City’s decision to become good, after a hundred years of mediocre plodding, has taken us to some extraordinary places and allowed to see some remarkable things. To Wembley, and victory. To the ‘Big Four’, and trading meaty blows with some of Europe’s finest. To the Premier League, and unexpected survival. Now this adventure has taken us to Beijing, capital of the People’s Republic of China, to contest the bi-annual Asia Trophy.
City qualified for this friendly tournament thanks to last year’s startling start to the season, which also saw invites extended to Tottenham and West Ham alongside the hosts Beijing Guoan. All four sides would play two inside three days ‘ Wednesday 29th & Friday 31st July.
It was known for some time that City would partake in this tournament subject to Premier League survival – almost a given at the time of the initial invitation being extended, a desperately close call by the end. And despite the immense cost, the fact they’re only friendlies, this observer simply had to go.
My companions were four splendid fellows – Paul, who flew out a day before us in order ‘to do a reccy’ (or, more accurately, save £100 on his flight), Martin and our very own Cropper. Three of us flew out on the morning of Monday 27th July to spend four nights in the world’s most populous nation. Here’s how it went.
Monday 27th July 2009
We awoke a little bleary-eyed at 5.30am at the outstanding City Inn Manchester. ‘A few drinks’ had become a dozen or so before chucking out time, but the hotel very considerately made us a little food parcel in lieu of the breakfast we were checking out too early to enjoy and we bounded down to Manchester Piccadilly for the train to the airport.
It was about now that we realised the discomfort of Cropper wasn’t merely attributable to too much alcohol the previous evening. Hitherto unknown among his fellow travellers were that we were heading East with a man with a profound fear of flying. This exciting discovery had two particularly pleasing consequences: it led to baiting from Martin, an experienced and untroubled flyer, and it meant I (a less than great flyer since an unenjoyable episode in a blizzard at a remote airport in Norway several years ago) felt lots better.
And come take-off time at 9.30am, we discovered that Etihad Airways’ individual televisions screens are compulsorily switched to show the view from the front of the cockpit, showing the take-off in its full glory. Ashen-faced became green, and genuine and highly entertaining panic set in, replete with sweating, mild trembling and rapid breathing.
However, our Airbus eased into the sky without incident, and we settled in for the first leg of the journey to Abu Dhabi. A word for Etihad, they’re brilliant. The food arrived and was great, the complimentary alcohol served in limitless quantities and the entertainment was superb. One can even play chess against fellow passengers; a 9-1 defeat was duly served up for a becalmed Cropper.
We arrived at Abu Dhabi and received the first of our temperature screenings upon landing, this part of the world being no less pitifully afraid of the ‘flu. Food was swiftly procured on the airport (unpronounceable, but excellent), and we took off again.
Upon arrival in the Chinese capital, via a minor detour to avoid bad weather over the Himalayas (to Cropper’s relief – one fancies turbulence could have brought on genuine tears), the pilot cheerily announced that there was some ‘fog’ at the airport – our first sighting of Beijing’s notorious smog.
Before we could actually experience it, we were subjected to the scrutiny of passport and Visa checks by unsmiling mask-wearing officials, another pass through thermal imaging cameras and then whisked on a mini-train from one part of Beijing’s achingly modern airport to another. We arrived 17 hours after leaving England, a full day including the seven-hour time difference. None of us had slept at all.
Tuesday 28th July 2009
We checked in at the startlingly opulent Sofitel Wanda Hotel, a 5* ‘Sino-French’ establishment at which our taxi doors were opened for us, we were called ‘sir’ and even a six-foot brass luggage trolley was wheeled over. Presumably they hadn’t realised we were English football fans.
The first task was to collect our match tickets. Despite paying £38 for each day’s football, the actual tickets were to be collected at a travel agency in Beijing, a far from ideal arrangement. In the end, neither match was sold out and we could have bought them from touts for a tenth of the price. While collecting our tickets via a return tube journey that cost 40 Chinese Yuan (less than 40p), we met our first West Ham supporter here, a rotund fellow with a typically grating cockney accent and self-love of a type that’d make Cristiano Ronaldo appear meekly modest.
We then retired to our rooms for another shower, for Beijing in July is hot. Very hot. Daytime temperatures at this time of year usually exceed 30c and tend not to drop below 20c at night, while the humidity is high and the smog lends the air a sharply metallic tang. The pollution levels are reputedly several times above safe levels. Not surprisingly, at first breathing is a little uncomfortable and presents an odd sensation as long periods outdoors cause a build of dryness in the throat. The authorities recommend you drink lots of bottled water (though never, ever tap water). It’s advice we found ourselves compelled to follow, and at 20p a bottle, hardly expensive.
