A FAMILY AFFAIRBy Joe Green | 18 June 2023
I never was that ‘into’ football in my earliest formative years, this despite coming from a family of avid blues on both sides. Don’t get me wrong, I knew my favourite colour was sky blue and I didn’t like red. I knew City were a force for good, United bad, but that was about as far as it went for me. I was more interested in Extreme Ghostbusters on ITV and Crash Bandicoot on my PS1 than professional football. I believe the reason for this apathy was the fact my father was a Grenadier Guard; this of course meaning our family was often on the move. I was born in London, lived in Leeds, Catterick and Windsor before we finally settled back on the family patch of Wythenshawe, South Manchester after my dad finished his Army career in late 1998. I was six years old, and I was home. It was naturally a matter of time before football as the love of my life would take hold.
One of my earliest memories of City is Nicky Weaver running around Wembley like a mad man in that bright orange Kappa shirt having saved the decisive penalty in a shoot-out against Gillingham, to send us back to the First Division. To celebrate this, we all went round to my Nanna’s, me and the rest of my young cousins draped in ‘laser blue’ and neon green City gear. Watching as my dad and uncles slowly drank themselves into a stupor, led by my City-obsessed uncle John noting how the tables had surely now turned, it was only a matter of time before a return to the past glories of the seventies. I was hooked, Paul Dickov and Nicky Weaver were now the heroes, sorry Crash, Elon and co. It was out with Echo One and in with an Eleven Idiots Dreaming of Success City top with Dickov 9 on the back.
This is where the relationship really began to blossom. I was City mad from that point forward, 100% in, arguing the club’s merits against all comers. This despite the Club yo-yoing between divisions and United conquering all before them across the road. City were it for me, there was nothing else. I loved everything about the club and from an early age, believed the club’s potential was unlimited, even to the point of delusion. This was all reinforced when City were promoted again in 2000 at Ewood Park in front of tens of thousands of blues who had taken over the place. I was mesmerised. I had gone to my first game at Maine Road earlier that season, interestingly the final game of the 20th century, played against Grimsby Town on the 28th December 1999, Shaun Goater scoring a late winner. I know it’s a cliché, but I still remember the huge playing surface, the green grass, the Kippax towering over the rest of the stadium with the other stands in odd shapes and sizes, the smell of Bovril wafting through the December cold air, it was mesmeric, and I adored it, feeling at home in an instance.
Naturally my newfound passion brought me in to direct conflict with the many reds in my primary school classroom on the playground. They were larger in number and openly hostile to anything City, this despite being lightyears ahead of us in literally every metric you could wish to measure the two clubs with. ‘Why do you support City, they’re crap?’ often the typically arrogant opening line, my response often to question the questioner’s support of United, given that most of my Wythenshawe red classmates were sons of ardent Manchester City supporters who went to Maine Road with my old man in his pre-army days, only for their sons to ditch the club of their family for the glitz and glamour at Old Trafford, pathetic. My contempt for all things Manchester United secured and set for life.
However, this type of question would linger in my young mind. I loved City because they were well, City. I didn’t give a toss about trophies, star-players or what division we played in, and I took any attack on the club as a personal afront. I very much viewed it as my club. I would speak to my grandad about these confrontations on the playground, repeating what had been said genuinely looking for the answer, “Grandad, why do we support City when United win everything?” The reply was always universal – “Stick with it son, it’ll come good.” He would then recite examples of days past where the likes of Dennis Tueart had scored an overhead kick at Wembley to secure the League Cup, swashbuckling football being played at Maine Road with Francis Lee bagging 20+ a season and the rest. Often, I didn’t believe him about it coming good. After all, I was watching Jamie Pollock most weekends, but he was an ardent City supporter who had followed the club from the 1950s onwards. He was at St. James’ Park in 1968 and was there for everything that followed. He adored Colin Bell and the rest of that fabulous side and the stories of him getting into fights every Christmas with players in the pub team he managed of a red persuasion for badmouthing City are legendary in our family. I guess that’s where it comes from in me too.
