I don’t know about you, but the pressure of the promotion race has completely destroyed my sense of perspective.
Early on in the season, with minimal expectations, I was fine. But over the last few weeks, I’ve come to view everything through a singular lens; one that is solely focussed on our club getting promoted to the Premier League.
And while I’ve always had a yellow and green bias, it’s no longer merely tinted onto proverbial spectacles but has become seared onto my retinas.
My perception of every incident, in every match, and every result, including those of our promotion rivals, has been distorted by a genuine desperation for City to finish the job.
Consider the recent Reading and Sheffield Wednesday games.
In essence, one team took the lead, the opposition replied with two goals, before a last-gasp equaliser in stoppage time, forced a draw.
Same result, and yet one felt like a defeat, the other felt like a win.
Crushing despair against Reading; delirium and ecstasy against Sheffield Wednesday.
Two points lost one week; one point gained the next.
All a matter of perspective.
But it’s also turned me into a complete hypocrite.
A man who berated the officials for ‘allowing’ Reading to score in the seventh minute of injury time (when the board showed six), and who subsequently lectured a Wednesday fan about how the board only signifies the ‘minimum’ added time to be played.
One day, I’m labelling everyone associated with Wigan Athletic as ‘effing cheats’ for the Godfrey (ball-to-hand) penalty. Less than a week later, I’m dancing around the living room in homage to the ten blue and white ‘heroes’ who had just dispatched Leeds.
As an aside, I’ve probably found myself ‘supporting’ every other team in the division this year, apart from Leeds and Sheffield United.
(Oh, and Ipswich, because as Meatloaf said…)
I scrutinise everything that goes against us, while turning a wilfully blind eye to anything that’s in our favour.
Take the Vrančić equaliser against Wednesday. It never occurred to me that he may have dived for the free-kick and subsequently placed the ball further out to help get it over the wall; or indeed that time was already up before the kick was awarded. Because I was still aggrieved that the referee hadn’t given us a penalty for the earlier foul on Aarons, that was ‘definitely’ inside the area, or seen that Fletcher had effectively picked up the ball and thrown it into our net.
How dare Steve Bruce criticise the man with the whistle, when in ‘my world’, he had been their man-of-the-match!?
This selective application of the rules has fostered a deep-rooted sense of injustice and the genuine belief that we’ve been hard done by. Daniel Farke’s comments regarding refereeing decisions, merely serving to strengthen the assertion, in my mind.
My moment of enlightenment – or the epiphany – came not during a City match, but while watching the highlights of Brentford beating Leeds.
In the 17th minute, with the sides locked at 0-0, former City-loanee, Patrick Bamford flicked the ball past Bees defender, Julian Jeanvier, in the box and was promptly felled, like a floppy-haired pine tree at the hands of a lumberjack.
Inexplicably, the referee, Keith Stroud, waved play on with the same dismissive air you might adopt if sending back some under-cooked chicken in a restaurant.
That was the moment, I grudgingly accepted that we haven’t been the victims of a sustained officiating plot, aimed at consigning us to the Championship.
The fans of every club will be able to cite key moments across the season when they’ve been dealt a ‘wrong-un’ at the hands of the officials.
Or rather, when they perceive that they have, through partisan eyes.
The penalty kicks, whether awarded or not; the red cards shown; the marginal offsides. We always remember the decisions that seemingly go against us alongside the burning sense of injustice, while overlooking those decisions that go our way.
Next year, ‘if’ (I still refuse to say ‘when’) we’re playing in the Premier League, we will have the added back-up of VAR (Video Assistant Referees), after clubs agreed in principle to their introduction for the 2019/20 season.
In principle, it should favour the lesser clubs, and address the concerns of the conspiracy theorists, who maintain the belief that the officials, whether consciously or otherwise, favour the elite.
Those, such as Neil Warnock, whose Cardiff City side have been on the wrong end of more than one contentious decision and who was particularly vocal (even by his own standards) following the controversial defeat at the hands of Chelsea;
“It’s a sickener. It’s soul destroying. My players feel like they have been kicked in the teeth. I don’t deserve officials like that today. There is no excuse for that, it’s criminal. If anyone was in doubt before today, VAR has to be the answer to help them out.”
Despite its potential benefits, there remain critics of the system and its possible impacts on the natural flow of the game. The potential it has to stifle the supporters’ natural urges to celebrate a goal for fear of seeing it overturned.
Think, celebrating the goal when you haven’t noticed an offside flag and multiply that by 1000, or alternatively just ask any Man City fan.
But either way, it won’t stop the debates or prevent the feelings of unfairness.
Because we see what we choose to see – what our natural biases present to us, as reality.
After all, one man’s ‘reckless tackle and stonewall red card’ is another man’s ‘exuberant challenge from five foot seven, football heaven’, that was barely worth a talking-to.
It’s all a matter of perspective.