The pitch at a night match always seems more green, more vibrant than that of an afternoon game, as if the flood-lit grass has been preened specially for the television cameras. In contrast the tiers of the mammoth dark stadium soar into the night skies. The high-tech adverts pulse around the perimeter of the park, as if in competition with the main event, reminding the spectators just who is bankrolling the performance, beckoning us to jet off to a land of Arabian nights away from the grey British winter days. Though probably only those tucked up in the glowing executive boxes that line the second tier are likely to do so. We are, as ever, grateful to Sheik Mansour for the privilege of being here, competitors in the Champions League.
The home crowd’s songs ebb and flow with the tide of play. ‘We’re not really here’ sing the faithful, a song rooted in recent myths and far more surreal than anything the quiet neighbours down the road with their never-ending ‘Knick, knack, paddy-whack’ could ever compose. ‘Mancini, woah, Mancini woah,’ sing the crowd every time the trim, immaculately dressed Italian manager gestures from the side of the pitch. His personality, passion and humour resonate with the culture of the crowd. Who else would have such faith in Mario (now Super Mario) Balotelli? Who else could have faith in Manchester City when they were relegated to what, in real terms, was the Third Division? Mancini and Man City fans are in perfect synchronicity.
Bayern Munich have a worthy following of fans, swathed in red, they jump up and down literally shaking the stadium. Their banners, proclaiming their allegiance and locality, rather like adverts for brands of lager, adorn the top deck of the East stand. Their supporters, soaked after a day in bitter December rain, must have been bemused to find themselves in a German market in the centre of Manchester as they prepared for the night’s match. The Teutonic rendition of “Yellow Submarine”, accompanied by an African drumbeat, is interrupted by a City goal and the British fans turn around to dance a Polish jig appropriated from recent visitors, Lodz. Each spectator takes their cue to do The Poznan from the Mexican wave which sweeps round the ground from the South Stand.
The final score is a victory for City but the result at Napoli means that City exit the Champions League and slip back into the Europa Cup. The match was lost before it began. We knew that but we were still here, and for tonight we are victors over the great Bayern Munich. Miracles do happen. We will be back for we know that because on the sixth day God created Manchester City.