A crazy finish for a crazy season
Gordon Strachan summed Sunday’s Barclays Premier League climax up perfectly when he said, “between the three of us we have 120 years' experience in the game of football and none of us have ever seen anything like that.”
He sat in our TV studio, flanked by Alan Curbishley and Peter Reid, as he tried to put Kun Aguero’s title-winning 94th-minute strike into some sort of perspective just moments after the game had ended and Manchester City’s celebrations had begun.
Former City manager Reid found it all a bit too much.
“Show me those goals [both stoppage time efforts] again, please, because I still can’t believe it happened,” he begged.
Minutes earlier, he had been off his feet – much like the rest of the football-watching world – as those breath-taking events unfolded at the Etihad Stadium. A bottle of water went flying under our desk, sending Health and Safety-conscious studio crew scurrying for mops and tissues lest we get electrocuted.
Elsewhere, on SKY TV’s Soccer Saturday – the bizarrely-enthralling show where we watch people watching football matches -- Paul Merson leapt out of his seat, ripping his lapel microphone off in the process, and then had to sit and describe the proceedings to host Jeff Stelling on live television, all the while fumbling away as he tried to re-attach the aforementioned mic.
The studios, from which we broadcast to 650 million homes round the world are still ringing with Alan Parry’s screamed “Aguero!!!!!” which was echoed in a multitude of languages in more than 200 countries.
Meanwhile, the UK audience heard Martin Tyler, the doyen of English commentators, utter the absolutely perfect, “I swear you will never see anything like this ever again!”
Maybe not. But we will keep coming back for more because we all know that sport is always capable of throwing up drama like Sunday’s. As Nick Hornby pointed out in his essential football read, Fever Pitch: “… be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.”
Life, he explained, tends not to throw up last-minute winners.
In broadcasting terms, the last-minute winner is the ultimate stress test. Everything changes in an instant: video packages and highlights reflecting one result have to be altered to properly demonstrate another, tables and statistics have to be modified, editorial decisions revisited. Stats come at us thick and fast, perhaps too quickly to process: staggeringly, Manchester City scored with their 43rd and 44th attempts on goal. Was that a record? Had David Silva or Alex Song ended the season top of the assists charts? Did we realise that the late strikes at Swansea, Wigan and of course the Etihad had lifted the season’s tally to a record-breaking 1 066?
“It’s a crazy finish for a crazy season,” shrugged Roberto Mancini amidst chaotic post-match scenes in Manchester.
On the other side of the country, Sir Alex Ferguson was magnanimous in defeat but must inwardly have been revisiting his famous “Football... bloody Hell!” pronouncement. We were lucky enough to have satellite feeds of all the matches coming into our studio simultaneously and were witness to Michael Own and the United substitutes preparing to strip off their tracksuits to reveal “Champions” T-shirts. In an instant, Aguero scored in Manchester and faces fell at the Stadium of Light. It was hard not to feel uncomfortable, voyeuristic at a time of heartbreak.
In a way, the “crazy season” had prepared us to for Sunday’s hysteria. When you have seen games won 8-2 and 6-1, when eight-point leads have been accumulated and squandered, when the defending champions have been beaten by Wigan and Blackburn and the eventual champions frustrated by a relegation-haunted 10-man team for 90 minutes, you sub-consciously prepare yourself for the unthinkable final twist in the tale.
When it finally comes, though, it still provokes a visceral reaction like that when Papisse Demba Cisse belted in his extraordinary strike at Stamford Bridge. Sunday afternoon at the Etihad will never be forgotten – it will become the Premier League’s “do you remember where you were watching when…?” moment.
It certainly took some mental processing. And that particular process is far from over. I’ll leave you with a final thought from one of the men with whom I was lucky enough to see the game. It came through on Twitter Monday morning and was from the feed belonging to Peter Reid. Spelling mistake and all, it said, “Flippen heck, am I dreaming?”