The mercury was still climbing as I arrived in Blackburn. Having found a great parking place purely by luck I strolled down towards the ground with other fans. Sky blue was far more in evidence than the famous royal blue and white halved shirts of the Rovers. Red and Black was the second most predominant colour. City would be wearing the stripes this afternoon and we have done well lately in our second strip.
The car park at ‘The Golden Cup’ was packed with supporters enjoying a pre-match drink, or three. I decided to carry on. The queue at the bar would have been of epic proportions. I continued to plod down the long hill, contemplating the hike back. Another boozer, the ‘Fernhurst’ had been completely colonised by City’s vocal followers . As many seemed to be drinking from cans rather than Ale purchased within.
So far the real difference from when I was an away game regular was the prevalence of the drinking culture, which naturally enough is a reflection of society itself. Coupled with the prominence of easily identifiable replica shirts which have replaced other tokens of allegiance this kind of boozy assembly would have resulted in near riots from the sizeable hooligan element in the late sixties and seventies.
I approached the ground and spotted a sign ‘bringing football to the fans’ which also offered parking at a tenner per vehicle ! Well heeled fans I mused to myself. Ewood Park looked very different to the way I remembered it, but then in forty years you would expect it to change a little. Pushing my ticket into the bar-code reader the turnstile fell away before me and with a mechanical click I was inside a concrete labyrinth.
Up and up I climbed the many steps, flights of fancy as I pondered the scene within. It was cool here. The concrete stairway , impersonal and anonymous - an opportunity to engage the visitor wasted I felt. Emerging into a relatively small area of fast food , beer and on-site bookies - the latter another development these past couple of decades.
I paid £3.40 for a plastic bottle of Carlsberg lager. I’m not sure why. I became impatient with it and slung it, unfinished into a waste-bin. Deciding to take my seat and survey the scene I entered the arena. A handsome arena it is too. Nothing of the futuristic about it though. Adequate as it is, there is nothing ’state of the art’ about Ewood Park. Bedecked in Royal Blue it made for a stirring sight as the players went through their extensive warm up routines. Another change from days of old when they’d run out of the tunnel ten minutes before the kick-off and kick various balls about.
My seat was on the penultimate rear row . At this point the roof is little more than a metre above ones head consisting of sectional translucent plastic. Strong sunlight cannot be a problem they have to deal with often in these parts but the nature of the roof made it very hot up there ‘in the Gods’ Almost like inverted solar panels the heat of the sun was being radiated rather absorbed. To make matters worse the roof on the ‘Darwen End’ is angled downwards and when sitting right at the rear it cuts down into your field of vision and you cannot see all of the stand at the other end. This induces a claustrophobic effect exacerbated by the heat.
As the clock ticked away, and the stand filled I felt I was sitting in a Sauna - not that I’d know what that was like. I do know that I’ve PLAYED ninety minutes of football and perspired LESS than I did whilst watching the game yesterday.
The middle-aged fan to my right engaged me in conversation. I soon realised he was either stricken with gum disease or had a dental hygiene problem. The smell emanating from his mouth was making me feel queasy quickly. I tried to keep exchanges to a minimum, and after a while succeeded.
The Support for City was magnificent. Vocal as ever and keen to laud the Manager Mancini to the rafters the songs rang loud and clear as the teams took the field. City began brightly but failed to make much of an impression. Despite this, it was clear there was a gulf in class between the two teams - how could there not be given their divergent financial status.
As the action continued I soon realised I need new glasses! The goal at the other end was a long, long way away from my vantage point. With or without specs the action down there was always ever-so-slightly hazy. Binoculars would have helped but I would have appeared odd among this crowd. A crowd which despite paying for seats, decided to stand throughout the game. This meant we were all that much closer to the roof, which was pumping out the heat of a one bar electric fire ! In the back few rows Individuals were taking ‘time-out’ to sit for a minute or two , wearied by the weather. Football at this time of year should be played in rain and wind, but the increasing amounts of bared flesh on what had become a terrace, rather than a stand reflected the un-seasonal Indian summer. A summer from the land of the Rover’s owners - chicken merchants from Poona.
