Why I can’t dislike Manchester City

It was largely down to Panini’s Football ’80, that introduced me to the world of football. Prior to this, I was limited to my dad’s Fulham matchday programmes. Being a second division side, I was starved of the big named stars that a seven year old would crave – though Fulham did get a berth in Football ‘80, (albeit two-player per sticker).

I was obsessed with the album. Spending hours studying the players and their write ups. The two standouts of that Manchester City collection were, Roger Palmer’s long neck and how Michael ‘Mick’ Robinson had a passing resemblance to Scott Baio’s Chachi Arcola in Happy Days. Other than that, nothing.

Michael “Mick” Robinson looking Chachi Arcola-esque.

It was only until the following year that I took some interest in City and that was the FA Cup final.

They say you inherit traits from your parents. Well my dad has never liked Spurs. I’ve never really questioned him about it. Why should he need to justify it? Though I do recall him once mentioning a game (at White Hart Lane) where the Fulham keeper, Tony Macedo, rolled out the ball to Greavsie, who slotted it in the net. Macedo’s confusion was that Spurs were playing in white. Bastards!

Out of the whole of class 7 at my junior school, just myself and David Roberts (his real name) wanted Manchester City to win the cup. The rest of the lads could not resist the charms of Tottenham Hotspur’s silky, Le Coq Sportif shirts, whilst City’s Umbro number, still stuck in the late 70’s, resembled our own scratchy school kit which was also sky blue but more akin to Coventry City’s effort from 1972-1975 versions. In the playground, they wanted to be Hoddle, Ardiles, Crooks. For me, I was Tommy Caton. Tall, fair and wanting to thwart their trickery. Allowed to stay up a little later on the Thursday night to watch the replay, I was genuinely gutted when they lost.

Had Manchester City left an impression on me? A kind of big side alternative that I could look to whilst my beloved Fulham toiled in the Third Division. Not really. I was concerned for John Bond’s health when he jumped down to the concourse from an obscure angle like someone trying to get to the front of the half-time pie queue. (Not sure what year this was). However, I loved and still do enjoy watching Peter Bodak’s deft chip over Corrigan in the following season’s FA Cup. Fickle or what? Further still, I also enjoyed David Pleat’s pitch Antic(s) in ‘83. Admitting to this is like committing financial harakiri, as the City Twitter boys are some of Cult Zeros’ finest ‘clients’! But City had replaced their scratchy kit with a glossy number whilst my school team still toiled with their jute jerseys. And, in a feeble attempt to win back William Shittoh et al., (if they are still reading), Fulham would be playing City the following season. A tastier fixture than the Bedfordshire minnows.  

I’ve no recollection of Fulham’s 0-0 draw at City, however, the reverse fixture in March was some spectacle for this largely success-starved nine and a half year old. An Ivor hatrick. Fulham hit five, and the scoreboard packed up, unable to cope with such a goalfest, never to be used again.

Fast-forward some 14 years later. City, were now in the third tier. This coincided with their fierce city rivals’ most decorated period. A wonderful late summer’s evening at the Cottage saw Fulham despatch City 3-0, with a brace from Dirk Lehmann including a fine header. City were an easy target for the media. The Gallagher brothers had looked on from the stands. The fans remained loyal, and the Kappa kit they wore was certainly worthy of a Premier League place. 

In the reverse fixture Fulham lost 3-0. My first and only visit to Maine Road. All I can recall was it took about an hour to get out of the car park.

The day Manchester City booked their place in the Championship, I was with a group or mates in the long demolished Queen Vic, North Cheam. We’d planned a barbeque but the awful weather had scuppered this schedule. By the time we had got into the pub and looked up at the big screen it seemed inevitable Gillingham were going to win the play-off final. There’s bad blood between Gillingham and Fulham, which was particularly heightened that season. Prior to that there always felt like some unwritten rivalry in my time supporting Fulham. Anyone who experienced the away end at Priestfield in the 1980s would know what I mean. In a dramatic turnaround, of which I can’t be arsed researching in full, City turned it around. Dickov, if I remember correctly?

26 April 2008. I recall the week earlier, when I gave my mate Alan his ticket for City away, the rest of the lads ripping the piss out of us for going on such a fruitless trip up north. We were pretty much down already without having the shell out for more pain. Our friends in Staffordshire invited us up for the weekend, so I knew there was some consolation had we lost at City. Win or lose, have the booze.

The start wasn’t great. 9 minutes in, Stephen Ireland curls in a worldie. Out of total respect for the travelling Fulham faithful (coughs), he didn’t celebrate. Ten minutes later and I’m almost in line for being knighted by Benjani. 2-0 half-time. We were down.

69 minutes, Kamara gives us hope with a jinking run and half-hearted shot that Joe Hart really should have stopped. 2-1. 

80 minutes. Fulham get a penalty. Murphy’s effort is saved, only for him to react quickest and score with the rebound. 2-2.

We were going down but at least making an effort.

90 minutes. A through-ball from Danny Murphy to Kamara. Running from a tightish angle, he wellies in an effort with his left. 9/10 times that would have orbited up into the away end. This effort bulged the net. There was a couple of seconds of peace in the away end before we had realised it was in. The silly sod that I am, I wept. Looking over to the City fans to my left, I caught the eye of one. He patted his heart and mouthed, ‘Calm down’. It was genuine as opposed to aggressive. At the final whistle I looked back again and he gave me the thumbs up. 

On our way back to the station, we were congratulated by a handful of City fans. It was all good-natured and very much appreciated. I like to think those fans have been rewarded with their team’s recent success.

I was at a party in the late 1990s and a Bournemouth fan was laying into me about how I could enjoy Fulham’s success knowing we were being bankrolled by Al-Fayed. It irked me. “What am I supposed to do then?” I argued with him. Fulham were my team. I had endured thin and even thinner times, I was not going to abandon them now! (I would be interested to know if he still supports Bournemouth now they are owned by a rich benefactor). 

Replace Fulham with Manchester City here.

No doubt in schools across the country, there is an abundance of Manchester City fans having replaced the Liverpool and Manchester United ones that littered my school. But hey, that happens. It’s nice to know that some genuine fans are milking it and in my opinion, a lot more gracefully than their city rivals. 

Up the Fulham!