Freshened up and ready to go out despite going without sleep for over thirty hours, we met with Paul and his friend John, who works as a teacher in Tokyo. Martin and Cropper argued endlessly over the existence of jetlag – the latter a firm denier. Either way, in order to overcome it we resolved to stay out until at least midnight to force ourselves onto GMT+8.
It was now we discovered a true delight of China, haggling beer prices. In the area of Sunlitan, a strip of bars near the biggest Adidas shop you can imagine, waiters stand on the street offering you beer for, usually, 15¥. Offer them half, and you’ll generally get close. I look forward to asking the kiosk staff on the East Stand concourse if they’ll take £1.80 for a pint next season.
The most popular tipple is Tsingtao, a lager of moderate quality – ie, pretty rubbish. But it’s not too costly, the service is unfailingly swift and with the heat receding to the mid-20s, sitting outside and watching the mental traffic (of which more later) is quite an agreeable experience.
Less pleasant is the effect that too many Tsingtao have upon a person, particularly those of us whose bladders are apparently constructed from paper. Beijing toilets are not nice. Frequently, they’re holes in the ground from which extensive splashback is inevitable, and into which squatting for a number two is simply an unthinkable prospect. A greater contrast between these and our hotels rooms, which had phones by the thrones and a flat screen television above the bath one cannot imagine.
Leaving Paul and John to more drink, we left for food, passing by such illustrious buildings as the Venezuelan Embassy before happening upon a quiet side-street with upmarket-looking restaurants with well-lit outdoors areas. It was here that I discovered what a fiddly meal catfish make for us. Tasty enough, but bloody hard work. However, three courses and a few beers for under a tenner each was great, and given China’s famed lack of a tipping custom (bell boys can allegedly be sacked for accepting tips, we elected not to test this), we had to ask our waitress to accept a tip that amounted to barely a quid. She did, with unfeigned delight. My, did we feel patronisingly pleased with ourselves.
The remainder of the evening was a little blurred, as alcohol and tiredness clashed. We did however stumble upon a side street at which hawkers of tat mingled with kebab sellers, beggars, the unconscious (the number of people sleeping on the streets amazed throughout) and, err, us. At one of these kebab sellers we took to a Formica table and ended up spending two hours munching bits of frankly unknown meat cooked on a magnificently primitive device with huge bottles of beer being passed our way from his on-site fridge. The cost of at least 6 or 7 kebabs each and two beers: £1.60 each. Little wonder we stayed until the first fragments of daylight seeped through the smog at 5am, before getting a taxi back to our hotel for the almost indecently cheap fee of £1.40.
Wednesday 29th July 2009
Jetlag, subject to it existing, was conquered by staying up until 5am, but it meant that an early start for some morning sightseeing was obliterated. With City not kicking off until 8.30pm local time we still had ample time for a wander around Beijing. We took the subway to Tiananmen Square, one of the iconic landmarks we all wanted to see. It took about fifteen minutes on a carriage so cramped and hot that every single whining London commuter ought to be made to experience it in order to place their own underground into proper perspective.
One thing about Tiananmen Square that immediately took the breath away is its size. Famously the world’s largest open-urban square, it is some one hundred acres in size. It’s surrounded on size by The Tiananmen (‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’ – how good is that?), a giant red building that serves as the entrance to the Forbidden City and rather unsettlingly has a vast picture of Mao Tse-Tung gazing across the Square in what is presumably expected to be a gaze of wise benevolence.
Also on Tiananmen Square was the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, whereby visitors can view the embalmed body of the man responsible for the deaths of fifty million people. We gave it a miss, and instead checked out the impressively vast and splendidly Communist-sounding Great Hall of the People, China’s parliament building.
At the opposite end to Mao’s portrait was the Zhengyangmen, a magnificent multi-tiered building with outstanding Chinese architecture through which one walked into a boulevard with traditional shops. Down here, we felt as though we’d entered the ‘authentic’ area of Beijing yet. A display celebrating 145 years of Peking Duck was to our left, and on our right were souvenir shops, one had a young lady in a full length eastern-style silk dress who can forever say that she once had a 6’2″ Westerner in a Hull City shirt ask her to pose with him for a photographer.
