A celebrated Manchester City fan of my acquaintance emailed me six weeks or so ago, the morning after my team had beaten his team in their own newly spruced-up backyard, to say that he was actually quite pleased Everton had won.
This is a fellow famously devoted to City, and yet the injection into his beloved club of all those Abu Dhabi billions, and the swaggering, bullying way in which it had subsequently conducted itself in the transfer market, had made him question his faith, he said.
I thought of him on Wednesday evening as I watched the Tottenham players celebrating the win at Eastlands which propelled them into next season's Champions League at City's expense, and wondered whether his faith had, paradoxically, been restored by this new dose of abject failure. It is an indication of how weird things have become for City fans that fifth place – their highest-ever finish in the Premier League – represents abject failure. And yet it surely does; witness the glum and even tear-stricken faces in the stands, the same faces that within the memories of people not yet old enough to vote watched City slide into the third tier of English football. Were they any glummer then than they were when Steve Bennett blew the final whistle on Wednesday? Not noticeably.
The inescapable fact is that disappointment and its beetle-browed cousin, pessimism, are part of what it means to support Manchester City. Long-suffering lugubriousness is woven into a City fan's DNA, which is why the credible pursuit of so many of the world's most coveted players, from Kaka to Fernando Torres, and indeed the capture of men such as Carlos Tevez, have caused such discombobulation. It is for this reason that I don't mind my many City-supporting friends knowing that I punched the air when Peter Crouch headed the winner on Wednesday night. The elation I felt was not just for football itself, hugely pleasing though it was to have confirmation that bottomless pockets are not on their own enough for a club to break into Europe's elite, to be reminded that much more than rippling financial muscle is required for a team to rip its way into the top four. No, I also felt happy for the City devotees who have been through thick and thin with their club since the fleeting golden age of the late 1960s, but are manifestly more comfortable with thin than thick.
Monster fun to be had if Munsterman meets Minstermen
The gods of journalism, those inky- fingered deities who make strange things happen in newspaper offices and even stranger things happen during the printing process, can be a mischievous lot. In the days of hot metal, indeed, they could be downright malevolent, and saved some of their most demonic work for the sports pages. Thus it was that a football match report in one venerable national newspaper in the 1970s recorded that only "a brilliant save by Mulhearn kept out a rocket of a shit from Greenhoff". I suppose we must pray that Mulhearn was wearing goalkeeping gloves.
This week the deities were in more benevolent form, planting the idea in the mind of one of my own colleagues that an account of Steve McClaren's phenomenal success with the Dutch team Twente Enschede should run adjacent to a report on the second leg of the Conference play-off semi-final, regrettably marred by crowd trouble, between Luton Town and York City. This yielded the delightful coincidence of Twente Enschede's owner, newspaper magnate Joop Munsterman (above with McClaren), getting a mention in Tuesday's Independent just an inch or two from a reference to York City's nickname, the Minstermen.
Clearly, what we must hope for now is that Twente's owner will build on his success in the Eredivisie by taking over a humble English club on the rise. Those of us who were faintly tickled when a man called Arsène became manager of Arsenal will be overjoyed when Munsterman buys the Minstermen.
How a 33-1 shot slipped right under my nose
A short postscript to my account last week of a long and not notably abstemious lunch with 92-year-old Sir Peter O'Sullevan: as Brough Scott and I walked the great man with post-prandial deliberation back to his Chelsea flat, he signalled his desire to make a brief diversion into a betting shop. Brough and I dutifully waited while he filled out his slip, and rather than take a nosy peek at his fancied runner I contented myself with enjoying the spectacle of the doyen walking purposefully to the counter, betting slip in one hand, and dog-lead in the other, at the end of which trotted his devoted old miniature poodle, Topo.
A few crisp banknotes were duly passed across the counter, and I thought no more about this episode until earlier this week, when I learnt that the name on the betting slip had been that of Makfi, the French colt which two days after our lunch, unheralded by any of the racing columnists, comfortably won the 2,000 Guineas at 33-1. O'Sullevan, steered into Corals by a conversation with his dear friend the Marquesa de Moratalla, whose godson Mikel Dezangles trains Makfi, got him at 40s. It was a sad day for all of us when he hung up his tipster's trilby.Reuse content