This article was published in The Star on 5 August, 2012.
“We’ve waited 44 years. What’s another 20 minutes.”
A blend of anxiety and excitement filled the air as we got ourselves comfortable in the small conference room. In front of us was the Premier League trophy standing tall in its grandeur. Permanently etched on its base was “2011 – 2012 Manchester City”. The sky blue and white ribbon was a refreshing sight. A better sight, if you will.
Before long, a familiar figure walks into the room and did nothing more to make us stand up and deliver a lengthy round of applause. It was Manchester City Hall of Famer and Club Ambassador, Mike Summerbee, or better known by blues around the world, as ‘Buzzer’.
The veterans among us reminisced the times they watched him play on black-and-white television, two weeks after the actual match in this part of the world, bombing up the right wing just as we see Adam Johnson doing these days.
I wasn’t born yet at the time. But when I watched City play for the first time, his son Nicky was our midfielder. Players or supporters, the blue blood just keeps on flowing.
Seconds later, two other familiar figures walked into the room. This time, from the current squad. To the tune of Blue Moon as we sung to the top of our lungs, hard man Pablo Zabaleta and former captain Kolo Toure made their way to the trophy.
We have seen them tackling others and picking up knocks left and right on TV. To see them together with Mr. Summerbee in person was simply an immense privilege. Not to mention that also present were the honorary members of our Malaysian Supporters Club, June and Karen Barnes, wife and daughter of City legend Ken Barnes.
It was barely 24 hours earlier when club officials contacted us for the session. To be there with the players and the trophy on that Sunday afternoon was a fantastic treat we would’ve never passed for the world. City keeps on outdoing itself at bringing the club and supporters closer.
The fathers chatted with Buzzer to catch up on the rest of the infamous 1968 team. While the sons and daughters spent the afternoon taking pictures and getting autographs from their heroes. Just like our gatherings during live City matches throughout the past decade, it has always been a family affair.
The game against Malaysia in Bukit Jalil the next day was an entertaining exhibition that kept us on the edge of our seats. The good kind, for once. For competitive City matches are rarely a walk in the park. After all these years of following the club’s ups and downs, evading the Typical City scare is still a challenge. The final game of last season speaks for itself.
So a friendly with our national team, whom we were also rooting for, was an entirely enjoyable experience. At the Blue Tier, we sang City songs and did the Poznan with fellow blues who flew in from the UK and Australia. To also dance when Malaysia scored later in the second half was just pure joy.
Credit also to the national squad for the impressive display. Our boys put up a good fight and 1 – 3 was a fair scoreline. I thought we did okay considering a Premier League team actually lost 1 – 6 to City last season. Then again, the goal difference probably meant nothing to them anyway.
Nevertheless, that’s all history. Bring on the new season. Come on City.
The following article was published in Blue Moon on May 15, 2012.
Even at this point of writing, it still hasn’t entirely sunk in yet. The little sleep that I had was with my eyes open. And all that’s left of my voice is the hoarse sound that Clint Eastwood makes when he coughs.
But to quote a famous Manchester United chant, “This is how it feels to be City. This is how it feels to be small.”
The task was simple. Beat QPR and City wins the league. (Given United doesn’t win 25 - 0 at Sunderland.)
City was playing at the Etihad, a fortress where they had only dropped two points all season. QPR, on the other hand, had the worst away record in the league. Nevertheless, they were fighting to avoid relegation, there was no love lost between Mark Hughes and Manchester City Football Club, and Joey Barton was back with a vengeance. Okay, forget that last one.
So I dared not point any of the following before the game but now that it’s all over, I’ll say it out loud…
Even with nine fingers already on the trophy, deep down inside, after all these years of following the club, I could still feel the potential banana skin. As much as I wanted to deny it, the match had “Typical City” written on it. Because no matter how rosy things might appear to be, this club has a rich history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
And I never wanted to be more wrong in my life.
