Where Were You When You Were S***?

You always remember your first day at university.

I wasn’t particularly nervous. I had been living away at boarding school for a few years, so was already reasonably independent…and extremely confident. So I strode into my new halls of residence with my chest out and head up.

I was scanning everyone and was happily stunned by the array of attractive ladies (my boarding school had been an “all-male” affair). But despite the hoards of eye-catching blondes, as I walked into the JCR two individuals stood out and grabbed the attention.

And they weren’t women, far from it, they were big lads – northerners – dressed in full Manchester City kit – shirts, shorts, socks and boots!

It was a Sunday and these two second years had already settled into their seat to watch City’s first match of the season. I couldn’t resist, I grabbed a can of super-strength lager and sat down with them.

For the following two hours I was regaled with stories of City’s few highs and many lows. They were ‘proper’ fans, and they actually took pride in their teams heartache, failure and persecution. They weren’t envious of their neighbours ongoing success – quite the opposite – their teams struggles and failures drove their passion.

Looking back, I probably should have joined the elite set and charmed some of the gorgeous girls in the hall bar. Others judging me on that first afternoon would have formed an obvious first impression – beer swilling football thug (which wasn’t true, I was just too timid to step out of my comfort zone).

But until about 3 years ago, Steve and Tony were the only passionate Manchester City fans I have ever met. However, especially over the past three weeks, I have noticed something very strange happen. Facebook and Twitter seems to be awash with photos of people I have known for years proudly sporting their 2012 City shirts. They are even photos of babies decked out in mini strips and wrapped in scarfs.

In fact at least one of these ‘passionate fans’ was there that September afternoon in 1999… Sitting in the bar charming some of the aforementioned blondes!

On Sunday I wanted City to win the league, largely because I am getting bored of United’s dominance (& because you can’t help but enjoy a smug Ferguson squirm). But their hard earned title shouldn’t be for the old flirters, with their brand new City baby grows – it should be for fans like Stevey Hough (who 13 years later I did email to congratulate).

I really hope he got a ticket, or at least sat their last Sunday afternoon in his 1999 shirt, shorts, socks and boots…

Super Mario

Sorry, no entry again this morning – I was fully loaded with a suit carrier and well packed rucksack, as I am heading up to Leeds for a conference. So sitting on the train what ‘hot topic’ should I cover during my extended 2.5hr commute?

After much deliberation I have decided to dedicate this entry to one of my favourite current ‘sporting icons’ – Mario Barwuah Balotelli.

Every article I read on Super Mario seems to quickly condemn his wild and bizarre antics both on and off the field. I understand why the heavily regulated national press cannot be seen to back British sport’s number one villain…but I have no such restrictions.

I do not support Manchester City, I don’t care if they win the league, I’m not Italian and I have no allegiance to Manchester United or Scott Parker – I am a complete neutral – but I love Mario Balotelli.

Sport is about entertainment, but for me it’s not really about the 90 minutes on the pitch, it’s about the pointless post-match debate (usually after about four pints). A spectacular goal might provide five minutes of ‘expert analysis’ but the image of Mario, dressed as Santa, handing out £50 notes can really loosen up the conversation. And barely a week goes by without another classic headline, he is consitently providing the fireworks for countless late night rants.

Mario is an anti-hero, an ‘old-school’ baddy, who gets every supporter (and hater) very excited. When he is on the pitch every touch (or stamp) is booed or cheered, and off the pitch he even dresses up to cement his villainous image. I believe he is doing it deliberately – he has created a brand that all football fans have bought into; whether they love or loathe him everyone has signed up to the Balotelli roadshow.

And he is just what football needs, if every side was filled with dull, soulless players we would all turn off. And he’s not the first; Cantona lit up football in the 90s and more recently Mourinho has been inspirational with his brilliance.

As a neutral I would rather watch Manchester City than any other team, not because they play the best football (although arguably they do) but because I want to see what Mario is going to do next. He, almost single-handedly, manages to drive my excitement and passion for the sport.

So Mario, if you read this, please don’t try and conform…this country needs you!