I have been a subscriber to MCIVTA for about two years now and have really enjoyed the lively debate that goes on between Blues’ fans as well as the match reports. I have particularly enjoyed reading the Why Blue feature and have intended to contribute my own offering for some time but have failed to overcome the inertia required to actually begin. Until now. Here goes.
When people ask me how long I’ve been a Blues supporter, I usually reply with something like, “Since conception!” or “All my life!” I know it seems twee but I honestly cannot remember not being a City fan. I was born in Durban on South Africa’s east coast in 1970. My dad was from Wythenshawe and my mom was a Salford lass. It’s always bothered me that my arrival coincided with the beginning of the end of City’s golden period and as I was to discover, living in South Africa wasn’t the best place to follow City from afar. For a start, we didn’t get TV until 1976 (that’s not a typo, 1976!). One of our politicians believed that TV was “the Devil’s bioscope” and fought tooth and nail to prevent its introduction.
I always knew that City were a less-fancied team although to me they were the greatest. I remember my dad taking a portable short-wave radio to weddings and such-like so that we could sit outside and listen either to a live City match or the results.
The highlight of my young City-supporting life was when my parents decided to take my younger brother and I to the U.K. in 1976, to let our grandparents have a first look at their new (I was 6, he was 4!) grandkids. My aunt who is unfortunately married to a Red, contacted the club and organised a visit for us. So, we now have preserved on 1970’s cine-film, footage of my brother and I shaking hands on the centre spot at Maine Road, as well as a visit to the training ground where we met Tony Book, Tommy Booth, Big Joe Corrigan, Dennis Tueart and sat on the boot of Glyn Pardoe’s car. I remember my brother and I being fascinated because Pardoe’s car had a rear window-wiper! We had never seen that before.
My dad also took us to see City play Stoke. It was a bit of a disaster for him because City lost 1-0 and my brother and I being exhausted from all the excitement, slept through it!
We returned to South Africa with our City souvenirs and replica strips and settled again into the routine of supporting the Blues from a cultural backwater.
The next event to really stick out on my City radar was the F.A. Cup Final of 1981 (the League Cup win of 1976 having completely passed us by on the southern tip of Africa). I had vaguely realised that City were doing well in some kind of competition but that was about all I knew. Let me explain: I’ve already said that we only got TV in 1976 but despite the arrival of “the Devil’s bioscope”, the only match we ever saw on TV was the F.A. Cup Final. No other Cup matches, no league matches, nothing. In fact, I remember that an enterprising Durban hotelier arranged for the Match of the Day highlights package to be flown out to Durban once a week and put it on a big screen and all the ex-pats would come to watch. My dad took us a couple of times but we weren’t really old enough to appreciate it.
Anyway, back to 1981. We watched the first match with all its nail-biting excitement and felt that we were unlucky not to win. Then the replay on the Thursday night. We got special permission to stay up past our bedtime to watch and I remember being absolutely devastated when Villa scored that goal and we lost. I stormed to my room in tears and ripped the Spurs team photo off the wall (I collected all the team photos that used to be published in Shoot magazine) and tore it into tiny bits. I was inconsolable. I now have the video of that game in my collection. It’s a bit strange but it’s one of the events that cemented my love of the Blues for all time. I know the term “gallant losers” is a cliché but for me, that team really were.
I continued following City as well as I could through my teens despite the paucity of any real info on them and despite them going up and down like a fairground attraction. Then in the late 80’s, a subscription TV channel opened in South Africa and marketed itself to fans of British football. They showed a couple of live games on the weekend and a highlights package on a Monday night. Often we would only see City on the highlights but beggars can’t be choosers. At about this time, friends of the family told us that they had met a lad from Manchester who had come out to work in South Africa. His name was Chris Underwood and he was a City fan! I remember that he told our friend’s daughter that he lived next door to Rick Astley. He was kidding of course but she was very impressed. The thing I remember most vividly about Chris’ stay in South Africa was watching City play Spurs at his flat. I can’t remember exactly when this was but Spurs had Erik Thorsvedt in goal and David White scored. I think the game ended as a draw but we were p****d by this time celebrating White’s goal. These celebrations included throwing Chris’ telephone directory off his balcony and pulling a light fitting out of the ceiling. I know, I can’t explain it either. Does anyone remember the goal Clive Allen scored right near the end of a game against Chelsea? Well, Chris had lent me his TV one weekend as mine was on the blink and he had gone away for the weekend. Otherwise I might never have seen that goal.
Unfortunately, Chris didn’t stay in South Africa very long so it was back to the valiant rearguard action my dad and I were conducting (my brother by this stage was a devotee of the oval ball).
