Thursday, 26 September 2013

Gary Owen put his arm around my shoulder

Gary Owen and me. Maine Road, 1979
I used to love this time of year – I mean, I don’t hate it now, but I used to really love it: perhaps more than any other. The end of August and the start of September brought with it the start of the football season and the start of the school.

Add to that that harvest was always my favourite time in the religious calendar (closet pagan that I obviously was).

But in terms of the new term, that was not because I was some sort of dreadful swot – I wasn’t – but in essence, because by the end of six weeks, I was simply lonely.

Mossley was wonderful in many, many ways, but when we moved there, fellow pupils at my new primary school had already had four years to establish friendships - many of which would already have been formed before they even started school - and when I went to Fairfield, I was the only one from that same primary school, it was two bus rides away and I lived nowhere near nobody anyone in my class.

And in footballing terms, for many years, close seasons were also a quiet time.

Manchester City, so often a laughing stock during a season, were rarely worth much gossip outside of it.

It has been part of the strange new world of winning football’s lottery that we’re now rarely out of the media, whether it’s genuine news about the club, speculation masquerading as news or just gossip.

The last of which brings to mind a very northern vision of gossip - and one that, in theory, I'm far too young to have: Norman Evans doing 'over the garden wall'.

Okay, so Les Dawson didn't invent it, but Evans, a comic right from the music hall tradition, should be way beyond my own memories. He is - but like many who grew up with parents who had lived through the war, the cultural memories were handed down just as much as the stories of, in my immediate family's case, the bombing of Liverpool and Plymouth.

I could mimic Evans before I eventually saw footage of him.

Mine, I think, was a generation caught between worlds: that of the pre-war, in which my parents grew up, and then the sixties and seventies, in which we grew up. A muddled collision of two very different worlds, split by such a short time historically, yet changed out of all recognition by the events that took place within that timeframe.

I offer a single, but very different cultural illustration.

City even invaded my art studies. Niall Quinn
Take Hollywood. Take The Maltese Falcon from 1941. And then take The Big Sleep from 1946. Just five years divide them, yet one remains modern and the other seems dated. They seems to be worlds apart.

My parents, like many others, I'm sure, struggled with these changes – certainly with the moral/ethical ones.

In many ways, I've long felt that I was brought up in a sort of time bubble: it was often really rather 1930s.

My father used to quite openly declare that he wanted a son, but that as a tomboy, I was the next best thing.

When it came to football, I discovered and adopted it all on my own and in spite of my earliest memories of the game, where my father was screaming at the TV set while England were playing (particularly against West Germany).

Rather perversely, although he had – and still essentially has – a very conservative attitude toward women, he seemed to welcome my interest, and bought me football cards and comics, albeit drawing the line at actually taking me to any matches.

My mother, herself every bit as much a traditionalist in terms of what a woman’s role should be – and arguably more so – remains a cricket and Rugby League fan. But somehow football was beyond that – not least as I tried to play at every possible opportunity.

For some years, I was only allowed to go and watch Mossley AFC – the realisation dawned years later that my father had his personal Stasi on duty wherever I went (or parishioners, as they’re sometimes known) and besides, Seal Park was only just behind our house.

In those lonely summer holidays, I’d spend hours bashing a ball against the garage door, lost in a world where I was scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final, until my distracted mother would come out and tell me to stop making such a noise.

Mind, come Wimbledon, I’d thrash a tennis ball against a wall and imagine victory in south London.

I was, in other words, sportily inclined, and also somewhat competitive.

For all the attempts to bring me up as a delicate and refined example of the female species, my genes seemed to scream something rather different.

Eventually, in 1979, I was permitted to go to A Real Match.

My parents had taken me to cricket at the real Old Trafford – I have seen Gary Sobers play – but much as I liked and still do like cricket, it made no odds to my blossoming love of the round-ball game, and I had continued to nag.

The Real Match in question was a rearranged fixture at the end of the 1979 season. In other words, it was one of the last opportunities for me to go to Maine Road before we were due to move away from the area.

In retrospect, I rather think this impending move featured in parental calculations.

Since it was rearranged, it took place in midweek. I went with Dorothy Edwards, whose own parents allowed her to go on a regular basis. My envy knew no bounds.

We got there early. My school tie was slightly pulled down – the very limits of rebellious behaviour for me at the time – and I had my school bag slung around me. The photographs make me look far younger (to my middle-aged eyes) than the 16 and a half that I actually was.

With Kaziu Deyna at Maine Road, 1979
I bought a few postcard photos of some of the team in the club shop (a portacabin) and then we went to wait outside the players’ carpark. There, I got several of the pictures autographed, and Dorothy took two photographs of me with players: Kazimierz Deyna and Gary Owen.

