None of my family had any interest in football, so it was a bit of a surprise when my sister was given a magnetic football game one Christmas. You probably remember the sort – a thin wooden pitch on legs, one playing figure each with a metal base which you moved about with a magnet on a long handle. One player wore red, the other sky blue; and this being the Christmas after the Munich crash, all the girls in my sister’s class claimed to support the Rags because it was so romantic and tragic. So my sister always had to be United and I always had to be City – and because she was bigger than me she always had to win. No change there, then.
When I was eight I moved to a different school and made some football-mad friends – and one of them persuaded his dad to take me with them to the Academy (thanks Mr Grimshaw!). I had no idea what to expect – the only football on the TV in those days was the Cup Final and anyway we didn’t have a telly at home. I think I envisaged something like a game on the local rec. with a few more people standing around the sides; so the size of the place, the noise, the atmosphere and the Bovril were all completely overwhelming. That first time was against Cardiff – I remember that Dave Wagstaffe hit the bar after four minutes, City went in at half-time leading 1-0 – and lost 2-1. The next match I saw was against West Ham: 3-1 up at half-time and we lost 5-3. Even at eight I knew I was hooked for life (how could you fail to love a team like that?); and I knew too that this obsession would cause me an enormous amount of heartache interspersed with occasional bursts of quite unexpected delight.
In those early years City had an aging team (Bert Trautmann, Dave Ewing, Joe Hayes); and when they failed to hang on to some of the talented possible replacements such as Wagstaffe and Dobing they soon went down. Just as my friends and I were trusted to go to games on our own (we used to walk the half-time jackpot numbers round Edgeley Park on a Friday night to get the entrance money for the City match) my father inconsiderately got a job in Oxford and I was uprooted. As soon as I left City put together the finest post-war team England has seen – typical.
So for the past thirty years, apart from the occasional visit to Manchester, it’s been a trek round the stadia of London to see them when I can. There have been truly awful days (5-0 at Charlton, a hat-trick by Brian Talbot at Arsenal, the disgraceful display at Wimbledon last season) and some moments of delirious joy (Dave Watson playing as a forward and scoring at Tottenham; our present assistant manager scoring with a header at Highbury to the squeaky dismay of our present manager; most games at QPR). The away support is consistently superb for its noise, its numbers and its unfailing good humour in the face of adversity – why does Maine Road have such a reputation for the opposite?
One final anecdote to explain, Why Still Blue. I took my then eight-year old son (already fatally infected by the Blue virus and now worse than me) to the FA Cup game at QPR three years ago. Finding the away end sold out in advance, we walked twice round the ground before finding where an extra turnstile had been opened for the ticketless City fans to squeeze into a small strip of terracing along the side. When we got in it was already packed; and standing on the top of the three or four steps I asked Tom (futile question) what he could see. “Nothing” was the predictable reply. Instantly there was a parting of the Red Sea in front of us – “Come on, get him down the front – mind your backs”; and within a minute we were leaning on the fence with probably the best view in Loftus Road, treading on the toes of those who had willingly given it up for us. With all the excitement there were several visits to the Gents in the next two hours; and each time our space was waiting for us when we returned. We were right in line to see the swerve on David White’s thunderbolt that gave us the lead; if you still have the Match of the Day video, you can spot us just beyond White when he gives the ball away for QPR’s injury time consolation. Probably every football fan believes his or her team’s supporters are the best; but I can prove it. You’re all brilliant.
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #167 on