As Remembrance week is over, I feel it is time for me to don a sky blue poppy and take a journey down memory lane. In times of plenty it is our inglorious past which keeps us grounded, and Manchester City have traditionally managed to spit in the face of victory and fall mortally wounded in the heat of battle. So, lest we forget, I decided to compile a macabre top ten .It is not about the results, although most were bad, but about the ten moments when football, and Manchester City, made me feel like a bullet was lodged in my gut.
10) He who laughs last ……………………………….. City 2 - United 3 1994
My friend and I took Jay, a United supporting mate to this game, and drank pre-match in the Beehive, where the yellowing walls reverberated to “Galatasary, Galatasary, two nil up and you f**ked it up, Galatasary” after their 3-2 midweek European Cup defeat. Turkish Delight bars were waved in the air on The Kippax, because back then the derby was the be all and end all, and United throwing away a two goal lead in such a big match had caused much hilarity. I’m afraid the script wrote itself that day. Back at the car after the game, there was nearly an accident as Jay made his first utterance since full time – just a simple tune, whistled gently.
9) The Death of the Dream ……..……………… City 0 - Spurs 1 2010
If there is a club out there who have had more all-or-nothing games than Manchester City in recent years then they must have a set of grey-haired supporters. This one was your common-or-garden City crunch match – a win guaranteed that either side would make the quantum leap into the Champions League for the very first time. The eyes of the football world were on Eastlands and the tension was palpable. City pressured at times but Spurs played a simple long ball game and a good old-fashioned trademark City wobbly back four ensured Crouch bagged a late winner, prompting wild celebrations on the pitch. That goal really hurt me as I’d sat in Old Trafford a few months earlier, having plummeted out of the cup, and consoled myself that the top four was more important than a trophy. And City had blown both.
8) Robbie Howler………………….…………. City 1 – Middlesbrough 1 2005
Quite incredibly, given his management experience and abilities, Stuart Pearce guided City to within one victory of UEFA Cup qualification. City being City, of course, the last game of the season was against the rival for this spot, Middlesbrough. With a couple of minutes left the scores were level and Boro had one grubby hand on the golden ticket. And then, with the temperature in the stadium at fever pitch, the referee gave City a penalty, which, if converted, would take the club into Europe for the first time in twenty years. Step forward Robbie Fowler who proved he had taken the true spirit of Manchester City to heart with an effort which Moonchester could have saved. A classic City moment, like being fired from hell to heaven in a cannon and missing the runway.
7) Russian Roulette………………………………….. City 2-Liverpool 2 1996
Relegation hurts. I know - I’ve suffered five of them. But relegation on the last day of the season hurts much more. The armchair neutrals love a good last day drama, where the fluctuating score lines plunge clubs in turn down into the dead zone, but when you’re there, and your club is the one with the gun to its head, it’s akin to playing a game of Russian Roulette. Having gone two nil down to a disinterested Liverpool side, City clawed the game back to 2-2, and piled on pressure for a skin-saving winner. Rumours and counter rumours raced around the ground like sandstorms. Late in the game even the players believed that a draw was enough. Then the whistle. A tense wait as other scores filtered through, the barrel stopped turning and then BANG. Lights out.
6) Tunnel of Hate……………………………….. United 2 City 1 – FA Cup 1996
Derby defeats always hurt, but this was a bad one. Sitting in the Stretford End, I knew our season hung on this game. The only sunshine in that miserable stormy season was a cup run. City played superbly, going ahead and bossing the game, but then the referee gave the world’s most ridiculous penalty and City plummeted out of the cup. After the game I had to walk through that tunnel behind Old Trafford, with a drive to London beckoning, knowing that all that lay ahead was a miserable relegation battle with Alan Ball at the helm. The glory hunters only took a break from gleefully singing “Eighteen years and won f*** all” to cheer when they drew the awful Swindon Town at home in the Quarter Final. It was a boot in the groin of a man already down.
5) G-Owen Mad…………………………………. United 4 – City 3 - 2009
Coming from behind to draw a game often feels like a victory, and throwing two points away often feels like a defeat. This game was all of the former and lashings of the latter. Bellamy had scored a late equaliser and the referee added an incredible amount of injury time on. There was an inevitability about Owen’s winner, which really hurt. This was the only one of the ten games I’ve listed that I wasn’t at, but I made up for it by kicking my settee so hard I was in agony for days. But not as much agony as that goal inflicted.
4) A Hush Descends………………………………. City 0 - Luton 1 1983
The first cut is the deepest. This was my first relegation as a City fan and in some ways the most traumatic. As a 13-year-old City-daft boy I never, in my wildest dreams believed City would ever be relegated. Even after Raddy Antic’s famous winner, I knew a life-saving equaliser was on its way. But it never came. This final whistle blew and I still remember a devastated hush descending over Maine Road. Pleat danced, the Luton players scarpered, and then a mournful song started in the Kippax that spread to all four sides of the ground. “Man City, Man City, we’ll support you ever more”. I actually sobbed as the song left my disbelieving lips. But I kept my word.
3) Don’t Cry for me Argentina ……………. City 2 Spurs 3 - Wembley 1981
Sometimes your name is on the trophy. One of football’s many meaningless clichés. But 11 year olds haven’t developed a healthy sense of cynicism, so Ricky Villa broke my heart and booted me unceremoniously up the road to adulthood. I remember tearfully dumping my lovingly made banner in a Wembley bin and realising that the world was indeed a foul and pestilent place.
2) Journey to the Heart of Darkness………………………… Stoke 2 – City 5 1998
Being one of the many City fans in the Stoke stands that day, the Mexican wave of violence that swept around the ground at kick-off set the tone for the day. There was no specific moment of realisation that City were in Division 2 during the game – the truth seemed to dawn like a black day. But driving back to Manchester, in total and utter silence, was like a journey in a hearse. It is the only time a football game has made me feel physically sick. The realisation of what this relegation meant was dizzying.
1) The Night is Darkest before the Dawn …………. City 2 – Gillingham 2 1999
The paradox of this game is that it also contains a moment that will probably be number one in a forthcoming blog about the best ten moments in City’s recent history. But the night is truly darkest before the dawn and the moment Robert Taylor put Gillingham 2-0 remains the only moment in my life where I questioned my profound love for Manchester City. I had been by their side as they plunged through the divisions, I had prayed for recovery, but my love had never wavered. This was the moment I abandoned all hope. I remember vividly thinking “I can’t put myself through this any more”. Luckily, I didn’t have to. It never, ever got as bad as that moment when the roar from the other end of Wembley ripped out my heart.
So there you have it, a dark journey into the recesses of City’s recent past. As I compiled it, I felt a little of what an alcoholic must feel when made to publicly relive their lowest points in an AA meeting. But, like the reformed alcoholic, it felt curiously cathartic, even uplifting, because when the Premier League Trophy is finally lifted before my eyes, these are the memories which will flash through my mind, like a dying soldier’s life. As Silva lays waste to all enemies and City march onwards, no prisoners taken, it is important to remember that it is the bitterness of defeat that makes victory taste sweet. And I believe no club’s supporters can savour and appreciate that taste like City’s. So bring on Man United in a Do or Die title decider in April next year, because the new City doesn’t die heroically under a hail of bullets, or fall over a trip wire, like the old one did. Those days are resigned to the past.
Aren’t they? Gulp.