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Tuesday, 20 December 2011

It Always Rains In Manchester (parte deux)

Premature Alzheimers strikes again! I completely forgot until seeing something about it on Twitter and I'm gutted I neglected to include it in my diary piece, as it scans quite well with the title, but having sucked on a few fags outside the Middle Eastern on Sunday, to get my nicotine levels up before 90 minute chewing on my fingernails, when I finally entered the Etihad, the customary raucous scenes on the concourse were punctuated by even louder roars of disapproval, every time $amir Na$ri appeared on the TV screens.

I'm not sure whether to be disappointed, or grateful to have missed what subsequently transpired (as I wouldn't have fancied enduring the entire return trip stinking of lager) but having warmed my hands on a cup of hot chocolate before finding my seat, moments before kick off, a travelling Gooner acquaintance taking his seat in front of me, revealed that when the teams were being announced, as Na$ri's phizog appeared on the screens on the concourse, four plastic pint pots full of lager were lobbed at one of them, which promptly proceeded to explode.

I actually would've loved to have seen it with my own eyes and I couldn't help but wonder if Keith was exaggerating, but true enough, when I stepped out for a sneaky halftime suck on a cigarette in the karseys, said TV screen had definitely expired (still City won't exactly have to pass the hat around to rustle up the money to replace it!).

Mind you, I'm not sure I'd have found it quite so hilarious, if I'd been amongst the throng of Gooners standing directly beneath it, as it was an ice cold afternoon to start with, never mind being showered by lager and having to sit through the game and the long trip home dripping with beer. Still least the poor loves would've been able to avoid spending all of halftime queuing to be served, as they could instead suck on their coats for some refreshment :-)

Nevertheless, with all due sensitivity to the unfortunate victims of the loutish behaviour of these Gooner larrikins, it must've been a bloody funny scene.

There was a load of other stuff that I omitted to mention in my diary piece, but this was merely due to the constraints of the Irish Examiner and so I guess this Na$ri anecdote affords me an excuse to waffle on some more.

A delicious snooze during the journey up to the North-West was rudely disturbed, when some City fans boarded the train at Crewe. Naturally I always make like Rip Van Winkle, when ever I'm spread out across a couple of seats, hoping that passengers boarding the train won't have the heart to disturb me and will choose to sit elsewhere. But this ruse is pointless when the train is completely packed and as I've already previously mentioned, one of the advantages of train travel is the opportunity for an exchange of opinions with similarly devoted fans of other teams.

Although I'm not so keen on the prospect of the Premiership crown becoming the exclusive domain of the club with the deepest pockets from here on in, one certainly can't blame City's incredibly loyal following for their good fortune, in becoming the Quataris favourite plaything for spunking up all their petro-dollars.

Thus I endeavoured to endear myself to my travelling companions over the last leg of this train trip, by suggesting that after a relative eternity without a sniff of success (I was actually at Wembley to see City beat the Baggies in the League Cup Final in 1970 - I only remember because I still have the programme to prove it!), I couldn't begrudge the Sky Blues fans their time in the limelight, as they've certainly paid their dues and that it someone has to win the title, other than the Arsenal, I'd definitely rather it was them (than Man Utd, Chelsea, or heaven forfend the unthinkable.....!).

Offering up an example of the impression City fans had made on me, with an astonishing demonstration of both their loyalty and their appreciation of the beautiful game, I referred to a match a few years back, which might have been our last trip to Maine Road (and which might well have been the season when City were relegated from the top flight - I'm sure anyone with anything vaguely resembling a memory will be able to correct me if I'm wrong).

We well and truly whalloped them that afternoon, with a performance of Wengerball played at its very best. But when you watch the Gunners play every week, it's like living with a child, where the incremental changes aren't obvious to the nearest and dearest. As a result, I'm almost feeling misty-eyed when I think back to the sort of football we produced that day, compared to Sunday's less effective display.

We were something like four-nil up already by the break and although we took the foot off the gas second-half and only scored the odd goal, the game could've easily ended with is in double figures. I actually attended the post-match conference, a memory which has only been caught in my sieve-like grey matter because it was the only press conference I can recall attending, where the manager sat there, drowning his sorrows with a tin of beer that was unashamedly sitting on the dais. The resigned expression on Joe Royle's face spoke a million words (in fact I think Royle was out the door soon after) and told of a manager who was utterly powerless to compete, in the face the Gunners' supremely peerless quality.

However it wasn't just the City fans' dignity in defeat that left a lasting impression, as back then it was an everyday occurrence for the Gunners to be applauded off by the opposition fans and unlike on Sunday, there wasn't one iota of irony in our chants of "You've only come to see the Arsenal" because it was true.

It was the ferocity of the Maine Road crowd's unwavering support that day, in the face of such a humbling defeat, that was seriously impressive and it left me feeling quite envious, when compared with how quick the fickle faithful at our place are to get on the players' backs nowadays, whenever things don't go our way. But as I chatted with these two City fans, they revealed that things aren't that different at Eastlands any more, as according to them City still have a core support of 30 odd thousand loyal fans who moved with the club from Maine Road, but apparently the 20 odd thousand extra punters in their new stadium are no less likely than we are, to throw their toys out of the pram the moment they feel they aren't getting good value for their money.

Obviously we discussed Na$ri and much to my chagrin, they believed the greedy Frenchman was just beginning to find his feet at their place and naturally I pleaded with them to keep their cash-rich paws off Van Persie. But the other topic of conversation I found interesting was that they told me that they were discussing the enigma of Fergie's longevity in the pub the other night and the conclusion they came to, was that his enduring success bears some relation to the fact that he has constantly refreshed his pool of assistants during the time of reign at Old Trafford, so that the players never get bored, or lose respect for the man ordering them about on the training field every day.

BTW, going off on a bit of a tangent, but talking of training fields, Sunday's trip to the Middle Eastern afforded me my first glimpse of City's extremely impressive looking new facility!

But when you think of the old footballing adage about needing to change either the team or the management over the period of every five year cycle, to avoid the sort of familiarity which inevitably breeds contempt, then Fergie's revolving door policy with new coaches bringing in fresh ideas every couple of seasons seems to make absolute sense and perhaps lends weight to all those who contend that Pat Rice is long past his sell-by date.

Don't get me wrong, I adore Pat Rice and wouldn't have a bad word said about the sort of "mensch", who is in every sense of the words, a one club man. But when you envisage dear old Pat putting the cones out at London Colney every day and watching him bawling out the same smattering of footballing clichés from the sidelines for so many seasons, it's fairly likely that for the vast majority of our squad, Pat's pearls of wisdom go in one ear and straight out the other.

Moreover, with Arsène being surrounded by somewhat sycophantic disciples at the Arsenal, you wonder quite how much le Gaffer might benefit by having someone at his side, with the balls to tell him what time it is, when required?

But then that's more than enough waffle for one post and if I don't send it out now, I'll end up going off on another tangent which will see me still typing away until the middle of the week, when, hopefully with plenty more to say, after we've bounced back with a convincing win against Villa, this missive will end up sitting on my laptop for all eternity, or at least until my hard drive dies.

Big Love