Football

A perfect storm: everyday sexism and females who like football :: 4-5-2014

It is a beautiful, sunny, blue-skied spring day. I’ve just finished editing a book chapter and catching up with some reading. The window is a crack open; I can hear the birds tweeting and the occasional sound of aeroplanes overhead. During most weekends when the weather is amenable I can hear the sound of a football game happening on the patch of green space behind my flat and today is no different. It always sounds like a good-natured, competitive match; men’s voices float up through my open window, directing and exhorting each other to pass or shoot or tackle. I can hear them laughing and celebrating goals. It’s a nice, simple, informal kick-about the like of which happens on thousands of playing fields countrywide every Sunday. Women are neither present nor, in all likelihood, welcome.

Football is a game for men. They play it, they run it, they attend it. The few women working in football are often marginalised, patronised, ignored, abused and/or disrespected on a daily basis. Women do actually play football as well but nobody really cares. When the England team are on TV the BBC broadcast (it’s always the BBC – a commercial channel would never put it on because they can’t make money from women playing football) is treated with the same respect as men’s games but the stadium is usually half-empty, even for a World Cup qualifier. The attendees are families and local schoolchildren: the straight, white men with season tickets across the land, who turn out in their millions to watch the nation’s favourite sport every week, largely do not attend and are not interested in doing so. Before Hillsborough, women rarely attended football matches. The all-standing terraces were not a welcoming place, unless you wanted to be pressed up against male strangers. Children were taken, but only boys of course. After the Taylor Report was published, post-Hillsborough, which recommended all-seater stadia in order to avoid such a tragedy recurring, gradually women started to attend matches.

According to these 2009 figures, 19% of Premier League attendees are women. It feels like less when I go, I must say, perhaps because I mostly go to away games. It feels like a few dozen women and about 2000 men but being entirely outnumbered doesn’t remotely enter my head when I go to a match. It’s just the way it is when you’re female and you love football. However, a cursory Google search of women + football brings unsurprisingly depressing results – reams of articles, blogs and message board posts on why women don’t like it, don’t understand it, are not welcome at it and so on. Largely, football is something that men both watch and do. And they want to do it with each other, oblivious to its homoeroticism of course (oh the irony of worshipping its perfectly coiffed, manscaped, buffed, vain and sculpted players, who kiss and cuddle each other frequently), and they do not want women there. It used to be the one place where they could escape from the nagging shrews and harpies they married. The women who won’t shut up. The women who are interested only in shopping and spending the money their men earn. Yes, the universe of football still exists in the 1950s. The spouse of a football player who dares to publicly express her opinion about where he should live, who he should play for, what city they should live in and what schools they should send their children to are called gold-digging slags who should shut up and take their husband’s money. Sadly, most of the women that surround footballers, the famed WAGs, are perma-tanned, pneumatic airheads; though a few are the childhood sweetheart type, the girl next door who doesn’t like football anyway. Bagging a footballer – either as a husband so these women don’t have to work or so they can sell a tabloid tale – is a commonplace sport in itself in nightclubs up and down the land every weekend and women like that are not helping themselves or the rest of us. However, the notion that not all women are the same is an alien concept to men who resent having their personal football space invaded. Virgin, mother or whore: the three eternal categories into which we all fall, right? The spectre of women attending, watching or speaking about football is largely unwelcome and any woman who likes football has an endless supply of tales to tell about being disrespected by men.

My own experience of this, until yesterday, was rather typical. Before the days of watching online, I might have gone to pubs to watch my beloved Manchester City. I would chat happily with non-City supporters about the game. More often than not they would express surprise that I knew so much, or anything I suppose, about the sport, beyond liking fit players and their thighs, which is what women who like football are supposed to comment on or care about. Recently on holiday in Rome, a taxi driver expressed shocked bemusement that I knew anything about football or even liked it at all. Musings on what life is like for female football fans outside the UK are for another time. It’s difficult to be a black man playing football on the continent, so let’s not even wonder about what it might be like to be a female in football’s general area.

On non-football message boards I have over the years encountered fairly tame comments that men think are funny (sometimes they are, if from the right person) telling me to get back in the kitchen and stop watching the match because women don’t even understand the offside rule (that old chestnut), let alone the intricacies of tactics, team selection, transfer windows, zonal marking systems, high line defences and how goalkeepers should cover their angles. I’m used to being disrespected, constantly. However, I should mention that this treatment has never, not even once, been meted out to me by my own people, by other City fans, either in pubs or at our games. We’re all in it together and the men who have sat either side of me at the matches I’ve been attending for over 25 of my 37 years could not give any sort of shit about whether I’m female or not. I shout at an underperforming player the same as them. I cheer the same as them. I bite my nails just as much as them. We cry together and we celebrate together.

