In the first of our new WOAP series looking back at football’s greatest moments, Jason McKeown reflects on the dramatic way Manchester City became Champions for the first time in 44 years.
It was Christmas 2011, and my in-laws had come to visit us from the States. I’d been out to a Shed Seven gig the night before so was attempting to enjoy a lie in. But the peace was disturbed by loud drilling outside. I assumed it was a neighbour doing some work, and eventually gave up sleeping and went downstairs.
And there he was. A strange man in my living room. His polo shirt featuring a familiar corporate logo. ‘Sky’. My wife and the in-laws were with him, looking sheepish given they hadn’t expected me to walk into the room. Here was my Christmas present. My in-laws had bought me Sky for three months, at which point we would take on paying the subscription. “Now you can stop being such a cheapskate” quipped my father-in-law. I was in shock.
Back in the States, my in-laws have a giant TV with speakers around the room and millions of channels. Up until then, in our Skipton house, we made do with just four channels. The digital TV switchover was reaching its conclusion but we were one of the last areas in the country to gain access to Freeview. So we made do with the basics, much to my father-in-law’s disbelief. “Why don’t you get Sky?” he’d often asked me. “Too expensive” was my stock response.
But whilst the £60+ monthly fee was somewhat off-putting, the truth for not having Sky TV was rather more embarrassing: with Sky, my fear would be that I would turn into a moron. That me and the wife would argue non-stop about how much I’d suddenly be hogging the TV, watching any and every football match available. Unprecedented access to football was the reward for paying a hefty Sky subscription, but it could also be the first step to divorce.
Ever since the Premier League and Sky launched their own marriage in the 90s, I had been desperate to have Sky Sports. There had been no chance of my parents ever shelling out for it, given their dislike of the sport and preference to, you know, do normal family things on a Sunday afternoon. At school I relied on one of those rare people who had Sky back then to video the big games for me, and I would watch them in wonderment a few days later (he’d usually forget to bring the tape in for days).
I know that proper football fans are supposed to hate Sky for ruining the game and all that, and I do have sympathy for these politics – but Sky’s coverage was, and still is, on another level to everything else. Some people accuse Sky of over-hyping games and again this can be true, but to me their presentation is fuelled by enthusiasm, and the presenters and pundits are clearly in love with the game. I love the quality of the coverage, and the in-depth build up. Match of the Day is nothing in comparison.
A few years later at University we ended up having Sky Sports for a year in our house, which was amazing. And back in Yorkshire a good friend of mine with Sky would always invite me over for the big games, or I’d go to the pub. And if I was really desperate, in more recent years I’d try out those dodgy internet streams that broke down every few minutes. But none of these options ever scratched the itch sufficiently. I wanted Sky in my home so I could watch football for 18 hours a day. I wanted to be a moron. But I was also scared of the damage it might cause.
That December 2011 morning, and with the Sky man finishing installing a dish on our house, the choice was suddenly taken away from me. I could be a moron. And if anyone complained, I could simply argue with justification that it wasn’t my idea to get Sky, so it’s not my fault. You reap what you sow. You did this to me.
The 2011/12 title race was hotting up. In the red corner was Manchester United; the dominant team of the Premier League era and with the masterful Sir Alex Ferguson knowing the course so well. In the blue corner were their much smaller (although increasingly noisy) neighbours Manchester City. Without a title triumph in 44 years, but finally with the wealth and playing roster to compete.
The post-2008 Man City outfit are a walking contradiction. Prior to Sheikh Mansour buying the club and pumping in unprecedented levels of transfer funds, they were often a hapless team living in the shadow of their cross-city rivals. In March 1998, Man City were memorably defeated 2-1 by Bradford City in front of a rapturous Valley Parade; the second half goals from Nigel Pepper and Edinho pushing their opponents closer to third tier football for the first time in their history. They were relegated two months later.
Man City have literally walked the same walk as the rest of us have-nots. In the third tier they welcomed and travelled to clubs like Notts County, Macclesfield Town and York City. They continued to be backed in impressive numbers. They were more humble and likeable. They climbed back to the Premier League but continued to have a yo-yo existence.
