This is how it feels to be City
By Michael Hammond, Thu 05 January 2012 11:00
As I gasped for my first breath, early for once, it didn't take too long for the midwife to suggest that this scrap of a lad should make the short trip to the Special Care Baby Unit. A couple of weeks premature, fighting to gain a foothold in this new world I was whisked along the cold corridor. Through the grimy windows of St. Mary's Hospital, four huge pylons were visible in the distance: Maine Road. Shivering in my new temporary home, circulation fighting to pump life's force through my veins, it would be clear to everyone present - this boy is blue.
The consultant would make his daily rounds, progress would be checked, charts ticked and weight gained. Colour would revert to normal and the family would breathe easier. Grandparents making the short bus journey from Droylsden bring small gifts and spend time with mum and baby. Granddad, looking out of the window talks quietly. Little stories to pass the time. I hear what it was like to be standing in Maine Road amongst a record crowd of 84,569, and how some of the greatest players of all time have graced the turf just beyond the door.
By the age of 8, now living in Chadderton, life is good. Both parents have work, school is a pleasant place and the family is now four strong. Christmas Day brings new football boots, and early replica kits boxed with care by Umbro are ripped from the packaging by 2 boys in a frenzy of excitement. Out in the school fields that morning lots of boys are there and the match begins. Out of 15 or 20 boys, only two are wearing the sky blue.
Early in the New Year I'm taken to my first match. It's an FA Cup 4th round tie against Norwich City. Dad wraps me up warm, scarf a little snug tucked within the snorkel hood of the parka. Sat in the North Stand, amongst the cigarette smoke and Bovril fumes the match passes in a blur. 6-0. SIX NIL! All different goal scorers. The Kippax sings songs of Wembley whilst John Bond reclines in the dug-out, smug in a sheepskin coat.
Fourteen years old now. A season ticket holder. A Kippax season ticket holder. Start to go to away games without dad. First time on the coach, I sit near Helen Bell. Next time, I sit near the back. The past few years have not been kind for City. Relegations and managerial ineptitude pale alongside the damage being done to the club from the top. Peter Swales remains ever present, with a vice like grip on the club he loves so dearly. Another refrain from the boardroom, a request for patience "This time next year.." Promises, like the talent from the youth team, go unfulfilled. Friends at school switch in greater numbers from Liverpool to United. Whatever, all I see is red. Managers come and go, and the joke is on us. I try and laugh, but can't.
Supporting City has not been easy, it's a minority interest to say the least. Well, it has been wherever I've lived. "Why support them? They're shit!" I'd mumble something or other, but I was never bothered. I had something none of them would understand. The other thing I had in my favour was that I actually went. Not just once a year either. I had something they would never have, I belonged to something I truly believed in and loved deeply.
I'm not a religious man, although I respect the Church. I respect its followers, its worshippers. I admire their dedication, the way they turn up every weekend no matter what life throws at them. They believe. Life will get better, it has to - or else what's the point?
University over, travelling done and a career to try and forge. Work has taken me to Nottingham and a family is just over the horizon. By now I'm quite used to the quizzical looks from colleagues when they ask what I did at the weekend.
"You mean you went all that way?"
"Do you go to every game? - you must be barmy"
"I take it they lost?"
When asked who I supported, the reaction to the words 'Man City' would be the same - incredulity, pity and some grudging respect. "That can't be easy" they'd say, "especially with Man U winning everything?" But I wore my City badge proudly, drank from my City mug and secretly pitied those who didn't have what I had.
I'm in my late 30's now. Okay, I'll be 40 in May. Things have changed. A lot. My boy went to his first match this season, he saw Sergio Aguero score a hat-trick (for us! Say it out loud). I went to Wembley three times last year. We'll be back again too. We spent more time at the top of the league during the last 12 months than we had during my entire lifetime. My granddad is no longer with us, but a new generation is here to carry the blue torch.
If you are just starting out on your journey with Manchester City, I hope you have an easier ride than me. However you carry all of our ups and downs with you, just as I did with my dad's legacy and his dad before him. No matter what people will tell you, however much they may sneer - you belong to something special, something that could never be built overnight.