About two weeks ago, I read this story. TalkSport is a radio station, fairly well respected, but its website is not something I have any knowledge of. If a rumour appears on a website I tend to pay no attention. If it appears on a broadsheet newspaper’s website I will certainly pay attention. And if it appears on the BBC it is true. That’s how it goes. So that story, about Manchester City’s brilliant keeper, England’s number 1, Joe Hart being swapped in the summer for Tottenham Hotspur’s French goalie Hugo Lloris received a little attention, though not as much as if it had been reported on a respected website. I don’t think Lloris is very good. At the Crystal Palace game last week, which I attended, the City fans made their feelings known about the article. It was good-natured, a tune of support to ‘super Joey Hart’ (comically, sung to the tune of Achy Breaky Heart!), with an ending salvo of ‘if you sell him you’ll have a fucking riot on your hands!’ The report seemed ridiculous. We have one of the best goalkeepers in Europe and if he ever did leave he’d go to a team in the Champions League anyway. Spurs aren’t a bad team at all, I should say. They’re top 6 and have their moments of brilliance. This season, however, they’ve had a bit of a disaster. They keep switching managers (in fact, they’ve had 6 in 10 years, an approach which my own club are also guilty of) and had to sell their best player for £100 million but then pissed away the money on seven very average players (far too many to integrate into a squad at once and only one, Eriksen, looks any good at all). Their last manager was fired partly because of those transfer failures but mostly for presiding over some poor results and their current manager has recently had to comment on the club talking to other managers behind his back. They’re not in great shape, but they’re still one of the best teams in the country.

City and Spurs have some previous, going back decades – football fans have long memories, as often that’s all we have. There’s no love lost between the clubs. And while this is technically off-topic, I find the section of their fans who revel in chanting anti-semitic hate speech to be worthy of only my contempt. If the few Jews at White Hart Lane want to chant Yid Army, incidentally, that’s fine by me. It’s the non-Jews chanting it that I object to. It ain’t their word to reclaim… imagine if I’d told the Twitter hordes I was an actual yid, as well as being a female with an opinion, yesterday. I shudder to think of what might have transpired. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We’ve played them twice this season. They came to our place in November and got pasted 6-0. Lloris was responsible, as you can see here, for two of the goals through egregious errors. We went to their place at the end of January, tore them to shreds and won 5-1. Just before then, on New Year’s Day, I sat with my uncle and dad and we watched Spurs play at Old Trafford. Incredibly, they won 2-1, but with no thanks to Lloris, whose blunders nearly cost them the game. The three of us laughed at him throughout, remarking on what a poor keeper he was. Since then, he’s improved and hasn’t made any really big mistakes for a couple of months. He is a truly fantastic shot-stopper and can make wonderful saves when called upon. But that is only a part of the goalkeeper’s job – he must anticipate attacking danger, be ready for it; he must come out to get high balls, or stay back if he can’t get there; he must come for corners if he can, or know when he can’t; he must give confidence to the defence in front of him and set them up correctly (following the manager’s instructions); he must make sure the wall in front of him for free kicks is exactly where it needs to be so they can cover one side of the goal while he covers the other. And so on and on. Simply stopping a fired shot is only one part of the job and Lloris is excellent at that, but he’s not that great at a fair amount of the other stuff. Of course, I do not watch Spurs every week. I only watch my own team every week. So I will defer to the knowledge of any fan over my own regarding their own team. While I only watch Spurs in highlights packages (though I have seen perhaps 10 of their games in entirety this season), I’ve not been very impressed with Lloris. He is not physically imposing, he comes off his line obsessively quickly and often wrongly, he parries shots in front and has let goals in because he failed to turn a shot around the post. For example, he failed to arrange his wall properly yesterday and caused Spurs to concede a second, crucial, goal away at West Ham, though arguably that’s the fault of the gutless Paulinho and (here’s a surprise) Adebayor.

