After 27 years of faithful support for my beloved City (since age 10), in October 2001 I was privileged enough to make the long awaited pilgrimage to Maine Road for the very first time. This honour was bestowed upon me by my wife and kids after much lobbying by my good mate and fellow City fan who shall be known as “The Vicar of Didsbury” who convinced them that it was in their best interests to let me “get it out of my system”.
So on October 6 2001, purposely chosen to avoid a potential away game at the “Neanderthal Den”, I spent 35 hours getting from Dunedin, New Zealand to Paris and after short 2 day stints in Paris and London, foolishly took a National Express bus from London to Manchester. Four long, sweaty, cramped hours later I found myself in Manchester Piccadilly with a wicked thirst, a sore bum and visions of wall to wall lorries on the M1 and bu**er all scenery to remember.
I was well looked after by my good pal Tony Prescott and his family in “tropical” Irlam during my 19 days in Manchester and after a night on the town taking in wonderful sights such as “Teasers” bar, was ready for the Stockport County visit and my first taste of British and of course Manchester City football. Parking the car and having to pay a pound to some young tearaway to protect the car (from himself I gather) was an interesting intro to Match Day, but I can tell you that walking around the corner by the souvenir shop and chippy and seeing the “sea of blue” milling around scoffing chips outside a “massive” (Keeganism there) stadium, I was just blown away. Walking up the stairs and seeing the Kippax opposite almost made me cry, I was so stoked to be there (had to see City at Maine Road before the move to Eastlands). Sadly City didn’t come to the party and were frustrated by Stockport, especially the gargantuan Kuqi up front. Still I had a great view of Ali and The Goat’s goals, so consolation was mine. The Stockport fans were few but to their credit vocal and I was only sad that City officialdom had said no to my earlier request to video during the match to capture the atmosphere.
City were further frustrated a few days later during the spiteful encounter with Sheffield United. How a ref could book 6, send 1 off and none of them from Sheffield United was beyond me, though Horlock deserved to go for his Beckham (no brain) indiscretions. Curle was exceptional at winding up the City players and fans alike. Still the football was pretty good that day.
Decided it was time to impart my knowledge on the team, so off to Carrington on the 18th, straight in the gate, park beside Howey’s car (being washed) and amble past the building towards the training ground. At which point we (Tony and I) were intercepted by security who politely advised us of our parking error (players only), but enlightened us to the lane further along where we could park and were most welcome to view training after a short walk. Sure enough (after 2 wrong lanes) we were soon cutting through some trees and stood a few feet from the squad undergoing rigorous warm ups under the watchful eyes of Messrs Keegan, Hartford (who did all the warm ups too – fit begger), Bonetti and Donachie. Our squad must know good Spanish ’cause the trainer was getting full effort and didn’t let stars waver when tired. Was a strange day, chilly too, but mostly ’cause Tony and I watched for nearly 3 hours and we were the only 2 there the whole time. Perhaps other fans have yet to figure out the tricky lanes (you end up parked outside a barn). We participated in the ‘keeping drills, collecting finger tip saves of Nash and Weaver and accurately returning the balls to “The Cat”. Ominously we similarly participated in shooting drills which involved much more running as the Goat and Co struggled with the radar (a pre-cursor to Preston). The practice match saw the reserves beat our first team line up 3-0 with Shuker, Wright-Phillips and Toure too quick for Dunne, Pearce and Howey and Ritchie having The Goat “in his pocket” (another ominous sign for Preston). Our reward for perserverance was a 5 minute audience with Psycho who suggested I might get a game if they kept playing as they did against Stockport/Sheff Utd. Then an excellent 10 minute chat with Keegan who shook my hand several times on hearing of my longserving support from afar. He remembered playing exhibition matches in NZ and loved it and enjoyed the fact that he had been a major player in one of the first matches I ever saw on TV in NZ, being the 74 FA Cup Final. He was full of pride in the young players at City and gave us an insight into his views on one or two. Of course we mentioned Chris Killen and he has since made the bench for the first team. Keegan was very talkative and it really made my trip those 10 minutes, chatting with a household name, a football icon known all over the world. After a photo and a promise to sign it when developed we were off through the trees to escape the cold (couldn’t wait to meet Nashy who had stayed on to do some personal fitness).
Prior to Preston enjoyed the Indoor Soccer benefit for New York firefighters (after 2 buckets of Budweiser in ice at Printworks), especially as Peter Barnes and Asa Hartford carved up Robson and Co 6-1 (Barnesy is still king). My that Kevin Webster of Coro is good isn’t he, unfair they had big Dennis in goal though and Curly, bless him, really is well, crap really… stick to acting Curly! Actually spotted an old mate from my ex-soccer club in Auckland sitting directly below me. Hadn’t seen him for 7 years and he got on the same train home… weird. Next night was Depeche Mode concert (excellent). How they change the MEN Arena so quickly is impressive.
