Photos by Chris Bethell
Even the most ardent Man United fan would struggle to deny the irony of their team's name. In football terms at least, Manchester is very much a divided city, and last night it was the City fans who united for a gargantuan piss-up. Walking around, you got the sense that the drinking had begun long before they were officially crowned Premier League champions at around 5PM. Taxis shot past with kids leaning from the windows like excited dogs, flags trailed from mopeds and the beer garden at my local was a sea of sky blue, erupting into song whenever anyone in a City shirt walked past. Which, on a day like this, was roughly every 30 seconds.
You got the feeling that, outside of the city, the victory of Manuel Pellegrini's team must have felt like something of an anti-climax. It's been a topsy-turvy season and, the last few games aside, it seems a while since City really played like champions; the swagger of November's thrashings – 7-0, 5-2, 6-0, 4-2 – giving way to a slightly more industrious plod in recent months.
In fact, City are the kind of side that can make 4-0 pastings seem somehow muted and bureaucratic. Some would say this is the mark of a great side, others might argue that with all their financial firepower, they should be doing more – specifically, at the top level in Europe – and so yesterday's title victory was nothing to get too excited about, merely the sight of money meeting its lowest expectations.
Liverpool were the romantics' choice and the lack of a final-day twist diminished the drama for English football fans, whose attentions have already turned to this summer's World Cup.
Not that you'd have known that from the atmosphere in Piccadilly Gardens, which was a resounding "fuck you" to the football hipsters with their non-partisan appreciation of the game, love of FFP and distant allegiances to any team that vaguely reminds them of St Pauli. City's fans couldn't give a toss about the lack of final-day drama, they were shedding no tears for Steve Gerrard, they weren't applauding Suarez for the season he'd had – they were too busy turning the air electric, their chants reverberating off the concrete.
The rain wasn't proving much of a deterrent, either. The Wetherspoons had temporarily shut down to eject a number of fans who'd started dancing on tables, like a strange hooligan version of Coyote Ugly. When it reopened and we were let in, we found the fans gathered in a circle, a ringleader standing in the middle leading the whole place in a call-and-response singsong. I'd arrived eight hours into their drinking session, during which time their team had won the title.
Despite the frequent jibes from rival fans about City "buying the league", most of the supporters I spoke to had followed the team since well before they were taken over by the billionaire Sheikh Mansour and his friends from Abu Dhabi. They felt they were being rewarded for their loyalty through days gone by, days spent willing on more humble heroes like Malcolm Allison, Joe Royle, Georgi Kinkladze, Richard Dunne, Shaun Goater and Kiki Musampa.
Now, City simply exist in a different sphere. A fan named Ben told me that, in his eyes, the owners of the club were like, “God and Buddha rolled into one.”
We left Wetherspoons when someone put their fist through a window and made our way across to Q Cavern, a small underground bar on the border of the Northern Quarter. It was there that we met this guy, who was elated enough to let his son see him double-parked with pints and covered in beer. Who needs dignity when you're the champions?
It could have been the lack of security that ensured there was no animosity in the air; it could have been the owner standing on the bar, pouring champagne into everyone's mouths. Who knows? Either way, people seemed to be having a blast. It was like Spring Break for people who never see the sun.
The dancefloor was packed with drunk middle-aged skinheads skanking to Toots and the Maytals.
Or at least I thought they were skinheads.
They might have just been bald. It's always difficult to tell when ska's playing.
Leaving them to it, we followed a group of fans to the Circus Tavern, which claims to be "the smallest pub in Europe". Despite its size and the United memorabilia all over the walls, it was stuffed with City fans, who'd staged an invasion similar to the one they'd pulled off on the pitch earlier that afternoon.
At around 10PM, the fans started to flag. They'd been celebrating heavily even prior to the match; the solitary point they needed probably meant that they felt they'd won the title before the game even started.
Only occasionally did this spill over into violence – for whatever reason, there weren't many United fans out in Manchester last night. Had it been a closer season, maybe there would have been, but when even Tottenham are finishing above you, it's hard to summon up the courage for a punch-up.
The last thing I remember is a City supporter retreating into the distance on the top of a bus, a piece of the Etihad turf in his hand. He said he was taking it home for his kids to see it. This summed up the mood in the air to me – the world can keep telling City fans that they'll get bored of their success soon, that they'll start to lose interest because the money available to them blunts the competitive edge and turns it into a relative cakewalk. But you get the impression that the City fans will be too busy riding buses, punching windows, showering in champagne and stealing grass to give a fuck what the world has to say.
I think a lot of Manchester must be significantly understaffed today. Thank you for having me, City.
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