During the game I posted, as I have done many times, a Tweet that I hashtagged to #bbcfootball. I’d never had a Tweet chosen before for their football updates page, which is viewed by millions of people. It said:

Lloris, like most keepers, is a good shot-stopper. But he's truly a dreadful all-round keeper! Worst in the PL by a long way. #bbcfootball

And then I went to make my lunch. Of course, he’s probably not the worst Premier League keeper. That was a bit of hyperbole! The rest is something I believe. I came back from the kitchen and that’s when it started. A Favourited Tweet. A Retweet. And then another, and then another. I thought, oh my, the Beeb must have put it up, how exciting! I checked the page and, sure enough, they had, with a live link to my Twitter page. My excitement was short-lived.

Soon a trickle of Retweets turned into a stream of profane and abusive replies, the like of which I’d only read about women receiving for suggesting, how dare they, that a woman should be on a £20 note or something. It soon overwhelmed my email and Twitter page. Comment after comment after comment. Here are the best ones (and you will notice the word yid in several of their usernames):

Twitter


And here’s one apology from a sane person.

Twitter 2

I replied to a few of the non-idiot respondents and we had a nice chat about football. I ignored the trolls (you can’t engage with crazy, nothing good ever comes of it). By the end I had 26 Retweets – all of which had been made by furious Spurs fans to other fans and forums so more people could see it and visit my page to abuse me. The respondents were 99% male. 95% of the comments were abusive. My heart was thumping as it was all happening. After two very long hours it had all calmed down and, fortunately, did not reach the levels of rape and/or death threats that so many women have had to tolerate.

So here’s the thing. Every week people say mean things about my team. Every single week, and often on that very BBC Football page. Awful things. I have never sought out anyone who has said terrible things about my club or my players. What would I do that for? What purpose would it serve to start an argument with a stranger? I love, I LOVE, a good argument and I’m pretty good at it. Perhaps when I was younger I was more likely to lose my temper (I do have a bit of a temper) at someone saying something stupid. But now… unless it’s something really out of order (like a racist attack on a player, a bigoted comment, that type of thing) I won’t weigh in. And I certainly wouldn’t have a go at a stranger on Twitter, the world’s toilet wall.

How can people be riled to the point where they felt they needed to click on my Twitter link and head over there to call me names? Would they do it in real life? If I’d been sitting in a pub and had said to a Spurs fan that Lloris was poor would they have smashed a glass in my face? Probably not. If I were male would that abuse have happened in that form anyway? Certainly not. A football fan can often be rational if engaged one-on-one. But en masse, it takes very little to turn what I hope are usually reasonable people into an incited, angry, hateful mob, either online or at a match. The power of numbers. And in this particular case, the power of numbers plus anonymity. There’s something about collective anger multiplied by mob mentality that allows the anonymous nature of the internet to amplify people’s darkest sides. I don’t mind Spurs fans telling me that I’m simply wrong and that Lloris is a great keeper, that’s fine (and when you’re told by 50+ people that you’re wrong about a player’s qualities you can’t help but doubt what you thought in the first place). He’s their keeper, not mine, I don’t have to like or care about him and how he plays. I’m glad they like him, good for them. But who am I to a Spurs fan? Absolutely nobody. Why does my opinion matter at all? Why take the time to come over to my Twitter page and its 116 followers and tell me that I should go back into the kitchen, where women belong? Why are men so obsessed with women being in kitchens anyway? If only they knew about my terrible cooking and lack of interest in anything remotely domestic.

To elicit such venom from strangers is a most bizarre thing to be on the receiving end of. I’m sure the BBC don’t care (but did know) that posting my comment would have caused angered responses. I don’t think my Tweet was incendiary; it’s not like I said he’s a dirty frog who fucks his sister or something, in which case any abuse coming my way would be justified. I would have been happy to further explain what I meant by the comment in calm tones, but the internet, and Twitter in particular, doesn’t work like that. I didn’t think the BBC would put my fairly flippant Tweet (all of my Tweets are frivolous really) on their page. I didn’t think much about it at all in fact when I posted it. I certainly didn’t think it’d cause me to become an online hate figure and punching bag during an afternoon that I wanted to go quickly while waiting for an important City game to start. While it was going on I called my dad and he unhelpfully said that I should stop Tweeting at all. He was supremely stressed about the Everton game and we’ve talked about it since, he realises now how upsetting it all was for me. But really, why would he understand? He has never been attacked or devalued or discriminated against because of his gender. He has never been told, nor will he ever be told, that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about because he’s a man.