But I guess by now even the most armchair of United fans would know the outcome of that fateful afternoon. There’s probably no need to relive every second of that tumultuous 90 minutes. Even if I wanted to, there’s no way of stringing the right sentences to describe the ultimate rollercoaster of emotions accurately. Just search for “city qpr” or “mental torture” on YouTube. You’ll find highlights of the match.
When Jamie Mackie scored the second goal for QPR, my life as a supporter of my beloved club flashed by me.
The day my father showed a poster of Paul Walsh in the early 90s, and told me that blue is our color. The morning I spent scurrying through the football results in the Sunday newspaper; when we were in the third tier of English football, playing York away. The abuse I got for wearing a kit known only for the brand of printer it bears. And more recently, the endless torrents of posts on Facebook and Twitter whenever City stumble even after spending their alleged billions.
I was already preparing myself for the lonely walk to the car, passing by the rows of United fans already gleaming at the prospect of swiping the title right under City’s nose. Friends were sending me text messages indicating the bombardment of abuse that was about to come my way.
I was so helpless I couldn’t offer any retort to their mockery. We were flirting on the thin line separating the club’s greatest and most heartbreaking moments.
Football though, is a funny game. And with City, it gets a bit funnier. Leave it to this club to make things hard on themselves and win by the skin of their teeth.
Just as our morale was at its lowest, with footage of City fans crying and biting their scarves making its way onto the screen, Edin Dzeko headed in the equalizer for City with a few minutes of injury time left. His last goal for City came back in February.
As the clock ticked faster and news that the other games had ended came into the corridors of the Etihad, the Manchester City offense which has been dominating 103% of the game’s possession surged toward the plane parked by Messrs. Hughes and Fernandes. Melodies of Blue Moon filled the air.
Balotelli to Aguero, he dribbles pass Onuoha, and smashes the ball into the back of Kenny’s net. Time stood still, and in goes the goal that would go into history as one of the greatest comebacks of the game. I don’t even remember what happened next.
It was the football equivalent of a photo finish. City came back from the dead. If there’s any team that would win the league this way, it could only be this club. Heck it was them for real.
And Vincent Kompany lifted the Premier League trophy for the club for the first time in 44 years.
Half way across the world, I sat in sheer contentment and recalled an old adage of the long-time City fans around here.
“All I want is to see City on TV next season.”
The following article was published in The Star on May 13, 2012.
“Blue moon, you saw me standing alone. Without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own.”
In the shower, in the car, on the can, those seem to be the only words lingering in my head these past few days. Not as a celebration. Far from that. For nothing has been won yet.
But as a pacifier. A feeble attempt at calming myself down. Because 345,600 seconds from this point of writing, Manchester City will play the biggest game in the club’s history. And I’m nervous as hell.
Imagine the feelings of going out on a first date, getting your exam result, going into the operation theatre and calculating your tax return, all mashed into a blob of heavy matter stuck right smack in the middle of your chest; refusing to go away until the fat lady sings.
Maybe I’m over-exaggerating here but hey, some people do get goosebumps doing their taxes.
After an insane season of ups and downs, it has finally come down to this for the title contenders. We have been following each other’s trails and watched each other play other teams -- converting ourselves to hardcore fans of the each other’s opponents for 90 minutes. And we’ve cursed at the sight of each other grinding that odd win after an ugly performance on the pitch.
The mind-games played by both managers have been intense with one trying to push the right buttons and the other, playing things down and keeping his Italian feet on the ground.
In the case of this particular title race, those who say real champions don’t depend on other teams, are not entirely accurate. For here we are, heading into the final day of the season. Fighting to the end as only one of us shall prevail on May 13th. Lucky May 13th.
The title will stay in Manchester. That’s for sure. But which side?
Never short of optimism and chewing gum, Sir Alex Ferguson has already said that United fans may have “the biggest celebration of their lives” come this weekend. But before one could claim Fergie as getting ahead of himself, certain quarters of the Red Devils faithfuls had already printed “Champ20ns” t-shirts for sale in March, with eight games still to be played. So his timing wasn’t too far off.
