Picture: Press Association
Sometime during September 1970, my mum and I were at London’s Heathrow Airport after a five week-long trip to Europe. This included a fortnight spent in Scotland and a few days in that country’s southernmost province, which other people call England.
Two years before, I’d discovered that my feet were not just for standing on (or traipsing after mum as she took in one museum and art gallery after another in an attempt to give her nipper a dose of culture) but also for toying with a fitba’.
Her Edinburgh-dwelling family already thought I was a gobshite for supporting Glasgow Celtic instead of Hibs but they were mortified because my heart really belonged to a Sassenach crew called Manchester City.
City reigned supreme in England with players such as Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee and I’d almost bankrupted the old girl in London buying team paraphernalia. All of which I was wearing as we passed through passport control.
Manchester City Football Club. Picture: iStock
I heard a growly Scottish voice behind me: “Son, why don’t you support a decent team like Liverpool?”
“Not Bill Shankly’s boys!” was my immediate response … then I realised I was talking to the man himself. The entire Liverpool team stood around him, pissing themselves at my instant, overwhelming embarrassment.
Such are the memories with which one is assailed at the start of a new English Premiership season; which we begin as champions, by the way.
I’ve had 51 years of experiencing the highs and lows of City (many more lows than highs, truth be told, before this past decade) but they’ve left me with fantastic recollections both “home and away”.
Twenty-five or so years ago, a City pre-season tour to South Africa coincided with my short and ill-considered foray into public relations for the Cape Town City Council.
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City FC. Picture: Jim Freeman
My only fond memory of that gig was a midweek cocktail function for the team (who played two games in the Mother City) hosted by the mayor, followed by an all-nighter in Sea Point with player-manager Peter Reid and his assistant, the legendary Tony Book.
While we were getting bevvied up – former ’Pool keeper Bruce Grobbelaar joined us somewhere after midnight – my girlfriend of the time was driving around with David White trying to find an all-night chemist to buy flu meds for the England striker.
Fast-forward two decades; sitting in the same pub as a sole blue angel beset by a horde of red-clad fiends as we welly the Devil’s Children* 6-1 at Old Trafford.
Last year, City pipped Liverpool by one point to win their second successive title. I’ve retained a fondness for the Merseysiders since that Bill Shankly encounter and, if we have to be beaten, I’d rather it be them than The Devils or the Deep Blue C.
That said (and apart from the aforementioned 6-1 game), the quieter side of Manchester has afforded some good memories in recent years.
Etihad Airways Manchester City Airbus. Picture: Flickr
One was sharing a settee with David Beckham – what a magic bloke! – in an ultra-luxurious guesthouse in Fresnaye watching a derby game on a huge high-definition screen with surround sound and lots of red wine and biltong on the table.
We were the only two in the room and the banter was immense. City won 2-0 and he went to bed, leaving me with the wine.
My best, though, was in November 2011 when I flew into Manchester on an Etihad Airlines aircraft painted in City colours and with the club badge emblazoned on the fuselage.
I was met a few days later at the Manchester Football Museum by a bloke who subsequently became a really good mate, Pete Ackerley of the English Football Association.
He took me for an extended trip through the Etihad Stadium (City’s home) for a visit that included viewing the FA Cup we’d won a few months earlier.
“I hope you know I’m going to have to take a two-hour shower and scrub down with a wire brush,” he said as we pulled out of the parking lot. I hadn’t known he was a lifelong Devil’s Child.
*Never shall the name pass my lips.
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