“The raucous rebellion, the defiant humour, the fire and glee”
By Chris Taylor
About 10 minutes after the final whistle when FC United beat Rochdale at Spotland, I was stood, still unable to take it all in, with my hands on my head.
I wasn’t looking out on to the pitch where so many of our lot gambolled gaily over the sodden turf (and not just because I was wearing a brand spanker pair of Spezials I didn’t want to ruin). My head was turned to the stands, where so many faces mirrored my disbelief. What had just unfurled before me was still sinking in, and in truth it would take days maybe weeks to do so. I turned and looked down the side of our stand, shaking my head in disbelief, and made eye contact with someone I recognised.
It wasn’t anyone I recognised from the match, but the face of David Conn, who wrote what I consider to be the best book about football I’ve ever read (The Beautiful Game – Searching for the Soul of Football) and who was, is, and will remain a very vocal champion for our club, despite being a blue. He was with his daughter, and he had the same look of delighted disbelief on his face that I had.
We made eye contact, and as he walked past me he patted me on the shoulder. It was a great moment for me, not just because of who it was, but because it showed that what we had achieved crossed petty rivalries and self-defeating boundaries and had affected football as a whole. It was this, more than anything else, that fuelled the feeling of vindication I felt stronger than any other emotion that night.
David Conn has just had a book published about Manchester city called “Richer Than God”. I never thought I’d pay for a book about city, but after a tip off from a blue I know and respect (hard to believe I realise) I googled it. There are excerpts from it on google books, including large sections from chapter 17 “The People’s Game” about our club, and that magical night in Rochdale.
This isn’t an advert, or a plea to buy the book, but I just paid about eleven quid for it based on what I just read. The phrase “he gets it” is bandied about among our support with some regularity, even relating to one of our players who gets it so much he punched one of our own, but there’s no denying from his words that Conn really does fucking get it.
Back when I had a blog I argued that picking your favourite moment from Rochdale was missing the point; that you had to view the match as a whole to fully appreciate the full beauty of it. The same could be said for Conn’s chapter on our daft little team.
If I absolutely had to pick a passage other than the one this bit of writing sit under (http://bit.ly/QZmw9G) it would be the one where Conn wishes the likes of David Gill, Sheikh Mansour, and Premier League apologists could have been at the game to witness what we did. He then went on to say that you don’t have to be a fan of our team to appreciate what we’ve done and what we did, and regardless of allegiance you can always wonder at the stories football can produce.
I’m not sure football will ever get better than that night in Rochdale, but then I said that after Barcelona in ‘99. In the queue for Brighton tickets there was some debate over which was better, but for me there’s no doubt. Barcelona was amazing, and the culmination of a life’s work for Alex Ferguson and his team. But what was achieved in Rochdale on that smoky, hazy November night was ours in a way that Barcelona never will be.
And that’s why I felt vindicated: because more than any other time in our short yet remarkable history, we were proved right. And if a city fan can finish a book about his team and their most successful ever period with a whole chapter agreeing with me, it’s going to take some persuading to convince me otherwise.
Do yourself a favour, beg, steal or borrow the book. Ignore chapters one to sixteen as I did, and revel in the heart-bursting-proudness of chapter 17. As it says on the DVD of the game I bought in Malcolmses, “This is the way it can always be. Good women and men made this team so.”