x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

City and United fans toast games with villa party

Darren Ball and his wife Gaynor hold a 'Red and Blue' party at their Khalifa City villa, with the room split between supporters of Manchester City and rivals United.

ABU DHABI // A husband celebrated his 17-year wedding anniversary yesterday watching Sergio Aguero score his winner for Manchester City.

For Darren Ball, May 13 was already one of two dates he would never forget.

"That and my wife's birthday. The date is now engraved in my head for two very good reasons," he said.

It is now special in a third way for the founder of the Abu Dhabi Blues fan club. The 39-year-old and his wife, Gaynor, 42, held a 'Red and Blue' party at their Khalifa City villa, with the room split between supporters of Manchester City and rivals United.

Two televisions placed between signed City jerseys showed the games, with the 20 invited friends switching back and forth between the screens.

Among the City fans, a deathly silence fell during the second half when Queen Park Rangers took the lead 2-1.

"I knew all along," Darren said afterward. "I just didn't see us losing. When they [QPR] scored I had heartburn, indigestion and in the last few minutes, headaches set in.

"I never experienced winning the league before."

Darren's wife is a United fan. As a teenager, Gaynor went to every home game - and the memories stuck with her.

"It was getting to the games early, soaking up the atmosphere and wins. Mark Hughes was my idol," she said. Since 1996, she has only been to one Manchester United game - the recent derby with her husband and two sons.

As has been widely noted, Hughes was the manager on the losing sideline at Etihad Stadium yesterday, although his Rangers avoided relegation.

Football has always been a part of the Ball family's life and some sacrifices have been made during their 17 years of marriage. Darren missed last year's anniversary to travel to England to watch City tame Stoke 1-0 in the FA Cup final.

As far back as their honeymoon to Turkey, when Gaynor had to endure United losing that year's FA Cup final 1-0 to Everton, the Balls knew football would be a constant in their married life.

By the time they moved to New York in 1996, Gaynor had become accustomed to winning the bets they would place regarding their two teams.

Last night, the diehard United fan put away her red shirt and confessed she was more concerned about the welfare of her home when Rangers' second goal went in.

"I was thinking, for me, if we win brilliant. If we don't, I'll have to put up with the sulky boys constantly in my face," she said.

In the run-up to the game, she was constantly reminded by Darren and her two sons about their faith in City's impending win.

"Every day I was told it was 44 years since they last won," she added.

Darren, who works in logistics, said he would be emotional whether his club lost or won.

"It's great to celebrate with my sons and my father, who is in Manchester, and my brother. My other brother and sister are United fans, as was my mother," he said.

Gaynor's initial prediction of a dominant win by Man City was more for the boys of the house.

"I felt bad for the kids as they are real Man City fans. I've had all the wins," she said.

Their sons,Declan, 12, and Aidan, 8, are massive City fans.

"I couldn't wait for the game. I was school today constantly looking at the clock," said Aidan.

Now they are looking towards next season. "We'll win in Europe," Aidan predicted.

eharnan@thenational.ae