City do it with hope, faith and cash
Oligarchs and plutocrats have tried to control it with the steel ties of capitalism. They have pumped it full of gas from the Siberian pipelines and poured buckets of Arabian oil over its head.
Icelandic chisellers and chancers from Thailand have come and gone. The American asset strippers are yet tearing at the body. And still the sport rises above it all. "Football, bloody hell."
Those were the immortal words spoken by Alex Ferguson after Manchester United had scored two goals at the death to beat Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final. On Monday morning it was deja vu. Some Manchester City fans had abandoned the stadium. Kids were crying salt tears into their dads' paunches. They thought it was all over.
Losing 2-1 to the 10 men of Queens Park Rangers, the team with the worst away record in the league, City were choking on their own wealth. Cartoons of manager Roberto Mancini gagging on wads of petro-dollars were being drawn up. It was United's title again. The noisy neighbours were as quiet as downtown Abu Dhabi on a Friday afternoon.
Then Edin Dzeko, aka the Bosnian diamond, rose above the masses and headed in the goal in the second minute of injury time that gave City hope. The word is a curse in City's modern vocabulary. The fans have taken to quoting John Cleese's schoolmaster in the film Clockwise: "I can cope with the despair, it's the hope that's killing me."
What were the blue hordes going through now? On the sideline Mancini was jumping and twisting like a crazy man. Graham Henry asked me: "Is the coach still alive? At least they had no other way to play than all-out attack. That's better than 8-7 and holding on and hoping not to give a penalty away."
There's that deadly word again. The hope was killing the City fans. Then in the fourth minute of what over the years has become known as Fergie time - due to Sir Alex Ferguson's habit of pointing frantically at his watch and United's habit of scoring last- minute winners - Sergio Aguero scored the goal of goals. His shirt was off and he ran wildly over to the City fans.
Have you seen the photographs? Pandemonium. From sick as a parrot to over the blue moon. Fake sheikhs in sky-blue Arab head- gear, old men in red-and-black stripes, young kids in Etihad shirts and women in light blue scarves, jumping and hugging like the war was over. It seemed like it.
Many, many years ago Francis Lee, a City legend, scored a goal from the ages. Commentator Barry Davies croaked: "Lee, interesting, very interesting." Ball flies in, then: "Look at his face, just look at his face." But Lee was scoring for Derby against his former club. The joke was on City, as it so often was back then.
Then they began to slide down the divisions. The tortured fans sang: "We are not, we're not really here, just like the fans of the Invisible Man, we're not really here."
So who could begrudge them this week's joy? Who would carp and call them Moneychester City? Who would point out that Dzeko cost [PndStlg]27 million (NZ$56m) and Aguero [PndStlg]38m. Who would call them the playthings of Sheikh Mansour? Not me and I'm a United supporter.
Lee, former hero and chairman, satyr's face, a loo-roll millionaire, called it: "Roy of the Rovers stuff". Do you think Mario Balotelli had the slightest idea what he was talking about? But the fans knew and they're the ones who matter.
They're the people who buy sky- blue rubber ducks from the merchandise shop for their baths. They're the people who put an arm round Liam Gallagher of Oasis, long-term City fan dressed in leather, shades and fame, and take a picture for the scrapbook. They're the people who care.
Lifelong supporter and commentator Stuart Hall once described City's home ground as the theatre of base comedy. On Monday you could almost hear his rich voice booming out: "Look on our works ye mighty and despair." City, Shelley and Hall.
The 82-year-old has known the barren times. In 36 years, United have won 41 trophies and City 1. In the previous 25 years, United have had one manager and City have had 17. How was Hall feeling as the clock ticked down? And what about all the fans of the 118 official supporters clubs, from the Cactus Bar in Malta to the Redondo Beach Blues in LA?
Then Sergio Aguero fired in the shot heard around the world. Vincent Kompany said: "I never stopped believing." Pablo Zabaleta said: "If you believe in yourself, you win. We believed until the last minute." Sometimes football is an article of faith.
Yes, City could not have done it without a billion pounds of Arabian oil money. But nor could they have done it without the belief of the fans. "Manchester is Blue" read the banner.
Football, bloody hell.
Taranaki Daily News