The greatest ending to a football season ever?
I am still in a state of shock. Delicious, indescribable shock. For the first time in my life, my beloved Manchester City FC are champions of England.
In the early hours of yesterday morning, the tiny window live streaming Foxtel on my iMac transported me 15,000km to Eastlands in Manchester to watch City’s biggest game since 1968, when we last clinched the league championship.
In the space of 95 agonising minutes the title was lost, won, lost again, lost almost irretrievably and then finally, somehow, incredibly won in the dying seconds with the very last kick of the season.
As I sat, gobsmacked, in the middle of the night half a world away from the cauldron of erupting joy in Manchester, I felt a weird mixture of soaring joy and sadness: delight for my team, agony that I wasn’t there to share the moment.
Until Christmas, City had resembled champions-elect, demolishing opponents in swashbuckling style. Then, with key players away at the African Nations Cup, there had been a hiccup and with four games to go bitter rivals Manchester United were in poll position, eight points in front.
Somehow United failed to beat Everton in a 4-4 thriller. City beat United 1-0 at home, then outclassed Newcastle away, meaning we only had to match United’s result on the last day to win the title.
Yesterday, with City 2-1 down against the 10 men of QPR in injury time, facing our first home defeat since December 2010, it seemed like the title was being tossed away in the most careless fashion.
For decades the Blues have fallen victim to “Cityitis”, a strange Murphy’s Law of soccer applying to City alone.
If disaster could be snatched from the jaws of victory, you could be sure City would fall at the final hurdle.
1968 seemed so long ago. 1968. A wave of political protests rippling around the world from the Prague Spring to Paris and Mexico City. With the clock ticking down yesterday it seemed the revolution we City supporters have been dreaming of would stay on hold.
44 years without a league title would test any team’s supporters, however loyal, and ours are the best of the best.
Until 1992, the agony was eased somewhat by the fact that we had won the league more recently than United, who had last won the championship in 1967.
But ever since that managerial impresario Sir Alex Ferguson finally broke United’s title hoodoo in 1992, City’s bitter cross-town rivals have dominated English football, winning the Premier League a record 12 times.
As the clock moved into injury time yesterday with it looking like gold for United again, I felt physically sick.
Then, miracle of miracles, my wonderful heroes shook off the ghosts of the past, with Bosnian beanpole Edin Dzeko equalising in the 92-minute. Then, unbelievably, Argentine magician Sergio Aguero kept his cool at the death to fire a wonderful winner and ignite the blue revolution.
That yesterday’s victory came at Manchester United’s expense doubled my pleasure.
Previously on The Punch: Confessions of a soccer diva. And diver.
The previously unflappable Ferguson had very publicly lost his cool a couple of weeks at City’s stadium as the Blues comprehensively outplayed United in a 1-0 victory.
Yesterday his volcanic Glaswegian blood was boiling.
United won at Sunderland thanks to a Wayne Rooney goal yet ended up with nothing.
That the title was eventually decided on the positive goal difference accrued during the unforgettable 6-1 hammering City handed out at Old Trafford in October is the icing on an already delicious cake.
Because Sir Alex Ferguson has plagued my sporting life.
His swashbuckling Aberdeen broke the Celtic/Rangers duopoly at the top of Scottish football and broke my heart in the 1986 Scottish Cup Final, when they beat my team Hearts of Midlothian in a painful finale at Hampden.
When I arrived in Manchester, Fergie was waiting for me. And through 19 years of pain, suffering and Cityitis, I have had to endure this brilliant manager dancing on my dreams.
This year’s dramas made for the most exciting finish to an English league campaign since Arsenal’s Michael Thomas hijacked the title from Liverpool at Anfield in the dying seconds of the 1989 season.
Yet this was the greater finale, pitting the established (albeit heavily in debt) Old Money of United against the (money-no-object) oil-fuelled Nouveau Riche arrivistes of City.
After City were snapped up Abu Dhabi’s sheikhs, the richest royals on the planet, four years ago, Ferguson derided City’s efforts to challenge his empire with the accusation that we were simply “noisy neighbours” best ignored.
Ultimately this was a victory for Italian swagger versus Scottish grit, for Arab wealth against levered American debt, for the loyal, mostly homegrown blue half of Manchester against all those around the world who follow the reds of Salford, many never having been anywhere near Old Trafford.
However much it hurts Ferguson’s United, and I hope it hurts a lot, the ultimate winner yesterday was sport’s magical ability to create jaw dropping results beyond the realms of the wildest possible scripts.
The dancing is over, the noisy neighbours are here to stay. City are champions, and this is just the beginning.
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