James Barber

Why Blue?

When I was young, the mid-week Sportsnight theme would trigger the beginning of my stealthy decline to the bottom of the stairs, having previously been sent to bed by those haunting parental utterings: “school in the morning”. At the bottom of the stairs, I would peer through the crack in the lounge door hoping to catch a few glimpses of the City game. My father would often be agitated, cursing at the television for some poor play, or moments later, he’d be punching the air in celebration as one of City’s attacks rewarded him with a goal.

I’m not sure if the contrast on our TV was set too high, or it’s a psychological impact that age plays on your memory, but back then, colours seemed so much brighter. I remember seeing the almost florescent quality of the green pitch and an amazing formation of light blue sweeping around combined with a tremendous roar coming from our television – maybe it was just that our TV needed tuning correctly! To me, no other team looked as aesthetically pleasing on TV as City. Other clubs all seemed to play in either a bland red or dark blue and the more brutal contrast with the pitch just didn’t quite have the same appeal. That said, I must say that from time to time I’d catch Liverpool playing on TV and must admit to admiring their brashness in wearing an all red strip. This was in fact a conscious decision to move from white shorts and red top to an all red kit. The idea, I later discovered, was to try an make the side look more intimidating. Actually, from time to time, City have had an all light blue kit but it doesn’t have the same effect, and I must say that I’m always relieved when, at the end of the season, I learn that we’ll be moving back to white shorts. If any kit designers out there are reading this, be sure to take my comments into consideration.

Sorry, I digressed a little there. Anyway, back to the crack in the door with one eye on the TV, and one eye on my dad (just in case he suddenly leapt up), I’d crouch there praying for a City goal. If memory serves, there weren’t too many of them, but when they came, I’d give a loud internal yell. On some occasions I got too excited and I’d inadvertently emit a little too much sound. Quickly, I’d look at my father to see if he’d noticed – sometimes I’d just leg it upstairs anyway, convinced that my father would be hot on my trail, and jump straight into bed. Isn’t it amazing how, as a kid, you naturally acquire the ability to convince your parents that you’re asleep when they’d check on you? No one ever taught me this but I soon became an expert after several close shaves – particularly when watching Sportsnight.

Long before my Sportsnight missions, most of my early years were spent growing up in Manchester, living in Middleton, and then in Denton. Besides the blue DNA given to me by my father, I suppose it was on the Manchester streets and at school where my first real exposure to the City virus really happened. However, to be totally honest, I cannot remember really being that interested in football back then. I played a lot of football and was often taken by my father to Maine Road but I cannot truthfully say I was a true blue at this age. In fact, though it pains me to admit it, my closest friends were mainly Trafford Town fans, and through them, I probably knew more about the Rags than I did about Manchester City back then.

At the age of about twelve, my family and I moved to Blackpool and it was here where my daring Sportsnight encounters took place. My family still live in Blackpool today and though I have since left the UK, I still regard myself as a Blackpudlian. Despite its decline in recent years, I still love Blackpool. It’s a place of genuine character which many people never get to see as they confine themselves to the clubs and bars along the Golden Mile. Very sadly however, the town is no longer what it used to be and much of it has in recent years – and in my untempered opinion – been raped by fat-cat leisure corporations that have no interest in preserving the character of the town. I know, I’m digressing again and so I’ll get off my soapbox.

As a Blackpudlian, quite obviously most of my time was spent growing up amongst Blackpool fans or, to be more colloquial, “Seasiders”. Blackpool FC has a great history but sadly, like the town, it has demised over the years and is now in danger of disappearing altogether. 1953 was its greatest moment with what many people still regard today as the greatest ever FA Cup Final when the Seasiders beat Bolton 4-3. A far cry from the just relegated Division Four club.

Given that almost all of my new social peers were Seasiders and my grandfather, with whom I had a very close bond, was himself a life-long Blackpool fan, I struggled a bit with my City allegiance. During my teenage days in Blackpool, I can’t remember ever meeting another City fan at school which was kind of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, nobody really knew much about City and didn’t pay much attention to them – good news when we lost, but correspondingly, I never really got to celebrate the highs (although to be honest there weren’t that many).