Incidentally, I have never been told that I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m female on any subject other than football and nor would I be. Because if I express an opinion about, for example, a form of media – a book or film or piece of music or concert – or a thesis or a piece of marketing collateral I’m not responded to in that way. I’m actually paid every day (knock on wood) to give my opinions, it’s how I make a living, such as it is. This only happens in sport. And while I can only speak for football I’ll wager my music collection that the same shit happens to women who like American NFL or hockey or rugby or basketball or any other male-dominated sport where men are (straight) men and women are not welcome. And what we face in sport is, of course, just a sliver, a thimble, a tiny little almost non-existent fraction of the daily horror that men subject women to.

The people who abused me online yesterday will have forgotten about it almost instantly, I’m sure of that. Today they’ll forget that they called a complete stranger a fucking bitch and a mong and a retard. They’re just normal people, who love their team and go to work and make their dinner and live their lives and happened to take umbrage against something a girl said about a goalkeeper. The internet, as a mechanism of communication, goads people to behave like animals on a daily basis. They didn’t like what I said and they sought me out to tell me so, but not in normal terms like a person would if they knew me and disagreed with me (like the friends I have who support Spurs might) because they don’t know me at all. It was precisely because they didn’t know me that they lashed out.

This is where we are now; the facelessness of the online world has fostered a basic lack of humanity, whereby we’re all connected and yet we’re further away from kindness, understanding, respect for others’ opinions and acceptable social behaviour than ever. Where how much men truly hate women can be venomously expressed with a few typed words and a mouse click without anyone being identified or held to account. The internet is meant to connect us and often it does. It’s certainly changed my life for the better and continues to do so. It is a wondrous thing and I am not only grateful it exists but feel privileged to have witnessed it be created, adopted and affect worldwide change beyond estimation. Yet more often than not it creates worlds where, without face-to-face interaction, any remnant of humanity is absent. The world really is moving too fast for some people.

...

Manchester City – Champions of England :: 15-5-12

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By anyone’s standards, the last few days have been groundbreaking and historic. Where to start? I see I haven’t written anything in this blog for a year, I can’t say why really, perhaps I’ve just not been feeling the writing since last summer. Anyway, doesn’t matter: this one is certainly full of incident. So, it’s a football blog, but it’s really more about family, as football always is. It’s about my dad, my team, civic pride, community, togetherness, and feeling connected to total strangers. Best of all, it has a happy ending.

How many years have I had to take shit from Manchester United fans? It started when I was a kid, one of three City fans in the school. At least it seemed that way, there may have been a few more, but they wanted to avoid being mocked so they probably kept quiet. This was in the late 80s through to the late 90s, a period where the reds had started to win every trophy going and the blues were hiding in the corner, with a collection of comical mishaps in our recent past – awful players, inept management and increasingly bitter fans. The United and City paths had been similar, pretty much, and then started to diverge wildly in 1990 when United won the FA Cup, then bagged a European title in 1991, and then in 1993 collected their first Premier League trophy for 26 years.

And the years came and went and City got worse and United got better (and spent plenty of cash on players incidentally, throughout) and the jokes became more painful and the relegations started. The phrases ‘Typical City’ and ‘Cityitis’ were invented, to describe our state, which you had to laugh at, otherwise you’d cry. We were a laughing stock, a once-great club reduced to rubble, patronised and ridiculed in our own town. On the rare occasions where we’d play United we’d take our beating in good humour and go slinking back to our corners. This was my life: my youth, my school years, my teens and my twenties. The final indignity came in 1998, when we were relegated to League One (the third tier of English football) and scrambled for points at teams with tiny followings, who welcomed us with glee to their grounds like it was their cup final. Humiliations aplenty followed, which included a defeat to local club Bury, who got the result of their lives by beating us 1-0 at Maine Road. As a student at Bury College, at the time, I don’t have the words to describe how painful that Monday morning was.

But we fought, and with an inspirational captain and leader, Andy Morrison, whose book I later edited, we ground out results and got to the play-off final, where I witnessed the single greatest football moment of my life in my friend Aron’s living room. Aron, a rabid United fan, cheered right along with dad and I, never thinking I’m sure that this lowly team would ever rise up to challenge his. A few days earlier United had won the treble of course (Premier League, FA Cup, Champion’s League) and held a victory parade through the city centre, where they flaunted their hard-won trophies. City were too embarrassed, understandably, to make much of a fuss about winning the third tier play-off final and shuffled off to toil some more. I remember thinking: what would it be like to go to such a parade? To be so proud of your team, instead of having them disappoint you all the time?