The PA system in the ground was next to useless , where I was perched anyway. There were a dozen loudspeakers hanging from the roof supports but they clearly weren’t working. No team news meant I was struggling to identify those furthest away - the forwards. At the best of times I can get my Mario’s mixed up with my Ya-Ya’s but having missed Aguero limping off I was later baffled when Nasri delighted me - for I was sure I hadn’t spotted him at the kick-off. I hadn’t ! Tempted to ask my neighbour what was what, the threat of impending waves of fetid , foul smelling breath was enough for me to keep my mouth shut.
I wilted on the half-hour…we all had our wilting point up there. I sat down for a few moments. The game was being dominated by City but Rovers had one or two chances to inflict a sucker punch as the Red & Blacks look for a little more invention upfront.
Half time was a relief as the packed throng thinned out a little and some air wafted up and around us.
The interval was also a watershed moment in the match - a real ‘game of two halves’ this one. From the restart City were far more assertive and eventually took the lead when Adam Johnson’s pin point accuracy found the net’s top corner. This came literally seconds after the lanky kid on my left screamed ‘you should never play for us again either Johnson’ at the young City winger. Although he’d been having a quiet game in his yellow boots, this stupid assertion baffled me, but as the players surrounded ‘AJ’ in triumph I resisted the temptation to question lanky’s aversion to the England man. Football is all about opinions after all.
Another yellow booted player - Aleksander Kolarov was enjoying lots of room on the left and the whole City machine had stepped up a gear, or even two. Mario Balotelli had already curled a stunning shot onto a post when he doubled City’s lead by sticking out a foot to divert a powerful cross-ball into the net past a helpless Robinson. He lapped up the adulation of fans and team-mates alike. He is certainly looking much more engaged and involved these days and was one of City’s star turns yesterday.
The third goal came from a Nasri-Silva counter attacking combination of quick fire passes . A deflection helped but this put the game beyond doubt. The Darwen End was rocking with the sounds of the City. With volume cranked up to the max…M-A-N-C-I-N-I whooa - ooh…brought several acknowledging waves from the Italian gaffer ,. A rousing rendition of Blue Moon threatened to raise the accursed roof and how grateful would we all have been for that !
Stefan Savic headed a fourth goal from a corner and the rout was complete. Poor Rovers. Their stunned fans now calling for the head of beleaguered Manager Steve Kean. I feel sorry for these Lancashire Lads and lasses. Unfashionable yes, but an essential part of football’s tapestry and I fear for their future under the current ownership. “SACKED IN THE MORNING, YOU’RE GETTING SACKED IN THE MORNING” the City fans mocked and the assembled Rovers returned the cries.
As the whistle went and the players returned their generous applause the throng made their way to the exits. With others, I remained in my seat and slowly, the air came back. We could breathe easier in the stand and breathe easier in our blossoming title challenge, having doubled United’s latest victory margin. Only the narrowest amount of goal difference separating us now. Back down those interminable steps to the streets of Blackburn spilling out with a determined horde marching up that hill to songs of triumph. A few Rovers screamed abuse from the top of their double-decker ! ‘Where were you when you were sh*t?’ they enquired. I personally have questions to answer in recent times. But City have been compared to the brown stuff many, many times over the last fifty years and I’ve endured my share of said ‘sh*t.’ I waved in appreciation as the big buses sped them homeward. The mucky stuff again rose its ugly head as a chorus of ‘I want to’ go home, Blackburn’s a sh*t hole, I want to’ go home’ broke out behind me. Harsh.
The autumn Sun had sank much lower in the sky by now and it became positively barmy as I reached the car. Firing up the radio first I sat and listened as the worst of the traffic and footsloggers dispersed . Making my way home was a breeze with windows open wide and circulating air to celebrate along with an impressive victory. City are on track. I have said since last July that we will finish above United this season…and doing that will almost certainly mean that yesterday, I saw the next Champion of England. Time will tell. The signs are good. We’ll know much more in three weeks time. The Old Trafford ’derby’ is assuming massive importance.
Yesterday was the kind of day you don’t forget. The chill will soon be upon us and the blast of warmth we’ve had lately will be a memory too. The dark days of December, January et al will be cheered by the football.
To those who think it’s a game for Summer I have one question - what the hell would we do in Winter ?