x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Emotions run high as City fans finally get to celebrate

Supporters are made to sweat as lowly QPR almost spoil the party before The Blues fight back to be crowned Premier League champions.

Fans take in the action during the Manchester City vs Queens Park Rangers game.
Fans take in the action during the Manchester City vs Queens Park Rangers game.

ABU DHABI // "We are the champions" one fan shouted to the crowd of fellow Manchester City supporters at the Zayed Sports City Clubhouse. "And we always will be."

As the final whistle blew and City were crowned champions of the English Premier League, cheering, applause and laughter thundered through the crowd that was watching the live broadcast, as they savoured a triumph 44 years in the waiting.

Of all the emotions on display, relief was perhaps the strongest as Sergio Aguero scored the third and decisive goal with less than two minutes left.

"See, I told you," said Mohammed Ahmad from Al Ain. "My friend was telling me it's hopeless, that we should leave. But I told him you wait and see, that we'll make it - even if it's in the final minute of the game. And we did."

Just two minutes earlier, Mr Ahmad had celebrated Manchester City's equaliser. "This is wonderful, I knew they'd catch up," he said. "I didn't lose faith for a single minute." Others nervously tapped their feet as what seemed on paper an easy game against a team close to relegation seemed to be slipping away.

After City's opening goal, fans threw their hands in the air and cheered at what seemed to be an inevitable victory. But their excitement was short-lived as QPR equalised eight minutes into the second half. Then, with less than 20 minutes on the clock, QPR scored again to take the lead. It left fans distraught and, as the clock ticked away towards full time, some were already getting ready to leave.

The prospect of defeat - and the loss of the title to hated rivals Manchester United - were at odds with the earlier optimism. "We don't think they'll win, we know they'll win," Waleed Mohammed, 25, from Abu Dhabi said before the game.

Some people had flown in just to be with the Abu Dhabi fans at the moment of triumph. Hisham Abdulaziz flew in from Saudi Arabia this morning and planned to leave the same night. Even for such a short time, the experience was worth it, he said.

"There's nothing to match this, I've watched games here before and it's like my second home. My prayers are with the team."

Asked if he had ever thought of supporting Manchester United, Mr Abdulaziz said: "Never. I always was and always will be a Manchester United rival. Their time is over."

Others were more apprehensive. Abdul Naser Al Rashedi, 29, from Abu Dhabi, described himself as one of City's leading fans.

"I'm excited but I'm also worried because there is so much weight on this game," he said.

However, he said that victory would endorse Abu Dhabi's vision, after the club was bought by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed in 2008.

"By winning this, it will prove our investment in the team was the right move," Mr Al Rashedi said. "It is not only a win for the club but also for Abu Dhabi. They've done well so far, and I'm sure they're going to be at the top of their game today."

The reality was somewhat different. City dominated play but could not pierce the QPR defence.

But finally, the fans' faith was rewarded. As Roberto Mancini and his players celebrated 3,500 miles away, music blasted out of the speakers and fans in sky blue T-shirts sang the only football chant that mattered. "We are the champions."

mismail@thenational.ae