Our League One support had remained strong, with average crowds of 28,000 in that season, but we all knew how important Dickov’s goal was – it changed the future of the club forever. We got promoted again the year after into the Premiership, and then relegated again the season after that. I resigned myself to forever loving, unendingly, with passion and heart, a team who might escape relegation, or even become Premiership mid-table, at best. After the Commonwealth Games in 2002 was over we leased the newly built stadium in East Manchester and made our move. At first, the place was cold and empty, and even now suffers from atmosphere issues, as all big new open stadia do. It had no history. But what were we mourning? We hadn’t created anything at Maine Road worth remembering since the 70s. We bounced up and down between Premiership and Championship (second tier) and then finally attained some kind of stability, thanks to a shrewd businessman, and lifelong City fan (and now FA Chairman), David Bernstein. We got so desperate we let a former Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was a criminal, take control of the club in 2007. He spent a few quid, and we did ok with Eriksson as manager, but it was always doomed to fail. And then, somehow, in what might be called the greatest bit of tourism PR in history, an oil-rich sheikh went and bought the club in September 2008. This fella, Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi, a member of the royal family, just suddenly decided he wanted to put his country on the global map, having seen Dubai start to dominate as the Middle East destination of choice. Apparently, he fancied Everton but lost interest as soon as he saw their stadium. But ours, yes, he liked it. So, we became a billionaire’s toy.

And believe me, no-one gave a shit about the money, the issue of so-called ‘selling out’ – partly because we were desperate, and partly because the owner was a crook and we wanted rid of him. It became clear very quickly that Mansour was a very different person from Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich, the previous big-bucks club owner, who had spent half a billion on Chelsea. The sheikh lived in Abu Dhabi, didn't move to England, didn't interfere in transfers, didn’t tell anyone how to run the team (Abramovich, it should be noted, does all of these things and more) and in fact didn’t even come to games (though we’re told he watches every minute of every match). Instead, he gave the Thai villain’s managerial choice, Mark Hughes, a chance and installed a very smart, Boston-educated businessman called Khaldoon al Mubarak to be the chairman and run things. Hughes wasn’t up to the job, we all knew, and sure enough he made a right mess of things, spent wisely on only half of his targets, and was replaced (in a badly handled transition) by Italian Roberto Mancini, a ruthless but fair tactician who, following a glittering career as a striker, had built teams at Fiorentina and Lazio before assembling Inter Milan’s side, which went on to win three scudettos in succession. Mancini is, one might say, a control freak: he does it his way or out you go. With his players - he’s not their mate, like Keegan was; he’s not there to kiss their arses or hug them if they’re feeling down; he’s there to win, and if you don’t like it you can leave. Or, if a player behaves badly and apologises, he’ll wait for them and then wipe the slate clean. Hard but fair, always. In his first full season we won the FA Cup. I never thought I’d be so happy again, and then came Sunday May 13th 2012.

We’ve been the best team in England this season, and we’ve scored more and let in less than our nearest rivals, who just happen to be our lifelong bullies Manchester United. We’ve spent money wisely, we’ve weathered storms of all types (including player misbehaviour, to put it kindly) and we came back when it looked like we’d bottled it in March. After the Arsenal defeat on April 8th, at which time we found ourselves eight points behind United, all I heard was how they’ve been here before, they’ve got the experience coming into the final month, and that they’d see us off just like they had everyone else. Well, not this time. While they are still a very very good team they are not the force they once were. They saw the whites of our eyes, coming up fast behind them and, like their fans, they didn’t know how to handle it. So, they panicked while we won six in a row. We won't be brushed off so easily now. We spent money fast and improved faster and they aren’t going to have everything go their own way any more.

We started to eat away at those eight points. And again, I heard about their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, being the master of the mind games, letting no other manager best him. And then he went up against Roberto, he cracked up on the touchline at some perceived slight and got up in his face at the home derby and, instead of backing away, as all managers do when confronted with the red-faced grandfather of them all, the greatest club manager of all time, our fiery Italian manager went toe-to-toe, snapping back at him. It was a watershed moment – you will not push us around anymore. You will not bully us. Everything will not go your way. We are not your inferiors, your rivals to be patronised, no longer. We won the derby and our celebrations were muted – we did a job we had to do, we have more in our sights now than just beating United. By then, United had already crumbled to a defeat at fighting Wigan (which I predicted) and slipped to a crazy home draw with Everton after leading by two goals, twice (which I had not). After a sleepless night I watched us play like champions away at Newcastle last weekend, the goals scored by the colossus that is Yaya Touré, who had also scored the winning goals in the FA Cup semi and final last year.

