Lounging poolside in Spain in 2005, thanks to my brother-in-law, Tony, I struggled to understand the accent of the rapidly sun-burning Brit babbling at me. His name was Lee, and he and his daughter were on holiday from Manchester, and wouldn’t I like a pint, and “no self-respecting Mancunian could possibly support Manchester United,” and he was “a Manchester City supporter through and through, full stop.”
Inspired by Lee’s passion, I hopped onto the “City” bandwagon. Waking at 4am on a Saturday or Sunday to watch City matches live became common. Attending a match at Etihad Stadium became a “bucket list” item, and on May 6, Tony and I crossed that one off our lists.
You would have seen that same innocent, youthful exuberance before and after the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena on Monday night. There’s no way of knowing, but any of those kids dancing and chanting for City midfielder Yaya Toure also could have sang and danced at the Ariana Grande show. Manchester police that night directed the public to gather at Etihad Stadium if they needed assistance. The ground that moved those boys to ecstasy became a place of shock and misery.
Still, it makes perfect sense that a first step toward healing was a call to gather on the familiar ground of sport. At PCA, we see the power of sport to bring people together. Along with encouraging competitive excellence, we use sport to cultivate such values as teamwork, compassion and empathy. In addition to the logistical advantages gathering at the Etihad afforded, surely it provided psychological gains as well, serving as a reminder of how unified a people can feel around a common cause.
On May 6, Manchester was spirited…not a glamorous world capital, but a gritty city with pockets of stunning beauty, and best of all, real salt-of-the-earth people, congenitally unable to put on airs and more than willing to let you know exactly where they stood. Common conversation contained the disdain City and United supporters felt for each other. Some of that was tongue-in-cheek, friendly-rivalry sort of stuff. Some was not.
Manchester will remain spirited. Mancunians speak proudly of their citizenry’s reputation as fighters. Now is the time they will get over any real or perceived differences that separate City and United supporters.
When today’s Europa League final kicks off at 11:45 Pacific Time, I’ll be supporting Man U. I think Lee would approve.