BLUE MOON RISING
“Its too late to change your mind (you let loss be your guide)” *
I love my football team. I’m crazy about them, and the romantic notions I have in my head about the values the team represents. A tradition and commitment to play entertaining football, built on the Lee, Bell, Summerbee, and Young years. A team with a passionate and loyal fan base, a team that represents not just a City but the dreams of those that follow it. A team capable of restoring our losses in life, and well…. a team to be proud of. And as a City fan, that’s something that’s been hard to say for a long time. There is something in the moral excellence and loyalty of my perception that is of course metaphorical. I can’t fool myself that easily anymore.
When the passion consumes like this though, sport is not a distraction, it’s a focus, a study, and the best way I can rationale it is that it offers me a chance to learn more about myself. It’s shocking to me that it can still affect my moods, not quite like it used to in the 1970’s but still….
In the recent Manchester derby game, despite playing very well, City lost 2-1. The game presented itself as another opportunity for City to demonstrate their progress in narrowing the gap between United, but after so many defeats to United when it matters the most, it really just felt like one more loss, nothing more or less. It’s hard to mask the disappointment, the negative feelings of inevitability and submission…but myself and all the other fanatics will come back for more. We constantly walk the line between anticipation, hope, pride, and naturally, foreboding. Losses in big games at least allow me to practice my zen. When my dad used to say “I’ve ginn it best me…I’m off tah Joker”, it meant he’d lost patience and was going to the pub instead of hopelessly carrying on with the task in hand….And sure enough, after a half dozen pints of bitter and an afternoon nap he would be back to continue the torture and try fix that leaking tap, running toilet, or whatever it was he struggled with. So after a couple of days moping around, my sports pulse returns and I’m ready to start the emotional cycle all again. This has gone on for 45 years. I could trace it’s origins back to England winning the World Cup in 1966, when I remember running out into the street just after the presentation of the trophy and emulating Jeff Hurst’s goals against our garden fence. The next door neighbour Madge Oakley quickly yelled at me for making noise (huh?), as George was sleeping, working nights down the coal mine and he had to get up for work soon. The glory had to be re enacted elsewhere. Subsequently I had my dad help me build a goal net on our garden so future dramas could be played out without further interruption, though that didn’t stop my Aunty Mary next door from giving me occasional hell, especially if the ball hit her washing.
Manchester City is a club built on family values, something which from the outside given the newly found wealth and overseas ownership is difficult to believe in. I’m forever indebted to Lionel Conway for affording me an introduction to the Directors of the Club. On my very first time walking through the club doors I saw Colin Bell my boyhood hero standing at the foot of the stairs leading up to the lounge areas. Now, as a boy, I used to try and play like this man. So the discreet thrill and the sensation of time slowing down transported me back to the cold dark nights spent on the terraces in Moss Side Manchester, the roars of appreciation ringing aloud. I would fashion my physical movements on his, and mimic the way he wore his shirt and socks. Seeing him standing there took my breath for a moment and evoked memories of my dad, and the happy times we spent watching City. Perhaps it’s just the lack of success the club has had that explains it’s homeliness, but I’m inclined (naturally) to believe there is a genuine attempt to honor the everyman culture the club has had since the 1960’s, and it’s embodiment lies in Joe Mercer, arguably the finest manager City has ever had. On a recent visit I was sitting in the Directors guest lounge, and I met Janice, the kit lady at Maine Rd for over 30 years. She’s now retired, and was visiting NY with her husband for the very first time this year. Janice described Mike Summerbee amongst other players as being like a son. She told me stories of the club allowing her to keep the FA Cup at her house one night. How the club treated her so well she could not but feel like part of a family. And there in the lounge were the players that thrilled me in my youth: Mike Summerbee, Colin Bell, Tony Book, Joe Corrigan. And in talking to them it’s apparent that these are down to earth working class men who just happened to be born with a god given gift. Here are some of the finest and modest footballers to ever wear the City and England national shirt. Parts of the stadium and surroundings are named after them, eg the Colin Bell stand, Joe Mercer Way, The Mike Summerbee Bar. They continue to live in Manchester, that part of the world where they achieved fame. It all feels such a stark contrast to the celebrity and transient world of rock and roll. In the corner of the lounge sits Norah, Joe Mercer’s wife, who is now over 90 years old, she has her 1970’s styled City ‘bar scarf’ on, engaged in conversation about the match and all things City. These people form a dream like sequence for me, as if I’m in an after life returning to a scene I saw and admired only from a distance in my youth. But this time I’m right there with them, not observing from afar.
In talking with Directors there is a strong appreciation of the past, and there is a consciousness at all times to respect the club’s heritage. The philosophy is acknowledged as if it’s not something one necessarily needs to come in with but it’s something one needs to grasp and relate to to be able to properly represent the club. My privileged glimpse reveals what I believe to be the soul of the Club and it’s desire to do well and also importantly do right for the community. When you park your car and walk up Joe Mercer Way, there are 2 mosaics by Mark Kennedy. One shows Joe holding up the league championship trophy and the other shows him standing with his back to the old Kippax stand at Maine Rd. These serve as a gloried reminder and compass for the merging of past and present. All that’s missing now for City fans is a trophy and when that day comes we will all have “ginn it best” and go down the pub to celebrate.
I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Mike Summerbee for his incredible kindness, generosity of time, and modest desire to share the thrill of the journey. I cannot imagine a finer Club Ambassador.
* Broken Bells. It might be “laws”, not “loss”. But the latter works much better for me here.