City fans are a tough breed. We have long since, in the words of Kipling, learned to treat triumph and disaster as imposters, and we are very well acquainted with the latter. Nevertheless an arrogance had crept in by the end of the season. City had beaten Newcastle away and the final fixture at home versus QPR looked like a formality. Well, more than a formality. A goal party.
By incredible good fortune and through an impossibly good friend I got a ticket on the morning of the match itself. I was in Manchester anyway and was out walking Russ the retired guide dog when the phone rang with the good news; man and labrador danced all the way home.
Then it was off to the place they used to call Eastlands, but which we now must call the Etihad. It is a superb stadium and Chris and I arrived two hours early to savour the atmosphere. The club has embarked on a programme of massive construction around the ground as well as rebuilding the team inside it. There is a huge plaza of bars and spaces where fans get together to watch goals on big screens. Spaces in the once run down area of Beswick have been bought and now have development marked out for them; this is a club that recognises UEFA's fair play rules as an opportunity to give something back to the community in which it bases its business.
We wandered about. City's players arrived in a coach with smoked glass windows. Atmosphere moved up a notch. We met our friends in a crowded pub, then took our comfy padded seats with the marvellous view now afforded to everyone who has a ticket. As I sat down I remembered the Kippax, marvellous character, yes, but really an old shed where you couldn't really see what was going on, either because of the pillars or other taller people. It was a place constructed for a bunker mentality. But this stadium is football for this century, not the early 1900's.
The rest is history. QPR two one up. Collective despair around the ground. People crying, shouting madly or just sat silent. Some people sat in front of us actually left. Could we really have come this far only to concede defeat once more? Barton's insane and disgraceful violence reducing QPR to ten men; I'd have loved to hear what Mark Hughes - a terrific manager who graces the Premier League with his passion and belief - had to say to him after his sending off. Then Mancini's substitutions. Dzeko; I'll never slag him off again. And Aguero; the desperate majesty of that last-gasp goal. Wonderment and joyous disbelief all around me; and oh so sweet to have deprived the red neighbours of a championship they must have thought they'd won when we lost against Arsenal.