We bumped into Mancini in the corridor returning from an interview and our new £25m striker Balotelli dressed like something out of a Spike Lee film. On entering the players lounge we were surrounded by various players, mainly the ones who had not been selected. On various tables were the friends and families of the players. The room itself was hardly luxurious, more functional and a cold buffet and some hot food were laid on. It took barely seconds to realise that there was absolutely no alcohol in sight, reflecting Mancini's sensible policy of keeping alcohol away from players whilst on his watch.
I have never watched a Manchester Derby sober and we were not about to start now, so we went for a wander. We ascended in the players lift to the middle tier and went into one of the corporate lounges. We were immediately stopped by some prim and proper 'lounge manageress' who insisted that our VIP tickets did not allow us to order drinks from her bar. However, with a quick shimmy we avoided her and went to the other side of the bar and ordered drinks. Noel Gallagher and Mike Pickering (DJ and founder of M People) were entertaining a table full of City fans and the atmosphere was buoyant as the City fans contemplated the first derby in many years where we were favourites to win . After a couple of flagons we descended once more back to the players lounge which by now had filled with various injured or out of favour players.
We could hear the atmosphere start to build and we went to our seats to take in the pre-match banter and soon enough the game kicked off. Despite the initial cauldron of passion the atmosphere soon flattened as the game played out in a very docile manner, both teams cancelling each other out, afraid to make a mistake and sacrificing adventure for safety.
After a fairly dour 90 minutes we descended once more to the players lounge and were by this point surrounded by players past and present, all talking about the match and swigging from complimentary bottles of water or diet coke. Having no interest in carbonated beverages or curled up sandwiches and having little to say to those around us, most foreign and with a feint grasp of english we made an executive decision to retire to the pub over the road. It had been a fantastic experience and we both felt really privileged to have witnessed the heartbeat of our club but I'm not sure I would repeat it again. I felt slightly awkward, knowing that I did not really fit amongst these people. Being a fan is entirely different to being part of the fabric of the club and I was in danger of saying something embarrassing to one of the players so we left it at that and hoofed it to the pub.
On the way to the boozer, we were stopped by a man waving a microphone and his cameraman from some Arabic TV station or other.
"What do you think about Manchester Derby?"
"errr....yeah it was alright mate, bit boring"
"Why you like Manchester Derby?"
"ummmm....don't know really, it's just a big occasion filled with passion and ermmmm hatred. gets the blood flowing"
"....and what you think about American owners?"
"The American owners, the Glazers?"
"Oh right, yeah they're good lads. Hope they stay for a long time and continue to spend what they haven't got"
"so... you like them? I thought everyone hated them and wanted them out"
"no mate....we love them...we'd love them to stay and ruin Man United even further"
"ahhh.....You are Manchester City fans"
"Yeah, me, him and all these people and all the people in that pub. Oh and all the people around you and most of the people inside the ground"
With that they scurried off in search of a better understanding of English football and presumably some United fans to interview.
A weird end to a strange night. A unique experience wrapped around a non-event of a football match.