It all started at The Valley back in July.
Despite not normally being anything like a pre-season enthusiast, a friend’s 21st in Guildford that necessitated changing trains in London made the prospect of an away trip in the sun difficult to resist.
We lost 1-0 that day. Lost 1-0 to a side that had finished the previous season sixth in League One, a side who possessed little real quality and all while City fielded a team including promising new recruits Teemu Pukki, Kenny McLean and Tim Krul.
But we played well. We created chances, passed it around swiftly, and looked a genuinely more potent attacking outfit than we did at many points throughout the season before. I left the game feeling surprisingly upbeat.
What that day in south-east London symbolised more than anything was the start of a journey. A journey not only for Daniel Farke and his merry men, but also one of immense personal joy for me and thousands of other City fans who opt to invest considerable sums of their hard-earned cash on following their heroes up and down the country.
Back in August, the notions that I’d end up going to all 23 away games and see Kenny McLean drinking fortified wine and proclaiming himself mayor at City Hall would have seemed preposterous.
That both manifested themselves, in reality, is a testament to what an utterly bonkers season of football we’ve been fortunate enough to witness.
It’s been glorious. Joyous, magical, triumphant; a campaign that has forged a canvas of indelible memories that will unequivocally remain ingrained for a lifetime. On so many occasions I didn’t think life as a football fan could get any better. On every single one, I was wrong.
A lot like an Edgbaston Test match, it started and ended in Birmingham. Onel Hernandez’s last-minute equaliser at St Andrew’s set the tone, slipped in by Denis Srbeny and finishing unerringly in front an away end who swayed like daffodils in a stiff summer breeze.
But then came the roadblocks. Defeats at Bramall Lane and at home to West Brom and Leeds left many fans impatient, impetuously calling for Daniel Farke’s head in light of a paltry points tally. Anyone who’d actually paid attention to performances – particularly that game in South Yorkshire – was aware of how much better we looked, but at a time of alleged crisis, there was little room for rationality.
The derby and international break came and went, however, and these yellow and green wizards soon began to blossom. Away wins at Reading and Queen’s Park Rangers and they suddenly had a spring in their step, a team of youthful buoyancy who looked fearless and up for the challenge.
Of all the magnificent days out I’ve had watching City this season, the trips to Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea in November were particularly memorable. These were when it dawned on me that we may genuinely be able to do it, days where Farkeball majestically clicked and games that saw the advent of Emi Buendia as the league’s most magical creative force.
A Teemu Pukki late show – festive edition – at Ewood Park in December and we were well on our way. Despite the subsequent run of dropped points – Forest, floodlight-gate, Brentford and West From – and an FA Cup exit, the fact these came during an injury crisis and we remained in the top two warranted little cause for concern.
And then came Elland Road. An evening that saw one of the most complete, composed Championship performances of recent years and one where a televised statement to the nation was made in the most commanding fashion.
Farke’s warriors glowed under the floodlights, yellow and green torpedoes who were too quick, too adept for Marcelo Bielsa’ ostensibly promotion-cruising side. In a spine-tingling smash and grab, the Championship script was ruthlessly ripped apart.
We sizzled at Bolton, struggled at Preston, but these players just kept on going. Millwall – preceded by an unforgettable morning on Soccer AM – was magnificent, and at Rotherham we were bailed out by a second-half contribution from the indefatigable Ben Godfrey.
Time for the run-in. 1,500 of us made the trip to Teesside, jubilant and in good voice in the pub before owing to Bristol City’s win at Sheffield United and even louder at full-time after Onel Hernandez’s intelligent near-post strike.
Decisions didn’t go our way at Wigan, but thanks to Pukki, we once again found a way out unscathed.
After two draws at home, our day of destiny in Staffordshire arrived, a day in which we left the ground deflated but were later elated thanks to Brentford and Sergi Canos. The mandatory Leeds capitulation was complete.
What has happened since will remain etched in our memories forever. Those scenes at Carrow Road last Saturday night were just pure joy; the culmination of a season that transformed the connection between club and fans and allowed us all to unite and celebrate as one.
And, I don’t think being a football fan gets much better than Saturday afternoon at Villa Park.
The depressing reality about this season is that it has to end. Indeed, the truth is that this may well be as good as it gets for us City fans; a campaign that will surely never be topped regardless of what happens to us in the Premier League.
But now is not the time for such thoughts. Now is a time for celebration, a time for ecstasy, a time to enjoy McLean’s booze-fuelled balcony behaviour and the sight of Timm Klose, Marco Stiepermann and co downing Carlsbergs at nine in the morning.
These players get it. We are so lucky to have them.
So, 23 away games, 12 wins and one season that we will never, ever forget. This has been what supporting a football team should be all about – a success story built on the admirable principles of perseverance, promoting youth and fostering a connection with fans.
It’s been perfect. We can only hope that such a story, and the memories it’s provided, will be the beginning of a longer narrative that will leave a lasting legacy for all of us in this Fine City to enjoy.