FOX Soccer Exclusive
Being a Blue has never been better
You've heard your friends talk about the Barclays Premier League, and you've finally had enough of being left out of the conversation and decided to join in.
Congratulations, and welcome. What took you so long? But now comes a very important, but difficult, decision - picking a club to cheer for.
London has a bunch of teams - 40, in fact, at every level of the game. But choosing from the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and the lot is a bit posh and not nearly as fun as picking from a smaller town.
Liverpool? One Merseyside cabbie told me he signed up his newborn son for season tickets, and the kid finally got to purchase them last month - right before his 26th birthday. That bandwagon is full, thank you very much.
Might I suggest the team from Manchester? No, not Manchester United - the red side of town has fans all over the world already. And it's a bit like cheering for the New York Yankees - they always win.
I mean Manchester City Football Club.
No, I'm not trying to turn you into a front-runner by urging you to pick the defending Premier League champions. I offer up the club because being a City fan offers all the best the league has to offer: Heartbreak, elation, surprise - and that's all before the end of a single match.
I've been a Manchester City fan since 1991, but I never knew what it was like to be a true supporter of the team until I walked into their home ground, the Etihad Stadium, for City's season opener last Sunday against Southampton.
City's fans aren't like others in the Premier League. They don't take themselves too seriously, though they are as passionate as any other. Their chants are arch: "We're not really here... just like the fans of the invisible man," is one of the more printable ones. And they are loud: during player introductions, I had to yell to the person next to me just to be heard - and it got worse as the day progressed, particularly after every City goal.
The first half was a great example of how City can take you on a roller-coaster: elation turned to worry when star striker Sergio Aguero was injured early (he's out for a month, as it turns out). Worry turned into despair as the home side just could not find the back of the net. And, finally, despair became relief when City were able to score a late goal.
The Citizens have a habit of making the easy look difficult. While the game against the newly promoted Saints was supposed to be a coronation and chance to celebrate, the hosts gave up the lead and had to battle back late, leading to what was commonly referred to as "squeaky bum time": an English euphemism for when the fans get nervous and pray for the best. But the champions pulled out the win, allowing fans to return to elation - at least for the time being.
The club is currently on a high, but it has experienced more than its share of lows since its founding in 1894. While neighbor Manchester United has basked in decades of success, City, until recently, has spent most of the past two decades just struggling to survive. In the past 20 years, the team almost went bankrupt and bounced around divisions - falling as low as Division Two (which is akin to a Major League Baseball team dropping to AA baseball) before returning to England's top flight, the Premier League.
Plenty of the 46,190 crowd at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday had been through the tough times - and they've got the battle scars to prove it. Three fans I spoke with on the way back to the train station told me they had been City fans more than a combined 120 years and had suffered through relegation, promotion and more than three decades without a trophy before things started turning around in 2008.
That year, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan took ownership, vaulting the financially strapped outfit into the richest in the world. Since then, fans have been rewarded with the acquisition of world-class talent such as David Silva, Carlos Tevez and Aguero - and trophies finding their home in the blue side of Manchester.
It's as if the team's official anthem is coming true:
"Blue moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own."
The good thing is that you don't have to wait for the love of your own, it's right there for the taking. Turn into a Manchester City fan, talk with those who stood alone and experienced the torturous years, and then celebrate together all the riches that are coming the team's way.
You'll find it's much more fun than cheering for any other team in the Premier League.
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