Today is the day we were meant to be lifting the trophy. After City lost 1-0 to Arsenal at the Emirates four weeks ago, we were eight points clear at the top. You’d fancy any club to go on and win the league at that stage but the fact it was United meant it was game over. I had City fans begrudgingly congratulating me on the title and whilst not celebrating too soon, for fear of jinxing us, you couldn’t help but feel chuffed in anticipation for another title win.
Reflecting on a season as a whole will come after the conclusion but it’s desperately disappointing to be in the position we’re in now, all but waiting for City to be confirmed as champions.
Following our 2-0 win over Swansea last weekend, Sir Alex Ferguson finished his short end of season speech by saying he hoped we’d have the celebration of our lives in a week’s time. City’s earlier victory over Newcastle had more or less sealed our fate for this season and the manager’s hopeful claim wasn’t met with a roar of appreciation. In his end of season speeches in 2008, 2009 and 2011 he got to talk about the upcoming Champions League final we’d be playing in, whipping the crowd up in to the frenzy, but there was none of that last Sunday. We were pretty much resigned to City winning the title and have to deal with the fact we’ve gifted it to them.
However, as someone said to me last week, if there are any two clubs that could manage to pull off an incredible shock today it’s United and City. United never seem to know when they are beaten, picking up victories in situations they have no right to, and winning games or cups from positions you’d never expect them to. In contrast, if ever there’s a club capable of messing this up, it’s City. Their fans’ horrible condition of Cityitis has meant there has been very little bragging from their side. They have been let down by their club too many times to believe the title is theirs until the final whistle on Sunday confirms it. It cheered me up to learn that Garry Cook will be attending the game, just to give us that extra helping hand.
I don’t mean to get your hopes up. It’s the hope that kills you. But thanks to all the ridiculous triumphs we’ve celebrated, victories that never seemed possible, there’s a nagging voice telling you anything is possible. I’m doing my best to ignore it at the moment. I remember a couple of seasons ago turning up for United against Stoke knowing that if Chelsea beat Wigan at home the title was theirs. Whilst of course knowing that Chelsea would beat Wigan at home, I sat in my seat ahead of kick-off allowing myself to imagine us lifting the (replica) trophy in a couple of hours time. We then had to endure Stoke fans cheering every single one of the eight goals Chelsea put past Wigan to secure the title.
There is more chance of City beating QPR 8-0 on Sunday than there is them dropping points. I know this, you know this. Still, no matter how much I tell myself that, I can’t help but imagine how fantastic it would feel if we pulled off our greatest ever title win at the weekend. Fergie is right when he says it would be the biggest celebration of our lives. That’s what made the title win of 2009 so enjoyable. Winning the league is fantastic but it’s killing two birds with one stone when you get to deny your hated rivals at the same time.
Mark Hughes won’t be looking to do Ferguson any favours. He has distanced himself from United ever since he left. His stint at City, revelling in that ridiculous Tevez poster, confirmed there was no love lost between him and the manager. But it’s the way he was dumped by City that aids our chances. A club in a relegation battle shouldn’t need any extra incentive to play the game of their lives but as Ferguson correctly claimed after Swansea last week, Hughes won’t have forgotten the way they got rid of him.
“He was sacked by City in a very unethical way and he’ll remember that,” he said. “Mark Hughes teams always fight but QPR players are fighting for survival.”
They also have Wright-Phillips, Barton and Onuoha in the squad who might feel as though they have a point to prove.
“I can’t wait for the game. I can’t wait to go to Man City,” said Barton. “They expect us to turn up and them to probably stuff us and win the league. If that is their attitude, they will get a reality check. It’s 11 men against 11, there is a lot of pressure out there. I can’t wait for it.”
In 1995, United just needed to beat West Ham, who were five points clear of the relegation zone, to win the league. There wouldn’t have been a single Blackburn fan watching their side losing to Liverpool that day who didn’t think United would win. But we didn’t and I’m sure it still bothers you as much as it does me. Football is a funny ol’ game and it’s the unpredictability which makes us love it so much.
“We cannot think about what Manchester City are doing,” said Evra. “We just have to make sure we win. The Sunderland game isn’t easy but if we score first then maybe the City fans in the stadium will start to get nervous. When you are nervous then you can rush things and you don’t do things as well as you’d like. We have to believe.”
Chances are we won’t be winning the title today though and we can spend the next few hours trying to suppress any slight excitement our brain cruelly teases us with. But whatever happens, however angry we will feel for throwing it away and however long that pain may last, we will have to console ourselves with being fans of the best club in the world. I wouldn’t trade any of City’s probable celebrations today for a single second of being a United fan, so we’ll just have to suck it up and wish away the summer so we can start it all over again.
We’ll never die.