Growing up in balmy Belfast in the late 70’s usually left a youngster with the following options:
- Follow your local team, and a popular English team.
- Follow your local team, a popular English team and either Rangers or Celtic, depending on your persuasion.
- Ignore your local team, as they’re just a bunch of semi-pro Scottish rejects and general no-hopers, and support a popular English team.
- Follow your local team and an exotic (ie unpopular) English team.
At the age of 10 I was firmly in the first group, with the odd flirtation with the second group. Being from the south-east of the city, the Castlereagh Road area, I was an ardent Glentoran fan. I watched them every week and travelled everywhere. This was slightly to the chagrin of my old man who had been a Blueman (arch enemies Linfield) in his youth, but who now wouldn’t go watch them if they were playing in the backyard. I felt a slight affinity with Rangers, but only because all my mates were Huns. Across the water, I went with the flow and followed Liverpool. No-one needs to be reminded what a team they were in the late 70’s and I’m sure I can be forgiven for my mistaken allegiance under what was considerable peer pressure. My bedroom was a sea of red.
Luckily, deliverance (and a lifetime membership to the 4th group above) was not far away. Our two cub scout leaders at the time were both keen fans of English football and would try to take our troupe across the Irish Sea to watch a game once every season. In March 1979 we went over to Manchester to watch City play Bolton at the Academy. We got the whole package that day – we played a couple of local teams in the morning (including one of City’s young teams I seem to recall), then got taken around the ground and got to meet big Joe and Tommy Booth. I can only remember the olympic-sized team bath and the shear hugeness of the Main Stand. I don’t remember much about the game – we won 2-1 I think and the crowd was bigger than anything I’d ever seen at The Oval. After the match we crowded into the souvenir shop, where I spent all my wad on a daft bracelet and a couple of posters.
Another part of the deal was that every member of the troupe were enrolled as members of the Junior Blues, whether they wanted to or not. It was no wonder City could claim they had the world’s largest junior supporters’ club. All in all I was well chuffed with the whole trip and it didn’t take me long (on the bus home) to decide that I was now going to be a City fan. My mates all felt this was just a fad that would soon wear off. There weren’t too many City fans about where I came from, but I think that just added to the glamour. I enjoyed being different. My new allegiance also helped to further embed my utter contempt for the Rags. I particularly hated Mickey Thomas.
A little over two years later and we were at Wembley. Not much chance of getting a ticket, but I remember the Hutch goals pretty clearly. I gurned like a stuck pig after the replay. Everyone is familiar with the hopeless 80’s, but I stuck with the Blues. High school was a further testing ground of my faith and I held out like a lone Comanche surrounded by Yankees. In the end I got quite well known as the only student who supported a Second Division team. I think there was even a little respect for my loyalty. During this time my hatred for the Rags reached an all-time low, when as an excitable 14 year old (I think) I was walking out of OT with my dad, having just seen Dave Bennett equalise in the last couple of minutes. A Rag walked up to us and promptly kneed me in the groin. What lovely people they are.
University followed and I finally got to see the Blues on a regular basis, as I joined the Leicester and Rugby branch and went home and away between 1987 and 1990. Being a bit of a tit, I missed the 5-1. I saw the result in the local paper in Ottawa when on holiday and almost kissed the guy behind the counter. I then had a year in Edinburgh, where I got a lift to the home games with a fine bloke, Sam Bell from Shotts. If anyone knows how I can get in touch with Sam again (he’s a member of the “60 Club” (???)), I’d be very grateful.
Now I’m out in Taiwan and City are further away than ever. I haven’t seen a game since 1995 and it really p***es me off. But thank God for the Net. MCIVTA is a real lifeline for expat Blues.
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #527 on