I’m sure that like the shooting of Kennedy and John Lennon, every City fan can tell you where they were and what they were doing the day City beat United in 1989. Well, here’s my story. We had been invited to a wedding on the Natal South Coast. It was a filthy day with torrential spring rain everywhere. I remember trying to follow someone to the reception venue and hardly being able to see ten metres through the rain on the motorway. We finally arrived at the hotel and not really knowing anyone at the wedding besides the bride who was a work colleague of my wife’s, sat alone at a table near the back. Shortly after, a group joined us at the table and in conversation I found out that they were cousins of the bride and that they had gone to the same school as me. Cue much discussion along the lines of “Do you remember this teacher etc?” Now at this time in South Africa, the English 1st Division results were broadcast during the sport segment of the main evening news bulletin. So, at about half past eight, I wondered off in search of the hotel’s TV lounge. Imagine my delight at seeing that beautiful score; 5-1! I could hardly believe it having been steeling myself for a defeat and only holding out the faintest hope of a City triumph. I charged back to the wedding crowing at the top of my voice. The evening then proceeded to get very lively and many celebratory beers were downed. As we were leaving, I bumped into an old school friend from junior school whose presence had nothing to do with the wedding, it was complete coincidence. So it was back inside for a few more. I drove the 40kms home in the pouring rain and to this day cannot remember doing it. Not a good example of responsible driving but that’s what supporting City can do to you.
I remember that in the early 90’s, City had a useful side including Niall Quinn, David White, Peter Reid, Neil Pointon, Ian Brightwell, Steve Redmond etc. I believe they ended 5th one season. The next highlight on my City radar was when I travelled to the U.K. in 1992 and managed to see the Blues play the first top-flight game ever to be played on a Monday night. It was against QPR if memory serves. Being much older, I was able to fully appreciate the experience and unlike 1976, I definitely didn’t fall asleep. I remember being delighted at the way the City fans responded to the announcer reading out the team list by welcoming each player with his own little song. Standing on the Kippax for the first (and only) time, I was caught up in the huge outpouring of almost tribal celebration when City scored (David White, I think). I remember the crowd surging forward and sideways and back and ending up about 20 yards away from where I’d been before. I have never known a feeling like it. Of course, it got very quiet when QPR (Sinton, I think) equalised. But a magical experience for me.
Then, about two years later, City came to me! They came on a pre-season tour to South Africa and although a lot of the big names stayed at home, I was still able to meet Tony Coton, Fitzroy Simpson and Michel Vonk. I had breakfast with Simpson and Vonk and was lucky enough (with my dad) to have dinner with Peter Reid who was manager by this stage (trivia: we share the same birthday, 20 June) and met Tony Book (again!). Personal highlight for me was being mistaken for a City player by a star-struck receptionist who after getting autographs from Simpson and Vonk, asked me for mine (no, I didn’t give it to her although I imagined someone asking years later “Who the hell was Jason Corlett, I don’t remember him!”). City played the local side Chatsworth Rangers and I was amazed at the number of City fans who appeared out of thin air. Obviously City fans are spread rather thinly over the South African ground because I’ve never seen so many in one place in South Africa.
I should pause here to explain something about South African football supporters. The black community support the local (mainly black) clubs although there is no regional loyalty, clubs like Kaizer Chiefs who supplied Lucas Radebe to Leeds and their name to a rock band. The Asian community, which is probably the largest outside India, almost exclusively support English teams with the vast majority being misguided enough to support that other team near us whose name I cannot bring myself to type. The white community is divided into an Afrikaans-speaking half (rugby union is their religion) and an English-speaking half (rugby union and cricket are their preferred sports). A small percentage of the English-speaking half follow English football and most of them support you-know-who. Pity them Lord for they know not what they do. Anyway, City and Chatsworth Rangers drew 1-1. Quigley scored, I think. The following day, the local newspaper trumpeted that South African football has nothing to fear from English football. It seems the local scribes can’t recognise an end of season jolly when they see one.
The next thing is City in the third tier for the first time and the two successive promotion campaigns that followed. I remember following the play-off final against Gillingham by logging on the Internet every 10 minutes. At 88 minutes I called through to my dad and said that the dream was over. Imagine my surprise when I logged on 15 minutes later to read about exactly how bad we were to find us playing extra-time. I’ve since seen the video and I can only imagine what it must have been like to be there. Typical Blues testing the cardiac fortitude of their supporters!
Finally, the latest chapter in my Blue life. My wife and kids and I moved to live in England at the beginning of this year. Two weeks ago my dad, brother and I attended our first match together since 1976 and my first League match since 1992 and of course our first match in the COMS. I had been on the stadium tour a few weeks before the Everton game so I had seen the new ground before but my dad and brother were well impressed. We had a bit of a problem getting in as we were not used to the fancy turnstiles. Anyway, we got in just before kick-off and settled down to enjoy the match. The first thing I noticed was the difference in atmosphere compared to Maine Road. Songs were begun but petered out quickly. Even the booing of Phil Neville seemed half-hearted. I must admit for the first 70 minutes I sat there thinking that I can understand why attendances are dropping. Thirty-onep pounds each and the football was dire. Then Danny Mills scored that screamer and things seemed better. Vassell added another right at the end and we ran out 2-0 winners. In overview, it was a pretty mediocre game of football. I don’t know if the early start was responsible but few of the players on either side seemed interested or passionate or committed. The exceptions being Ireland and Croft. However, City did win and as for the manner of it, it’s all part and parcel of the rollercoaster ride that being a City fan represents.
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #1165 on