The reality though, is that it’s a bit more nuanced than that. You see City are quite literally in my family’s blood. Eric Brook, who was Manchester City’s all-time leading goal scorer until 2017 (when it was broken by a certain Kun Aguero), having played in a fabulous City side that won the FA Cup in 1934, a year after City were runners-up in a team led by Matt Busby, before then going on to win the clubs first league championship, the 1st Division in 1936/37, was my grandfather’s uncle. He even scored the winning goal in that famous 1934 FA Cup quarter-final at Maine Road v Stoke in front of a record 84,569 crowd, a record attendance that still stands to this day as the highest attended game at an English football ground outside of Wembley. Eric bought my grandparents their first television set and upon his death cause a split in the family when my grandfather’s sister inherited his medals and chose to auction them, rather than keeping them in the family as per my City mad grandad’s wish. I’m sorry for name dropping but it’s something I’m immensely proud of and puts to bed any nonsense about City lacking ‘history’. Anyway, the reason for said name drop is that my grandad would often quote this period of City’s history, as well as the team he followed around the country so passionately in the late 1960s and 70s as ample reason as to why the club’s potential was as good as any others. If you remember me stating earlier, I adopted this head on myself, knowing that City, despite the many cockups, relegations et al, could have their day in the sun again.
So, we come to May 2008, driving home from Middlesbrough with my dad following an 8-1 hammering at the Riverside. I vividly remember him turning off the radio as news filtered through that United had secured yet another league title at Wigan ahead of their Champions League Final against Chelsea in Moscow the following week. I was finishing secondary school in said week and this is where I started to doubt my own belief that City could one day return to the top, beginning to view it as a delusion. A season that had started with so much optimism, a new owner with billions of pounds to spend in Thaksin Shinawatra and a manager in Sven Goran-Eriksson who had won titles in Serie A in its 90s pomp before managing England to much media fanfare, had brought in a lot of unknown footballers from the continent and built a mismatch of City players that were sat in the top four at Christmas. The previous season we had not scored a goal at home from New Year to the end of the season, so you can understand the optimism. Of course, it was short-lived, transpiring that our billionaire owner had no money, was on the run from the Thai authorities and Sven was being yarded. ‘Typical City’ rang in my ears on that long journey home from the North East, annoyed that I’d let my guard down to believe we could be on to something. Fast forward four months and my life and many others changed forever…
“We are building a structure for the future, not just a team of all-stars,” the famous words of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Manchester City’s new owner after his purchase of the club was formally confirmed and ratified on the 23rd September 2008. Now, I don’t need to tell you about my personal journey since then, I’ve shared enough here already – that can be a blog for another day if you think this first effort is any good. But I think it’s fair to say in the 14 years and nine months since that quote, the structure built is stronger than anything we could ever have imagined in our wildest dreams. The day of the Champions League Final I opined to my friend Will that as a fanbase, City fans of a certain age can genuinely say that they have seen it all. Take one who began match-going in the early 90s as an example, you’d have seen football in the third tier of English football, a play-off final win, three relegations, three promotions, a second-tier title, seven Premier League Titles, three FA Cup’, six League Cups and now a Champions League win to complete a Treble, absolute madness and absolutely Manchester City Football Club.
So, I’ll finish back at the Atatürk, in my euphoric disbelief. I’m not going to get into some of the rubbish I’ve seen about our supporters’ reaction to completing the treble at the full-time whistle, with one Guardian ‘journalist’ in particular irking me in the days after it. Howard did a fine enough job of verbally dissecting this cretin in his excellent blog earlier this week. What I will get into was the sheer joy and tears on many a face of people I’ve been going with and seeing at City matches for nearly two and a half decades. The pure, unadulterated euphoria of a fanbase that has been through it all and back, on and off the pitch, completing the unimaginable. No talk of 115 charges, pseudo journalistic re-writing of the facts on the ground, or indeed coverage of our club on a whole can ever take away that moment, nor the many other ones since Sheikh Mansour’s arrival in September 2008. It was the glory of what sport can give to humanity, captured in moments.
My personal overriding emotion was one of pride tinged with sadness. We lost my grandad back in 2007 after a short battle with illness just before Sheikh Mansour transformed the club into the behemoth we see today. Obviously, this was the sadness. The pride being that he, my dad and others in my family had introduced me to this incredible family. I want to call it a football club, but it’s much more than that to me and always will be. My dad taking me up and down the land watching the likes of the team I mentioned earlier who scored no goals at home in 2007 from New Years Day to August. People like my uncle John who followed City in those seventies heydays through to the likes of Wycombe away in 1998, or even my mum who ensured she got me tickets to Maine Road, getting me safely there as a young lad suffering through dialysis in need of a kidney transplant, to go and watch the team he loved. They are the people that make a football club, and they are the people who deserve this glory and there are many more of them amongst us. Above all though, what sat with me were the words of my late grandfather to a young seven-year-old boy in an oversized orange Kappa goalkeeping shirt. He was right you see, it was worth ‘sticking with it’ as it did indeed ‘come good in the end’.
Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that.