Deyna was the Polish World Cup captain at the time and a quality midfield player. Because of injury, he only made 38 appearances for City, scoring 12 goals. I saw two of them that night – even though we lost 3-2 to visitors Aston Villa.

Owen was one of our homegrown young stars. He was also the only player that I ever had a crush on – my footballing priorities were never about sex.

I look gauche as all hell on the pictures. In one sense, I hate them. But I also love them too, because in this very new world for Manchester City fans, they're evidence that I am not a bandwagon jumper.

More evidence can be found in a ring I still have – a Christmas present from Fairfield friends Susan Prince and, I think, Kay Grimshaw. It was a typical 1970s stainless still job, with an enamelled crest on top.

Some years ago, I was travelling north to a game and was offered a tenner for it by a fellow passenger. No way. Even if I was broke, that's a sentimental item I’d hate to be parted from.

It was also on a finger the day we won the title in May 2012. It was on my hand again last Sunday, when we handed out a serious thrashing to Manchester United that left me, once again, without much of a voice. Four goals = four screams = half a voice left.

Oh City, City, City: how can I explain my love for you? A love that has, over the years, been so often tested by the most dismal performances; by an unparalleled ability to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory; by off-pitch shenanigans; by farce masquerading as tragedy.

I recall a midweek League Cup game at Anfield when we lost 6-0, followed by a Saturday league match at Maine Road, just days later and also against Liverpool, when we lost 4-0.

“Alan Ball’s a football genius!” we sang at the then coach, who eventually emerged from the dug out to rather drily applaud.

And “We’ll score again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll score again some sunny day.”

Or at Bramall Lane for a fixture against Sheffield United, with the Blades fans chanting: “We hate Wednesday, we hate Wednesday,” to which our retort was: “We hate Saturday, we hate Saturday”.

Yet in May 1999, I came away from Wembley in the full and certain knowledge that that afternoon’s win against Gillingham in the Division II play-off final had been one of the greatest days in my life.

A word here, though, for the Gills fans, who were superb that day and well into a somewhat drunken evening.

And that’s without going over the story of 13 May 2012 when we won the title in extra time, in the kost dramatic fashion possible, and were crowned England’s champions for the first time in 44 years.

Another sketch. Tony Coton this time
In a nomadic life, City has, since I was around 13 or 14, remained a constant. Often a constant misery, a constant disappointment – but a constant nonetheless.

And these days, it is no longer quite like that.

On Sunday, I took the train to Manchester for the game against Salford United.

I was the first home game this season that I could get to.

And it was a wonder. If the 6-1 at The Swamp two years ago is already legend, this may well end up being even more so. Because while that certainly owed something to flukishness, with one of their side sent off with almost half the game to go, and many of our goals coming on the counter, this did not.

At 4-1, the scoreline might not have seemed as dramatic, but the performance was arguably much more so.

It was sandwiched between a Champions’ League away win in the Czech Republic (3-0) and a 5-0 drubbing of Wigan, who, only a few months ago, were much the better team on the day when they beat us 1-0 in the FA Cup Final at Wembley.

I’m no mathematician, but three games, 12 goals for and just one against is looking pretty good. The big, BIG test will come next week, when we face reigning champions Bayern München in the Champions’ League.

But hell – we’re IN the Champions’ League! And that is sort of match we all dreamed of for years.

We might have started the season in an mixed fashion, as new coach Manuel Pellegrini got his feet properly under the table and then faced some crucial injuries, but in the last week, we seem to have been on fire.

The Engineer is doing well: with Kompany and Nastasic back, central defence is solid, meaning that Yaya Touré can move further forward.

Indeed, Pellegrini’s decision to switch Yaya with Fernandinho, leaving the Brazilian further back, looked superb on Sunday.

Kolarov, who is unquestionably good in attack, even looked the part in defence at the weekend, and Clichy is now fit again.

Džeko is looking revitalised by a coach who, by all accounts, doesn’t work on the basis of hairdryers, grand funks, not talking to anyone or only talking to the press.

Oh, and before you think otherwise, I still love Roberto, but just understand that he had taken us as far as he could.

Football – I love you. Even though I wasn’t supposed to.

And City: one of the few constants in my life, I love you too. It may not be the case, but I do suspect that, if you cut me, I’d bleed blue.

And there’s very little that could better the catharsis of that day in May 2012. Or last Sunday.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Amanda

    Is it possible to buy the fantastic art of Niall Quinn and Tony Coton, or copies?

    Hope you can send me your email adress, so I can explain why I contact you.

    Kind Regards
    Mr Per Arne Andreassen
    Rådmann Karlsens Vei 25