The 2013-14 season was one of the greatest ever for longtime fans of the Manchester City Football Club. The team, fully revitalized after more than three decades of ineptitude, won both the Football League Cup and the Premier League Championship. For the “blues,” the dog-loyal supporters of MCFC, it’s been a dizzying thrill to watch their team rise from English football third division sad-sacks into a world-recognized powerhouse.
One of those excitable blues is Toronto, Ontario’s Darryl Webster. A City loyalist ever since his sister gave him a MCFC jersey for Christmas some years ago, Webster used the season to pursue a quest nearly unique in the sports universe: he decided to tour around the world not to follow his beloved team, but to instead meet up with City fans.
Among the places Webster’s journeys would take him included New York, Dallas, Hong Kong, London, Gibraltar, Reykjavik and Abu Dhabi. His goals in each of these places were simple: meet up with local City supporters to watch a match, sample the local food and drink, and maybe, just maybe, figure out what makes a person a blue.
The result of this trip? Pride In Travel: A Title-Winning Season Exploring The World Of Manchester City, Webster’s diary-like book cataloging the people he met and the adventures (and misadventures) he had along the way.
Here’s what he had to say about Pride In Travel:
What’s your book about?
On the surface it’s about one City fan trying to get to as many supporter clubs as he can get to in one season to see what they’re like in the different countries. Are they the same? Are they different? How did they end up being a Man City club, and not just one guy on a barstool, in Washington, DC or Hong Kong? How did that happen? And what is it like? And beneath that is also my sort of journey as well and what it’s like to travel the world by yourself and introspection and what kind of thoughts you come up with when you’re alone on a plane for a long time or eating alone in a restaurant. All these things that you’re not really accustomed to doing alone. So it was a journey of self-discovery, introspection, but the backdrop was going to as many City clubs as I could and seeing a match.
How many official City supporter clubs are there around the world?
When I was doing the book there were 154. A lot of far flung locations. Of course the majority are in Great Britain because the main thing about being official is you can apply for away tickets when the club’s traveling. I think it’s up to 165 now, and that’s 15,000 members. Last year it was 13,000 and change. Those are paid members.
The normal sports fan experience is: go to the home stadium, maybe an away game, maybe a playoff game, and if you’re in a legacy player’s hometown maybe tweet about it or something… you did something completely different, you traveled to other fans.
For this book the players on the pitch are, not irrelevant, but an afterthought. It’s the supporters I’m interested in. And their story. Because the players come and go and they are what they are, but the supporters are the ones with the lifelong history.
How big an influence does the band Oasis — Noel and Liam Gallagher — have on someone becoming a City fan?
Excepting bloodlines, like if you’d go with your mum, or your dad supported them, or if they were originally from there, for me I would say any supporter not from Manchester that’s between 30-45 years old, someone like myself who was born and raised over here, it’s the number one link. I thought I was going to meet a lot of people who if they were new to City that it would either be because their parents were from there or just because City has started getting good and they’d be new fans. But I was meeting people in L.A. and Texas who it was almost across the board Oasis. There was no family link to England.
And so I was meeting City supporters in Texas who had supported City longer than I had because of Oasis. So I would put bloodline, where you’re from, first, being an ex-pat or having an ex-pat parent second, and I would put Oasis third. And then I would put the new club, [striker Sergio] Aguero and all their success, fourth. That’s going to pass the Oasis thing if it hasn’t already, but Oasis is right up there.
Who’s your favourite City player?
I think it’s almost impossible for it to not be Aguero. It used to be Yaya Tourre because my mom spent some time in the Ivory Coast when she was young, she always talks about it and she loves Yaya Tourre. It’s between Yaya and Aguero.
What’s it like to see a live City home game at Etihad Stadium?
If you’re not from there, if you’re from a North America, just the singing strikes you. A lot of people are starting to think City is becoming a bit quiet now because they’ve had some success and the money’s coming in and there’s more corporate seats. But coming from someone who goes to the Air Canada Centre, you sit there and go “Wow!”
There are two things that strike you: 1) the singing, and 2) the segregation of supporters. Away supporters have been on the bus for a few hours, they’re getting wasted, it’s unbelievable. And it’s not because it’s any one particular club. It’s just when your day is all about traveling to see your team and drinking before the game it’s always 2-3,000 people crammed into this tiny section going mental. So that’s fun to see. And there’s shouting back and forth between each other… and that’s what really strikes you. And you just go, “I have to do this all the time.”
Are there any common traits among all the supporters clubs no matter the location?
Yeah, I always laugh when I meet and speak with the chairman. Because every club has a tiny bit of gossip and each club was its own tiny soap opera in a nice way. But on the back of that, it was just like how much of a family they all were. If they had a problem with one another it was like having a problem with your brother or sister. Just the family dynamic. That was the recurring theme. Just how tight every club was.
What type of person becomes a City supporter?
The constants were that City attracts people with a self-deprecating sense of humour, which really appealed to me, because there was such a culture of losing for so long that you kind of had to have it.
What about that losing culture? What kind of shadow does that cast over the City supporter experience? Please explain some of that.
