What it’s like to be a Man City fan with a golden ticket for Porto

Imagine it.

You’ve booked the time off work. You’ve accrued the necessary points, or waited in a long virtual queue to secure a ticket for Manchester City’s biggest ever game.

You’ve spent a considerable sum of money on tickets (and maybe also flights and accommodation). You’re ready to go to the big one. The Champions League final.

And then, out of nowhere, an already-expensive Covid test comes back with the wrong result and you’re no longer ‘fit to fly.’

That is a risk that thousands of City fans are taking this weekend, as a trip of a lifetime could end in heartbreak before it even begins. It would be peak ‘Typical City’.

Hopefully, every fan with a ticket can get out to Porto and see their tea playing its best football on the biggest stage. They can worry about the result later. After the year everyone has had, a European away trip like this will be one to savour.

The only downside is that only 6,000 loyal Blues will be there in Porto due to the limited attendance at the Estadio do Dragao. Some others will have got tickets through UEFA’s general sale, but for every fan inside the ground this evening there will be hundreds if not thousands more watching on at home wishing they were there.

So what is it like to be a lucky holder of one of those golden tickets?

Thanks to City owner Sheikh Mansour’s generous offer to pay for flights and transfers for supporters going through City for their tickets, the process has been relatively straightforward for most.

Damian Cummings, a season ticket holder for 39 years, has seen legendary players like Mike Summerbee, Colin Bell, Franny Lee and more wear the famous sky blue shirt. Now, he’s off to Porto with three fellow lifelong Blues, and explains the process of securing a ticket for the final.

“City made the process of getting the tickets all fine,” he said, having taken advantage of the offer to travel with City and fly in and out on the same day.

“The main issue is sorting a PCR Covid test and day two test to get into Portugal and come back. It’s the same process if you’re going for one day with no accommodation as it is for a week away on your holidays.

“It was £150 to sort both tests so we are all grateful for the owner’s offer of free flights and transfers.”

Aaron, a season ticket holder since 1998, had a similar experience.

He explained: “The ticket was easy enough as I am fortunate to have about 20,000 loyalty points, so was in the third window opened on the day the tickets were released. A few mates have missed out despite booking flights, a couple of others have gone and been lucky in the UEFA lotto for tickets.

“We’re going with a travel company who we use a lot. I think they have seven flights. There’s three of us going and it cost us £500 for flights and two nights in a hotel, so it’s decent, but the annoying thing is all the tests. About £300 in total for PCRs, then we have the stress in case we’re positive and it’s all off.”

Speaking of stress, spare a thought for Lee Boland, who got all the way to the virtual checkout in UEFA’s general sale before his computer timed him out. And then did it again. And again.

He says: “When I joined the virtual queue on the UEFA website at 1pm I had two laptops and my mobile phone in the queue. My heart was racing, I had sweaty palms, just disbelief to what I was doing. Then I was in the portal to pick tickets. There were two category 3 tickets but then they weren’t available. I refreshed the page but there was only one ticket available. I refreshed again and two category 3 tickets came up but weren’t available again.

“My heart was breaking, but then I refreshed again, and category 2 tickets popped up at €450 each. I said ‘no way’, but my wife said ‘just do it, it’s the chance of a lifetime. Then as I went to buy them it said the event was sold out. That was it. My chance was gone. Then my wife screamed ‘I have two tickets at €450 each!’ I said it was too much money and before I knew it she had purchased the tickets.

I jumped and screamed while hugging my wife. She’s an amazing woman. Because of her I have Champions League final tickets to see Manchester City! I’m still sweating, still feeling sick. It was more than I had planned to spend but you only live once.”

Lee’s wife Adele came up trumps again, helping him and his stepson arrange to fly from Dublin where they are based, to Lisbon and then travel to Porto, as well as booking them accommodation.

All in, Lee has spent around €2,200 on his trip to Porto, while Damian’s trip is cheaper by travelling with City but still cost £150 for Covid tests, plus tickets, plus spending money. Aaron’s total was around £800 on travel and tests before tickets are accounted for.

Following City to their biggest game isn’t coming cheap to the fans heading out to Portugal. Some fans don’t even have tickets, and are heading to Porto for the atmosphere, in hope of finding a way in when they get there.

But is the cost – and the hassle – worth it?

“Definitely worth it,” says Damian. “One to tell over dinner I don’t doubt.

“People underestimate the social impact of being with your friends bonding over one team. I’ve not seen my friends since Wembley last March. Some live a few miles away and some a good drive.

“Getting together last weekend to celebrate winning the league was great but this weekend will be different. We’re not expecting it to go smoothly but will be happy if it does!”

Aaron agrees. “I moved to Manchester in 1998 when we were in the third tier. I was the only City fan in my school in Derry in Northern Ireland. My old man brainwashed me and I picked my university because I loved City and loved Manchester. I never dreamt of this, it’s all pretty special

“I’ve hated this past year, not being able to follow City like I normally would. I go to most games so found it harder to get into. But as the football improved I could appreciate it as the art of football but it’s still not the same. I got to the League Cup final which was mint to be in a stadium again.”

Some fans in Porto might even have been to a European final before, or at least know family who did. On City’s biggest ever night, toasts will be raised to those who would have only dreamed of seeing their side in a game of this magnitude.

Richard Savage is one lucky fan in Portugal, a lifelong Blue who ensured the memory of his grandfather played a part in his own trip to the Champions League final.

Back in 1970, when City won their first trophy in Europe, Richard’s grandfather Richard Merrin was one of 5000 in Vienna to see the Blues beat Gornik Zabrze in the rain to lift the Cup Winner’s Cup. On his journey out, Richard was pictured on the front page of the Manchester Evening News, dressed as a ‘City Gent’ reading the paper.

The Manchester Evening News ahead of City’s Cup Winner’s Cup final in 1970, featuring Richard Merrin (left). And grandson Richard Savage (right) recreating that proud family moment on his way to Porto.

Now, 51 years later, as his grandson ‘Little’ Richard flew out to Porto, he posed with the same newspaper as a lovely nod to the past, although not in fancy dress.

And remembering where City came from was something Lee Boland also turns to, referencing the journey from third tier to Champions League finalists when asked whether the stress and the cost of getting to Porto is worthwhile.

“There are no words to describe what I will feel,” he says. “If I had it would probably be surreal or an out-of-body experience, I’m 35 and I’ve been in Division Two with City, Nicky Weaver’s ‘Hand of God’ save that was our turning point. Obviously Paul Dickov and co also, that team turned it.

“People say we’ve no history. Our fans are our history. I wish more City fans could be there to experience our greatness, win (I pray) or lose there’s no denying this is one of the best teams in the world. It’s a masterclass football for all to watch and enjoy.

“My wife will milk this for a very long time though!”

Some prices are worth paying.