The takeover brought them overnight wealth, the mercenary Robinho and for a time they kept on the distasteful Garry Cook. And when Mark Hughes was harshly sacked in November 2010, you feared they would just be another Chelsea. But Roberto Mancini was likeable and signings like Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero added to the Premier League.
Early into 2011/12 they looked genuine title contenders. The needle with Manchester United – who were rattled by the new challenge to their dominance – meant it was a title race that you wouldn’t want to miss.
And now, with my Sky box, I wouldn’t be.
Having Sky Sports in my house was more wonderful than I ever thought it could be. I became a moron but, to my eternal relief, the wife didn’t mind too much. She found plenty on Sky that she wanted to watch too, and compromises were much easier to make than I had feared.
Sunday afternoon was all about football. Super Sunday, five hours’ worth of coverage devoted around two live games. I barely moved from the sofa between 1pm and 6pm, or on Monday nights when live matches were shown. I got into many of Sky Sports’ other great shows, like Sunday Supplement and Goals on Sunday. My interest in football grew further.
One of the first games I watched in my own living room was a shock defeat for Man City at Sunderland. A few days later, Newcastle thumped Man United 3-0. I was rooting for the Blues in this title race and cheered the Toon Army’s goals with glee. It was all so exciting to me.
The pattern was set. Every Super Sunday I was sat on my sofa to watch it. I felt a giddiness every time, as I waited for the build up to begin. Watching great goals, viewing great moments, experiencing the biggest football matches – all in my own room. This was a dream come true.
There were so many brilliant games. It was a very exciting season at both the top and the bottom. 2011/12 was the year of Wigan’s incredible escape from relegation, and of Newcastle’s Champions League push. There was the Black Country derby where West Brom thrashed Wolves 5-1, ensuring Mick McCarthy got the sack. There was the impressive newly promoted Swansea City side long before their-then manager, Brendan Rodgers, became a comical figure.
And it was all live, on Sky, in my room.
But the title race was where the real drama lay. Man City were flying during February but then lost 1-0 at Swansea in March, drew against Stoke and Sunderland and were then beaten 1-0 at Arsenal, to trail United by eight points. It was all over that day, it seemed. Manchester United kept winning, and they just don’t surrender such a strong position going into the final games.
But amazingly, they cracked. Wigan of all teams became the first team since January to beat them. And then Everton came from 4-2 down to draw 4-4 in an incredible Super Sunday game. The momentum was shifting. With four games to go, all Man City had to do was win them all and they would be champions.
That included a Monday Night Football showdown with Man United. An absorbing contest, with both teams desperate to win. Kompany got the only goal of the game, and the celebrations at full time suggested Man City fans believed they’d won the title. On the penultimate Sunday both sides won, which meant they went into the final game level on points, only Man City had a better goal difference. They just had to match United’s result to be Champions.
Sky had covered every minute of both teams’ run-in and I saw every kick. For the final Sunday they were showing both games at the same time. Man United were at Sunderland, whilst Man City had a routine-looking home game against QPR, who were on the brink of relegation.
It was theirs to lose.
The Etihad Stadium was filled with nervous people. Inside our living room, me and the wife were experiencing our own, lower scale butterflies too. The wife hadn’t been a regular Super Sunday watcher, but this game was so significant she was plonked herself beside me. Surely Man City would finish the job, surely they wouldn’t blow it.
The game started slowly. A hugely intriguing subplot to the day was that the QPR manager was one Mark Hughes: the man disposed by Man City and replaced by Mancini. It would be ironic if he of all people was the manager to stop them winning the league title. Hughes set his QPR side out to spoil the game, keep the tempo slow and frustrate home players and fans. The tension was increased as, up in Sunderland, Wayne Rooney put Manchester United 1-0 up. Manchester City had to win this.
Shortly before half time came the breakthrough. Full back Pablo Zabaleta burst into the box from an angle, and was picked out by the inspirational Yaya Toure. He attempted to lift the ball over Paddy Kenny, and it squirmed through the keeper’s hands and looped slowly into the net. It triggered huge celebrations inside the stadium and cheers from our couch.
Even after Toure had to be substituted through injury a few minutes earlier, the feel-good factor remained. Man City went in at half time just needing to see the game out.
