In a city that is more used to a sea of red during title celebrations, it was blue confetti that fell over the streets of Manchester on Monday.
About 100,000 fans packed the streets as Manchester City paraded the Premier League trophy through the city to celebrate their first English title in 44 years. Blue and white ticker tape and streamers rained down on the team bus as City players showed off the trophy they had wrestled away from crosstown rivals Manchester United in nail-biting fashion a day earlier.
Supporters climbed lampposts, jostled for position on roof tops and walls, and fathers held children on their shoulders to catch a glimpse of the City players aboard an open-top bus.
“Days like this are why we came to City and it’s just fantastic,” said City midfielder Gareth Barry, one of many high-priced players who joined the team in the past few years after it was bought by wealthy Abu Dhabi owners. “Our fans have always been amazing and they’re showing it here today. I’ve got memories I’ll treasure for the rest of my career.”
While the celebrations were in full force in Manchester’s main square, United’s dejected players were arriving at an end-of-season dinner that had an unusually solemn mood — two contrasting images that showed just how much the soccer landscape has changed in the northwestern city.
How close, though, United came to being the team celebrating.
When the match clock hit 90 minutes at City on Sunday, it appeared United would be retaining the Premier League trophy.
United were leading 1-0 at Sunderland and City, who only had to match United’s result to win, were losing 2-1 to Queens Park Rangers.
It all changed in two, breathtaking minutes in stoppage-time at City.
Edin Dzeko headed in City’s equalizer in the second additional minute and then, after United’s game had just finished at Sunderland and the podium was being prepared for the trophy presentation, Sergio Aguero produced a title-winning goal for City.
“One moment you think you’ve won the title,” United striker Wayne Rooney said on Monday night at the club’s awards dinner. “It’s heartbreaking for all.”
Not for fans in the blue half of Manchester, who have spent most of their lives in the shadow of their more illustrious neighbors, but now finally have reason to hope for their own dynasty.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” City fan John Wilkinson said. “My son was upset yesterday because he thought we lost and he would have to go into school and face the United fans. I have followed City since the early 90s, so when it went 2-1 I was really down and thought we had blown it. I can’t put into words what this means.”
There is no reason to think City’s successes will end here.
After enduring relegations and financial chaos while United won 12 of the past 19 English titles, the “noisy neighbors” derided by Ferguson have used their newfound wealth to overtake United as the country’s top club.
An unprecedented US$1 billion has been spent by Abu Dhabi’s Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan overhauling the City squad since he bought the club three years ago.
Meanwhile, a more frugal approach exists at Old Trafford, where United’s moneymaking might is not always reflected in the cash spent strengthening the squad.
That is unlikely to change even after this setback, as Ferguson insists he does not have to spend millions improving the team.