And so, to the final game of the season: home to QPR, managed by Mark Hughes, the man shifted out. He held grudges, it was said, he wanted revenge, which he denied, and he was an ex-United legend. It was all set up for Cityitis, for Typical City to screw it up. We very nearly did. We should have won the title a month ago, but we choked, and then United choked, and now it was all down to this one game. We couldn't win it 5-0, that’s not how we do things. We must drain out the last drop of nerve-shredding stress from every fan that has waited 44 years for this moment. In 1968, the last time we won the league, my dad was 17, and he missed the winning game because he was working and had to read about it in the Football Pink (a Manchester Evening News supplement printed one hour after the match ended). He’s now, he won't mind me saying, 61. When I was a kid, I would run down the street to greet him as he returned from every miserable home match. One year I said, ‘dad, will you shave your beard off if City win the title?’ I’d never seen him without a beard, which he grew after his father died in 1979. He laughed and said yes – I promise you; it was a safe bet back then. He said to me yesterday that he’d said yes because at that time there was more chance of him becoming Pope than us winning the title.

Both he and I had been more than nervous before the QPR match – for a week, I’d barely slept. We were both totally out of our minds. We had put so much into this. Just one win against struggling QPR was all we needed. We had the same points as United and they’d need to win by 10 goals if we both won. Considering how much better we’ve been than everyone, United included, this season, I wasn’t thrilled about it going to goal difference but never mind that, I was ready to take it. It’s said that City fans are obsessed with United. This is true. I guess it’s to be expected if you share your lives, your workplaces and your schools with them every day. I’ve been outside of that for 12 years now, having left Manchester in 2000, and I care far less about United than most blues do. It’ll always be that way back home, I suppose, since we share the city. But now they’re wondering if they’re looking at a coming era where they’ll soon feel how we’ve felt for the last 20 years.

The match was tense, and we had all the play but couldn’t break through. Yaya Touré’s last act of the season, before leaving the pitch at half time with an injury, was to set up Pablo Zabaleta for the opening goal. I was cautiously happy but I feared what was to come, without our midfield lynchpin. The second half began and the fans roared but the Cityitis tension grew, and then QPR scored twice. Doom enveloped us all, overwhelming crushing darkness. For 25 soul-flattening minutes we all just stood/sat where we had watched/listened to the matches all season, gaping in horror: the fans in the ground, dad on the bed listening to the radio (where he can see the stadium from the bedroom window) and me watching the match illegally on my laptop. We were going to screw this up, consign ourselves to a tag of history’s greatest chokers: we would never recover from this. United, despite being an average team, and desperate enough to have a midfield three with a combined age of 108, were going to win a 20th title. Worlds turn on such moments. I would have cried if I hadn’t been so numb. I got up from my chair and went to lie down on the bed. I stared at the ceiling. After all this stress, we weren’t going to do it.

But much like in that Gillingham game, when Dickov scored that club-saving goal, the universe realised that we had had to take enough of being shit, being maligned, being lesser than. In the 92nd minute our hard-working and determined striker Edin D┼żeko scored to equalise. But I didn’t move, it felt even crueller, to be one goal away from the title. United’s game finished, they had won their match and were ready to start celebrating. Thirteen seconds passed between the end of United’s game and what happened next. Before another thought could even get into my messed-up head, the commentator started screaming. AGUERO!!!!! GOAL!!!!! With the last kick of the season our handsome, talented, absolutely no trouble, striker Sergio Agüero , the son-in-law of Maradona no less, made time stop as he skipped round Nedum Onouha (QPR defender and lifelong City fan) and decisively blasted the ball into the net. Off his shirt came and absolute hysteria erupted . I jumped off the bed, sank to my knees and started to cry, simply praying for the final whistle. One long minute later, we were champions of England.

