Soccer is a funny sport. Just when you think you have felt it all, it takes you by the collar and springs on you a surprise so great it leaves you reeling for days. The thrill it brings is so outlandish, in fact, that you often have to ask yourself whether what just transpired actually took place or not.
If the above few lines have left you confused, let me make myself more succinct — soccer does to you what Torres did to Nemanja Vidic all those years ago on that sunny day at Old Trafford.
“When you start supporting a football club, you don’t support it because of the trophies, or a player, or history, you support it because you found yourself somewhere there; found a place where you belong.”
Dennis Bergkamp was as good with his words as he was with his feet, as he demonstrates in the legendary quote above.
I have been an Arsenal zealot for the past nine years, and across this period, I may actually have experienced every emotion known to mankind. Elation, despair, anger, vindication, humiliation, ecstasy, tears, tension, fear — my television has seen it all.
Despite this relationship I share with the club, though, my all-time favorite game isn’t an Arsenal one.
Let’s go back a few years, more specifically to April 2012. The Premier League season was at its tail end, but far from decided. A Mikel Arteta goal against Manchester City was assumed to be the final nail in the coffin for the Citizens’ title hopes, as Manchester United raced to an eight point lead at the summit.
The obituaries were flooding in, as it looked like the trophy would be heading back to the red end of Manchester yet again.
I don’t think United boss Sir Alex Ferguson — even in his most far-fetched dreams — could have imagined how a month that started off as a dream for him would end like this. A debacle like this wasn’t the usual item on the menu at Old Trafford.
As it happened, the long and winding road of the 2011-12 season all came down to the last day. Everything was going down to the wire: the title, the relegation scrap and the all-important fourth place Champions League spot. Can you tell I’m an Arsenal fan through and through?
Yes, while the rest of the world sat and watched the climax to the closest title race in 20 years, I had my eyes glued to the action at West Bromwich Albion. Only when the final whistle was blown at the Hawthorns, and I was sure we had qualified for third, did I change the channel.
I didn’t have any idea then what I had let myself into.
There were 80 minutes down on the clock when I tuned into the action at the Etihad, where City were down to lowly Queens Park Rangers, a team that was fighting for survival in the League. The emotion in the stadium was tangible. It was like a scene from a Clint Eastwood classic.
The cameras regularly cut to the City fans in the stadium. The commentator for the game, Jon Champion, had this to say when things looked bleak for City:
“How will they go to work tomorrow? Where will they find the moral fibre to get out of bed and go to work tomorrow?”
All of the happiness Koscielny’s winner had given me evaporated in seconds. It wasn’t that I loved City so much, it was the fact that I absolutely abhorred United. And not only me, I think almost every non-United fan was cheering on Vincent Kompany and his men.
There was also the fact that City were the new kids on the block and hadn’t spent too much time with the big boys of the Prem to be hated by them.
Dzeko’s goal at the start of stoppage time brought a glimmer of hope. At least something to hold on to. For the next four minutes, all loyalties lay forgotten.
Gael Clichy picks up the ball from the sidelines in his own half and immediately throws it to the waiting Nigel De Jong at the half-line. The midfielder dribbles forward, looking for options toward the goal, but after what seems like an eternity, plays it to Aguero on the edge of the box.
Aguero, one of the jewels in Mancini’s crown, swiftly turns and makes a quick pass to Balotelli. Incisive. The maverick Italian appears to be brought down in the box but just about squeezes a pass back to the onrushing Aguero, who skips past the outstretched legs of Clint Hill and though slightly off balance, he shoots.
It was football the way it was meant to be experienced. From the heart.