Following Man City to the Champions League final 11 years on from THAT photo

In May 2010, Manchester City were within touching distance of securing Champions League football for the first time.

The Blues were to host fellow top-four contenders Tottenham at the Eastlands with two games remaining in the Premier League, and with just one point splitting the two sides, City needed to secure the win against Spurs to keep their European dream alive.

Among other familiar names, Vincent Kompany, Carlos Tevez and Pablo Zabaleta were entrusted by Roberto Mancini to take City to new, uncharted territory, but Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham were the better side throughout, bearing down on the City goal.

Against relentless waves of Tottenham pressure, City were grimly holding on until the ball fell to Peter Crouch in the 82nd minute.

The goal wasn’t pretty, but Crouch headed the deflected ball into the roof of the net to send the visitors into pandemonium, City’s Champions League hopes immediately evaporated, fans drowning in sorrow among the visitor’s wild celebrations.

Peter Crouch of Tottenham scores the matchwinner.
Peter Crouch of Tottenham scores the matchwinner.

Crouch’s goal was the matchwinner that condemned City to defeat, and despite the investment and promise of the Sheikh Mansour era that was only getting started, that familiar sinking feeling returned, it was typical City.

While most City supporters couldn’t leave the stadium quick enough, Gary Smith remained in his seat in the Colin Bell stand in block 122, overwhelmed with despair and frustration, attempting to console his then 12-year-old son Harrison.

Unknown to Smith, the moment was captured by a photographer and the next morning the photo was published, including in the Manchester Evening News, the photo adorning the inside cover of the print edition, the image encapsulating what every City fan felt.

“The picture went out, the photo got put in the inside cover of the MEN, then Peter Spencer wrote a small piece about it,” Smith recalled to the Manchester Evening News, carefully piecing his memory back from 11 years ago.

“At the bottom of it, he said something along the lines of, ‘if you know who these people are’ and then obviously my phone went bananas. Whenever anything good or bad happens, that photo seems to pop up.”

City fans look on aftet the defeat
Gary Smith (left) and Harrison Smith (right) were photographed after the defeat.

Although that photo captured two dejected City supporters, attempting to come to terms with what they had just watched, yet more pain despite the takeover, there was something positive that came from it, as Smith begins to explain.

“Peter Spencer rang me, I then spoke to the club, which was great and then the club arranged for Mike Summerbee to visit my son’s school with the photo signed by Roberto Mancini,” Smith said.

“Then City arranged for me to take Harrison and my other two boys to a game of our choice the following season with full hospitality and meeting the players in the changing rooms before the game.

“Whilst that game was depressing and we’ve had plenty depressing ones since it was worth having the snap and having the mickey taken out of us at the moment!

Mike Summerbee after the Spurs defeat
Mike Summerbee with Harrison Smith.

“It was a gutting feeling, though. We had just started playing well, and the Champions League at that time, finishing in the top four was the be-all and end-all, so to get so close was just, it just felt like the old adage of typical City,” Smith added.

“Even though we’ve got all this money and signed all these players, as we had done at that time, we still managed to shoot ourselves in the foot at the end of the season when we needed to win at home.

“It was just that feeling of why always us? We’ve got all this money all of a sudden and yet we still can’t do it.

“My son was young, he’s 22 now, he’d been 12 then and I was just consoling him really and I’m pretty certain I would have said something like ‘don’t you worry, with the amount of money that’s coming in, the best times are going to be ahead of you.”

Although that defeat against Tottenham in May 2010 denied City their Champions League debut, the Sheikh Mansour takeover has since taken the club to places some fans never dreamed was possible, the Blues’ rise has been meteoric and sensational.

Another image of the Smiths
Gary Smith (left) and Harrison Smith (right).

Smith has had a season ticket at City for 39 years, but can he remember where he was when the takeover happened? It was certainly one of those moments, the point in time when his football club was about to change forever.

“I was in Disney World with my family at the time when the news came through. I saw a couple of other City fans who came over because my lads were in their City shirts,” Smith said.

“We stopped and started googling it on our phones. We were in complete and utter shock. It was very surreal, a surreal experience that this could actually be happening to us after all the rubbish.

“From Peter Swales to Franny Lee, to John Wardle, all these takeovers that promised so much and delivered so little. This was actually happening by somebody who was a multi-billionaire and money was no object.”

Sheik Mansour.
Manchester City Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak and owner Sheik Mansour.

Like thousands of other loyal, dedicated supporters, Smith had followed City through the tumultuous years, enduring the brutal highs and lows of supporting the club across the decades, religiously travelling to the games when the club was in the football league.

European nights and the glamour they bring are normal for the next generation of City fans, but Smith was raised on trips to Lincoln, Bradford and Wycombe, instead of flights to Dortmund, Paris and Porto.