Leaving this modern, spacious boulevard one found even more ‘real’ Beijing. Small, cramped, often dirty streets with tatty shops selling fruit, silk, clothes and food. Many of the streets, little more than alleys, had rubble for paving, open manholes and rubbish piled up among derelict buildings, plenty of which were still in use.
It was down one of these that our most adventurous eater, Martin, decided to stop for lunch. The menu came, all in Chinese. Happily there were some pictures of the various dishes on offer on the wall, so via the universal language of pointing we ordered something that looked like chicken, and something that looked like an alien’s dismembered head. Both came, both were fine.
The source of the disfigured extraterrestrial was never precisely ascertained, and the chicken was almost entirely bone and gristle, but the broth was fine and the sight of the cooks each emerging from the kitchen to take pictures of the Westerners in their café, and the fact it was £2 each, more than made up for it.
We perused a few more tat shops, all of which were staffed by the most remarkably persistent sales types, and one who performed magic tricks so good that Martin’s jaw almost hit the floor. So desperate for custom were they that one of them even called Cropper a ‘very handsome man’. To be fair, this ultimately worked.
We retired to our hotel for the required shower, collected our match tickets, and hailed a taxi to the Workers’ Stadium – another superbly Communist title. This also saw us ripped off for the first time, when a lying waiter outside a bar of curiously German chic denied offering us a price on beer once we were inside.
This riled Martin, but he perked up on seeing a Hooters at the end of the street. This was full of facking West ‘Am fans, many of whom were laughably claiming to be ‘ICF top boys’, so much so that they were in the boozer while their own team was being beaten by Spurs. One of them was so pathetically drunk he tripped UP the stairs heading to Hooters – we later learned this was a common occurrence from an accomplice of his (who gave us a free pitcher of beer, if only to prove that not all southerners need a good kick in the cock).
West Ham having been beaten by Spurs, it was our turn to head over the stadium. It’s impressive. It holds over 60,000 people, features a running track and is largely open to the elements. It also had some 300 City fans, hemmed in all sides by about thirty-five thousand Beijing Guoan fans, those nearest to us looking on captivated by the noise.
Now, here was a nice surprise. I confess I hadn’t really expected much of an atmosphere, after all, these were essentially friendly games. But throughout, the away end was in a state of party. Jumping, bouncing, it was better than plenty of League matches back home. And over and over again “this is the best trip I’ve ever been on” pealed into the smoggy Beijing sky. Another pleasant surprise was the organisation. Tickets were searched by ultra-violet light twice upon entry and bags were X-rayed, you enter the stadium past a dozen ultra-alert policemen and stewards sat ram-rod straight on stools on the running track watching us throughout, but despite that unpromising combination they simply let us get on with enjoying ourselves. Fratton Park is officially a worse place to watch football than Communist China.
The football need not detain us too long. Geovanni scored a beaut, City wilted in the remorselessly heat, Dean Marney missed a penalty that absolutely every single person around me said he’d miss, the Beijing boys missed two of their own, and we scraped through.
And then we could party some more. The magnificent Ghetto of Excellence flag was unfurled at the bottom of the steps as more songs rained down, before a group of the Beijing Ultras (seriously, they do exist, and also seemed to be having a brilliant time inside the ground) wandered over, singing songs of their own. A hundred or so City fans walked to them, and for just a split-second I wonder quite how well they’d take it.
Marvellously. Suddenly the whole area was a mass of dancing and singing amber and green together, shirts being exchanged, hands being shook – and yes, I know just how unbearably twee this must all sound. In this instance, you really just had to be there. These were terrific moments.
We lapsed a little into Typical English Abroad syndrome at this point, going to the predictably present Irish bar in which about a hundred City fans were stationed. We eventually drowned out the poor artist with songs, which were being watched with characteristic sourness by the West Ham fans, who I fancy may have turned a little nasty had they not been so heavily outnumbered. Smartly, the artist realized he was dealing with football fans in good spirits and finished with ‘Hey Jude’, a good move.
The evening finished at some point around 4am via an unexpected detour to a less salubrious area, an “early one”, as the following day had been set aside for a trip to the Great Wall of China.
Thursday 30th July 2009
Tiredness was creeping in now as the heat, humidity, alcohol and late nights began to tell. Martin was particularly tough to cajole into wakefulness, while Paul decided that his 6am arrival made an early start for the Great Wall simply out of the question.
