This wasn’t where I was meant to be going. I was meant to be heading to the cinema to see some shite 70’s film with my mate Celia Cremer….well that’s a lie actually, this was always my intended clandestine destination. The cinema trip was a ruse, if I’d told my parents where Celia and her dad were really taking me I wouldn’t have been let out of the house.
At the grand age of eleven years, I was about to break all the rules, I was telling lies, crossing boundaries and risking a bloody good hiding. I didn’t care, I couldn’t stand it any longer, I had to find out what lurked behind the scarily large, blue steel doors I walked past almost every day. At last, I was to understand why I couldn’t leave the house at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon without fear of being trampled under foot. Sounds of singing, roaring and chanting were the soundtrack of my younger years every other weekend and at last I could find out what all the fuss was about.
Where was I going? I was on my way to my first football match at Maine Road, the place which will always be the spiritual home of my beloved Manchester City Football club. It was a Wednesday night in November, the crowd practically pulled us along with them as we walked the five minutes from my house down Kippax Street and along to Main Road towards the Platt Lane end of the ground.
I’d never been through turnstiles before, they looked like some sort of medieval torture device and when I got stuck and started to panic because I wasn’t strong enough to get it move, some big fat bloke with massive arms and a tattooed neck pushed me through to the other side where Celia’s dad was stood laughing at me. I forgave him though, he was a great bloke and after all he had taken me to the match, bought my ticket and was taking good care of me.
Now this wasn’t a normal match, this was England under 21’s v Italy under 21’s. I would have to wait a whole fortnight before seeing my first ‘proper’ City game. There was a massive crowd, well it seemed massive to me having witnessed nothing larger than the congregation at church on Sunday. I was overawed even though I didn’t know what the word meant then. The sheer volume was ear splitting, I was surrounded by on all sides by some of the biggest blokes I’d ever seen and there didn’t seem to be an end to the sea of football shirts and bobble hats.
Being a night game made it all the more special. I’d seen the floodlights lit up when going past the ground but I’d never witnessed them lighting up the place from the inside like some shrine, which I didn’t know then was exactly what it was. Even the air was different, the smell of the grass mingled with the cold night air. Even now when I visit the Etihad I love the smell of the pitch, it’s the best perfume ever!
I have to confess that I didn’t really watch the match, there was too much going on around me and I didn’t want to miss a thing. One thing I do remember though was being strangely attracted to the site of Peter Barnes in full flight in a pair of tight shorts! The other thing I remember was the smell of Bovril at half time, there was a beefy fog all around me as people held on tightly to their cups of brown stuff, blowing on the surface before trying to taking sips without melting their lips on the molten liquid.
All too quickly the game ended and the three of us queued to file out of the ground with the rest of the crowd. It was the best night of my short life and one that would change it completely and shape my future.
To be continued…..