A maternity ward in Oldham overlooking Boundary Park might not seem the ideal starting point for a life spent supporting MCFC, and it did in fact require a trip to the wrong side of The Pennines to rescue me from the misguided influence of an Oldham mother and Potteries (SCFC) father. My cousins had been exiled to Dewsbury from Manchester some years before, but had taken a passionate allegiance to City with them. So passionate that the sight of a bedroom completely covered in City clippings and memorabilia (this was circa 1969, so there was plenty to clip…) was enough to influence my footballing inclinations beyond repair. From that moment onwards there was never any doubt as to my allegiance, even as the rational reasons started to disappear, along with most of the squad, in 1979. By that time my school in Macclesfield was firmly divided along Blue/Red lines, although fraternising with the enemy was tolerated, especially when dealing with the lunatic fringe i.e. anyone who supported a third club.
University in the North East provided the first inklings of a football life outside the confines of the Manchester area, since for some strange reason not everybody supported City or United. At first it was as if the lunatic fringe had assumed control of the asylum, but once you got used to the ground rules having changed, the potential for discussion and disagreement was tremendous. We discovered the DUSSS (Durham University Soccer Supporters’ Society) which used to provide ‘financial assistance’ to help people get to various games – I seem to remember City cropping up a disproportionate number of times.
The real fun started however when my study of foreign languages (hence the choice of Durham…) led me to a year abroad in Provence. It was at this point when the classic ‘City Fan Abroad’ conversation was first experienced: “Where do you come from in England?” “Near Manchester.” “Ah, Manchester United! Yes?” (latter question occasioned by the somewhat pained look on my face) “No. There are two teams in Manchester, and I support Manchester City.” Depending on the language being spoken and my level of sobriety, there would then often follow a tirade about the passionately loyal and local support City enjoyed, until the person either ran away or asked for fan club details (the former more often than the latter, unfortunately).
Subsequent jobs meant year-long sojourns in both Germany and Japan – I can safely say that there were very few other people in Hiroshima celebrating at 1.45 a.m. when Tricky Trev scored the equaliser at Bradford to gain promotion, although that did not detract from the beauty of the moment – so my experiences through the late 80s and early 90s were something of a mishmash. This has now been replaced by a settled existence in… Copenhagen (my Danish wife is never too pleased to be referred to as a Scandinavian souvenir from a trip round Indonesia – the truth of the matter is that she came as something of a consolation prize, since we met the day after England’s calamitous penalty defeat in 1990). As you might imagine, Denmark is something of a hotbed for United fans, both Danes and expats (especially from places such as Portsmouth and Brighton), so the level of football debate is of a correspondingly low quality. But let’s face it, being a City fan, the more you travel away from Manchester the more you get used to being in a minority, and the more fun it all is. If City started winning everything, the reasons that have kept people supporting them so passionately in spite of everything would suddenly have to be reassessed – the unpredictability, the infuriating inconsistency, the camaraderie engendered by another trip to see them lose at Selhurst Park, and the support in general.
Don’t get me wrong – I would genuinely love City to become more successful and popular (though the Oasis connection seems to be doing wonders in the latter department), but it would not make me support them more. I would simply see it as a fair reward for a lot of explaining done to a lot of different nationalities. And the first foreign person I meet who replies to the words “Near Manchester” by saying “Ah, Manchester City!” will be certain of an unusually enthusiastic response…
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #277 on