The hotel concierge quoted us about £120 for a return taxi to Wall and back; Martin skilfully got half the price. Our taxi driver couldn’t speak a single word of English and it took some time to communicate our wishes, however, after a three-hour journey, we arrived.
It was then we realised how high up it is. The Simatai sections stands nearly a thousand metres above sea level, and getting to it is not easy. Or enjoyable if you’re scared of heights. It requires first being transported up the hillside on a worryingly rickety-looking cable car, on which I thought Cropper was going to refuse to embark. The views from it are quite thrilling though, as you pootle along several hundred feet above the ground.
A funicular railway takes you most of the rest of the way to the top, you have to pay for both cable car and railway, but doing it on foot would probably take a day. Or longer, if you’re a fat wannabe West Ham hooligan of the tiresome type we encountered near the summit. Morbidly obese, drenched in sweat, we were told ‘there’s facking fifty ICF up there, watch aaaht’. Frankly, even an inveterate coward such as me was wholly untroubled by the prospect, as middle-aged lardbuckets from the south are hardly going to be difficult to outmanoeuvre.
Anyway, we made the short climb to the top and wow. Seriously, genuinely, wow. It arrests the breath, captivates the senses, and infuses your very being with an awesome sense of majesty.
The Great Wall of China can be seen snaking through the hilly terrain for dozens of miles in either direction, ‘twisting through the mountains like a writhing dragon’, as one guide book aptly puts it. One can climb the various stages into the towers, which have thin windows from which you can peer across the landscape.
At this height, the smog is replaced by hazy cloud. Seeing any great distance is difficult, although the lack of visibility somehow lends a greater air of mystique to the area. I’ll stop now. I can’t do it justice. If you’ve had the extraordinary privilege of seeing this genuine wonder of the world, you’ll know. If not, go and see it.
We spent a relatively brief time at the top, as rumbling in from the north was a powerful thunderstorm. The towers had lightning conductors so there was little real peril, but one wouldn’t want to be exposed up there; also, the cable cars are shut during storms and it’d be one hell of a walk down. We quickly left, after Cropper haggled the two local vendors into selling their books to us at half-price, and descended down the mountain as the storm continued to advance. The cable-cars as the thunder closed in was quite an experience, but we made it back to our taxi and raced back south with our driver evidently pleased to see us after several dull hours kicking his heels in the car park.
He showed this pleasure by subjecting us to a very Chinese journey – an unholy combination of French rudeness, East German roads and Soviet-era traffic. Overtaking is routinely performed irrespective of blind corners approaching, with jaw-dropping faith placed in the fact that a blast of the horn will see fellow drivers take sufficiently evasive action. It’s hair-raising stuff. Wisely, Martin and Cropper slept. I silently prayed that my life wouldn’t end in rural China.
It didn’t though, and a shower, shave and shit meant we were back out by 9pm. And how exciting – we found a public house showing the cricket! Sort of, it was raining in England, so we sought alternative diversions. It was a remarkably diverse place, with numerous nationalities rubbing along. We found a dartboard and waiting for the rain to stop in Birmingham.
Soon enough, we were more concerned with rainfall in Beijing. The thunderstorm that had sent us scurrying from the Great Wall had followed us south, and was erupting with epic force all around us. In under an hour of furious rain the roads were under water as lightning flashed incessantly around us. Leaving in such a biblical downpour was out of the question, by some margin the most spectacularly violent storm I’ve ever seen, so it was back to the dartboard and harmfully cheap pints of Tsingtao.
Play eventually got under way in England (the locals were suitably amused by our reaction to the only wicket of the day – obviously, the greatest of all sports is yet to conquer the People’s Republic of China), and by about 4.30am the weather had eased enough for us to hail a taxi and collapse into bed as dawn began to break.
Friday 31st July 2009
Our final day, and getting out of bed after just four hours sleep took some doing. Today had been set aside for the Forbidden City, the vast palace complex that covers some eight million square feet immediately adjacent to Tiananmen Square.
The need for sleep had once again done for Martin and Paul, so Cropper and I snuck out in search of ancient mystery. The previous night’s thunderstorm had cleansed the air, which was cooler and substantially less choking, although the subway to Tiananmen East seemed even hotter than ever.
It cost just under £6 to enter the Forbidden City, which has nearly a thousand separate buildings of varying importance built during the 15th Century as a home for the Emperors and the primary location for the Chinese government. Traditional Chinese architecture abounds, with the labyrinthine array of courtyards being surrounded by sweeping golden roofs, immense studded doorways, ancient four-foot high copper vats (for quelling fires, fact fans), and numerous grand buildings.