The second half was utter bedlam. QPR, fighting for their lives, would not lie down. Joleon Lescott attempted a back header to Joe Hart but didn’t spot the run of Djibril Cisse, who finished emphatically for 1-1. Joey Barton – another in the QPR ranks with strong Blue connections – was sent off in bizarre circumstances. But even with a one-man disadvantage, QPR made the most of home jitters by going 2-1 up through Jamie Mackie. This was not in the script.
The despair inside the Etihad was obvious to every TV viewer. They had half an hour to salvage it, but appeared to have reverted to the bad old Man City ways. It was as though Mancini had replaced Yaya Toure with Jamie Pollock, dear old Barry Conlon was up front and Gerald Weikens was at the back.
This was not the new-style Man City, which had spent millions in the transfer market and constructed a free-flowing attacking team. It was the old one that lost at home to Mansfield, Wycombe and Oldham in the third tier of English football in 1999.
It was agonising viewing. Man City needed not one but two goals to win the league. In the North East, Man United were preparing for year another championship party. Mancini went for broke by bringing on Eden Dzeko and Mario Ballotelli. The efforts at goal had now passed 30; and the shots on target more than 20. But QPR were standing firm.
Scoring a last minute equaliser is an awesome moment in football. Scoring a last minute winner is even more incredible. But scoring a last minute equaliser and a winner? There really is no greater feeling in football. Especially as it only happens once in a blue moon.
It happened to Bradford City in the 1998/99 season, with Gordon Watson’s famous double against Barnsley. It also happened in 2008/09 at Accrington, when Barry Conlon and then Peter Thorne completed an amazing City comeback. At the top of English football, Manchester United won the Champions League Final of 1999 with two stoppage time goals against Bayern Munich.
The Red Devils were about to experience the pain of being on the wrong side of such a turnaround.
The fourth official had called for five minutes of injury time. 1 minute and 15 seconds into it, Dzeko headed home a corner for the equaliser. 2-2, and hope restored. Some Man City fans had left the ground in floods of tears, and many of them would now quickly race back upon hearing the roar. “Hope rekindled” roared Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler.
On TV the screen suddenly split into two to show that the full time whistle had gone at the Stadium of Light. Manchester United had won the game, and they were just seconds away from winning the title. You could see the players on the pitch preparing to begin the celebrations, but on the left hand side of the screen you could also see that Man City were launching one more attack, and it was developing nicely.
The ball was played into Balotelli in the D of the area with his back to goal. He held off his man well, and waited for the perfect moment to release it into the path of the charging Aguero, falling to the floor as he did. The pass was timed to perfection. Aguero took one, stunning touch to take the ball past his marker, and was left with a one-on-one opportunity against Kenny inside the box. The finish was perfect, and the Etihad erupted with unconfined joy. “Agueroooo!” screamed Tyler.
On our couch, we similarly screamed with joy. Jumping up and down around the room and hugging each other. Manchester City were the Champions of England in the most dramatic way possible. It was an astonishing moment. The perfect example of why football is the most popular sport in the world.
Tyler’s commentary of the moment has become as iconic as Augero’s astonishing coolness. “I swear you will never see anything like this ever again.”
And we probably won’t. Whilst Arsenal’s Michael Thomas title win over Liverpool in 1989 is arguably still the most theatrical moment in English football history, Aguero’s goal certainly runs it closely.
There can be little doubt that it was the most memorable moment of the Premier League era. Man City were dead and buried, Manchester United fans up at Sunderland were starting to celebrate, and then it all turned on its head in the most astonishing manner. Sir Alex Ferguson later admitted that it was the biggest blow of his reign.
The moment meant only a tiny fraction to me and the wife compared to what it meant to Man City supporters, but it still meant a lot. This was the crowning moment of having Sky TV in my house, after all these years of longing to have it. In what was the 20th anniversary of the Premier League, its greatest moment occurred within my first six months of owning a satellite dish.
I was so proud to have seen that moment in my own living room. I was so pleased that my wife was there to watch it too, and that to this day she recalls it fondly.
Sky Sports has continued to dominate our TV screens over the subsequent years, and she has certainly learned the truth by now – I am a moron – but it’s a small price to pay for the unthinkable alternative: that I might otherwise have missed that Augerooo moment.
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