returning battle-scarred Oriental, short of breath and still with the same hair. The attack from the East would be full of verve and explosive in its power, as their leader Magnificat Mancini Glorioso took with him a Praetorian Guard of devilish little cavaliers and giant fighting men in the middle and rear lines. They would be led by the glorious glistening form of Vincius Kompanius, one of the most legendary leaders of the epoque. A man of stout frame, lithe movement and firm beliefs, he combined power and grace in the leadership of his men. He would run through hails of arrows, through walls of clay and brick just to upend Ashley Young.

Disgusted with election failures in the neighbouring Precinct of Pious Ignoramus Athleticus, the fading Emperor Maximus Brutalis waged war on the legions of doubters strewn in his army's path, stating that he was the man for the big occasion and all those who hesitated in their faith would be banished to the outlying colonial precincts of Eindhoven, Los Angeles Villa + Plungepool and, worst of all, the madhouse jail at Talksport. Brutalis had a terrible unmatched temper and was well known for throwing legionnaires to the furthest outposts of the empire if he was displeased with them. His rhetorical prowess stretched to Great Oratory, Salutary War Speeches, Mind Games and Giant Child-like Fibs.

On this occasion Brutalis sent out word that he would be relying on his Grand Fighters, the father figures and sages, amongst them Manlius Ferdinandius, Ninnius Nannius Nonnious, Edwardius Duncanus Jones. And Park Ji Sung.

Hobitus Maximus and his brother Hobitus Minimus were considered ill-fit for battle.

Brutalis's men enter the fray in defensive mode
The other communities thought better of mocking Maximus Brutalis for breaking with century old tradition of Being on the Front Foot. The ancient Praetorian guard Teddius Sheringatus had been quoted as saying to the crowds at the Forum Shopping Centre, "In the old days, the sight of our legions on the attack would freeze the opposition with fear. Now we go to war with a South Korean mercenary and a Tall Man called Smalling."  Others knew Brutalis to be a Master Tactician, Chewer of Gum and Arch Clock Pointer, a man who would stop at nothing to win and who could spit out live bumble bees whilst drinking a glass of UHT milk.

Jostling for position, the crowds strained and a large ornamental Etruscan pot fell and knocked out the ancient senator Dwitius York. This was seen by some as an omen of what was to come. Dark clouds hovered overhead and the banging of enormous drums could be heard in the side streets and alleyways, as night fell on that fateful arena of combat.

Brutalis's men, in the mistaken belief that a seige would offer better prospects than a full frontal assault,took to the battleground with cautious backward steps, led in tiny circles by the seasoned scarred old fighter Jinja Nuttus. By bringing attention to the flaming hair of their ancient leader, they hoped to prolong the battle, but misjudged the ferocity of their opponents as Jinja was flattened time and time in the middle field by his capable adversaries. Nuttus resorted to his ancient craft to save face: kicking at the air and pointing at things angrily.

Jinja Nuttus was met in this fervent Middle Zone by an opponent so huge and so impressive that others cowered in his shadow. For this was Elephantus Ivorius, a collosus of many battles and here was his kingdom, rolling before him like the sun-drenched plains of Bondouku and Yamousoukru. With his able consul Barrius Garthicus and accompanied by flag bearers and little wizards Optimus Silva and Fantasticus Nasri, Elephantus crushed the forlorn Jinja and his light-footed sidekick Ninnius Nannius Nonnius, who had been busy entertaining sections of onlookers with his circus flips and gaily painted underclothes..

Lager tops all round in Villa Maradona as the Gallagher Clan arrive for tiffin
The brave troops marched forward and repaired the damage inflicted in the early year, one smote from the leaping frame of Vinicius Kompanius being enough to smash the resolve of the enemy. Meantime, the massive tarpaulin-clad frame of Guardsman Smalling was seen to be ripped asunder and thrown to the ground.

The crisis for Brutalis was now before his eyes. With a sudden rage frothing in his chest, he leapt forward with the agility of a Yak in slippers and raised his hand to Magnificat Mancini Glorioso, imitating the classical deadly parody of a million supercharged battles, the most hostile gesture of a thousand insults and curses: the ner-ner yakkety yak fingers. Glorioso met his gesture with his own ner-ner yakkety yak fingers and the skies exploded with venom and cascades of lager top.

From every direction and with overwhelming alacrity, Magnificat's men roamed forward to claim their reward. The soothsayers who had foretold doom now danced the hokey kokey and giant ornamental vats of Etruscan red wine plus sumptuously decorated polystyrene trays of chips and gravy were wheeled towards the villa containing the embracing figures of the Clans Gallagher and Maradona. The great oracles eyed each other with dignity, respect and mutual amazement.

"Viva Le Belgium" went up the cry, again and again. "Viva le Belgium!"

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