Many of them boast simply fantastic names too – one can gaze at the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Mental Cultivation, the Palace of Longevity and the Palace of Heavenly Purity. Several of the buildings are inaccessible but feature within thrones and regal paraphernalia, visible from the outside and a stunning spectacle. It took us nearly three hours to walk through, and I suspect we saw barely half of it. Towards the end our walk we reached the Imperial Gardens, where a shy Chinese boy of about six tugged our sleeves and quite charmingly asked for a picture. Who’d have thought two six-foot Westerners, hot and bedraggled, swigging bottled water, would make for an essential photograph? Such is China’s marvellous nature.
There was still time to annoy a phenomenally determined saleswoman in the souvenir shop by accepting her invitation of somewhere cool to sit and a cup of authentic Chinese tea, then only buying a £2.50 fan instead of the assortment of “very special” (ie, expensive, even to us) super-tat.
We then realized we were quite a distance from our hotel and in the heat of the day that felt a dispiriting prospect. But help was on hand – rickshaw-shaped help. Haggler extraordinaire Cropper was beside himself with excitement at the prospect of riding a rickshaw, and negotiated a fee of £2.50 with the owner of a rickshaw for a ride back to Tiananmen Square, and we braved the Beijing traffic in a rickety device whose condition and driving standard would probably have seen a prison sentence handed down in a less fun country. Like ours. But we weaved our way perilously through the traffic, and arrived flushed with child-like glee at Tiananmen Square. £2.50 was offered…and the squealing driver, who didn’t seem capable of speaking any language, let alone English, objected. Uh-oh.
After extensive hysterical vocalizations (I hesitate to call them words), it seemed he wanted two lots of £2.50. This was not what we agreed with his friend. We both exited the contraption, but he continued to insist he’d been short-changed. Not overly concerned about the cost of a pint back home but irritated at ripped off here, we stood our ground. Perhaps a little too much, for at the first sign of Cropper making off, in a flash our simple friend reached into a compartment of his rickshaw and was suddenly wielding a metal D-lock and a savage expression. Shit.
Being brained by an evident retard in a country with an unforgiving police force and whose language remained an impenetrably mystery appealed significantly less than handing over a couple of quid, however unjustly. In the end, he was palmed off with an extra five yuan – a shade under fifty pence. A surreal and slightly alarming experience.
Back at the hotel, we found that Martin had gone exploring after finally waking up, so it was yet another shower (the heat means at least two a day were required) and match tickets collected for City v Spurs. We headed back to Danger Doyles, the Irish bar that had quickly established itself as the Tiger Nation’s Embassy in China – a delightful hand-made pizza was bought for all of three pounds (authentic Chinese food there…), and masses of lager were consumed by the raucous City fans.
West Ham, our warm-up act throughout the week, cuffed the locals 3-0 as we prepared to venture in the hot evening – some of the departing Irons imploring us to “facking do the Yids”. Not likely. Phil Brown, Paul Duffen and Brian Horton had appeared at a fans’ gathering the previous night – not one terribly well-publicised among those daring to travel unofficially, sadly – at which it had been made clear that a much weaker side would be fielded than the one that drew with Beijing two days before.
Harry Redknapp had selected the strongest Spurs team available to him – and again, let’s not get overly fussed about the football, but Spurs led 1-0 at the break, and never looked like losing. Not that we were terribly concerned, for the City section of the ground was again jumping. Satisfyingly, we were joined this time by numerous Chinese, many of them clad in City shirts, all avidly watching and trying to join in with our songs. By contrast, the twenty or so Spurs fans in the upper tier to our right were either silent or inaudible, and befriended by no-one. By full-time, we’d even learned how to mimic their favourite chant. Sort of.
Spurs ending up winning 3-0, a fair reflection on a one-sided game from which the primary bright spot (other than endless and firmly-meant choruses of “don’t want to go home…”) was Tom Cairney, who may one day actually make it. And so, Tottenham won the Asia Trophy, the lads were given a warm ovation at the end, and we regretfully left the Workers’ Stadium to the surreal accompaniment of an Americanised voice on the tannoy declaring “ladies and gentlemen, the game is now over, please leave the stadium”. Still better than Steve Jordan, though.
