This Is How It Feels

Oh, what a night! Last night was one of the most incredible games of football I have seen. It’s certainly City’s best European performance at the Etihad and, from what I can remember, no European game at Maine Road has bettered it (older Blues may talk about the ECWC semi in 1970 – I was only a baby – but surely last night bettered that too?). I’d go further and say that in terms of overall performance, atmosphere and style, considering who City were playing, that that was the greatest City game of all time.

Pre match MCFC V Real Madrid waiting for the team

Obviously, we had the high drama of Agueroooooooo in 2012 but most of that game had been a frustrating mess of a match. Yesterday was brilliant, breathtaking and wonderful from the moment we got up yesterday through to leaving the stadium many, many minutes after the final whistle. The game was incredible – I don’t normally do superlatives so when I do I genuinely mean it.

There’s a certain amount of ‘completing the circle’ in City’s European journey – Alan Oakes captained City’s first European Cup game against Istanbul’s Fenerbahce in 1968, so the entire continental journey started there and this year the Blues have reached the final to be played in that city. It also felt appropriate that the man we’ve been singing about when we’ve sung our going to Istanbul chant these last few years was the man who scored twice. Ber-nar-do!

Players pre match MCFC V Real Madrid

I know we’ve been to a Champions League final before but this year it feels different. City have suffered at the hands of English clubs Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea over the years in Europe and it never quite felt right. Playing continental royalty like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and now Inter Milan takes it to a different level. This time it just feels right. Football can shock and it’s the unpredictability that makes it such a wonderful game, so nothing can be taken for granted at all.

Champions League at Porto

Many Blues have waited a long time for this. I was a toddler when City last won a major European trophy and I always dreamed of seeing City match or eclipse what Mercer’s men did in 1970. From Marsh’s debut to Pleat’s jig; ‘Look at his face’ to Tueart’s overhead; Beating AC Milan to Hutchison’s own goal; FA Youth Cup winners to Ball’s ‘hold the ball in the corner’; Bournemouth 3-3 to Morley’s Bradford goal; Reeves’ wonderful FAC goal to York away; 5-1 to 6-1; Bananas at Stoke to relegation at Stoke; FMC Final to Dickov’s rescue; Swales Out to Thaksin’s Albert Square singing; Kippax Last Stand to Etihad’s safe standing; Foe’s last goal at Maine Road to Aguerooooooooooo; Pearce’s good luck beanie to Bernardo’s cup; the invisible man to Emptyhad; James up front to Walker in nets… it’s been a long time!

The young Gary

As I said, I know we’ve been to a CL final before but, to paraphrase Barry Davies, ‘look at this season…. Just look at this season!’

Congratulations on reaching the final to Pep, the players, the management, the officials and, most importantly, those fans who have been to City’s lowest points and are now experiencing the highest. Rival fans will not agree unless they’ve experienced it themselves but multiple relegations are character building and make moments like this even more incredible than they already are.  You don’t need to experience a relegation to enjoy success, but if you’ve suffered relegations (I’ve been through five) and those dismal, dismal days then reaching points like these are heightened.    

Final moments MCFC V Real Madrid 2023

I’m sure there’ll be the usual negative voices about money. Show me a truly successful club who hasn’t spent! Not only that but City have beat Bayern and Real in this campaign (plus in the PL the usual collection of clubs that have been spending big for decades)… hardly poor relations. Hardly clubs with no history of success. These are European giants. Real Madrid have won more Champions League/European Cups than all English clubs put together. They are European aristocracy. Last night and this entire campaign so far has been a massive achievement for City, overcoming major obstacles and competing in a Premier League that in the last 12 years or so has seen more of the top clubs challenge and tighter points totals between 1st and 2nd than in previous decades.

It’s too early to celebrate and football can be cruel, but let’s ensure we all enjoy these moments. Malcolm Allison once said to me: ‘Celebrate every success as if it’s your first, because it could be your last.’ As a man who had been to the top and helped City win a European trophy I guess we should always remember his words. Hopefully, we’ll be celebrating on Sunday and then again next month.

Champions League Porto 2021
Champions League trophy at Porto 2021

I’m Excited Tommy!

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!’

Bobby Ball

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:

Sterling’s 100th

On this day (7 August) in 2020 Raheem Sterling scored his 100th goal for Manchester City. Not only that but this was City’s latest victory (2-1 v Real Madrid, Champions League) in a football season. The season had been halted and then restarted due to Covid. You can see highlights of the game here: