By special guest contributor Manuel El Holdom, drummer and hairy-man of Hunting Bears
Anyone with even the slightest interest in international sport will know that this is well overdue. 16 days, to be exact. May 13th, 2012. It was on this date (GMT) that my heart was not quite broken, but simply plunged into darkness for a few sad, lonely hours. 5 fleeting minutes changed my mindset, from one of elation, joy and ecstasy, to one of sorrow, disbelief, and a stuck record at the back of my mind that played only one question; ‘How the f**k did that happen?!’
Thousands, maybe millions of Manchester United fans around the world, either at the Stadium of Light, watching on a television set in their local bar, or sat glued to their couch after a few too many ‘special’ cookies, may have had that exact same question running through the back of their mind. After going 1-0 down, then with only 10 men on the field coming back to lead 2-1, how did Queens Park Rangers manage to throw away all the hard work they had put in over 90 minutes to let Manchester City, those dirty blue-shirted men, steal the Red Devils’ 20th league title from under their nose?
This kind of drama can’t be written. After a back-and-forth title race between the two halves of Manchester, it all came down to the last game. The equation was a simple one; if City were victorious over QPR, their superior goal difference would require United to beat Sunderland by a whopping 9 goals* to take the title. If City were to draw or lose, however, all United had to do was get a BETTER result than City, and crown number 20 was theirs. It was therefore unsurprising that 90% of our attention in a dingy (yet well-lit) Dunedin flat was glued to the City v QPR game in the wee hours of that cold (it’s Dunedin, is it going to be anything else?) Monday morning.
*This was by no means impossible; United and Arsenal fans will both remember (for different reasons) a United 8-2 thrashing of Arsenal earlier this year, and while that was at Old Trafford, Sunderland are no Arsenal in any situation. The scheduling of the last round of the EPL to be played all at the same time took away any idea that United had to accomplish this. Tricky bastards.
It didn’t have to be this way. With 6 games left in the season, United were on top (79 pts) with 8 straight wins, while City had taken 2 points out of a possible 9 from their previous three games, and were floundering in 2nd on the table (71 pts). Both teams had a relatively easy run to the final day; the biggest challenge that stood in each teams’ way was the Manchester Derby on April 30th. With the table poised as it was, this game looked to be a standard Derby, with no real outcome on the result of the season; as far as I was concerned, United more or less had it in the bag.
Oh boy. How a month can change things.
We’ll get this much out of the way now: City held it together, and when they needed it most, they brought it all, winning 6 out of 6 on the way to the title. That says enough about how Roberto Mancini’s side (albeit built from money, but this is a whole different kettle of fish, one I may very well boil up later) had the strength and the tenacity to win when it mattered, when all the pressure was on their heads amongst the talks of choking, not to mention the threats of players and manager alike being sacked. I may dislike City with every footballing bone in me, but God damn do I respect them.
United, on the other hand, had a disastrous start to the final month of the EPL, with a 1-0 away loss to Wigan. WIGAN?! Lowly, 15th-placed Wigan. Unimaginable. It was this loss, combined with a 4-4 draw against Everton at home, during which the Mersey-siders came back from a 2-goal deficit not once, but twice, that ultimately led to the downfall of Sir Alex Ferguson’s great side. United were left with a slim 3-point lead with 3 games left in the season, and all of a sudden that Machester Derby to be played at Etihad Stadium, home of the Blues, became a must-win fixture for the Reds.
As we now know, this was not to happen. Vincent Kompany, in my opinion one of the best defenders of the EPL all season, switched roles to slot a first-half injury-time goal, headed in from a David Silva corner to give City a lead they would not relinquish.* Some punters claimed the challenge at Newcastle a week later could be a difficult one, but in my mind I knew, from that game alone, that United had squandered their chance and had fallen further from grace than I had ever seen in my 15 years as a devoted fan.
To the final day of the 2011/2012 EPL; tension, emotions and fans were as high as the temperature was low. I have never paid as little attention to a United game as I did that morning, for it was not the important one; it was merely there to distract us from the gripping entertainment that was City v QPR. Zabaleta’s goal provided the expected start to an otherwise drab first half. City, with all the possession, couldn’t penetrate a stout QPR line, who, it should be noted, needed to get at least a point from this game to avoid relegation.* 1-0 City at half time. I was feeling grim.
*Bolton ended up drawing against Stoke City; they needed to win to avoid relegation, so this result meant QPR needn’t have worried about this particular game at all. Naturally, this was discovered a couple of minutes into injury time, which one could argue was QPR’s reason for faltering so badly. They simply didn’t need to care. An interesting yet moot point either way.
And so the second half begins, snacks re-stocked and all kinds of City-United banter reloaded. It only took 3 minutes for QPR, thanks in huge part to Joleon Lescott (my almost new favourite player) to provide a glimmer of hope. Djibril Cisse slots a shot past Joe Hart, and it’s 1-1. With the score 1-0 to United at the Stadium of Light, it’s advantage United, and at this point I can’t be happier, even with 40 minutes still to play. 15 minutes pass, and cue a brain explosion from Joey Barton. You know the one I’m talking about.
What the video DOESN’T show you is Tevez swinging at and connecting with Barton’s head moments beforehand, but of course none of the referees saw this, therefore it never happened, right? What a different story that would have been. Nevertheless, to Joey Barton, I have but this to say: fuckin’ good on ya mate. The worst part of this whole incident was that he didn’t injure Aguero enough to make him leave the field. In any case, QPR are down to 10 men, and United’s hopes slip just a little.
Another 15 minutes pass, and my joy turns to ecstasy as The Incredible Flying Jon Mackie slams a counter-attacked cross into the City goal. 2-1 QPR. The best part of this goal? The faces of the City fans. For the next half hour, every shot of the crowd sends my United supporting buddies and I into fits of laughter as City fans throw all their toys out of their cot. Grow up kids; it’s just a game. Sure, you’ve been waiting to win it for 44 years, but really?
The football, however, was predictable, one-sided, dominating, yet absolutely riveting. The statistics speak volumes of this game:
This was such an unbelievably one-sided game, it’s amazing City didn’t win by 10 goals. 15 shots on target, 19 blocked shots, 19 corners, 66 total crosses. Most incredibly, City completed 711 passes, while 81.4% of the possession and 82.9% of the territory went in their favour. They spent practically the last 25 minutes in QPR’s half, while all QPR’s defenders could do when they got the ball was hoof it down the other end, and reset themselves for another defensive effort. A football game has never been so one-sided yet so damn watchable, purely for the result.
It was no surprise when City finally scored again. It had been a long time coming, and everyone in the room on that cold Monday morning knew that City were not going to let this one go easily. Dzeko slotted a header from a corner, and Aguero scored his now famous 95th minute goal to send Man City players, staff, and fans alike into celebration, one that will last until the season starts again. All I can say is I would have hated to be in Manchester that night; but without those five minutes of injury time, Manchester would have been my heaven for that night. Such is the nature of sport that as quickly as you have it, all of a sudden it can be taken away from you. 44 years in the making, Manchester City finally has their English Premier League title. The story, however, is not in the result, but the journey they took to get there. Will it be their only one for another 44 years? We’ll find out in 11 short months.
P.S. Go back to the video of Aguero’s goal, and watch Mancini as he runs down the tunnel. Notice how he shoves his hands into his jacket pockets as he runs? He did that for every City goal. Why? Is your jacket going to fly away? Are you playing pocket billiards every time your team scores? Another of life’s mysteries left unsolved.