Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Here’s hoping that I’ll be singing the Blues ...

Frances Burscough

By the time you read this, my sons and I will be beside ourselves with nerves. Pre-match nerves; the worst kind there are. There's nothing we can do, but watch and hope. After years, nay decades, of taunting, teasing, bullying and abuse by rivals wearing red, Manchester City fans like us are on the very brink of championship glory.

Tomorrow, come Hell or high water, it will all be decided.

In preparation I have a bottle of bubbly in the fridge. Whether we drink it to celebrate or drown our sorrows remains to be seen. But if it does get popped in celebration, it won't have come a day too soon. I've been waiting for this moment for years; my sons have been waiting their whole lives.

Unlike them, I'm not a dyed-in-the wool football follower. I inherited the allegiance upon moving to Manchester in the Eighties to go to university, where I met and married their dad, who was a lifelong City supporter. After accompanying him to a few matches I inevitably developed a regard for the beleaguered Blues. Well, it would have been rude not to.

My sons, on the other hand, were born into it. Just like original sin, they acquired it upon conception and never had a say in the matter. Their dad was a Blue and so, by default, they were too, no questions asked. They were wearing sky blue babygros with the team crest on it before they were even home from hospital.

“Superbia in Praelia” — Pride in Battle — is the legend embroidered in gold.

Well, as you can imagine, there's been a lot more battle than pride along the way.

But it's the story of how my ex-husband chose the team that amuses and fascinates me to this day. It just goes to show how one small gesture of defiance made when you're a kid can effect the entire lives of future generations ...

My ex went to a strict Catholic school, run by nuns and priests. Not a lot of people know this, but at that time, in the 1960s, Manchester United was widely accepted to be a predominantly Catholic team, holding so many associations with the Church that it was almost expected of fellow Catholics to support them. Indeed, the nuns and priests at school actively encouraged it, saying the Pope himself was a United supporter.

My ex put up his hand in class one day and asked, jokingly, “What football team does God support?”

“God supports Manchester United, of course!” was the wry reply.

From that day on, being a bit of a rebel, he made his mind up to support Manchester City. Just out of awkwardness, as they say.

So while all his peers were decked out in vibrant red and white, he turned up in defiant sky blue. Despite a brief moment of glory, in 1968 when Manchester City last held the cup, it's been a long and winding road ever since.

Thus began a lifetime of taunts, jibes and smart-assed comments. How dare he have a mind of his own? We'll teach him ...

And so it continued, in Northern Ireland with our own kids, second-generation City supporters surrounded by a sea of red. By now the religious context had completely disappeared, but success after success had ensured that United's fan base had grown way beyond its geographical catchment area.

United, United, United ... everywhere you looked, the colours flew brightly. There was no getting away from it — not even in the local corner shop, where an entire section was dedicated to selling tacky memorabilia.

But now, at last, after years and years of jokes and sneers, the tables appear to be turning.

Maybe, just maybe, City could triumph tomorrow and that will shut them up rightly, once and for all. And about time too.

Whether or not we top the league, or crash and burn, will depend on a number of factors. We have to win against QPR to definitely clinch the deal and claim the coveted prize. So until then I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

I won't bother praying, though. What would be the point? After all, God supports United ...

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