Priced out, squeezed out, struck out by fate. Ah yes, we the “Glory Hunters”! I ask you! Which glory is it, you might like to stop and ponder for a minute, that the myriad new season ticket holders are hunting? Ninth place in the league and the chance to see Richard Dunne’s shorts on the move? Yep, of course, we don’t want their kind in here, do we? We don’t want these so-called “City fans” who have been shut out of Maine Road’s crumbling walls, to get in and share the “glory” with us die-hards, do we?
There has always been this concomitant danger of us City fans (and I call myself one despite not seeing more than eight City matches in one season since 1990) getting a bit uppity on the old salt-of-the-earth, nothing-to-touch-our-lunatic-loyalty sort of guff. You know the old mantra… 28,000 for the old Third Division. No one else could have managed it. Through thick and thin, worse and worse. Geordies are just johnny-come-latelies and as for the sideways-moving cake eaters at the Swamp… Let’s face it, football, our football, has been full of tourists, creepers and hangers-on for years now.
You only have to go to Anfield and aforementioned Theatre of Battenburg to see that and appreciate its sad and gory consequences in full Technicolor. It’s the same in Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Munich, Amsterdam. Stadia full of gawping hillbillies with instamatic cameras. It’s not our game anymore. It has been Skyjacked, steam pressed and taken over, rolled flat and reshaped to suit the Playstation Generation. It’s a “whole new ball game”, as the developers and marketing squads might choose to say. It’s football, Wayne, baby, Hector, Tiggy, but not as we know it! Moet & Chandon, salmon tartlets with Roquefort and creme brulee and you don’t even have to watch the ghastly lunatics out on the pitch!
What a blinding makeover that was. And I don’t even know where the tickets came from in the first place. Outrageous! Geoffrey, the gin! We at City like to think that we have steadfastly stayed put with the Accrington Stanleys and Burnleys of this world: cloth caps, meat pies that you can trust (no cats’ entrails in here thank you very much) and a solid wedge of bloody-minded staunch as you like season ticket holders who all know who played for the team before March 1998 and all felt the keen knife of misfortune turn gently in their stomachs at the Racecourse Ground, Bootham Crescent, Sincil Bank, Saltergate, the old Den, Vale Park (delete where memory has done you a favour and wiped it from your brain). We grow fat on our inflatable bananas, our Blue Moons and our four-nil-down-and-still-having-a-right-old-knees-up regalia. Good old City!
Theatre of Base Comedy. Cup for Cock-Ups. God bless ’em. What a bleeding shower! Try showing this kind of nostalgic paralysis to others and they’ll accuse you of being a stegosaurus or Ted Ditchburn’s hairpiece. Kevin Keegan would turn in his sand trap. Just because we spent a large part of the eighties and nineties getting up to stuff that made everyone else laugh their hides off, doesn’t mean we have to keep the copyright on it. That sort of hopeless scurrying used to be Leicester and Palace, the relegation and promotion experts. People were beginning to lump City into this sad no-hoper’s category. But wait, City, at last, are changing. No need for the sleeping giant similes to be trotted out. They are as tired as they are always inaccurate and we’ve used them twenty times already only to be relegated half an hour later. It is simply a change for the better. It may be temporary, maybe not. May be a slight improvement, maybe a seismic one.
Who knows and, for those of us – season ticket holders and not – who hold the Blues close to the heart, it doesn’t of course matter that much, not deep down. Sure, a UEFA Cup run and a top four finish this year would make me positively swell with pride. I will be unbearable down the pub, but, if not, I’ll be back for more with everyone else come the end of next summer. As all the Maine Road stories have recently shown us, it’s the comradeship, the humour, the groundswell of goodwill within these walls for fellow Blues and for City that makes this journey special, not how many pots we can win and whether we can say we took a picture of it with our new camera as it was lofted skywards in a hail of blue and gold sponsored confetti.
I’m approaching forty, god bless us. Never been a season ticket holder. Not once. Life has played a dastardly trick on me. Haven’t lived in Manchester since I was knee high. That I live in Portugal now has no bearing on my four or so visits per year (some away from home, it depends on work, money, flights, the other half’s mood etc.). I have been doing it like this with City for more years than I care to remember: missing so many great games, watching wistfully in some foreign pub, listening on the Internet and then – when the chance finally, lethargically presents itself- coming back to see us pasted by West Ham, that same West Ham! And it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, I just come. I had the out of body experience a couple of years back of being able to say that the last two home games I had seen were both against Walsall. That takes some doing from Lisbon, I can tell you. A few aways in between, I grant you, but still the visits to my ancestral home were a bit more thin on the ground than I would have liked. But I did it like this when I was a student in Germany, when I was a tent cleaner in the South of France, when I fell in love in Switzerland, when I worked in Belgium and Valencia and Amsterdam.
Life has been for the living, despite that terrible gravitational pull towards sunny Moss Side, and mostly I have done just that, lived it. And I have met a good few Blues just as cut off just as committed to the cause on my travels (hello, Amsterdam!, hello Berlin!, hello South of Holland! you know who you are!). Despite all this and you may have to whisper it gently, but I feel as much “City” as the next person. I get the raging heebie-jeebies every match day, I embarrass the girlfriend and annoy the neighbours leaping around like a twelve year old, I wear my City shirt down the beach, I get unbearable surges of envy when I hear the Blues singing their heads off and I can’t be there too. I have lived and worked abroad longer than I care to remember. I am “settled” (as we say optimistically) with a mortgage and a son on the way. Happy as Larry, one could say. But there will always be one thing missing, one thing which always makes me say that I can’t ever rule out coming home to England one day.
Maybe, just maybe, one day I too will be a brand new season ticket holder searching the rows for my shiny new sky blue plastic. Or maybe, joy of joys, my son will be before the horrors of Benfica in their red Vodaphone tops takes hold.. The legions of us stranded “out here” in the rest of the world are done a disservice by inward-looking one-upmanship. “Season ticket since the old Kippax”? I can do better than that! I was born in 1875! Lived through the Plague. And the Ice Age. And the Krankies. And Kevin Bond.
City is the people’s club, like all clubs should be, and hopefully always will be. Everyone’s welcome. Don’t come searching for the glory because there isn’t any, but come for the laughs, there’s always plenty of those. If you don’t take yourself too seriously, you’re welcome. If you enjoy the ironies of life and drinking the sweet elixir of the good with a chomp on the bitter bullet of failure, come this way. If you’re the sort that puts his arm around a stranger and says “let me buy you a pint and tell you about Andy May and the day he nearly knocked me out in row G of the North Stand”, then come with us. If you don’t know who Andy May is, that’s ok, I’ll explain over a drink! If you welcome those who hope and dream, you are already one of us. If you call yourself “City” in any shape or form, the door is open and you can buy me a pint! Now, where’s that application form…
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #927 on