Now I'm not a particular fan of City although I do enjoy football. My team is Southend United -- the Blues not the Shrimpers, as some call them -- who hold up the lower echelons of the football league very well indeed. After all they've had plenty of practice. However my sons, Alex and Ali, are big fans due of course to the Bermuda connection with ex-City superhero Shaun Goater. They attended his summer football camps in Bermuda for many years and found him (as have many others) to be a real gentleman, an inspiration and one heck of a role model. Not overly talented, Goater's big plus was a work ethic of unbelievable depth and being a true team man.
The game though was huge. This was City's first really big Champions League match ever, having made it out of the group stages for the first time. For a team that spent that much, this really isn't that great an achievement. They should have done it sooner. But at least they did this time and this round of 16 game was a knock out against the might of Barcelona. Not an easy task by any means. Also they'd lost the week before in rather disappointing fashion and I was hoping they'd have the cojones to pick themselves up and earn their £200,000 a week.
Big issue was how to get tickets as this promised to be a well supported game. Alex had joined the City supporters club thinking it would be the way but the club only offered him one ticket! So the fall back was a package tour including train there and back, accomodation and ticket for … gulp … a lot more than the face value of £28. Mind you it was the experience that counted, not that aspect of things. I'd even convinced my brother Jan to join us for the event! That was a tough one as he doesn't much like football in the first place!!
I was lucky enough to land at Heathrow so I could take the Tube into central London directly thanks to my Oyster Card. No hassle, less than an hour to Green Park which was only 5 minutes walk from where I was staying.
But what a city London is!
Such a mixture of sounds, tongues, smells and what a wonderful vibe. Last time I was here a year or so back you could tell the economy was damaged. That's completely gone. The city is rocking!
But my goodness, how expensive it is. From a simple cuppa to a nice apartment in central London, this is one hell of a pricy town. No wonder fewer than 50% of the inhabitants are native Londoners! I read in a paper that Malta was selling citizenship for $1 million enabling people access to the EU and more importantly London property. These were from people in politically challenged locations such as Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela in South America, Kazakhstan and other central Asian locations too. Presumably Ukraine and Russia too given the uproar in that region currently. Add the Chinese flocking in and this promises to keep London property prices moving strongly upward.
The plan was to meet at Euston on the day of the game -- Tuesday 18th February -- and head up together, all 6 of us. That gave me time to go the theatre the night before, the Duke of York to be precise where I saw Jeeves & Wooster being a big PG Wodehouse fan.
Just wonderful, innocent stuff from a bygone age. My favourite bit was part of the denouement when one of the main opponents to J&W's schemes was disarmed thoroughly. Being the leader of the Brown Trousers movement in England at the time (remember this was the 1920's or 1930's at the time of the Mosley Brown Shirts), this rascal was undone when Jeeves discovered his dark secret through his links at his butler's club. Apparently he was a maker and purveyor of ladies underwear. A succesful one too. Bertie's comment was priceless:
"A chap can be a dictator or a seller of ladies underwear, but not both."
Bertie's wisdom is undeniable. Wannabe dictators should take note.
I met Jan early next morning at Euston and the others, the young guns, trickling along later. We were booked on a lunchtime train and arrived in Manchester Piccadilly mid-afternoon for an interminable taxi ride to the accommodation… miles outside town and in fact nearer to the Man U ground than City's. But this was a hotel specifically for football supporters so was served by many shuttles.
Pausing only to drop off our gear in the room, we headed straight out again for the stadium… another £25 taxi ride! There didn't seem to be a downtown area in Manchester, but that could be my wrong perception and the route the taxi took but the City of Manchester or Etihad Stadium was nice.
|The Crew L to R: My brother Jan, son Alex, friend Andy, son Ali, friend Matteo and yours truly|
This was built for the 2000 Olympic Games -- something that never happened, but it was used for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. City moved in for the 2003 season. Capacity is 47,000 but is about to be expanded to 62,000.
These days match day is all about the event… pre-match TV chat, bands, VIP section for the arriving demi-gods of football, special parking for the demi-gods Bentleys, Maseratis, Ferraris and he rest… So it was quite fun.
We found the Maine Road Chippy across the street for our fish and chip fix as well as Mary D's, the official supporters club pub further along the road. The tension was building nicely.
|With son, Alex, in the supporters' pub|
My son Ali even found the Barcelona website masters who were interviewing City fans on the likely result and questions about Barca to see if they knew anything. Ali nailed them all which I thought quite impressive!
|Ali being interviewed by Barca TV|
Our seats were nosebleed equivalents but that made them actually just right as it gave us the perfect panoramic view from above the centre circle. Barca were pretty well supported too -- at least 5,000 out of the capacity crowd I estimated, all behind the goal to our left.
As for the game, well Barcelona did their tika-taka stuff for the first 15 minutes but then they lost the ball and City dominated the rest of the half. What didn't help was a moment's inattention early in the 2nd half that saw Messi one on one with the goalkeeper only to be flattened inside the penalty area by a really, really dopey City defender. Immediate red card and penalty. So 1-0 down with 40 minutes remaining and only 10 men remaining. Game over.
Barcelona scored another just before the final whistle which makes it really tough for the 2nd leg and quite a subdued band of young fans from Bermuda.
|Bouncing back: Ali, Andy, Alex and Matteo|
However they bounced back quickly and 4 of us headed off to Manchester's famous curry mile -- for what was unfortunately a pretty average curry at a place called Shere Khan -- whilst the other 2 headed off to party.
|The stadium emptying out|
And now the confession.
Now I don't gamble often. Maybe some Crown & Anchor at Cup Match in Bermuda and some roulette in Las Vegas. But nothing much else. However whilst we were there, the boys laid their bets -- 3-0 in favour of City was a common bet -- and, well, you know how you get carried away some time?
So I put money on Barcelona.
To win 2-0.
I feel bad about this, really…
|Brothers in arms|