Preston was my first taste of away football, and after a traffic jam from the exit lane of the M – something (6 I think) to the ground and a 2km walk in the rain we arrived at our seats 5 minutes after kick off. The atmosphere amongst the City fans was much more vibrant with constant singing and alas from one fat bald headed git, much abuse, particularly at Keegan? At half time most were happy, but after Macken’s freak goal, the mood soured and men twice my age were abusing the ref and even women (I think) were fighting. Not being used to this, I was thankful of being near the front for a quick escape, though this was soon blocked by Police and Stewards as Huckerby’s pen decision was not given (it was a pen… on the vid the guy’s knee caught his heel for goodness sake = pen!). One plonker raised a cheer for his arc on the pitch and swan dive in the box… Wet and arrested and banned… there’s a good lad? Went home and waited for Pearcy’s call re playing if they stuff up again… damn, he wasn’t serious, never mind.
Toured the ground a few days later, the day of the Grimsby match. Didn’t see the home dressing room ’cause KK had the shirts out and didn’t want us to see the changes! That night I was given the chance to step on the hallowed turf in the kick for cash. Tony and his brother John warned me “whatever you do, don’t fall flat on your @rse in front of 30,000 fans.” Didn’t hear a damn thing the announcer said to me ’cause of the echoes (something about rugby). Had my NZ Silver Fern shirt on and had visions of doing the corner flag run and jig, but damn that ball is small and under-inflated… they just don’t want you to win that 150 pounds do they? Still one went in the net and the other, well at least I took out one Grimsby fan! City did the business 4-0, should have been 10-0 Mr Goater? To add to my great evening, Tony collared the great Colin Bell (my all time City hero) and after a quick chat I had another photo for the archives (only a pic with a scantily clad Elle McPherson could come close!).
Went past Old T on the train several times. Tony’s mate once asked if I’d been on the OT tour yet… I said what for! He said everyone should go, especially overseas visitors… I said, mate, give me a can of petrol and a match and I’ll go to Old T! The only Trafford I graced was the Trafford Centre after checking out the JJB Centre next door (impressive). Bl**dy hell, kids’ school holidays, 40 minutes in a queue to get a KFC quarter pack… sigh.
Finally went to Psycho’s return to Forest. Great stadium, much better atmosphere amongst City’s singing faithful and good banter between fans. Walking across the Trent bridge surrounded by Forest fans and having a chat without any malice was memorable. The Goat’s classic goal was also memorable, though he should have scored second half to give us the points. Damn, Nottingham’s bigger than just a robbers’ forest isn’t it? The drive through Derbyshire was beautiful too… stone walls abound, very nice.
Alas had to leave before the Barnsley clash and was in Munich getting to grips with a particularly strong brew at the Hopfbrauhaus when this match was on. After 44 hours home via LA, various boring security checks, disappearing Lufthansa check-in operators (never again Lufthansa and I’m telling my mates to avoid your sad @rse airline too), and grandma’s army air hostesses. I can look back on the Good the Bad and The Ugly as follows:
- Meeting Keegan, Bell and Psycho.
- Meeting my mate Tony and his family after 10 years’ correspondence.
- London – underground was easy, great to visit, not to live in.
- Paris – Champs d’Elysees = ooh la la, nice people and Relais de Paris Sacre Coeur is place to stay – perfect.
- Manchester – great to visit, not to live in. The White Horse pub and Teasers.
- Munich – beautiful, clean and mule-kick ales.
- Lake District – place to take the wife one day.
- Maine Road – and I was there… 6 times!
- Blackpool Illuminations.
- Singapore Airlines – unequalled.
- Depeche Mode concert.
- Indoor Soccer benefit… 6-1, 6-1, 6-1…
- United losing at home to Bolton and Deportivo during my stay…. Veron? Who is he?
- Pop Idol… very funny… go the fat guy.
- Traffic – and I thought Auckland was bad.
- Lords Hotel, Bayswater – what a dump, breakfast was crap, nice area though.
- Chelsea FC – Ken Bates won’t let you video in the club shop… why?
- Highbury – no wonder Arsenal want to move.
- Eiffel Tower – crowded and hawkers everywhere.
- Man City for not letting me get once in a lifetime video of the atmosphere of a home match.
- Lufthansa – crap service from check-in to flights and Germans are so starchy and boring.
- Lufthansa and United air hostesses.
- McDonalds in Piccadilly Circus – sorry we’ve run out of pancakes… it’s a bloody egg mixed with milk in a pan for goodness sake!
- McDonalds Bayswater – sorry we’ve run out of the chocolate Do-nuts!
- Trafford Centre in the school holidays.
- Old Trafford… ’cause it’s there!
- Some City fans at Preston… should be sent to Australia with all your criminals.
Can’t wait to go again… will wait for Eastlands and take the wife to Premiership football. Thanks to MCIVTA readers for assisting in me finding things out and tips etc. Talked on the phone to a couple of you while there, shame we couldn’t hook up, but it was a full on trip. It was a dream come true, and one now fulfilled by one of City’s furtherest away fans.
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #778 on