Roberto Mancini, on the other hand, would still probably say it’s not over even if City wins the thing. The composure shown by the debonair gaffer and restraint shown by the players are nothing short of admirable. And it’s no mean feat. Usually verbose with their spelling-error laden posts, the players have been rather quiet both on Twitter and in the media.
Maybe they were handed a memo from the club’s upper echelons. About how much winning the title would mean to the fans.
44 years is a long time. Tears have been shed, and blood has been bled. As bad as that sentence sounds, most City fans who have endured the darker days of Creaney and Negouai would know what I’m talking about. (“Who?!” asks a newer fan.)
And over the years, the club has seen managers of many forms and shapes come in and out of the organization. One of them, may have a point to prove on Sunday. City’s opponent, Queens Park Rangers, is managed by an ex-United player who was allegedly ruthlessly dismissed from the club even after a stellar performance of breaking the record for the most number of consecutive draws in a season, or something like that. So it won’t be easy.
With a superior goal difference, the bookies are raving about the odds being on City’s side. But as a fan who has learned all the life lessons that the club could offer, I am not counting my chickens just yet.
So I’m with Mancini. It’s not over ‘til it’s over.
Come on City.
The following article was published in The Star on October 28, 2011.
That's way more than three minutes of injury time
At this point of writing, traffic into the Manchester City Wikipedia page is at an all-time high. New fans from around the world are gathering as much information possible about the club's history to claim they've been long time followers. Half of them, former supporters of Chelsea Football Club.
"I've been a fan since the club was known as St. Mark's (West Gorton) back in the 1880/81 season."
But that's the least of our problems. Glory hunters will always be there and they usually come together with success. Or even the slightest hint of attaining any. Gone were the days where I would stop and say hi whenever I see someone wearing a City jersey in the streets of KL. Doing that today would mean I’d have to approach every other stranger out there. Everyone is in blue with the name of an airline company on their chests. Very few of whom, have endured the pain of darker, “Typical City” days.
That aside, the crux of my dilemma now, as a City fan, is figuring out where to begin after witnessing what pun-desperate tabloid headline writers repeatedly call, "Demolition Derby".
It's been a few days now since Mark Clattenburg blew the final whistle of the 161st Manchester Derby at Old Trafford. (This time, without the obligatory “Fergie Time”.) But the buzz from the game is still resonating. I've been overwhelmed by the amount of attention that the game has garnered. We're talking beyond football fans here. We're talking women not posting about their multi-level marketing successes on Facebook but instead, the final scoreline of the match (1 – 6, in case you forgot). Some of them didn't even know which side was in red and which was in blue.
Nevertheless, that's how special this little derby has become. It will be remembered for many things.
We had initially planned to meet up in Hartamas, me and a few other long-time blue-blooded brothers of mine (I know). Unfortunately, with everyone all over the place, we had to call it off, leaving our Manchester born and bred friend Dave to be the sole survivor amidst the sea of red there. "I’ll be on TV! They asked why I’m the only blue here!" he texted us before the game. If only we could turn back time.
So there I was in my fading Man City t-shirt watching the game with my father at home in the living room; barely staying put and mildly hyperventilating -- a Derby Day standard. I thought it would be nice to catch the match with my old man, the man who made me a City fan and put me in football fandom misery for more than a decade. There was a sense of nostalgia in continuing a tradition of watching the derby together while screaming and cursing in front of the TV to the fear of our neighbors.
Only this time, there was little to be irked about. The only time I recall using profanity was when Mario Balotelli was booked for committing probably the most treacherous crime in modern football, asking a question.
"Why always me?"
Fresh from being rescued by the fire brigade after "his friend" shot fireworks in the bathroom and set his house on fire, Balotelli walked into the Theatre of Dreams in his typically coy and unperturbed manner, and graciously gave the Red Devils a nightmare. The first goal was a beautifully placed shot far beyond the reach of David De Gea and the second was a conclusive finish as a result of a clever play between David Silva and James Milner.
The question is not why, Mario. The question is why not. My "Why always me?" t-shirt is on its way.