I say “struggled” with my allegiance because, by nature, I suppose I don’t like upsetting people and I knew that deep down, my grandfather wished I had turned out tangerine rather than Blue. And of course, given the peer pressures a teenager faces, it’s often easier to conform to the allegiances of the group than to detract from them. But Blue I remained, and even if I had wanted to (which I didn’t), we all know that one of the very few things in life that you cannot change is the football team you support. Your wife, your religion, even your sex can be changed, but when it comes to football… well, it’s all been said before.

One year (I think it was in the late ’70s), Blackpool drew Manchester City in the League Cup, with the first leg at Bloomfield Road, I knew that this was going to a moment of conflicting emotions. I so much wanted City to win, perhaps mainly to ensure my friends wouldn’t be jibing me for months after the game – this time there would be no escaping it. However, with my grandfather so much wanting Blackpool to win, I suppose that deep down I wanted a compromise: a draw with City winning the return leg at Maine Road would be fine.

The final score ended 1-1 and satisfactorily, I left a Bovril scented West Stand at Bloomfield Road and made my way through the crowded and dark post-match Blackpool streets back home. We went on to win the return leg 3-0 and so thankfully I didn’t have to face a barrage of abuse from my friends at school.

Today, I live in Grenoble, France, working for a large computer company. I think that since leaving the UK my support for Manchester City has grown even stronger. Maybe this also has something to do with my ex-pat status, as all things British take on a much more sentimental value than they ever did before. This, in fact, is quite a common phenomenon clearly demonstrated in the commercial success of excessively marked-up British products in many mainland Europe supermarkets. Products like HP Sauce, Coleman’s Mustard, and Birds Custard Powder are great sellers with ex-pats abroad. I’m sure I wasn’t such a big consumer of these products when I lived in the UK.

I also think that supporting Manchester City today has become even more of a personal statement than it ever did before. Without wishing to pollute my narrative by reminding you of Trafford Town’s recent footballing achievements, it now is in many ways because of their success, harder to support Manchester City than it ever was before. Consequently however, those of us who did not choose the dark side of the force believe that our cause is now even more just. Remember, it wasn’t until the Imperial forces blew up the planet Alderaan that Luke Skywalker and the Rebel forces really got their act together… I draw the analogy of the Rags’ treble win shortly followed by our Herculean play-off comeback at Wembley. I don’t know about you, but I’m still taking medication for that one.

Today, mainly through my work, I spend a lot of my time surfing the web and some of this time is, unknown to my boss, spent on various City sites. The official Manchester City site in my opinion is great, but BlueView is where it’s at. For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, it’s a kind of City underworld where almost anything gets discussed. One of the great things about the site are the pre- and post-match discussions. Also, the running commentary during a match is often a lifeline when Planetfootball has gone down. So today, as more of an “e-supporter” than a real life City fan, I find that the site keeps me in touch with the mood of the fans and, as far as is possible being so far removed from the UK, gives me a good “whiff” of the match atmosphere as is possible. You’ll never be able to replace the real thing of course, but I do find that BlueView and a cup of hot Bovril (for additional sensory effect) during match days compensates reasonably well.

Being Blue then for me is, in many ways, an internal struggle given my Blackpool roots and the fondness I have for the “Seasiders”, and a bold intergalactic struggle against the Red imperial forces of evil. I am romantically wowed by the ambience of Manchester City: our colours that looked so wonderful on Sportsnight; our ability to laugh at ourselves in the midst of catastrophe; and in an almost sadistic way, the knowledge that the wait will have been worth it when the glory years return… someday.

Supporting Manchester City is like reading one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies where the reader is buffeted from blissful highs to depressing lows; where there’s never a shortage of irony and, along the way, quite a few fools to boot!

First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #623 on


James Barber