I had been following Columbus Crew, my local Major League Soccer club closely for a few years. But seven years ago, I became drawn into ESPN’s Saturday morning feature that was the Premier League.
The network had joint broadcasting rights with Fox Sports at the time and the top-tier matches were broadcast at ten o’clock Eastern time. I was enticed by the frantic pace of play, the attacking style, the continuous hum of chants from the stands, fantastic first touches, a bright green pitch bathed in sunlight one minute and pounded by rain ten minutes later, the sleek play-by-play calls of Ian Darke and the gravelly commentary of Steve McManaman.
In my opinion, English football’s system of promotion and relegation is one of the greatest inventions in sport. The bottom-dwellers of the professional sports world in the States are incentivized to lose in order to position themselves for better draft picks the following season. I was attracted to the version of the sport that focuses its entire core on the regular season where both the top and the bottom of the table are fighting for wins for entirely different reasons.
Americans love a good playoff. The obsession with the playoff in sports has led to our growing trend that bigger is better. Why invite the top four teams to a playoff when you can invite sixteen? I have grown tired of watching American sports teams with poor to mediocre regular-season results win championships because half of the league is seeded into a playoff.
After watching the Premier League for a number of months, I felt the calling to select a club of my own to follow. I needed a sense of ownership. If you’re going to have a vested interest, you need to pick your pony. But how do you go about selecting a club 3,500 miles away? I knew I could not bring myself to pull for Manchester United who, at the time, had won three consecutive league titles. To borrow a line from journalist Jonathan Wilson, “There’s no glory in expected success.”
Looking toward the London clubs, I didn’t care for Chelsea’s players or its style of play. I had a fondness for Arsenal after reading Nick Hornby’s ode to fandom ‘Fever Pitch’, but Columbus was full of too many Gooners. I also ruled out Burnley, Wolverhampton and Birmingham City who all has just been promoted and stood a high chance to be sent back down at the season’s close.
I stumbled across a team decked out in sky blue and was mesmerized by a fiery Argentinian forward who darted around defenders at will.
Manchester City, the blue side of the Manchester, hadn’t won any trophies in decades since hoisting the First Division trophy in 1968, the FA Cup in 1969 and the League Cup in 1976. For years, City had played the role of the proverbial younger brother to United, the punching bag to its crosstown rivals. They were a club in transition but that season it was flirting with a spot in the top four. Less than two years prior, Manchester City had been purchased by Abu Dhabi United Group and they now had significant money. The team’s manager, Roberto Mancini, was courted the previous December even before Mark Hughes was officially sacked. Argentinian forward Carlos Tevez was signed for a then-record £47 million transfer fee and prospects for success appeared positive.
As I watched the club in the spring and picked up the following season, I became enamored by the club’s stalwarts as well as the big-money transfers ushered in during the summer window. In addition to the defensive prowess of center back Vincent Kompany, I fell hard for the club with the strength of Yaya Toure controlling the midfield, the foot skills and speed of the magician David Silva and explosiveness (both on and off the field) of newly-acquired striker Mario Balotelli.
Unlike the throngs of supporters in the States for the likes of United, Arsenal and Chelsea, City supporters are few and far between. I have managed to unearth a few other local Blues supporters. My cousin-in-law’s friends had already been followers of Chelsea and Arsenal and told him that due to his Italian heritage, he should support City who, at the time, had just recently signed Balotelli. I also discovered a neighbor down the street to be a City supporter while making small talk during a party when the conversation turned to which Premier League side each of us supported. His love of City was driven by a hatred of Sir Alex Ferguson. After you find one another, your tribe meets by ducking out of work mid-afternoon to meet up at a local pub to catch a Champions League matchup. You send a text on Sunday night to see if they had a chance to watch that morning’s league match or if a late-night DVR session is planned, and if so, you won’t ruin the result. You engage in a late weekday evening DVR viewing party for a critical Champions League match. You avoid the temptation of logging on to social media until you settle in to watch the match in its entirety. Beers are seized from the refrigerator, discussions ensue about the starting lineup, when substitutions should be made and who should be taken off. You walk home with either a spring in your step or mutter something to yourself about next season.
As there are so few of us, I still get asked the question, “How long have you been a City fan?” My answer is always, “After they had money, but before they won any recent hardware.”
Written by Mark Bennett
Typical City is funded by the readers via our Patreon page. Please consider funding us with $1 a month so we can continue to operate as we are now. Thank you in advance.