x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Madrid encounter is trip Man City fans thought they would never take

For Manchester City supporters, a match at the Bernabeu seemed an impossibility, Andy Mitten meets the fans living the dream

Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, left, passes Real Madrid’s Michael Essien.
Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, left, passes Real Madrid’s Michael Essien.

The commuters in Madrid's busy Sol metro station yesterday afternoon looked on bemused. In the middle of the platform, 50 happy Englishmen were bouncing up and down with their arms in the air singing "Yaya! Yaya! Yaya! Yaya! Yaya Toure!" like a tribe of Zulu warriors. Many of the commuters reached for their mobiles to film the spectacle, which continued with "Kolo! Kolo! Kolo! Kolo! Kolo Toure!"

Manchester City were playing Real Madrid for the first time and nearly 4,000 City fans travelled south determined to enjoy the occasion. Most booked a day trip from Manchester, paying £350 (Dh2,088) to sit on a chartered aircraft which left at dawn and returned early this morning.

Among the fans were brothers Mark and Paul Bent, lifelong Blues realising a dream.

"I've watched Spanish football on television for years and told my wife for years that I'd love to see a game in the Bernabeu," said Paul. "I never thought that game would involve City."

Paul, a 49-year-old printer from Urmston in Manchester, has held a City season ticket for 31 years.

"I've seen City get knocked out of the FA Cup by Halifax, Blackpool and Shrewsbury," he said.

"I only ever lost patience once and that was watching the terrible football when Stuart Pearce was manager in 2006. I watched those players and genuinely thought I could do better than them.

"We scored just 13 goals at home in one season in 2006/07. We used to walk back to the car after games and say nothing because there was nothing good to say. Watching City was like watching a funeral every other week."

The times have changed. Dramatically.

"I now go to every game thinking City will win or at least have a good chance of winning," said his brother Mark, a 38-year-old dog handler from Partington near Manchester. "We have world class players like Aguero, Toure, Silva and Tevez. They're good enough to attack any team, even Real Madrid."

The City fans shared their optimism in the Madrid sun, filling the bars around the edge of Plaza Mayor, the grandest plaza in the Spanish capital where a "Noisy Neighbours - MCFC" flag hung by the giant bronze statue of King Philip III.

Close by, fans sang: "This is how it feels to be City, this is how is how it feels to be small, You sign Phil Jones, we sign Kun Aguero."

The song, to the tune of a classic hit by Manchester group The Inspiral Carpets, is a twist on a rival Manchester United fans' song that mocked City for being small and not winning trophies.

"I would have accepted one FA Cup win in my lifetime," said Mark Bent.

"Just the one trophy would have done me, now I can't believe the quality of football I'm watching each week, can't believe that I watch City team who keep the ball for five minutes at a time."

The mood was friendly between rival fans, though a Real Madrid fan wearing a shirt with "Ronaldo" on the back was told in no uncertain terms that Ronaldo was "scum" when he played for Manchester United, but that he was acceptable now he played for Madrid.

Both brothers were cautious in their expectations this season in Europe.

"It takes years of experience to become one of the top teams in Europe," said Mark. "You can't suddenly expect to beat teams like Real Madrid. You just have to hope that City will improve each season."

Nearby in Plaza del Sol, a sports shop had a replica of the European Cup in the window complete with City and Real Madrid shirts on either side.

Expectations at the two clubs vary. Madrid hope for a 10th this season, City a first. On the platforms of the metro below the square, the travelling Blues were intent on having a good time and entertaining their hosts regardless of what was to follow in the match.

sports@thenational.ae