Woof, what an end to a football match yesterday. Apart from my own vicarious jumps and shouts as Aguero scored that goal, I was soon beset with jealousy. When did we last get that feeling; in fact, have we ever?
I suppose, in our own way, yes we have. Specifically Wilkins' goal against Ipswich Town - though this ultimately ended badly. Buckley's goal against Doncaster Rovers last August, and finally Adam Virgo's goal against Swindon Town at Withdean in 2004. Strange to think that was nearly 8 years ago.
The Donny match was special, obviously, and the nature of the win took it to a place that nobody would ever expect. In terms of footballing achievement though it was just 3 points, it wasn't make or break.
So, the Swindon game is the biggest 'mental' moment in terms of consequence, and that's taking into account that it was 'modern era' with Sky Sports and the associated pantomime Play-Off build up. I know a lot of City fans being a resident here in the Cottonopolis, but the majority don't go to matches regularly. I watched the game at home and went crazy when it all happened, but that was the same experience that lots of actual City fans had. How much happiness can a fan feel watching their team from the comfort of their sofa? Personally I would think that while they can experience extreme emotion, they don't have the actual stories do they ... They are all over twitter saying how happy they are but the fact remains that at the Etihad there's no 3G signal, the fans in the ground are in an exclusive cocoon and as a fan I'd hate to be outside of it.
I have been outside the Albion cocoon twice, and those were the play-off semis against Swindon, home and away.
Being a London resident at the time, the word on NSC was that all capital-dwellers were to descend on the Sports Cafe on Haymarket in Piccadilly. The Sports Cafe was an awful place which twinned horrible overpriced beer with the ability to show any televised football game in the country. There were booths that had little TVs built in and you could switch the channels to ensure that that Tuesday night Division Three game could be watched without fear of a 20 strong rabble of foreign students coming in and demanding the Barca match be put on instead.
For the Albion's game at the County Ground though there was a strong contingent of exiles, around 60 or 70 I'd say, all crammed in the back room which had a cinema sized screen, surround sound speakers and a dance floor under foot - this was also the disco when not in use for football!
The away leg was a little tense, as you would imagine, but everybody thought that the home leg wouldn't be too much trouble after taking a lead to Withdean. How wrong we were.
The second leg came about quick, and again it was a meet-up in the Sports Cafe. This time it was packed with Albion, absolutely rammed in the same back room with about 150 of us. It was also an evening so everyone was a bit more 'refreshed' and the place was absolutely buzzing.
The game was an absolute dog. Swindon were by far the better side, though this wasn't a vintage season for Albion personnel. Withdean was such that no-matter how many were crammed in, you never got the feeling that there was a great atmosphere there on the TV. Well, in actuality there wasn't. All noise drifted skywards and televised games largely just picked up the noise from the pitch, thus presenting us as a very noddy outfit indeed. The rain was lashing down and in extra-time god-bothering kiwi Rory Fallon was put through to calmly slot past Ben Roberts before racing over to the Swindon fans to celebrate. They had deserved the win, they had outplayed us for 119 minutes.
In the Sports Cafe the atmosphere was funeral-like. Slumped over tables, heads in hands, most Albion fans were ready to go home absolutely despondent at the abject performance they had witnessed. This was the bottom. This was the worst you could feel as a fan after throwing it all away after being in a great position, and Swindon had got their 'winner' in extra time. More than this, we were playing poorly and didn't look like we were going to score in a hundred years.
But that changed in the last seconds. It's legendary stuff now, but at that moment I still remember it vividly. The throw into the box was inauspicious, and Cullip's flick-on was lunging and, while direct, had little intent. Adam Virgo, who had a reputation for scoring goals as a centre-back, came from nowhere and nodded it goalwards without significant force. The pitch was in a bad way and particularly muddy in the goalmouth but the ball didn't lose momentum with the bounce. It was going slow-motion, and not just in a classic reminiscing way, it was literally going snail-pace.
The header was blessed with accuracy though, and at it's speed it would need to be pin-pointed in a tiny area of the goal away from the 'keepers reach. The Swindon goalie dived a little late and without any athleticism. The Sports Cafe plunged into that pre-goal vacuum of sound and movement. That twilight zone when it's just jaw-dropped and eyes agaze, when your muscles tense, readying for a huge leap which either abounds into mad dancing or concentrated grief.
Luckily it was the former and the Albion exiles went absolutely berserk, like a bomb going off in a box. The noise was incredible but this wasn't a time for restraint as tables and chairs went flying. The crescendo of glasses smashing was riotous, and grown men were jumping around with a kind of animalistic joy so deeply suppressed bar these kind of moments. the bouncers left us to it, it was unbridled joy, there was no malice here.
We won the penalty shoot-out easily and now the Sports Cafe back room was in disco mode. A DJ turned up, bemused at what was happening, and decided to flick the switch that controlled the glitter ball, playing Celebration by Kool and the Gang through the sound system. The riot had turned into a party and there we all were, in what looked like the aftermath of a brawl, dancing and singing along ... 'Celebrate good times, Come on!' soon morphing into 'We are going up, Say we are going up, Wa-hoo!'.