It is the moments you never expect that have the greatest impact on your life; whether it’s meeting eyes with your future life partner for the first time, winning the lottery or Sergio Agüero scoring the most dramatic goal in Premier League history to give the title to your once mediocre club.
The equation was supposed to be so simple, as everyone bounced to the Etihad in anticipation of witnessing the crowning of Manchester City as Premier League champions for the first time, beating arch-rivals United to top spot in the process. The only requirement for City was to dispatch a relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers in front of 46,000 vocal home supporters, who were cheering on the most exciting and expensive side in the club’s history.
What followed was a tumultuous 90 minutes with a crescendo unimaginable to all those in attendance. The party had kicked up a gear when Pablo Zabaleta put City ahead in the 39th minute by whacking the ball through Paddy Kenny’s hands. Having a cult hero score the opener with a rare goal was surely a sign that triumph was in sight. A carefree atmosphere was created in the stands; nothing could go wrong from this point.
City, however, have never had much respect for their fans’ health. Joleon Lescott was the first culprit as his attempted headed clearance flicked the ball into the path of Djibril Cissé, who whacked in the equaliser to silence the home supporters. Resilient shouts soon went up to inspire the players as hope remained.
QPR had packed their side full of City academy graduates including Shaun Wright-Phillips, Nedum Onuoha and the gloriously vicious Joey Barton. It was the aggressive midfielder who lifted the crowd with trademark volatility by elbowing Carlos Tevez in the face, allowing Mike Dean to really enjoy the moment of holding a red card aloft. Job done for City with 10 men to play against for the remaining 35 minutes.
Then, however, the panic and dismay arrived, after Jamie Mackie headed QPR into the lead at the back post. The party had turned into a wake and the only thing that could get things back on track was the introduction of Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli.
United were winning at Sunderland, giving them the edge as City camped inside QPR’s half in the hope of finding an opening. Heads were hidden behind hands as hope slipped away when the clock ticked past the 90-minute mark.
Anger and upset grew that the greatest season in a generation would be remembered for glorious failure. Dzeko heading home an equaliser in the second minute of injury time was highly frustrating because it seemed too little too late. Cheers and fist pumps greeted the Bosnian’s goal, leaving many frustrated that he had not done it 10 minutes earlier.
QPR seemed intent on inviting pressure because their top-flight status was secure, leaving them carefree. There was still time for City to swarm forward and have one crucial last chance. The ball was forced to the edge of the area, Balotelli held it up and squirmed it into the path of Agüero. The Argentinian could have shot first time but shimmied to get more space and then the world froze, clocks stopped and his backlift felt like a slow-motion Lego re-enactment until his boot struck the ball. We knew it was beyond Kenny and into the net. Agüero’s shirt was off, the foundations of the stadium were shaking and the feeling of utter euphoria felt at that second will never be bettered.
Being there was a privilege and something that will not be forgotten. Amid all of the money in football, it was a reminder of the beauty and excitement of the sport in its purest form.