Weeks have passed since you left us, but it won’t stop hurting and we miss you already. When we said goodbye, we parted ways with a hero who found a corner of our hearts and buried himself in there for the last nine years.
Whilst we City fans mourn your departure, it’s not just Pablo Zabaleta, the football player that is gone, it is the meaning of that name, Pablo Zabaleta. For a man who’d never set foot in Moss Side, let alone Maine Road it was both eery and enchanting how you could bring a piece of that history and those memories from a precious era in to the Etihad.
Year by year the City which most of us fell in love with has been diminishing, and the names Kompany, Hart, Toure, Silva and Aguero may be written in to City’s folklore forever more, but yours is etched in to the souls and hearts of the fans. Those other names might be said in the same breath as yours, but suffice to say the name Pablo Zabaleta means something special.
Constructor of City’s new era, portal in to City’s past. Had Mike Doyle passed before you were born, we’d seriously question if you were his reincarnation.
You ate fish and chips for tea on Friday, you learned the lingo, and you are proud to call your kids Mancunian. We offered you our City and you took it as your own and called it home.
The end of the season coincided with perhaps the darkest day in Manchester’s history; the Arena bomb. Our hearts broke, we cried, we hurt and bit by bit we started to rebuild and will continue to do so. We know you shared that pain with us and your gesture to the families was heartwarming.
Another anniversary passed us by recently; ‘Wembley’. We’re grateful to have been there many times now, but that’s when I fell for City, hook line and sinker. Watching grainy videos on the internet of Paul Dickov’s outstretched toe and Nicky Weaver wheeling away after that last penalty remind us of what we like to call ‘proper football’ with goalkeepers wearing shorts at odds with their jersey’s but matching their outfield team mates, and tickets no more than twenty quid, fifteen at a push.
Another promotion later and Joe Royle’s City were looking to shake off the tag of yo-yo club. I came home from Maine Road one evening after yet another defeat in the Premier League and my Grandma said “it’s only football”. I didn’t speak for the rest of the night, my only solace being I didn’t have to eat my Grandad’s favourite of liver and onions, which was served up after a win. That was what it was like to be a City fan; your plans for Monday morning could go either way; contemplating a doctors appointment after a loss, concerned you had clinical depression, or being the first one to school to boast about the win – even if United had just shellacked their latest opponent the same weekend.
Wins don’t feel like that anymore, trips to the Etihad aren’t the same. The music is earsplitting, the constant “sit down, sit down’ from the stewards, the ever changing faces in the seats around you as each match brings a new wave of tourists from out of town happy to guzzle down the corporate messages being pushed with the butt of the club’s hand down their throats, Mike Summerbee participating in videos that portray the club’s robot partner as a new signing. Come on now.
The best part of the takeover has to be the Academy, a project that focussed on the local economy, the local workforce and the local community. The idea of kids progressing up the age groups, edging closer to the Stadium is a journey we all wish we could have gone on as kids, but sadly none are yet to make it across the bridge and it’s at odds with rising ticket prices, at the expense of a true football match day atmosphere.
Ultimately a fan supports the team, the XI on the pitch, but it’s hard to ignore all the noise outside of it. Is that for me? Is that for us? Or is it to attract capital from new areas to inject in to the club so the lifelong fans can enjoy success at the expense of the Jonny come latelyies bank balance?
So Pablo, that Manchester City is now gone, confined to nostalgia and reminiscing in a car share or train carriage on away days. It is no longer City, and sadly neither are you.
Farewell, good luck, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts