Born under a 'Blue Moon'
Growing up in my dad's house, I was indoctrinated into the religion of football -- not the American version; the game played by the rest of the world.
I knew the stories from before I was born. How Bert Trautmann, the former German World War II PoW-turned-Manchester City goalkeeper who kept playing in an FA Cup final after breaking his neck. Or about the February day in 1958 when it seemed everyone in Manchester sat in the pubs and cried upon hearing about the air disaster that claimed the lives of so many of "Busby's Babes," the young players for Manchester United. Even though they weren't our team, my dad couldn't speak of that day without tearing up.
If football was our religion, I knew that we belonged to the Church of Manchester City Football Club. Even though we had come to the States when I was a kid, I understood that I belonged to the team that wore light blue vestments, and whose followers sang "Blue Moon" in the stands as their hymn.
In his own home, my dad was a heretic. My grandad had been a dyed-in-the-wool Manchester United fan. Grandad was a strict, angry man who brooked no nonsense from his three sons and one daughter. So his three sons did the most rebellious thing they could do while living under the old man's roof: they all supported City, United's most bitter rivals.
It's become common to denigrate City by claiming that it's a team without tradition or history, even though City is the older of the two clubs, having become Manchester City FC in 1894. Manchester United didn't become so until 1902, although both football clubs started out as smaller teams sponsored in Mancunian neighborhoods. The argument over which team was established first is just another way that the rivals try to claim that they are Manchester's real team.
But if cheering for United meant celebrating frequent championships and the winning of cups, being a City fan means accepting that the beautiful game can be a tragicomic farce. What I learned about loving City from my dad is that the most reliable thing about City was that they were bloody unreliable. For fans, the term "typical City" encapsulates the moments when the team blows a lead or fails to beat a team at the bottom of the table the week after beating the champions, or, most often, the team's inability to capitalize on rivals' misfortunes. If City are engaged in a title fight and the rival team loses that weekend, therefore giving City a chance to move up in the table, it's almost guaranteed that City will lose -- even if they're playing a weak opponent. For true fans, there's not much point in getting upset about such events. It's just "typical City."
My dad died unexpectedly in 2013. We had no directions from him for a funeral. While he had held onto a number of spiritual beliefs, he was not the adherent of any religion. We chose to honor him with the rites of the church of Manchester City. My mum made the decision that he would be wearing his Manchester City scarf and nothing else when he was cremated. She argued that he had come into this world naked, and naked he would go out of it, except for that scarf.
We also knew that he would have been annoyed to see friends and family looking dowdy in black inside a chapel. We asked those who planned to attend the ceremony to wear sky blue, City's colors, and we chose the gazebo at the local park where he had walked his two dogs each morning as the site of the service.
The night before the memorial, my brother picked up the biodegradable urn of my dad's ashes. He brought it to his house, and we wrapped the urn in another City scarf. I thought the scarf might keep my father warm, and sat vigil with his ashes for a while, just as I had sat vigil with my father's body on the morning he had died.
An hour before the service, several of us arrived at the gazebo and hung it with City-blue and white ribbons and streamers and lanterns. We decorated it also with footballs, black and white against the weathered wood. Our guests arrived -- indeed, in blue -- and then we took turns telling each other stories about what kind of man my dad had been.
Later, we walked across the road to the ocean beach, and several of us waded in up to our waists in order to scatter my dad's ashes into the water.
This weekend, I will watch the beginning of my fifth Premiere League season without my father. But I welcome the beginning of the new season. When City plays, my family and I know he's around somewhere, watching with us.