I feel sorry for fans of ‘The Big Four’, or what is now essentially ‘The Big Six’, with Everton doing their best to bridge the gap to the Valhalla that is guaranteed Europa League football. This sympathy stems from my recent experiences as a Birmingham City fan; I have been blessed to live and breathe the highs and lows of final-day Championship survival not once, but twice in the space of four years.
I have also learned life lessons from the Blues that no school could ever teach, from the poignant ‘be thankful for what you have, as you don’t know what you’ve got until it signs a two year deal with Derby County,’ to the elementary ‘don’t love thy neighbour’. Of course, the latter is often expanded upon, dowsed in expletives and fired aggressively towards Villa fans.
Yes, fans of ‘The Big Six’ may experience the highs of winning the Premier League, but have they experienced Paul Caddis heading their club out of the relegation zone, 96 minutes into the final game of the season? I think not, unless of course by ‘Paul Caddis’ I mean ‘Olivier Giroud’, and by ‘out of the relegation zone’ I mean ‘to another fantastic 4th place finish’. But I don’t.
There are one group of fans however that may recall life in a different time, a time before that Aguero goal, before David Silva, before Robinho. In fact, it’s a period of time I know simply as ‘before and during Richard Dunne’. I often wonder whether the more seasoned Manchester City fan, a human all too familiar with relegation to the 3rd tier in ’98 and finishing below Tranmere Rovers in ’97, looks back fondly on the days where survival was paramount.
Of course, it must be a dream to watch the greatest players in the world (and Fabian Delph) play mesmerising football for your club, there’s no denying that. And I must admit, the last minute clinching of the title from under United’s nose brought a tear to my eye, and not just because I had Aguero in my fantasy team, but because it was a moment of genuine football magic.
But genuine football magic aside, would one not miss that fear, that seeming inevitability that your beloved club was about to embark on the journey down the divisions – following the likes of Bradford, Coventry and Blackburn – only for that fear to morph through hope, confusion, and disbelief to arrive unexpectedly at pure elation? In 2015, when Chelsea won the title with three games to spare and City were assured of a 2nd place finish, was there not a hint of “I wish we could go back to 1995 and not get relegated again”?
Perhaps I’ve got it wrong. Perhaps I’ve grown disillusioned. Yet over the last 7 years – in which I remember winning a trophy, albeit the league cup, and surviving highly probable relegation on two occasions – it is those survivals that I would relive in a heartbeat. And so, potentially through years of watching England disappoint at major tournaments, it would appear that the moments in football that truly move me are not ones of success, but of the avoidance of failure.