As a football historian I love days when history could be made and as a fan I get a bit giddy looking forward to what could be an absolutely incredible evening (and final few weeks of the season). Obviously, history is made every day, win or lose, but when you wake up on a day when there’s a possibility of reaching a major final; of facing the most successful European team of all time; and achieving something few other English teams have managed to achieve then you can’t help but get excited.
These last few days I’ve been writing and reading about a variety of footballing achievements in women’s football and the all-Manchester FA Cup final. I’ve written a couple of pieces for the FA Cup final programme and later today a prominent journalist who I respect will be interviewing me about the history of Manchester football but…. and it’s one I never thought I’d say… even the excitement of the first ever all-Manchester FA Cup final does not excite me as much as tonight’s Manchester City game when the Blues take on Real Madrid in the 2nd leg of the Champions League semi-final.
United fans will know how I feel. I well remember the days when they were reaching the latter stages of a major European competition and that took their focus, not the Manchester derby. My interest will change of course, after tonight (whatever happens) and this weekend when City could win the Premier League (I’m not counting any chickens here, I’m old enough to know how these things can go). I’ll be as excited as ever for an all-Manchester FA Cup final but for now, it’s Europe and Real Madrid that has given me a real buzz. I feel like the comedian Bobby Ball when he used to march on stage, pulling his braces saying to Tommy Cannon: ‘I’m excited, Tommy!’
Actually, Tommy’s killjoy responses remind me a bit of some of those critical journalists who always say ‘ah, but….’ ‘Ah, but nothing’ is my response at the moment. Let’s not forget that although the actual cash may seem small in today’s money, Nottingham Forest’s European successes came off the back of significant spending which, in today’s world, would probably have broken the Financial Fair Play rules. I’m not against what Forest achieved, far from it, and only mention it to highlight that truly successful clubs have usually seen massive investment, spending or significant debt established to fund major successes. Money has been the driving force in football since the 1800s.
Anyway, enough of that negativity. Let’s look forward to what could be a thrilling and memorable night in European competition. Football today is highly competitive, look at the Premier League where, in the last 3 seasons alone we’ve already had 2/3rds the winners they enjoyed during the entire decade of the 2000s. You can read more on how more competitive the top of the League actually is today than in past decades here:
Coming back to tonight…. It’s going to be a challenge; it’s going to be tough facing such a serial winner of this competition but with the wonderful coaching of Pep; the talented squad of stars; the backing of passionate fans; and a fair and appropriate level of refereeing it could be a truly great evening. I’m excited! I don’t care how they do it and a simple 1-0 win will be enough. ‘That’ll do for me, Tommy!’
You can read about the 2021 Champions League final here: