It was spring 1969, I was eight and we were home in Dublin, on annual leave from India. I knew nothing about football but quickly realised I needed a favourite team and player for street cred. In desperation, I decided that the player featured on the back of the following week’s Tiger and Jag (the boys’ comic for those too young to remember) would fulfil both these prerequisites. The player was one Francis Lee and I thought I had heard of Manchester City. I hadn’t, it was the other shower as I soon discovered!
So this timid, slow, tall and very skinny left back became Francis Lee. I was too young to see the incongruity.
I am quite sure that my initial choice could and probably would have been reversed if City, much to my surprise, had not been playing in the FA Cup Final the following Saturday. My recollection of the time span may be faulty; if anyone collects T & Js from this era, can they confirm this? In a flush of enthusiasm, I decided I had better watch my team. I have no recollection of any sense of euphoria and suspect that it meant as much to me as when your raindrop wins the race down the window.
It was the best of times and the worst of times to be a City fan. I had just started in a boarding school, run by nuns, and very remote from the outside world. There was no MotD, Big Match or newspapers and radios were very thin on the ground. Miraculously, I found a nun with an interest in football and it was from her that I learned of City’s Cup Winners’ Cup and League Cup triumphs. Although at this stage I had rapidly evolved into an avid City fan, the joy was in limited measure as the victories seemed remote.
My relationship with football, and hence City, changed dramatically in 1972 when I acquired a radio. It was a Confirmation gift from my parents their original suggestion, a bible, was politely but firmly declined (I also formally confirmed my allegiance by choosing Francis as my saints name). From then on, every Saturday was spent with a radio perched on my left shoulder as I tuned to Radio 2 for all the latest scores. I was now a participating City fan as the joy and sorrow could be experienced live. More importantly, the mere act of me listening must in some small way influence City’s results, presumably for the better.
My relationship with City has, primarily, been a private affair. Football is not a passion in India. Worse still, Dublin must have the highest Utd:City fan ratio in the world; United are perceived as Catholic and have had a string of Irish greats. City, before the arrival of Niall, had only had Jimmy Conway and Tony Grealish; both past their prime. Apart from my brother, eight years younger and indoctrinated by me at an early age, I did not know another City fan until I was eighteen. I found another when I was twenty-nine. There is something almost Livingstone/Stanleyesque on such occasions. So, it has mainly been me, my brother and the radio.
The more alert readers, if they have persevered this far, will have noticed that there has been no mention of Maine Road. Apart from TV, I have never seen City play a competitive match! I have seen them three times in Ireland: vs. Drogheda when Mick McCarthy trapped everything on his chest; vs. Shamrock Rovers when Niall was majestic; and vs. Glasgow Celtic when one Gerry Creaney terrorised the City defence. I have every intention of making it to Maine Road, but don’t ask me when. After almost thirty years of waiting, the occasion has to fulfil a number of basic requirements:
- It has got to be a big match
- City have got to be in superb form, and
- Victory must be assured.
The alternative plan is that one of my kids begs me to take them to Maine Road and I do it for his sake. Then, if it is something less than perfection, it can be chalked up as yet another sacrifice made. Plan B is even remoter than Plan A as the older boy is only five, has no interest in football and has sufficient social skills to eventually choose the Reds to ensure peer acceptance.
So for the time being it remains me, my brother, the radio, MCIVTA (which is tremendous) and pulling on the blue jersey for the Tuesday evening 5 a side when this even slower, taller, skinnier left back becomes Georgi Kinkladze!
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #373 on