It was the morning of Thursday 4 September 1997 and I had just arrived for another day in the first week back of primary school. I had just started Year 5 – in Mrs. Hunter’s class at the school at the top of my road – and was a nine-year-old boy that was sitting on a table of six, which included (from memory) one other Manchester City fan and one Manchester United fan. I can’t really remember who else was on the table, but I could have a pretty good guess.
The United fan was gloating because, the evening before, City had won their first game of the season. It was looking like it was going to be a long, hard year, as the Blues had already been knocked out of the League Cup on penalties to Blackpool, and faced Portsmouth, Sunderland, Tranmere, and Charlton in Nationwide League Division One and picked up just two points.
“And so City can wait,” he sang. “They know it’s too late, as United march by.”
I don’t remember how the rest of it goes.
The evening before, Ged Brannan twice and Paul Dickov once scored to earn the Blues a victory at the City Ground, as they eased past Nottingham Forest by three goals to one. The midfielder netted either side of half time, before Kevin Campbell pulled one back for Forest and the away side’s striker sealed the win in the final minute.
I don’t know if it was the first or second of Brannan’s goals, but I can very clearly remember one of them: He raced onto a bouncing through-ball and got there before the goalkeeper, who had come steaming out to clear it. He hooked it over the top of the stranded shot-stopper and it had looped high into the night sky – it must have been 20 or 25 yards up – before bouncing once and dropping under the crossbar.
I only remember it so vividly because I used to recreate it with Subbuteo. I promise you, I’m not mad.
Anyway, back to that Thursday morning. I was being gloated at, essentially because Manchester City were poor (one win in the second tier in five games) while Manchester United were good. Ha! How could I support a team that was so rubbish?
I don’t need to go into the reasons why I supported City back then. They’re boring and if you’re reading this, then you’ll probably have pretty similar reasons for turning up week in, week out at Maine Road hoping against hope that this week was the week it was all going to be different, only to see things remain the same. And then get worse.
Back then, I – and probably you and anyone else who is reading this – took the taunts of the Reds who were around. Gloating always looks arrogant, which is why I’m loathed to do it myself, even when City were FA Cup winners in 2011 having beaten our rivals on the way or even when we snatched the league from under their noses the year later.
Those United fans that taunted me throughout my school days about the state of my club were doing so from a position of ignorance. For them, I have absolutely no sympathy, as the Reds go through one of the worst seasons they’ve had in decades. They have grown up believing that there is something special about their club, when, in actual fact, they are just a football club that is susceptible to mismanagement and poor performances, just like any other.
The Reds who saw relegations and the like in the past have some understanding, though a lot of that understanding has been chipped away over the last 20 years, gradually being replaced by that feeling of a divine right to win… which no club has ever had nor ever will have. This saw rise to the totally un-ironic ‘slogan’ of ‘not arrogant, just better’ – which is currently completely false. Not better, and a slogan that is so crammed packed with arrogance that I need a new irony meter because mine has just exploded. Again.
They were gloating from a position of never having to watch their club travel to Wycombe or Oldham or York or Bournemouth and face the very real possibility of getting beaten again. It’s a position where they’ve never had to go to Old Trafford and wonder if they’ll even score a goal, let alone win the game, out of knowledge that their team simply isn’t good enough. They’d never known it.
So, in a week that has seen the Reds crash out of the League Cup to the hands of Sunderland, and in a week where they face the real possibility of ending a season without a trophy and only the incoming transfer of Mata to be their beacon of hope (which doesn’t solve all of their problems, even if it does solve some), I urge Blues fans not to be arrogant.
We haven’t won anything yet this season and we are still not immune to mis-management. But this comes with one huge caveat – and here it is…
There is not a day goes by that I don’t pinch myself and thank my lucky stars that we received investment at the time we did – sneaking into the cartel before the incoming Financial Fair Play Regulations come along to seal the door behind us.
However, the old maxim of football has always been ‘only give it out if you can take it’. Only leave your foot in a challenge if you’re prepared for an opposition player to do the same. Only take the piss, if you’re prepared to have the piss taken when the tables – inevitably – turn.
For those United fans watching their club go through a, frankly, awful season, who were always respectful of your opponents and would have some good natured joshing with Blues over the years, but never go too far, you (genuinely) have my sympathy. It’s not nice seeing something you love falling apart and being unsure if it will ever be rebuilt.
However, to those fans who made my school days a nightmare, to those fans who made me have to find somewhere else to go at lunchtime because we’d lost to Stockport, to those fans who would laugh about how great Manchester United were while Manchester City explored the third tier of English football, I have four words: Ha. Ha. Fucking. Ha.
Thank-you, and goodnight.
Written by David Mooney