Simon Kelner: Football and religon entwined in faith-shaking finish

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The Independent Online

In this fractured, disconnected world, where the cult of the individual holds sway, we long for a feeling of community, a sense of togetherness. That's why some people turn to religion, and why some of us with a less noble calling support a football club.

Faith plays a big role in both, of course, and where I was late on Sunday afternoon, the sort of belief that keeps us going was in short supply. The clock was ticking down – at what seemed like indecent speed – and Manchester City were in the process of one of the most spectacular balls-ups in even their rich tragi-comic history. And then... deliverance. It's not really surprising that the language of religion was used in the aftermath of the two goals in injury time that brought City their first championship title for 44 years. People talked of miracles, of redemption, of nirvana, of heaven and hell. In those heart-rending minutes when it looked like calamity was looming, we'd all had visions of our personal hell.

I had written on Friday in this space that City couldn't possibly cock it up and here they were doing exactly that. A few days earlier, I'd pleaded for Joey Barton, the QPR captain with a reputation for thuggish behaviour, to be given a shot at redemption. And here he was, elbowing, kicking and head-butting his way to the reddest of cards and a snarling exit from football for – we can hope – a very long period indeed. It will also be some time, you might think, before Jeremy Paxman invites him back on to Newsnight.

How could I face the world, my lack of judgement exposed in such a way? Two of my best friends support Manchester United. I might never be able to look at another text message. How could I make it up to my daughter for inflicting on her the support of a club that was prone to cause such pain? Gary Lineker had told me that, in Spanish, there is a saying to the effect that to support a football club is to know suffering. These were the thoughts darting through my discombobulated mind in those faith-shaking moments on Sunday. We retreat into our private world of conceits and concerns.

And then, when it's over, when it's not hell but somewhere quite different, we are back as part of a larger organism, hugging strangers, shaking hands with random members of the same community, feeling part of a wider strain of humanity. I am not saying it was a religious experience, but it was pretty close.

I defy anyone to experience such extremes of emotion in such a short space of time without feeling in some way that bigger, more powerful forces were at work. Was it all down to the fact that Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager and a devout Roman Catholic, had gone to church that morning? Even if that proposition tests one's credulity, there is no disputing that Sergio Aguero, the man who scored the winning goal with 20 seconds left, has a talent given by God. Either way, what happened under a blue Manchester sky on Sunday was enough to make believers of us all.