This weekend Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City crashed out of the FA Cup in their semi-final against Arsenal at Wembley, meaning that football’s bald-headed and until recently peculiarly grumpy messiah will end a tricky first season in the rainy North West of England without a trophy to parade. No blue moon this year. Put that Oasis playlist away.
To a younger City fan, or someone who has only found the club since Sheikh Mansour rolled up with this billions, this probably feels like the end of the world. For the new generation – let’s call them the AGUEROOOO!!! generation – silverware is now an expectation rather than a pipe dream.
But while Pep’s arrival hasn’t had the immediate impact the sky blue half of Manchester was promised by the hyperbolic headlines, the City veterans would probably encourage a little perspective.
They might, for example, point any distraught supporters in the direction of the very good Twitter account @Crap90sFootball, who today remind us that exactly 19 years ago, this happened.
You probably don’t need us to remind you of how Scotsman Jamie Pollock wrote himself into City folklore forever, but we’re obviously going to do so anyway.
It was against Queens Park Rangers that the Blues sealed that famous Premier League title on the final day of the 2011/12 season, but on April 25 1998, the same fixture – this time the penultimate match of the campaign &ndash was significant for a very different reason. This was Manchester City in perhaps their darkest hour and – to the neutral anyway – at their calamitous best.
The stakes could hardly have been higher: a win for City against their fellow relegation scrappers would have kept their survival hopes alive, anything else would all but consign them to the third tier of English football for the first time in the club’s history.
Jamie Pollock was something of a journeyman defensive midfielder, ironically signed by the Manchester club in March of 1998 to aid the battle to avoid the dreaded drop. Instead, a three-second contribution in that game had cataclysmic consequences.
Honestly, you really can’t explain or rationalise this one. You cannot penetrate the thinking pattern of Jamie Pollock on that fateful day and offer up any convincing explanation of why he decided to score what was – surely – simultaneously the most beautiful and destructive own goal in the long history of our national game.
At 1-1 approaching half-time it was delicately poised, and QPR were on the attack. Re-watching the clip, it looks like a backtracking Pollock had two realistic options: attempt to hook the ball out for a throw on his left foot, or rocket it into the stands with all his might. He entertained neither. Instead, Jamie Pollock from Stockton-on-Tees, in his moment of season-defining – no, era-defining – madness, deftly lifted the ball over both a Rangers player and his own teammate, before executing an impeccably-weighted header that effortlessly beat goalkeeper Martyn Margetson and dropped into the open net behind him. Own goals are usually caused by a last-ditch clearance attempt gone wrong, an awkward slice, a miscalculated backwards header. But here Pollock had all the time in the world. It was like he’d forgotten all of the game’s context – and with it the rules of association football – and just saw glory ahead. It was an own goal he could never have meant, but it really, really looked like he did. So composed. So jaw-dropping in its elegance. So extremely fucking silly.
At the other end of the pitch it would have been a goal of the season contender. For QPR, it was that and so much more, as even an eventual equaliser for the home side couldn’t change the game’s outcome. The own goal of the century kept Rangers in the division, and essentially sent its scorer’s team down. City would go on to be relegated.
It’s probably time we watched the goal again, isn’t it – this time with a musical accompaniment that doesn’t really suit it at all.
Of course, the club would be promoted straight back to Division One at the culmination of the following season, preceding an upward trajectory that would one day see them become the Champions of England, and Jamie Pollock to this day remains something of a cult hero in both Manchester and West London.
City fans who endured the turbulent nineties will never lose that niggling fear of just how hapless their beloved team can be, but given the choice they probably wouldn’t change a thing. The sweet, as they say, is never as sweet without the sour.
For QPR fans, Pollock may as well have a statue outside Loftus Road. Legend has it that a group of them once hacked a Californian university’s poll to decide the most influential person of the last 2,000 years. Pollock came out on top, just ahead of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
How many footballers can boast a legacy like that?