My phone lit up like an Xmas tree, and I talked to some friends through sobs. I called my dad. We shared our total disbelief of what we had just heard/seen. We were simply and genuinely in shock. This doesn’t happen to us, this kind of blinding triumph. We’re famous for getting it wrong, for falling down, and we always lose. United always have the last laugh. I was delirious. Without thinking, I booked a train ticket to Manchester, after calling the local radio station and confirming that the victory parade was on for the day after, and just floated to Euston. I was home in time for Match of the Day, which we watched half in joy, half in tears. I met dad at 4pm the day after in town and we got a spot among our fellow blues in Albert Square, in front of the Town Hall, a most stunning building. We were with our people. I’ve never seen so many scallies in all of my life. Yes, they’re chavs, but they’re my chavs! There were babies, toddlers, little ones, teenagers, students, mums and dads, middle-aged couples, pensioners – to a man, woman and child they were in joyous shock. Everyone had their match-day tale. For the players, it looked like this . To my eyes, it looked like this:



like this



this




this



and this.



Truly, it was one of the best days of my life, of our lives – to share this with dad was unimaginably special and momentous. We dragged ourselves home, and I was so excited I actually tripped and fell up my own front steps. But that was it, the day that marked the end of Cityitis, the day that consigned Typical City, always screwing it up, to history forever. And yes, dad is going to keep his word on the beard bet.

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So, exhausted, I got the train home this (Tuesday May 15th) morning. But that’s not even the end. I had a reserved seat, but for some reason kept walking and sat one coach down, for no particular reason. With 10 minutes to go of the journey, I got up and turned towards the rest of the carriage.

My gaze alighted on two very handsome men sitting two seats behind me. And then I had this moment. My City shirt registered on his face, which broke into a warm smile of recognition, my brain registered that I knew him and in a split second I realised that it was Kolo Touré, the City defender, who was looking back at me, sitting next to his youngest brother Ibrahim. Not all footballers are the same, and from the press you’d sense that most are boorish drunken hooker-shagging oafs. This guy, from the Ivory Coast, a civil-war-torn country, has always been different. He has always been a model professional, and he has always behaved in the correct way. Last year he made a mistake: he was so worried about his weight (despite looking like a Greek statue) that he took his wife’s diet pills, failed a drug test and was banned for six months. He took it on the chin, apologised (even though the team doctor had told him the pills were fine to take), never complained, and worked his arse off to stay fit. After his ban ended, he returned as a squad player, and was welcomed back with open arms. Fellow defender Joleon Lescott had usurped him in the team, taking his place in his absence, and he never complained. His younger brother Yaya had become the team’s heartbeat, totally overshadowing him, and he never complained. He never went crying to the press, and he never banged on the manager’s door demanding why he wasn’t in the team. When our majestic captain Vincent Kompany was banned for four games he slotted into the team and held the defence together. When Kompany returned he again went to the sidelines, and he never complained. When Lescott was injured, without a word he took his place and played superbly. When Lescott was fit, he lost his place again and he never complained. He is a team player.

So when I saw him, it didn’t occur to me to do anything but what I did. We exchanged a look of two people who, despite not knowing each other, had been through something together. I held my hand out, and he shook it. I burbled something – I think I told him how long we had waited for this moment, how old my dad was when we last won the title, how old I was and how I thought this day would never come – and I looked him in the eye and just said thank you. You don't know what this means to me, to my family, to all of us. He was kind and gracious. I shook his hand one more time, thanked him again, and walked down the train. Imagine that, to get a chance to personally thank a hero: I will never forget it. I called dad immediately, who was incredulous that I’d met him and that he hadn’t been sitting in first class. I then bumped into a guy who said ‘Did you see Kolo? He’s in that carriage, in standard class?!’ Footballers are reviled, honoured, worshipped, envied and hated. They’re millionaires, and we’re surprised when they behave like human beings. This last couple of days I’ve seen players strain every sinew to do something for fans like me. I don’t give a fuck how much they’re paid or how much we’ve spent. They did this for us. And today, the city is ours.

...

Oasis, Wembley Arena, London, 17-10-08

I have waited what seems like forever. It's hard to imagine why, after being a fan for 14 years, since I heard their first single, I could possibly have waited this long to see Oasis play live. They are, after all, considered one of England's greatest live bands. Their gigs, whether they be in clubs, theatres, arenas or stadia, sell out instantly. Perhaps I was on some level wary of the kind of crowd I might encounter. I'd heard horror stories of drunken thugs punching strangers, throwing bottles of piss around venues, a rowdy violent atmosphere. They seem to attract the most base of audiences. In many ways their gigs are like being at a football match - but I love football, attending matches whenever I can, and over the last decade or so no band has meant more to me. Maybe there is no real reason why I had failed to see them play until last night.

