A simple sentence but one loaded with meaning.
In the minds of many throughout the country it is a victory for the might of money. For many others it is a refreshing usurping of an established order that is dominated by a Manchester United organisation they see as as charmless as it is unrelenting.
But regardless of your point of view on the merits of a league that, for most, makes billion dollar investments the only way of achieving real competitiveness and whether acknowledging and acting on that is ‘moral’, there can be no doubting that what was witnessed at The Etihad Stadium on Sunday was an event that was as emotional in the stands as it was dramatic on the pitch.
Put aside the finances and what you found was, for a huge portion of Manchester City fans, a culmination of a lifetime of support for a team that had for years become accustomed to being the laughing stick of English football. A team that, even upon the verge of becoming English Champions prompted multiple references to “Cityitis” and “Typical City” from virtually every media man covering them. A team that for so long had been subjected to widespread ridicule and jibes, most excruciatingly from within their own city, from neighbours that had built an empire that embarked on an unparalleled run of superiority.
That people choose to support football teams and invest such emotion in them often seems to defies logic. A game is just that, a game. It almost never changes anything of importance. It only feels like it does if you invest a certain, possibly irrational, level of emotion and interest in it. To those who do not choose to support sporting institutions it is quite obvious that a sporting result is irrelevant to the progress or well being of the human race.
But all around the country people, all around the world, people do so. Particularly in those countries that have a history of football as a national game. Clubs engender such out of proportion support and fanaticism that it can seem baffling. Even more so when you consider that the vast, vast majority of them never see the sort of major, sustained success that the handful of major clubs that dominate the sport do.
So there must be more to it than just enjoying the sport. Too many people invest far too much in supporting clubs for it to be down to a mere appreciation of the game. Most become indoctrinated in the game at an early age, playing as children whenever they can. They enjoy the game but their support is defined by something else. A sense of belonging. A sense of society. A sense of identity.
To be a Manchester City fan for the last 30 years has been to understand what it is like to be part of something that bonds a large population of people, yet seems to offer little tangible reward for taking part. Yet the support for the club stayed loyal. Not because they expected success any time soon – you can’t truly expect, or even genuinely hope for it, when languishing in Division Two – but because this was them.
In Manchester, when it comes to football, you choose to be red, blue or a supporter of one of the numerous smaller clubs from the surrounding areas. Being blue often offered nothing other than a sense of belonging. In the majority of cases, one passed through generations of families. With it came the expectation that a club of City’s ‘size’ should achieve more than it had, did and probably would do in the future. Being red over most of that period was a virtual guarantee of success and an easy ride.
There often seemed no rational reason for wanting to stay a City fan. Don’t get me wrong, Rochdale, Bury and Stockport fans will tell you that they have always had less prospect of success than City and this is true. And their fans are to be commended for their loyalty and commitment to the game. The difference being that supporting City for the last 30 years came with an acknowledgement that, along with the lack of success, would come a virtual guarantee of ridicule and the disappointment of knowing that other clubs of a similar size and history were consistently achieving relatively more. And seemingly would continue to do so.
So when the change of fortune that huge monetary investment brings makes its way to City, you see something that isn’t often seen in title winning celebrations. Despite the perception that many neutrals are aghast at success funded by oil money, Sunday saw a virtually overwhelmingly positive response to City’s victory, along with delight and genuine congratulations for City fans.
It’s difficult, even for the most anti football investment campaigner, not to recognise that, investment aside, this was one of the most emotion filled events witnessed in recent football history. Here was a set of fans who have suffered from ridicule and disappointment for decades, who have had their noses rubbed in it for the last 20 years, who should rationally have given it up long ago but chose not to.
It’s recognition of the reasons that City fans, as an entity, did not choose to give it up that has made it so difficult for fans of other clubs to begrudge them the events of 13.05.2012. City fans aren’t special, as much as us City fans would like to think so. All the characteristics that any group of fans like to think are unique to them are present in the support of most clubs. And even though City fans have had to possibly put up with more ridicule and disappointment than most, the reasons for sticking with their team are recognisable to Crystal Palace, West Ham, Southampton, Sunderland, Cheltenham Town, Chesterfield, Derby County fans and fans of most other teams – possibly with the exception of certain sections of the established ‘big’ clubs.
Subsequently, fans of those clubs recognise that this title victory, whilst on the surface is a confirmation that success in football is now chiefly, possibly solely, determined by an ability to spend, was a feel-good fans story. This was vindication for a set of fans who, like other fans up and down the country, had not chosen the easy option of adopting a team that might guarantee trophy victories. Who had continued their support in the face of years of mocking and disappointment because Manchester City represented them. Their – or part of their – society. Their city. Their, or at least some of, their friends. It was their team, part of their social life, part of something that defined many every day conversations and interactions within their social circles. This is what football clubs come to mean to people. However stupid and ridiculous that sounds.
And after all those humiliations, all that ridicule, all that disappointment, all that grasping of defeat from the jaws of victory, they had finally done it. Not after waiting a few years for something like this. Not after going through a ‘dodgy spell’. But after what was for many, a lifetime of knowing nothing but footballing humiliation, punctuated by the odd instance of slightly less humiliation.
That it occurred in the manner that it did – the most dramatic, momentous comeback in title history – only served to highlight the emotion of it all. The eruption after Sergio Aguero’s goal was something rarely witnessed at a football game. It wasn’t merely celebration of a goal. It wasn’t merely celebration of a title win. It wasn’t merely a celebration of a dramatic comeback.
It was all those, combined with the habits of a lifetime finally being broken. The celebration of something that many had thought would never be possible. That modern football and the capacity for cock ups that had infected the club’s DNA had ensured would never be achieved. The celebration of a day that it was imagined might never come. When fans who had put up with so much could say that their team had proven to be the best in the country. Made even sweeter by beating their rivals, those who had revelled in mocking City so much over the years whilst they enjoyed their own unparalleled success.
This all seems a bit misty eyed. It has to be acknowledged that, like any club achieving success, over the following years, parts of City’s support will change. The reasons for ‘being a fan’ for many will not be those that drew fans to the club over the last 30 years.
But this title victory, being the first, was still untainted by the arrogance and ‘need’ for victory that accompanies many fanbases used to and expecting success. It wasn’t about how City’s fanbase will inevitably change in the next decade as they build on this success. It was about what their fanbase has been over the last 3 decades. About those that witnessed those tribulations and finally witnessed reward yesterday. About those who witnessed those tribulations and were no longer around to witness yesterday.
This was a day that had been 40 years in the making, with each passing year making it less likely that it would ever arrive. On the pitch it was a victory for the quality that money can buy. But in the stands it was a victory for football support and what football clubs mean to the societies they represent. A victory for every club that is not one of the established ‘big’ teams. A victory for fans that don’t give up hope and, for some reason, put up with every disappointment and let-down that their club throws at them. A victory for the ridiculed. A victory for the reasons, beyond wanting to win, that we support football clubs. A victory for hope. A victory that fans of most clubs can relate to and, for yesterday at least, could appreciate as an entity separate to any concerns about finances.