Deeper in the heart of City's holding midfield was the formidable force that is Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry. Armed with their constantly misreported combined wage of £600,000 per week, Toure and Barry made closing down United's attacks look easier than styling Wayne Rooney's hair. Further down, with only Darren Fletcher's fluke goal beating him, it was a great day out as a spectator for Joe Hart. So much that there were reports of him discussing Glee episodes with Joleon Lescott in the middle of the match.
If the highly-inflated numbers of the English media are anything to go by, the trillions that Sheikh Mansour has pumped into the club have been, to say the least, totally worth it. The investment is for the long run and City's newly announced training center for grassroot development is a glaring evidence of just that. An aspiration surely shared by the Glazers.
On the red side of the pitch, one does wonder about the tactics deployed by Sir Alex Ferguson especially in the absence of their massive prospect wonderboy Tom Cleverley. And having Anderson, a product of their Paul Scholes Tackling Academy to wrestle Silva down at every opportune moment was a rather childish move. Evidently, United paid the price when Johnny Evans was sent off for doing wrongly what City kaptain Vincent Kompany did so professionally right to Danny Welbeck later in the game. Elusively pulling down your opponent without guilt (or getting sent off) is an art form not for the untrained.
The red card for Evans was proven to be the turning point of the game. From being rubbish, United became utter rubbish and the City Slickers capitalized like Simon Cowell on a bad X-Factor contestant.
The game opened up and lived up to its expectation as a mouthwatering affair. City defenders surged up the flanks in the form of Gael Clichy and academy graduate cum Balotelli lookalike, Micah Richards. With so much speed and splendor sandwiching the already lethal combination of Silva and Milner, and accidentally good positioning of Edin Dzeko, tragedy was written all over the green and yellow scarves of faithful United fans who have traveled from as far as London and Singapore. Sergio Aguero brought his club goal tally to 10, Dzeko scored two (one with his knee), and Silva waved his wand around the handsome goatee of fellow countryman De Gea and slot one in between his legs to turn the derby into a seven goal thriller.
I lost count at one point. Then again, who wouldn't? It was, as one Wayne Rooney used to say, a lesson in football.
But let's forget about the scoreline for a moment. The goals are all on YouTube. Let's shift our focus on the man who masterminded a victory that has surpassed the 5 – 1routing of our Silent Neighbors at Maine Road in 1989. With an English vocabulary of only five words more than Carlos Tevez, Roberto Mancini managed to gel a team of five Englishmen and six foreigners into a unit that was so entertaining and unstoppable, only the close-up of Ferguson incessantly chewing gum as his nose grew purple made me shun away from the TV during the game. Forza Mancini.
In hindsight, we know both men have great respect for each other. Before the game, as a part of the mind game ritual of the league, Mancini called Ferguson his "teacher" in coaching while the great Scotsman reciprocated by saying that the way Mancini conducted the Tevez saga was a "management masterclass". Surely one of the journalists must’ve told them to get a room.
In his post-match interview however -- still probably chewing gum -- the most successful manager in the history of the game called the defeat the "worst of his career". We're talking about the same man who was once asked if United will ever go into a derby as the underdog. He conveniently answered, "Not in my lifetime."
Well, tick tock Fergie.
Alas, the game was still only worth three points. And we’re barely halfway through the league. Sure it was the biggest derby win ever. Sure it was United’s first home defeat since April 2010. Sure City is five points ahead at the top. But we need to remember that there is still a long way to go.
United is still in the running to win the league and City players must not get ahead of themselves. Same goes to the fans. The plethora of 6 – 1 jokes on the Internet is starting to get tiring and I for one sincerely hope we let bygones be bygones and move on. Facing the taunts of “CHAMP16ONS” and all is a small price to pay if United go all the way to retain the title. And they have proven that they are capable of doing it in the past.
So United fans, cheer up. Every cloud has a Silva lining.
The following article was published in The Star on June 27, 2009.
With my old man at the City of Manchester Stadium Clearance Store, where we won't be shopping had the owners bestowed their wealth to the supporters as well
Before the money started flooding in, it was a football club on a rollercoaster ride with only one thing to boast – loyal fan support.
