The tears didn’t come right away—not from the unbearable frustration of the first ninety minutes, nor from the surreal and profound joy of the last five.
No, the intensity of those moments didn’t allow for much more than the most basic emotions, a grunt here, a ‘Come On City’ there, with the occasional meek and stressful rendition of Blue Moon. It was only after, among the stunned and delirious crowd at Opera Bob’s Public House in Toronto, that I started to well up. It was the sight of the older woman, retro City scarf in hand and wearing an 80s era replica strip, that did it.
With Oasis’ Don’t Look Back in Anger blasting over the speakers, the woman, about 65, rocked back and forth proudly holding the scarf aloft. She paused only to wipe a tear out of her eyes. She was old enough to have seen City as champions. Wise enough to have been aware that for the majority of the time that she had held that scarf, the idea she’d live long enough to see it again was absurd.
Yet here she was—a lifetime of loyalty rewarded with a moment of profound bliss.
A cynic would focus on the things outside the fans’ control.
Moneybags FC Ruins Football.
Glory-hunters Gather to Watch Oil Baron Win Trophy.
City Buy History.
Those are the headlines some want to write while at the same time, remarkably, framing Manchester United as plucky underdogs victimized by the Sheikh’s billions. But, what those fans fail to understand is that the money has failed to alter the core essence of the City experience.
The players wearing sky blue are undoubtedly more talented, but make no mistake, but it’s still City.
Typical City. The first club in history to have won a European trophy and to have dropped to their domestic third tier.
“How does it feel to be City/How does it feel to be Small,” is a familiar insult sung in the Stretford End. It always missed the point.
City is small. Not Accrington Stanley small, but certainly small compared to the world brand that plays a few miles away.
The money hasn’t changed that. At its root City is still mostly an un-fancied, provincial team supported by and large by people that grew up within walking distance of Maine Road, or who had a family connection that bound them to the club.
Time and winning may change that, but it hasn’t yet. The people celebrating yesterday were the same ones who traveled to Gillingham in 1999. It’s just that they’ve just won the lottery between then and now and have had an opportunity to see their most insane dream come through. Not that their support was dependent upon it.
Speaking as a lifelong City fan, that’s what City represents to me—loyalty. If you stay true to your community (despite there being a far, far easier alternative—wearing red—available), and you’ll be rewarded eventually.
And what a reward. Most of us have enough perspective to understand that a sporting contest can never give us the type of true happiness that the birth of a child or wedding day might, but, that said, there are few things that can provide a hit of pure, raw emotion like a big win by the your favourite team can. When that win delivers a championship that ends a 44-year wait—and when it happens in arguably the most dramatic way possible—then you understand that the moment you are experiencing is beautifully rare.
Opera Bob’s was not a happy place five minutes before the end. Outside of the television volume it was silent. The occasional yell of frustration could be heard, but it was mostly stunned, sad faces staring at the television. I had moved slightly closer to the door to ensure that I could quickly exit and be spared seeing the other guys celebrate.
One goal back. A little life, but it’s more desperate than hopeful.
How can he be so open? It isn’t possible, is it? The explosion is likely a tenth of a second delayed as we process what we are seeing.
Bodies are slamming into each other, strangers are hugging and beer is being spilt. It’s hard to speak. Screaming is the only form of communication. They—no, WE—had done it.
Our little club were champions of England. It feels wonderful to be City.
It always has.