Mmm, booze. City’s defeat had harmed spirits not a jot, and there was time for a quick sing in the Irish pub while watching the cricket before moving on in search of adventure. It’s not hard to find in Beijing. We found a club playing rave music (or techno – I dunno, it all sounds the bloody same to me) in which we gullible Westerners were immediately surrounded by ladies of the night, though their rates seemed reasonable. The bog attendants even gave a brief shoulder massage when irritating you post-piss, which was a peculiar happenstance. We left after a while, though. I’m too old and curmudgeonly for clubs, Cropper had just shat blood and it wasn’t us.
We headed back to the Sunlitan area once again in search of cheaper booze and grotty food. Ultimately, at about 2am, we alighted upon a fairly nice establishment whose primary drawback was Newcastle shirts on the walls, hoisted by what we discovered was its English owner. We found some settees, drank a liver-rotting quantity of cheap booze and I fell in love with a girl from Georgia. That’s Georgia near Russia, not in the USA. Madness.
Somehow, it became 5.30am, the sun would have visible if not for the perma-smog, and we stumbled into a £1.20 taxi back the hotel for sleep.
Saturday 1st August 2009
Yorkshire Day, and our final day in Beijing. I really, really didn’t want to go home. At least our flight was at 7.30pm, meaning we could squeeze another half-day. So at 9am we managed to get up, still drunk, hoarse of throat from the previous night’s match and got stuck in one last time.
It was straight back to Tiananmen, or just beyond – while Martin went to the Forbidden City he’d missed yesterday through sleep, Cropper and I went shopping. Or haggling, more correctly. And so in the tight side streets in what we thought of as “Old Beijing”, we dived into tat shop after tat shop, taking prices down to about a third of the original requirement (about the norm, we later found), and stocked up in armfuls of cheap gifts for everyone back home.
To be fair, much of it was quite good. We each bought some pleasingly “real” looking scrolls with “authentic” Chinese imagery and lettering on them for a tenner each. Soon enough, we’d bought for all the blood relatives who needed buying for, and we retired to KFC for some breakfast.
In there, a mother pushed her two children towards us and insisted on a picture – we obliged with amusement again, while wondering just how pointing at and photographing ethnic minorities would go down in England. But it was simply too earnest and well-meant to even think about being impatient.
After all, China is a quite remarkably friendly and welcoming country. I’ve been to quite a lot of different places, and while I’ve never found anywhere to be actively unpleasant (though the Czech Republic came close – and it goes without saying that the French are terminally rude and unfriendly), the good people of China must take some beating.
There are so many too, we reflected as we sat around in the hotel’s foyer waiting for a taxi back the airport. That may sound absurd – there are well over a billion Chinese, so of course there are lots of people. Over a dozen cities have in excess of five million residents. But everywhere, always, at all times, there are people. It takes a little getting used to. But it’s all part of the appeal.
As a Communist nation, I’d also expected the authorities to be cloyingly authoritarian. Do this, do that, don’t do that, do that again and we’ll shoot you. But there are no speed cameras in Beijing. “Last orders” seemingly doesn’t exist. One suspects that any transgressions WOULD have been stamped down upon quite harshly. Authority was rarely absent from any part of the city. But overall, it was a remarkably open and free place to visit.
We’re at an end now. The trip back wasn’t entirely without incident – lingering too long in the airport meant Cropper and I had to catch a ride on a trolley car in order to make the final call at our boarding gate, only for another vast thunderstorm outside to ground us for two hours anyway. Martin found particular delight in Cropper’s utter misery at the thought of having to take off in such foul conditions – sweet revenge after listening to him being teased all week for an over-reliance on sleep.
But eventually, it was deemed safe to take off, though the plane seemed to take a very long time on the runway before eventually becoming airborne. I hammered Cropper some more at chess, some badly need sleep was snatched between Abu Dhabi and Manchester, and soon enough we were back home, jaded but still exultant.
If you missed out, I suppose these’ll seem the self-indulgent and hugely smug witterings of someone getting a chufty fit on about a pair of friendlies. Maybe that’s a fair analysis. But for a few hot, bewildering, magical and memorable days proudly representing the Tiger Nation on the other side of the planet, we had the sort of capering joy that never used to happen to City.
For that, I guess more thanks to City for staying up last season and making this trip possible. To China, a country to which I will return, profound admiration and affection. For everyone who was lucky enough to be there, we’ll know that whatever the future brings, this will always have been the best trip we’ve ever been on.