I know that supporting City over the past 28 years has certainly had an influence on how I perceive life. Being a committed Man City supporter and seeing them relegated four times, moving from crisis to crisis and now losing to inferior Division 2 teams is bound to affect you. There was a quote that appeared earlier this season in the Sunday Times, previewing the following week’s football on TV that made me reflect on life as a Man City supporter. City vs. Notts County 19/8/98. ‘Good old City; just what you need on a Wednesday night. If you are a non-City fan they are the perfect solution to the mid-week blues because no matter how dismal your life, it is still better than that of the average Maine Road regular. And if you are a City fan, it will keep you happy as well because you are obviously a masochist’.
While I don’t consider myself a masochist, supporting City does require a peculiar personality trait. I know that it has conditioned me to become resistant to failure. I am an eternal optimist. I still expect City to win each match and feel constantly let down week after week. When life outside of football takes a downturn it is now far easier just to shrug your shoulders and say ‘Oh well, that’s life’, because I’m used to it. But when City actually win a game or I achieve a personal success, that feeling of euphoria is magnified. You appreciate the good things in life all the more, knowing that they don’t happen very often.
While contemplating this theory over a bottle of wine, my wife went to pour the rest of the wine into our glasses. After filling hers to the top, she then poured mine only halfway. With me looking puzzled she said ‘Well you weren’t expecting much were you!’
Anyway, here is my tale of how I came to support City and despite logic telling me otherwise, why I’ll always keep the faith. It all started one Sunday afternoon, back in 1970 when I was 8 years old. The family was sat around the television set when on came ‘The Big Match’. As the commentator read through the team line-ups, my attention was immediately drawn to a player with the same name as me – Colin. ‘Who’s that Colin player?’ I asked. ‘Colin Bell – plays for Man. City and England’ my dad replied. ‘Are Man City any good?’ I queried. ‘Yeah, they’ve won the League Championship, FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners Cup in the past 3 seasons’ my dad (a Brighton fan) responded. Quickly thinking that I could be onto a winner here, I proudly announce that ‘from now on I’m going to be a Man City supporter!’ The following week I bought the Man City Subbuteo team, learnt all the players names and would commentate on my Subbuteo matches against my brother. ‘A great tackle from Mike Doyle who passes to Alan Oakes. He crosses to Francis Lee, who plays it back into the middle for Colin Bell and goaalll!’
After much pestering to see the real thing, my dad took the family to see Man City away at West Ham (my dad was also a bit of a Jimmy Greaves fan). Not the greatest of starts though. On the morning of the match Colin Bell was ruled out through injury, and the final score ended 0-0. Still not realising where Manchester was (we lived in East Grinstead, Sussex), I kept on at my parents to take me to a home game. Finally, they relented and in September 1972, my dad told us that he’d booked tickets to see Man City vs. Spurs at Maine Road. My brother, a couple of years older and more clued up on his geography had chosen Spurs as his team to support. Boarding the train at Euston, my dad announced that we should look for the seats marked for Jodrell Bank. Beginning to worry that we weren’t actually going to the football, but were indeed having an educational to view some distant planets (my dad was a teacher at the time), I asked. ‘Why are we going to Jodrell Bank dad?’ He replied ‘Cos, it’s the cheapest way to Manchester for the four of us. When we get to Manchester we’ll give the coach to Jodrell Bank a miss and go to the football instead.’ Brilliant I thought, my first visit to Maine Road and we’re being devious as well. What an exciting day that was. I was in awe as I first stepped inside Maine Road. Large stands, a full Kippax, incredible atmosphere and City actually won 2-1 with Rodney Marsh scoring both goals. I was hooked.
For the next few seasons we went to see all of City’s games in London. Highlights being the 3-2 victory over Spurs at White Hart Lane, with City wearing the all navy blue kit with red & white diagonal stripes and Frannie Lee scoring the winning goal with his hand. A 3-2 away win at Arsenal with Colin Bell, Asa Hartford and Rodney Marsh in brilliant form, and City’s 6-1 thrashing of Norwich at a rainswept Stamford Bridge on their way to the League Cup Final of ’74.
