Ok, so I’ve now told you what I do for a living, and (whether I like it or not) that takes up a great deal of my time.
In my spare time, however, I have three great passions – my adoring wife, my two sons, and my football team (ok, technically four great passions, but I’m counting the kids as one). I will no doubt write about the boys in the not-too-distant future, as the shit they produce – one verbal (he’s four going on fourteen), and one literal (he’s not yet one) – often provide for amusing anecdotes. In contrast, however, my other half has warned that, if I ever write about her – particularly anything derogatory – I run the risk of losing the other thing I hold most dear. And I’ve grown quite fond of that over the years, so you won’t hear my wife mentioned again…. much.
So, for now, that leaves my beloved football club – Stockport County. Make no mistake, she’s a cruel and harsh mistress at times, who often leaves me feeling empty, disappointed and bitter…. but she lets me go to the football occasionally so we’re still married (I suspect my impending castration will not be worth it for that joke, but I couldn’t resist).
My being a County fan is one of the first things people learn about me – often before I’ve even told them my name. If you’re kind enough to engage me on the topic, I will happily chat to you for hours. Equally, if you support one of County’s (many) rivals or, worse, raise an eyebrow and joke that you ‘didn’t know they were still going’, I will spend the same amount of time explaining why you, Sir, are an idiot.
And, whilst we do seem to have a disproportionate number of teams we’ve fallen out with over the years (Tranmere still owe us a new crossbar – dickheads), there are two main rivals that we detest above all others. This is despite the fact we haven’t played either of them for ages (one considerably more recently than the other, mind), and they seem far more interested in hating each other than worrying about us. In fairness, this might be because we’re 5 leagues apart.
You see, growing up in Stockport (and still living relatively close even now), I am constantly surrounded by supporters of both Manchester clubs and, with no exaggeration whatsoever, I dislike almost all of them. That’s always been the case, and it will remain that way until the day I go to the great Edgeley Park in the sky. I can tolerate a few – one of my oldest friends (and the godfather to my first-born), for example, is a season ticket holder at Old Trafford – but they remain few and far between. The majority, and particularly those who are not my friends, are pillocks of the highest order.
For those of you who perhaps don’t know where Stockport is, (I like to refer to your kind as ‘Southerners’), it’s around 6 miles or so from Manchester. So, while I suppose Macclesfield Town would be considered our nearest rivals by many, and we’ve certainly played them more often, we County fans have always (almost literally) lived in the shadow of our Manchester neighbours.
Historically, I’d imagine that most County fans would profess a hatred for the red half of Manchester rather than the blue half, and I’m no exception. Hand on heart, I can’t give just one reason why. It might have been my Dad’s influence. Or it might have been down to Old Purple Nose and his ‘we’ll keep playing until we win’ attitude, coupled with the fact he seemed to have a number of referees under his control. I swear he must have had compromising pictures of Howard Webb stashed away somewhere.
I suspect, though, above all else it’s the ‘fans’. I don’t mean those who turn up every week (my aforementioned friend being one), or even those who avidly follow the team, but can’t regularly visit Old Trafford due to geographical or financial restraints. I mean those die-hard ‘fans’ who, when asked, would struggle to name more than a couple of the squad they supposedly idolise.
I asked one such ‘fan’, by way of a test of their loyalty a few years ago, who United were playing in the derby that weekend. She wasn’t sure. It’s the derby love, the clue is in the bloody name.
When I was at school, supporting United was tragically the default. If cornered by a bigger lad in the playground and ordered to divulge your team, those who didn’t really follow football (or just wanted to avoid a beating) would invariably say that they supported United. Of course, my response would proudly be “Stockport County”, which would momentarily confuse said bully and provide me sufficient time within which to make my escape.
So, in the past, it was always the red side of Manchester I despised more. I think, aside from the above reasons, it was partly because City were always United’s poor cousin. And not a cousin you’re quite fond of, either, but rather that odd-looking one with not many teeth who you suspect will end up on Jeremy Kyle in the not-too-distant future. Whilst City were still significantly larger than County, and their fan base several times ours, we almost pitied them. They seemed to have genuine fans, who were constantly being trodden on by United, and we could almost relate to that.
Above all else, though, they had a delightful habit of giving us points.
It seems hard to believe when you look at the respective fortunes of County and City over the last decade, but it wasn’t that long ago that we were competing in the same league. Admittedly, we faced City five times between 1902 and 1960 and we lost every game. But then, in the 1990s, they began their hilarious slump down the leagues, just as County were rising to meet them. In 1997, while I was doing my A-levels, County met City at Edgeley Park for the first time in decades and frankly annihilated them, 3-1.
Ok, so we lost the return fixture at Maine Road the following April, but we still finished eighth that season, in what is now the Championship, just 9 points off a play-off place for the Premier League. City? Oh, they got relegated in twenty-second and dropped into what is now League 1.
Since then, we’ve played City competitively on four occasions and not lost (won two, drawn two). The last time we played City in the league was in March 2002 when we scored twice in the last 5 minutes to win 2-1. We bloody loved playing City.
Fast forward a few years, and some ludicrously-rich Sheikh comes along and ruins everything.
Fair enough, City were well above us in the leagues by the time Sheikh Mansour started spewing the sort of money into the club that would make Abramovich’s buttocks clench, but there was always that glimmer of hope that we would one day face City in the same division again, so they could give us all of those lovely points once more. This now seems very unlikely, at least in my life time.
Suddenly, City fans were appearing from everywhere. They became more like United with their arrogance, big-headedness and disdain for County. Up until then, I’d occasionally encounter one of them making a joke at County’s expense, but a quick reminder of recent results between the teams would usually shut them up. Now, however, City fans either conveniently forget their recent past, by sticking their fingers in their ears and wailing Blue Moon until you get bored and leave, or they haven’t been City fans long enough to have the slightest clue what you’re on about. “Do you honestly expect me to believe we were in the same league as Stockport County less than 15 years ago?” they would no doubt say, if only they could eloquently string that many words together, or count to 15 without taking their shoes and socks off.
Admittedly, they do still have their genuine fans and fair play to those who stuck with City through the tough times, I don’t begrudge them some success – within reason. My gripe is with the ‘new money’ City fans. Those who invariably miss half the game while facing in the wrong direction and bouncing up and down like some deranged kangaroo. Try asking a City fan to explain what the point of that is.
These are the ‘fans’ who tore up their tickets and stormed out of Eastlands with a few minutes remaining in the match against QPR at the end of the 2011-12 season, and we all know how that finished, don’t we? (Mostly because Jonathan Pearce won’t shut up about it on MOTD, every time Sergio Aguero so much as farts near a football).
I remember watching the hoards of knuckle-dragging cretins, pouring out of the stadium and slamming various items of merchandise on the ground in disgust, only to hear the cheer of those who had stayed behind to witness Aguero’s last minute winner clinch the title – and then try desperately to force their way back into the ground to celebrate. I swear, when I watched that, I laughed so hard a little bit of wee came out.
So, if I’m asked nowadays which half of Manchester I despise more, it’s a harder question to answer than it used to be. This is best explained by reference to my Fantasy Football team, where I have always historically had a self-imposed ban on signing any United players, but in recent seasons this embargo has been expanded to include anyone from City too. Oh, and Luis Suarez. And John Terry.
I detest both Manchester clubs, and most of their fans, but for largely different reasons.
I’ll save “why I hate Burnley” for another time, and instead I’ll leave you with a popular County chant:
“United’s shit, City’s worse, we always put the County first…
Na-na na-na-na, na-na na-na-na” (repeat)