In the 1960s they were kind of the Toronto Maple Leafs in a way. They were winning everything. Well, not everything, but in the late-’60s they had this really terrific team, won the league, won the FA Cup, and then around about the mid-’70s it all started to fall apart, a series of bad owners, money trouble. By the mid-to-late-’90s they were in the third division of English football. So they had to win that division to get up to the next and win that division to get up to where you were. And so you had people, if they were my age, they had never seen any championship ever. They had never seen any trophy, nothing. They just seemed like a disaster. While that was going on your main rival Manchester United was becoming the biggest club in the world and winning everything. So the year that City finally got out of the third division, in ’99 when they got back to the second division, that’s the year that United won the treble, they won the league, the FA Cup and Champions League.
You grow up with that. There’s no religious divide, you’re living and working with people who cheer for your greatest rival. So you’re going to work for 30 years and the guy who sat next to him, every week that guy’s ribbing him. So you need to become increasingly clever to respond, “What can I fire back with? ‘Cause I got nothing.”
How do supporters clubs around the world treat the rivalry between Manchester City and Manchester United?
You’ve got two sets of blues. You’ve got folks where it’s us versus them and we’ve got to bash them at every turn. I know there are blues who follow all the social media of United just to troll. And they do it to us, too, of course. Then there’s the other thinking that’s like, “We are not concerned with what they’re doing. We’re for the Manchester City Football Club. We don’t pay attention to them.” I think the truth lies in the middle. I think everybody knows what United’s doing and hopes they don’t win and I think everybody trolls a little bit.
What are the lengths a City supporter will go to in order to watch a game?
There were no shortage of divorced men. I’ve met a person who, I won’t name them because they’re well-known, they said no to being the best man at their best friend’s wedding because there was a City match. It was on match day. I know someone who changed their wedding date because it was going to conflict with a match day.
One of the recurring themes of your adventure was booze. How many drinks do you think you had over the course of your journey?
We’re counting not just at the supporters clubs, right? Like if I had a beer on the plane… oh man, 300 or 400 maybe. I don’t know. I can probably get it to within 20-30 drinks. Off the top of my head I’d say 300. It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? And it’s probably more because if you think about it, 15 cities, and that’s maybe 20 drinks a trip. But some places, I was in Abu Dhabi for a week… so I’m going to go with 300 and not feel too good about that.
What were the best cities to get drunken pizza?
In Manchester you can not get good drunk pizza. It’s something they’ve not got their heads around. For them it’s kebobs, takeaway curries, England hasn’t figured out pizza. New York? Brilliant. North America, we’re all about the drunken pizza. That’s great. I do think it’s a North American thing. In Hong Kong it sounds disappointing, but we had fish and rice and it was Moroccan food but it was brilliant. Gibraltar, because it was so close to Morocco, it was Moroccan food there as well. England was definitely Middle Eastern takeaway. Reykjavik was too expensive for me to even worry about getting something afterwards.
I think each culture had their unique bar-letting-out junk food. I think North America’s the only one that’s figured out pizza. My sister complains about it all the time. She’s just like, “They don’t get it.” They haven’t got their heads around pizza by the slice. And the Mancs might read this and go, “I know a great pizza shop.” You don’t.
What was the weirdest food you encountered on your travels? Did you try fermented shark meat in Iceland or anything like that?
Oh man. I tried to get outside of my comfort zone. I grew up a finicky eater and I’ve been pushing that over the years and gotten better.
In Iceland I opted for the fish that was a little more familiar. I just didn’t go for [shark]. At this one buffet they took me to I knew there was stuff that was pretty adventurous.
In Hong Kong I must have walked around for ages trying to find something to eat. Couldn’t read anything. And I’ll never forgive myself, but it was early, early in the morning and I love an Egg McMuffin. So I got an Egg McMuffin. And I ate it and then said to myself, “What are you doing?!” So I said the next meal is going to be totally out there… and I still don’t know what it was to this day. There was shrimp in it for sure. The noodles tasted like there was a bit of curry in it maybe. And it was the best meal I had on the trip bar none, and I don’t know what it was called or what it was. I just kind of pointed to something, I tried it, I used the chopsticks and all that. No forks, nothing… we’re doing this.
I kid you not, I actually managed to make it to 36, 37 years old always hiding the secret that I can’t use chopsticks. So I was so angry with myself after that Egg McMuffin I said “You going to go out there and just point to something” and I had my phone and I youtubed how to properly use chopsticks. I’m like, “Oh, I kind of see it.” And then because there were a lot of noodles and everyone was slurping I was like, “You kind of just have to slurp.”
But yeah, I was by myself and I was trying to hide it because I was like, “All these Hong Kongers are going to go, ‘Oh my god, this guy learning chopsticks…'” And then I thought, “They’re never going to see me again.” And I just thought, “This is embarrassing and I can’t write about what an Egg McMuffin’s like in Hong Kong.” It’s exactly the same, by the way.
Do you have a favourite moment from your adventures?
I’ve got a couple. The end of the book in Abu Dhabi is probably my favourite. But then also I’ve always wanted to go to Reykjavik. I’m an unapologetic Sigur Ros nut. And I just went out to the rocks by the sea and I sat there and I put my headphones on, bundled up in a sweater, toque, scarf, and just watched a couple of seagulls, I think they were seagulls, they might have been Icelandic falcons. They were birds. And I sat there and just listened to these Sigur Ros tunes I’ve spent 10, 12, 15 years imagining “Where would someone write a song like this?” And so many times things don’t live up to expectations like this, but it so far exceeded expectation. And I’d wanted to do that since high school, I wanted to go to Iceland. So those would be the two that instantly came to mind.
Pride In Travel: A Title-Winning Season Exploring The World Of Manchester City is currently available via Pitch Publishing. For more information, go here.