By Howard Hockin | 14 June 2023
Howard get soppy, and thinks about Istanbul, and how it brought home what being a fan is all about.

I’ll never complain again. I said it after THAT QPR match, but then Roberto Mancini chose violence and I was soon complaining again, especially after the following season’s FA Cup final. I said I’d never complain again after each time we held off Liverpool in a thrilling title race, and I truly felt that I meant it. More lies. Centurions, record breakers, domestic trebles, Wembley as a 2nd home. Never going to complain again. I’ve seen things, felt emotions, that I could not even have imagined.  I was soon complaining again. And when the Champions League final against Inter was in the balance I had the thought once more. Just win, please. I’m an atheist, but if there is a god, sort this out. For me. I deserve happiness, honest. Just let my team win this one, single game. That is all I ask. Just like all the previous times I asked a deity I do not believe exists to do just one favour for me. For my friends. For all who follow this club of mine. For the manager and players who had earned this moment. But if not for them at least for me. I did not want to sit in an Istanbul car park for three hours feeling sad, or spend a summer filled with regrets. Just this once. Then no complaints, and I mean it this time. And how could I complain, after everything the last few months has thrown up? After the last fifteen years?

And they did do it. They won. The Champions League, and with it the Treble. A friend who had felt “rather ill” in the first half after a busy day, was in tears. He wasn’t the only one. There was carnage everywhere I looked. I couldn’t even see the players, as I tried not to buckle in the mosh pit around me. Hugging strangers. Fists in the air. All roads led to this, the biggest release. And it was joyous, so joyous. Nothing matches 93:20, but I can’t celebrate more than this. I can’t speak, can barely breathe. My team are the best. The masters. The champions. Even UEFA weren’t ruining this. This was it. Everything, and more, somehow. Why we do it. 115 charges and relegation to the National League (North) would never wipe a single moment from the past fifteen years away, not dampen a single memory or experience. Imagine not liking sport. Even if you hate Manchester City football club, imagine the stupidity or simple grift required not to understand what this meant for the fans, what moments like this feel like. And your team doesn’t have to be the best, to feel like this. Joy like this can arrive in many ways. A crucial win, avoiding relegation, whatever counts as success on the day. Perhaps sport should not feel this important, especially when it is all out of your control, but it is. It just is. 

And around the match, the trip of a lifetime. So many stories, so many airport terminals. A million Turkish security checks, all done with a smile. Sleep in desperately short supply, but worth it all. European Champions, we’ll always sing that. I will of course complain again, in multiple formats. One draw against Everton will have me bemoaning my life as a football fan. But ultimately, there’s little reason to. I’ve seen it all, as have you. Put that on a banner.

I didn’t travel to Istanbul thinking it was going to be *this* emotional. I travelled thinking it was important, sure. That history could be made, that City could get the biggest monkey off their back, and I could be there to witness it, which would be nice. But then it hit home. This competition, and its chequered history with City fans, had reduced us to a sobbing mass. The enormity of it seemed to hit home. Premier Leagues matter as much as Champions League trophies to me, always will. But we had loads of Premier Leagues now, and nothing in Europe. The stakes were so big, that when victory came, a realisation tore through the crowd. A long journey’s end, right here, right now. A football club creating historic moments at a frenetic pace.

