We’ve Come A Long Way Baby...
By Prestwich_Blue, Sat 17 September 2011 08:01
Didsbury Dave’s article on the fateful 3-0 loss at Fulham in 1998 got me thinking about last Saturday’s sell-out game against Wigan. I'll say that again in case you missed it – we played Wigan last Saturday and it was a sell-out. We sold out for a home game against Wigan. Wigan at home was sold out. There was even a thread in the Bluemoon Tickets & Travel forum pleading for spare tickets. For a home game against Wigan which was sold out. Unbelievable Jeff!
Even better, we got the sort of result against them that our dear neighbours usually get in their equivalent home game, when Wigan usually take their shorts off and lie down with their arse-cheeks spread wide. (Their proud record at the swamp is P6 W0 D0 L6 F1 A19 if you didn't already know). I'm sure that sharing a glass of wine with his hero, basking in his praise of what a great little club they are and the odd loan player flung his way convinces Whelan it's worth it.
But just four and a half years ago, on March 3rd 2007 it was a different story. John Wardle was our chairman and Stuart Pearce our manager. Average crowds were down to a couple of car-loads below 40,000 and that was reflected in the crowd for that game. City were strapped financially and had been claiming that they were in takeover talks with an unknown and almost certainly non-existent party (and the “almost” is being charitable in the extreme). Our league form was poor and relegation was a distinct possibility at the time. And we hadn’t taken a point off Wigan in the Premiership up to then.
But the main reason that game sticks in my mind is that MOTD2 were filming at the stadium that day. Mainly it was about the decline of the club’s fortunes and the Supporters Trust that I and others were about to launch. The MOTD2 producer had made it clear what his objective was; filming defiant fans fighting for change against a visual backdrop of boarded –up terraces, gas-holders and the general dereliction of East Manchester. He was spoilt for choice in that respect.
As far as the match was concerned, the ideal outcome for him would be a City loss, preferably 2-0 involving a late Wigan goal which triggered fans rushing for the exits and mass tearing-up of season-cards. We debated whether we wanted to be involved in this, as it could badly affect what we were trying to do if we got it wrong but with a series of assurances and agreements with the production team, we went ahead with it.
We duly lost but only 1-0 and not to a late goal but producer Robin (it had to be didn’t it) got pretty well everything else he wanted. Our one hope for the season lay in the impending FA Cup quarter final at Blackburn the following week but that was cruelly dashed as well, giving another TV producer some sad but memorable scenes of the crowd turning on the team and manager. It really was a horrible time to be a City fan which is why last Saturday’s game had a particular poignancy for me.
Just four and a half year later, we were up at the top of the Premier League instead of staring at the bottom. We were watching world-class players wearing the sky-blue shirt instead of the collection of kids, journeymen and has-beens we’d been watching then. We had our historic, first Champions League game to look forward to a few days later. Even the desolate post-industrial landscape is about to be transformed. To quote The Grateful Dead, what a long strange trip it’s been. But thinking back to that game four seasons earlier, you could be forgiven for thinking that even if we hadn’t quite arrived, our destination was well in sight.