“It was awful, but it was that kind of gallows humour that’s sort of it’s actually fun,” Smith reflected. “Going to Lincoln, going to York, going to Wycombe when we lost, we lost 2-1 at Lincoln, all those sorts of grounds.

“I remember at some point in the 80s we went on a huge run of away games without a victory and we eventually won away at Bradford 4-2 I think it was.

“I had been to every single one of those away games when we got beat, but I missed the game when we beat Bradford because I missed the train at Victoria station!

“I believe the fans that begrudge City success are young fans, it’s your internet generation who don’t really remember. A lot of my mates are United fans, not one of them begrudges us success, they don’t like it but they don’t say you don’t deserve it.

“If you go on Twitter and social media all that is from younger fans who have only seen the money, they don’t look back at what actually happened 20 or 30 years ago.”

“Unfortunately some people say the history of this club did not start until 10 years ago. It started at Maine Road, 40,000 taking the bus or train to go and support the team,” Pep Guardiola said recently, hitting out at critics who belittle the club’s history.

“Sheikh Mansour has taken it to another level since he took over but the history is the history our people love. We have to defend this legacy for our previous managers and players.”

Pep Guardiola with the English League Cup.

But how did City get here? Their journey across the last 12 years has been remarkable and they now lay claim to having arguably the greatest manager in the world at the helm, but it’s clear he feels at home too, he feels the fabric of the club, he gets it.

No matter which division City played in, supporters were always proud of their club, but they’re now reaching dazzling heights only a few sides have achieved in the history of the game and they’re genuinely one of Europe’s greatest sides.

“In another 10 or 20 years, there will be a lot more City fans, jumping on the bandwagon, but that’s what happens because kids support successful football teams,” Smith said.

“Around 1999, my lads were very young and they’d come home, they’d have the mickey taken out of them at school and they didn’t want to support City, they didn’t necessarily want to support United, but.

“I remember my eldest wanted to support Arsenal because they were doing well and I managed to keep them as City fans when we were in the third tier, but now I get texts off them going ‘thank god you did what you did and you made us support City.”

So, 11 years on from that photograph, City had made it to the Champions League semi-final against PSG and Smith gathered his three boys to watch the second-leg at the Etihad, with Guardiola’s side heading into the game with their 2-1 lead from Paris.

What did it feel like for Smith to watch the game with his boys? Absolutely amazing, according to one proud father.

“The only moment I was comfortable in that game was when Di Maria was sent off, as soon as that happened I relaxed. To win that game was amazing, it was absolutely amazing, Harrison even turned around and said thank you for this.

“For my lads to be in a position now to watch City where they are, it’s just amazing for them and to share that moment with them.

“Getting them all together is hard because they want to watch the football with their mates, but I somehow managed to get them together and say let’s watch this together, this is a big moment, so it was lovely, it was an experience I won’t forget.”

Harrison Smith (far left) and Gary Smith (far right) 11 years on, celebrating after City made it to the final.
Harrison Smith (far left) and Gary Smith (far right) 11 years on, celebrating after City made it to the final.

Smith admitted he wasn’t sure of City progressing before playing PSG in the semi-final, but that he’s feeling “a lot more confident” for the final on May 29 against Chelsea, which UEFA have now controversially scheduled to play in Porto.

“I do feel surprisingly confident and in a kind of way, I don’t know how gutted I would be if they lost, I think just getting to where we’ve got to is a massive, major achievement for any club. I’m just so proud we’ve got to where we are really,” Smith said.

“I’ll be disappointed, but I don’t think I’d be as gutted as if we got knocked out by PSG in the semi-finals. I think this is now that moment where you can just take it in and experience it. That’s how I’m feeling right now about it.

“It’s the Champions League, we’ve not done particularly well in it, it’s always on the player’s mind, so I think we’ve now taken that monkey off our back, they won’t have that pressure anymore, it’s unbelievable what Guardiola is doing.”

Riyad Mahrez celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal during the Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between City and Paris Saint-Germain

Now 50-years-old, Smith has booked his flights to attend the final in Portugal, following City on their journey from failing to qualify for the Champions League against Tottenham in 2010, all the way to the competition’s final – It’s been quite the ride.

“I remember thinking to myself, I just want to get to an FA Cup or League Cup semi-final,” Smith laughs. “That’s all I wanted, the highlight was to get to a semi-final, and look where we are now, you’ve just got to not take it all for granted.

“Hopefully, I’ll be at the Everton game, I’m in the ballot for that and we’ve booked our flights to Portugal for the final.

“If we win it, we win it, if we don’t, we’ve still had an amazing season and roll on next year.”