For the rest of my life, my biggest footballing regret will be not being inside the Etihad Stadium on May 13, 2012.
I was 14 at the time and, given how cruel teenagers can be, City’s collapse in the title race was particularly hard to take. The days after City’s crushing late defeat to Arsenal, a result that left the Blues eight points adrift of Premier League leaders and arch-rivals Manchester United, were tough.
Many of my school mates were Reds, and the mick-taking was almost unbearable. I cursed myself for even allowing the slightest hope of winning the title to enter my mind earlier in the season. As a kid in the mid-2000s, I’d dreamed of City one day winning the league – but that is how it would remain; to dream
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Even a few days later when City thrashed West Brom and United suffered a surprise defeat at Wigan, I still thought it was over. Roberto Mancini’s side were five points adrift with five games remaining.
People say that children have a special, slightly naïve sense of optimism and belief, because they have not experienced the pains and setbacks that life throws at us adults. But I think that teenagers are even more pessimistic than adults – the slightest set-back is the end of the world, whether that be rebuffed love interest or a football team losing.
I wasn’t a season ticket holder at the time, so me and my dad used to buy tickets for individual games. We’d been to a fair few in 2011/12 (so much so that we decided to queue for four hours to buy season tickets for the following campaign) but by mid-April I’d lost hope.
I didn’t actively avoid buying tickets for the Queens Park Rangers game, more I fell into a general malaise when it came to the fortunes of City. I sort-of just forgot for a few weeks, and by the time City had moved top of the pile on goal difference by beating United 1-0 – a match I was lucky enough to attend – the final day showdown had long sold out to supporters more optimistic of a remarkable City comeback than I.
So the final day came and I wasn’t sat inside the Etihad Stadium. I couldn’t actually watch it with my dad either – we didn’t have Sky Sports, so I dashed round to my mate’s house (he had a big old satellite dish) and my dad, the man who took me to my first City game as a six-year-old, settled for the radio.
Watching Sky’s split-screen coverage of the final day of the season – United on the left, City on the right – sat alongside two United fans and a West Ham fan (nominally supporting City) was not how I had dreamt the 2011/12 season would end, but under the circumstances it was the best I could do.
We all know what happened next. Wayne Rooney gave United a 20th-minute lead at Sunderland, my United pals still resigned to City brushing aside QPR with ease. When Pablo Zabaleta prodded City ahead 20 minutes later, it almost felt like the deal was sealed.
I should have known better; I was young, naïve, I didn’t know the true power of ‘typical City’.
Djibril Cisse pounced on a Joleon Lescott mistake and the Reds besides me started getting cocky. Joey Barton lost his head, but then so did I when Jamie Mackie put 10-man QPR ahead.
As the minutes ticked on my mates ‘consoled’ me with patronizing remarks like “don’t worry, you’ll win it one day.” It was hell.
Then Edin Dzeko gave us what we believed was just false hope. “It’s finished at Sunderland,” Martin Tyler told me through the screen, as the dual-coverage gave way to a full-screen image of City blowing their chance of winning a first top-flight title in 44 years.
It’s cliché, but time really did seem to stand still when Aguero collected Mario Balotelli’s lay-off, skipped a couple of challenges and leathered the ball in at the near post. I honestly can’t remember how I reacted, whether I sat there in disbelief, cried, screamed or ran out into the street. It’s a total blur.
In those five minutes of injury time I experienced every emotion I’ve ever felt in football, from gut-wrenching despair right through to sheer elation. The sheer looks of disbelief on the faces of my mates was the cherry on top – I didn’t even have to wait until school the next day to rub their faces in it.
As well as wishing I’d bought tickets for the game, I often think about how I would have spent the day had I been five years older. Maybe I would’ve been at the game, or watching a dodgy stream at home with my dad or caught up in the bedlam of the Waldorf with hundreds of delirious and intoxicated Blues.
But that’s life – for every experience missed there’s another to be enjoyed. Sat in my mate’s living room, hearing the famous “Aguerooooooo” commentary live, is something I will never forget.
I might not have been at the Etihad Stadium that day, but in one moment Aguero brought all City fans together, wherever we were.
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