As a fan of many varied artists I find that only Oasis and Morrissey provoke the kind of blank hatred that I've been at the receiving end of recently. People really hate Oasis. For their shameless purloining, for their predictable musical style, for their unashamed arrogance. U2 aside, I often like bands who sell about eight records and are a well kept secret. Or bands who have long since ceased to be. Mainstream, the word and notion itself, is a profanity to me, pretentious as that is. But I just get this band and always have. I'm sure part of this is tied in with my dad, who gets them as I do. His record collection mostly contains artists no-one has ever heard of but, like me, Oasis are his concession to the mainstream. We get them together. Like our support of Man City, Oasis are our team. The football analogies hardly end there. The tribalism, the singalong, the joyful aggression were all there in spades last night. This band occupies an important part of the English psyche. This band matter to an entire generation in a way that no other English band of the last 30 years has. Their songs defined my teens and took me into my twenties. We support them like our football teams.

As I have gotten older I think I have become more emotional. I couldn't help but be consumed by the occasion and I can honestly say I've never been so moved at a concert by the sheer force of those around me. Most bands who've made a few albums have built up their catalogue and the audience's mood goes up and down depending on the setlist choice, the pace of the show and the newer material. Everyone waits for songs they know, songs that grew up with them. But Oasis still make albums that matter to their audience - having been to many gigs like this I'm accustomed to the crowd taking a breather or a drinks break when the new songs get rolled out. Sure, the older songs - Slide Away, Rock N Roll Star, Morning Glory, The Masterplan, Lyla - provoked hysteria but it's a fair assumption that virtually everyone in the arena owns a copy of the new album and has already started to learn it. Previous albums have had too much filler and everyone knows it, as evidenced by the fairly muted reception to The Meaning of Soul from the last album. This time the new songs fitted in just perfectly - I'm Outta Time, Shock of the Lightning, Falling Down - and were welcomed like old friends.

With Oasis, unlike any other band at this level, there is no show to speak of. There's some run of the mill lighting, four strip screens behind the band showing either them or nice enough, but not thrilling, psychedelic imagery. That's it. The songs sell the show, Noel knows they are strong enough to just stand there and blast it out. New drummer Chris Sharrock - former member of the Icicle Works, The La's and the Lightning Seeds - is perhaps the best drummer they've had. A combination of the complex but light touch of Alan White and the powerful but showy Zak Starkey, better suited to his current job in The Who, he played like he'd always been there even though he only made his debut in August. A guitarist on bass, Andy Bell, gives the band a live complexity they have never had but perhaps the unsung hero is the superb Gem Archer. You hear some solos and you think, Noel's playing great tonight. Then you realise it's Gem playing. Noel still seems a tiny bit subdued, not quite recovered from the broken ribs sustained in Toronto recently. But he's a tenacious, stubborn, determined man and didn't baulk from the business of his own vocals. He gave a tenderness to The Masterplan and Don't Look Back in Anger that reduced me to tears.

Liam, on the other hand, is as he always is. Love him or hate him he provokes a reaction. He stalks the stage like a caged tiger, saying almost nothing intelligible to the audience but his voice was utterly perfect. He's all attitude and he gets on people's nerves. But greeted like a working class hero, the offspring of Lennon and Lydon, there's no-one quite like him. England has a dearth of pathetic wannabes fronting bands like the Kaiser Chiefs and Kasabian. They worship Liam but they are mortals compared to him. He was born to do this. Well, this or robbing cars in Manchester.

Each song was greeted like an old friend. On many occasions I stopped singing and just turned round to see every single human in the place with rapturous delight on their faces, singing their hearts out. It was the very best kind of communal concert experience. People swayed and linked arms to Wonderwall, jumped and barged and clung on to Cigarettes and Alcohol. I can forgive the slightly bizarre exclusion of Live Forever, even. As the house lights came on and the beaming, sweaty masses made their way out of the venue I felt like a pummeled piece of meat, tenderised by the silver hammer of this proud band. Aching and happy, I limped out of the venue as the exit music played. A final smile spread across my face as I realised it was our - mine, dad's and the Gallagher's - football team's anthem playing. Blue Moon.


...