There were other reasons that contributed to its unique, historic feel. The biggest foreign invasion by City fans ever, across a continent, all together, arriving from all angles, all there for one reason. To drink, sing, and back the boys. Ok, three reasons. More than any other game, any other occasion, the trip brought home to me what it means to be a fan. What is involved, what it does to you, how important and cherished it is. I was sat by a pool the following day, trying to get a little me time with just an Efes for company. To my left, six of my friends were chatting at a table, raucous laughter erupting sporadically. Across the pool, another group chatted and soaked up the sun. We’d spent the previous day in airports, bars, fan parks, taxis and of course the ground, watching our club make history. Without City, I would never have met any of them. They’d be strangers. And in that moment, I felt it all. The QPR match, the Aston Villa comeback, the endless Wembley trips, trophy after trophy lifted to the sky, the laughs, the journeys, the shared experience. So much hugging, so many bruises. It started with a friend’s tears hearing Abide With Me at Wembley for the first time in 2011, and it ended with tears at winning Old Big Ears. In my mind, I occasionally recall a scene that has played out a few times. It’s a warm Manchester evening, not a cloud in the sky. The stars are out, and I’m in a taxi, travelling down the Mancunian Way, the skyline filled with all the new skyscrapers that have popped up in the past decade. The city looks beautiful at this time of the day, on this road, travelling in this direction, glistening. City have won a final, and this is the final journey back to home, having got the train from London. A long day shared with close friends, after another day the younger me never expected to experience. Little chat, just the drone of traffic, everyone knackered, nothing left to say. I’ve done that journey multiple times, even if the Manchester sky was not always clear. And it always makes me think about the privilege I’ve had over the past decade, and more importantly, the shared experiences with the City family. This football club means I can walk into a fan park 1500 miles from Manchester and bump into ten friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in years. This football club has destroyed my bank balance, but enriched my life.

It might surprise the likes of UEFA to be told this, obvious as it is, but football is about the fans. All I have said above is why the lies put out by Barney Ronay post-match triggered me so badly, more than arguments about geopolitics, net spends, doping or empty seats could ever do. Comparing full-time celebrations to quiet satisfaction from some middle-aged tourists. He wouldn’t have a clue about the emotions I experienced last weekend, or the sacrifices made by thousands to be there. Perhaps a serious journalist would have actually asked some City fans how they felt. Too late for that, he’s burnt his bridges, he’d just get the finger. He could have just looked to his right though, and decided not to lie. Little more than a patsy for his newspaper’s clear editorial policy and for the swathes of Liverpool and United supporters desperate for new coping mechanisms to help deal with the fact – the fact – that little old Manchester City, the club whose name nobody knows, is better than theirs in every possible metric – on and off the pitch. Better players, better management, better recruitment, organisation, forward planning, the list goes on. Tik Tok interactions? OK United, you can have that one. But we’re coming for you on that, too.

Write what you write. Doesn’t matter anymore. This meant everything to everyone. The parties did not just go on long into the night, some are yet to finish. There were guys at Dalaman airport on Monday night who clearly hadn’t been to bed. This was a weekend for the ages. A Guardian football pseud would not understand any of this, I may as well type it out in Russian – Barney loves Russians, after all. Hundreds of thousands, drenched, saluting their heroes back in Manchester, nothing raining on this parade. Gods I do believe in. To quote Kings of Leon, those rainy days they ain’t so bad when you’re the King. The King they want to see.

What now? Where do we go from here? The usual summer refresh, transfer talk, preseason games in distant lands, then like every season, we start all over again. The fixtures are out tomorrow, time to plan once more. Back to trying to win loads of pots, creating more memories and experiences, because none of us will be here forever, and the memories will remain special whatever went before. For others, the horizon brings bleaker omens. No more Villa fans with inflatable European Cups, no pithy songs. With every passing year, 115 charges aside, there is less and less ammunition for the haters. This is what this club has achieved in recent years, led by the greatest manager of all, the manager of our club. He’s broken them, reduced to typing 115 in twitter replies, pretending City can’t sell out matches, reminiscing about when they used to be good, the good old days. Watching OUR trophy parades desperately searching for a piece of empty tarmac. Stuck in the past, purgatory. Broken. I couldn’t have dreamt it would feel this good. I just wanted my team to get to Wembley, just once. Now this. Ours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, as long as beat Sevilla and the Champions of Saudi Arabia.

For all you blues, this was the culmination of a long journey, almost fifteen years after one person typed on Bluemoon that City were suddenly the richest club in the world, and the start of a new one. Enjoy every minute, it won’t last forever. Cherish the power of sport, and appreciate the rough as well as the smooth. There can be no asterisk next to our experiences, nothing can be taken away. Remember that feeling on full time on Saturday night? You own that, and a million other memories. Feels amazing, doesn’t it? And I feel blessed. Until next season, drink it in, until we go all over again. I wouldn’t have it any other way.