For the ’75-’76 season we’d found out about the London Branch of the Supporters’ Club, and started travelling with them to see as many home games as I could afford. By then I’d started a paper round and would save all my money for City matches. City had a brilliant team in those days. Barnes and Tueart on the wings with Royle winning everything in the air. Supporting City really was exciting. And of course, there was the League Cup win over Newcastle. What a day. My first City game at Wembley, a great match, brilliant winning goal with City lifting some silver. The first of many trophies I remember thinking!
That year, my summer holiday was just ideal. A 230-mile cycling trip from East Grinstead up to Manchester with my dad to see City’s first 3 games of the season. 2-2 away at Leicester, followed by a couple of matches at Maine Road. Not only did this herald the beginning of another great season, but my cycling trip was featured in one of the match day programmes, and I was named ‘Junior Blue of the Month’ for my efforts!
Although the Championship wasn’t to be that season, I was convinced that City gaining Mick Channon and Liverpool losing Keegan would tip the balance the following year. But alas no. Some pretty exciting games took place though, with 3-1 victories over Liverpool and United still fresh in my mind.
By the ’79-’80 season my eagerness to attend matches had outgrown my dad’s enthusiasm for the long trek and I would travel to the games on my own. Most of my classmates supported either Crystal Palace or Brighton. East Grinstead located midway between the two teams was rather scarce of other Man City fans! Supplementing my paper round with a cleaning job at my school, I could now afford to see City approximately every couple of weeks. I guess by now my life revolved around getting to see City games. I was obsessed, and with my first season ticket for the Kippax, attended 25 matches that season, watching Grandstand and listening to Sport on Radio 2 on those Saturdays when I couldn’t afford to attend.
Unfortunately, the height of my passion for City coincided with the beginnings of the club’s demise. Midway through the season, I recall being mystified by City’s lack of form. Three consecutive 2-1 home defeats to Derby, Ipswich and Southampton were a clear sign that something was wrong. Yet with the great players in the side City should have been playing these average teams off the pitch. There seemed to be no real team play with Tony Book relying too much on Channon and Barnes to do something exceptional to win the game. The re-introduction of Malcolm Allison, I remember thinking, would be good for City. Get the players more organised, bit of tinkering here and there, maybe introduce a ball winner in midfield. Steve Daley came, but for me it was 6 months too late. Allison had already dismantled the team. All the great players had gone and City have never recovered.
Since the beginning of the eighties, my memories of supporting City are overwhelmed by a succession of failures. Yes, I was there for the Cup Final defeat, the relegation matches with Luton, West Ham, Liverpool and Stoke. Not forgetting, the Full Members’ Cup Final with Chelsea. Even the good times have had their share of disappointment for me. For the vital Bradford game in ’89, I couldn’t get a ticket, and for the 5-1 promotion clincher with Charlton, the train from London was diverted via Nottingham, and I didn’t arrive at Maine Road until City were already 3 up and promotion assured.
Still I continue to support City, and in recent years I’ve converted my wife to appreciate the joys (or is that sorrow?) of following Manchester City. Now living even further away from Manchester on the South Coast near Brighton, we drive up and back, usually in a day, to most weekend games (in my sky blue car!), although this season it’s proving to be impossible to get tickets for the majority of away fixtures. Amongst all the depressing matches we usually see, there is the odd occasion which make it all worthwhile. It seems like yesterday that Peter Beagrie and Paul Walsh helped demolish Spurs 5-2, quickly followed by the 4-3 Cup win at QPR. For the past 3 seasons, it was worth the 9-hour 530-mile round-trip alone just to see Gio Kinkladze playing, and I still have not forgiven Joe Royle for his treatment of City’s greatest ever player. The 6-0 demolition of Swindon last year was for me City’s finest performance that I have witnessed (I missed the 10-1 and 5-1 games). And was it really less than a year ago that City totally outclassed Middlesbrough winning 2-0 just before Christmas?
Why still Blue? It could be so easy to support a top and more local Premiership club, and not have my weekends spoilt by another depressing result. Well, for me, to change clubs would be to dishonour my childhood memories and dreams. I’ve always longed for City to be the top team in the country, and I know that one day they will be. I just hope it happens in my lifetime!
Do I ever regret that fateful day when I first saw a player called Colin on television? Never!
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #450 on