WHEN my boys were growing up, I taught them the truth. That there are only two teams in Manchester, England: Manchester City and the Manchester City reserves,” my father used to say.
And that’s the truth I believe in.
You see, I’m a Manchester City fan. No I didn’t omit “United”. I’m a supporter of Manchester City Football Club. The Citizens. The Blues. City. Or, in the words of one Sir Alex Ferguson, “the noisy neighbour” – probably because his team isn’t located in Manchester.
I’ve been a City fan all my life. And by “all my life”, I don’t mean since September 2008, when a takeover made it the richest club in the world. I was a City fan when we were playing Colchester in the third tier of English football. Those were the dark days when the only football action I got was scurrying for its result in the Sunday morning newspaper.
The fixation began from a fascination. As a child, I often wondered about my father’s fluctuating emotions when watching football. From shouting at the top of his lungs to grumbling words I couldn’t write down here, to the deafening silence when he switched off the TV in the middle of a match.
At that age, I couldn’t grasp the concept of cheering for 11 men who couldn’t hear a word even if you went berserk in front of the TV. At most, it would give the neighbours a headache. But seeing him so affected by the game was an eye-opening experience. There’s got to be something about it that made my then 40-year-old father dance like Billy Elliot.
From an observer, I slowly braved myself to start watching football together with him. While his sudden roars often put me at risk of premature heart attack, I began to understand the mechanism of the game.
I began to feel a connection with the team. I began to know the names of the players. I began to capture the drama, the mesmerising movements of the players, the difference a split-second decision makes, and, above all, the electrifying joy whenever the ball hits the back of the net.
And before I knew it, I was jumping and screaming like a madman alongside my dear father whenever City scored. I was officially a City fan.
Which also meant I had a hard time in school.
Of course, the other kids were supporters of either Manchester United or Liverpool. (Chelsea was yet a Russian billionaire’s fantasy football team at the time.) So following a team whose achievement was no more than winning the Second Division play-off proved to be difficult.
I still remember a discussion about “the greatest player in the world” among my friends. As they threw in names like Cantona, Giggs, Rush and Fowler, I howled Kinkladze, a City cult hero. A momentary silence followed, before they burst into laughter that shook the classroom. A day in the life of a schoolboy City fan.
City is known to often stumble at the brink of success. Lady Luck was rarely on our side, which has earned us too many “typical City”’ moments, among which was conceding a goal after the goalkeeper got confused when a balloon came in from the stands.
Not to mention that City is the only team in history to ever be relegated in the season – after winning the League. It could only happen to City.
Suffice to say, we’ve slipped on too many banana skins. And I shall end this painful paragraph here.
But therein lies the beauty of supporting this incredible football club. Following City teaches me a lot about life. Watching a 90-minute City match reminds me that life is full of uncertainties and twists of fate.
That there is always a silver lining. That you must be honest to yourself. That you have to remain optimistic – even if it means waking up at 3am only to see the players battered by a lower division team.
Through the years, City fans have gained a reputation for being some of the most loyal supporters in England. Their stadium attendance remains one of the highest, considering the club’s success, or lack of it. And that has fostered generations of passionate fans who have never lost the faith.
Here in Malaysia, the number of City fans is growing. But that wasn’t the case until the recent acquisition brought us a fortune.
My first meeting with the small group of City fans is still fresh in my mind. A group of gentlemen 10 to 20 years my senior who are never short of stories about their City misfortunes. All told with great humour. It was a time when City supporters were so rare that we’d approach any stranger wearing a City kit on the street.
Our gatherings were small yet colourful. It was always a family affair. The guys would bring their kids and, occasionally, their wives. And in the confused eyes of the children, I saw a glimpse of my bewildered self looking at my overjoyed father more than a decade ago.
This football club has done wonders in bringing families together. Perhaps, someday, it would be my turn to scare my kids when I jump up and down watching a City game. Someday, it would be my turn to tell my children the truth.
I hope they can handle the truth.