City are veterans of final day joy and despair
Manchester City fans will have been doing one of two things this week, having seen an attritional game of patience against Aston Villa on Monday turn into a second-half deluge, both meteorologically speaking and literally.
The first thing to do as a City fan, of course, is to start worrying. No triumphalist singing, no flag-waving, no pumping up of the celebratory bananas, just simple old fretting. Nail-biting, quivering, knee-knocking, aimless wandering, forgetfulness -- the grand jitters. The second thing to do is to carry on doing the first thing until you are in such a state even walking becomes difficult.
The news that Sergio Aguero has passed fitness and will take his place in the starting lineup against West Ham sends the collective memory soaring back two years to a similarly fraught afternoon in 2012 against Queens Park Rangers. A newcomer to the planet might have thought the exceptionally late, title-clinching winner had been scored by a player called, improbably, “Aguerooooooooooooo,” and that the people present had never witnessed a goal in all their long lives, but in truth, Manchester City have put their fans through so many last-day-of-the-season cliffhangers that they should be getting used to them by now, for good or bad.
This, of course is easier said than done. To prove the point, take a quick look at this little lot:
St James’ Park, 1968 -- 4-3 win. Franny Lee in the crowd surrounded by boys in duffle coats. Champions of all England.
Maine Road, 1983 -- Luton Town, David Pleat’s slip-ons, Brian Horton, Paul Walsh, 1-0 to Raddy Antic with three minutes to go. John Motson’s haunting television commentary: “One of the greats of English football ... are relegated.”
Charlton Athletic, 1985 -- Singing very silly songs while standing on a wet table in Yates Wine Lodge, disoriented, grand shock and awe. Lost my jumper, my shoe and my mates in the crush.
Upton Park, 1987 -- Down again to Division Two after a quick unexpected love-in with West Ham fans.
Bradford, 1989 -- Squeezed in behind the chicken wire at Valley Parade trying to keep my inflatable banana from popping on those shiny claret and amber spikes. Clever Trevor Morley with seconds remaining, looking one way then the other to work out whether his gently struck goal counted or not.
Sunderland, 1992 -- A brief respite as it was their crunch, not City's. Wearsiders, all 13,000 of them, in the Platt Lane stand. Big Niall Quinn’s disco pants flying at half-mast.
Liverpool, 1996 -- The stirring comeback after going two goals down to a team that wasn’t even interested; Steve Lomas by the corner flag hanging on dearly for a 2-2 draw that was no good to anyone. Alan Ball in his shell suit and flat cap, directing the disaster like a stumpy Sam Peckinpah in his terrible pomp. The awful acrid smell of burning hopes. Relegation, again.
Stoke, 1998 -- The absolute mayhem of a descent into the third tier of English football. Port Vale, Huddersfield and (Alan Ball’s) Portsmouth all winning away to send City down. The mental scars an afternoon like that leaves behind. City in the third division.
The biggest one of all, Wembley against Gillingham in 1999 -- Paul Dickov sliding through the rain in the fifth minute of injury time; half the fans off to the underground and back again; up, down and all around. Nicky Weaver running the length of the pitch after the penalty shoot-out. The need for new clothes and intense physiotherapy on a pair of ankles almost broken on those wooden Wembley seats.
2001 -- Ipswich Town away and relegation again.
2002 -- Portsmouth and the day Stuart Pearce’s penalty hit the moon.
2005 -- Middlesbrough and the day Robbie Fowler’s stoppage-time penalty to qualify for Europe dribbled into oblivion.
And then the small matter of Queens Park Rangers -- the day we thought we had seen everything, the day when Aguero blazed his shirtless, arm-whirling image onto the back of all our cerebral cortexes.
City fans would be lying if they said all of this had been a breeze. I would be lying if I said any one of the City fans gnawing at their fingernails this week would wish for similar drama on Sunday. Manchester City, steeped as they are in an unrelenting tale of ups and downs, may have other ideas.
All we can do is wait and see.