If I’d dared to imagine beforehand how it would be winning the league in such ridiculous, far-fetched of circumstances I would have pictured the screaming of a banshee, the clinging to mates and strangers with an intensity of a man being dragged from quicksand, the indescribable ecstasy that no class A has ever come close to touching, and the clothes soaked from flying beer.
Having seen the awful yet strangely enjoyable Fever Pitch that climaxed with Arsenal’s last-gasp triumph at Anfield in ’89 I would also probably have foreseen the impromptu street party; standing in front of a friend as he sprayed me head to foot in champagne, singing Blue Moon so spent that it came only from my throat and heart, dancing with the women, kissing the men, and respectfully shaking the hand of a old blue and telling him what a privilege it was to share this day – this once-in-a-lifetime day – in his company. And yes, I would have guessed at tears.
I would never however have predicted the bawling. It began almost immediately, in the midst of the insane frenzy that erupted from Aguero’s clinical burying of a 44 year old ghost. As I was temporarily released from a horde of arms and distorted faces the sobbing began, an uncontrollable torrent of emotion of which I never thought myself capable as an adult. It was a lifetime of hurt pouring out of me and the well was unfathomably deep; an endless litany of scoffing taunts from fellow pupils, teachers, colleagues, my dad, mates and pub-twats alike finding humour in an endless litany of heartbreak, disappointment, mismanagement, relegations and implosions. That was how it felt to be City and though there was always defiant pride that was all I’d ever known.
Despite the fortunes spent and the calibre of player in each shirt did anyone really think Sunday would be any different from times past? Despite the professional displays against the two Uniteds to get us here to the very precipice of the ultimate glory did anyone seriously expect a comfortable 3-0 victory and a saunter to the finish line?
The cast may now be infinitely more polished and unused to fluffing their lines but City has always been – and will always remain – a gloriously surreal soap opera and to those who deride us for our wealth and infer there is something baseless about our rise that is our f***ing soul. It is embedded in the brickwork of the club and it inhabits every employee irrespective of wage or status.
Of course we would lose to a ten-man QPR side and as Dzeko headed home an injury-time consolation I both embraced and hated the familiar sickening hope it gave me. The same hope that whispered in my ear prior to Dickov’s screamer at Wembley. The same hope from the false information passed around Maine Road that led to City players desperately holding on to a worthless draw against Liverpool that dropped them.
The hope was an old friend with a holy mother of a cruel streak and I’m ashamed to admit that on this occasion I averted my gaze and avoided eye contact instead burning a sorrowful stare into the floor. This meant too much. This was beyond my football supporting faculties. This was beyond my human limitations. This meant salvation and vindication for a choice made 30 years ago that I have never once regretted but have been made to suffer for time and again. Everything I’d ever believed in, endured, dreamed of and defended suddenly condensed itself into one final attack.
This was stupid. Ridiculous. Maybe those who had attempted to calm me over the years when passion spilt into anger or pain by telling me it was ‘only a game’ were right. Nothing but flesh and blood is this important.
And from now onwards – forever more for me – they will be right. One strike of a football and the ensuing explosion inside of my head laid a million ghosts to rest and rest they shall.
Talking of heads being blown in 1968 – when City were last league champions – Stanley Kubrick released A Space Odyssey. Conceivably Aguero’s finish was the jump cut from bone to space craft for Manchester City and it is fair to assume that many more trophies and silverware will now follow.
But they will be celebrated, cheered and relished with no more purge of tears.
That was how it felt to be City, this is how it feels to be normal.