As their club’s title-deciding match against QPR entered its final minutes yesterday, Manchester City fans’ hopes of topping the league for the first time in 44 years began to fade.
“Just blow the whistle and put me out of my misery,” said John Walsh as his team went into stoppage time 2-1 down.
Another City fan, Chris Aylward, watching the match at the Crown and Anchor in the city centre, seemed to sum up the feelings of everyone there – already resigned to ignominious defeat and another year of being also-rans: “You can’t miss what you’ve never had.”
Then five minutes of footballing madness left the men, women and children in the pub going, as locals would have it, “proper mental”.
Two goals in the dying minutes of the game propelled the crowd to their feet. Like a roomful of jack-in-the-boxes, Blues fans bounced around the bar, bawling out City’s Blue Moon anthem until their faces turned puce and they yelled themselves hoarse.
“This is the best day of my life, apart from my children being born,” said Antony Burns, 45, a sports management student. “When I was one minute old I supported Manchester City and when I die I will support Manchester City. Blue Moon will be playing at my funeral.”
He added: “Winning the Premier League can only be good news for the city as a whole. It gets the city of Manchester on the world map as being the best football city in the world.”
Wiping the sweat from his brow, Aylward, a sales assistant, said: “I’ve never felt like this in my whole life. I feel like I’ve just had a baby. I hope that not only is this the start of something special in my life as a football fan but in my personal life as well. I can’t believe that’s just happened. City always takes us to the brink.”
Last night, joyous fans gathered outside the gates of the club’s Etihad stadium, reluctant to leave the site of such despair and ecstasy. As giant screens outside replayed the most delicious moments of the match, supporters showed no sign of curtailing their celebrations.
Among the lingering crowds there were two brothers, Mike and Gary Statham, both smiling from ear to ear.
But the siblings came close to missing the goals that made yesterday the best day in Manchester City’s history.
“We were leaving, we had our fingers on the exit buttons to go out at 89 minutes,” said Mike, 50, from Stockport. “But we heard the equalising goal so we ran back in and then it was party time.”
“It was bedlam,” said Martin Jeffson, a 53-year old-actor. “The atmosphere in the ground was indescribable. I will need to let this soak in.”
Nigel Kerney was also struggling to find the right words. “I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life,” the 49-year-old said. “This day will go down in football history. My emotions were so low and then they were so high.”
Fans of Manchester City are known for their pessimism. Radio commentator Stuart Hall’s description of the Etihad as the “theatre of base comedy” is borne by supporters as a grimly accurate moniker for the club’s home ground. But, after yesterday’s triumph, it will need a new nickname.
As the blue sky over Manchester finally deepened in hue, the streets echoed with voices singing: “You saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own.” Motorists honked in celebration and flags fluttered from open windows.
Back in the Crown and Anchor, Walsh, who works as an English teacher in Madrid, was dumbstruck. The fan who had jumped on a plane to watch the game in his home town said: “I can’t express what this means to me. I never dreamed in a million years we would be in this position. I grew up with endless false dawns. I’d like to paraphrase Winston Churchill: this is not the end, it’s not the beginning of the end, but it’s perhaps the end of the beginning.”
City fans will savour their victory for weeks and months to come. Meanwhile, aside from the upcoming parade, executives at the club have one other important task to complete: the construction of a trophy room at the stadium. Back in 2003 when the football club moved in, this wasn’t a priority. It is now.