Eastlands, home of Manchester City, the world's richest fotball club, was an easy ride on the Football Special from downtown Piccadilly Gardens.
A year ago I took the same ride to the UEFA CUP Final: Zenit St Petersburg v Rangers, to escape the build up to mayhem when 100,000 Scots descended on the small city centre with rivers of urine, empty cans and bottles and packed, sweaty bodies. Well, to me, Piccadilly Gardens still conjurs up more visions of East L.A. than North West England. It's untidy and the light rail tracks are being worked on.
Anyway, I joined up with friend Keith Hackett, who is the capo di capo of English referees to watch the Sky Blues host Blackburn Rovers. Both are run of the mill EPL sides but City have the very expensive Robinho (£32.5 million), the most improved Stephen Ireland, Elano, The King of Penalties', who has improved performance and work rate recently, and Micah Richards, who is not worth his pay. In goal they bought Shay Given, who has had a wonderful time since leaving the sinking Magpie ship on the River Tyne.
I had visited Ewood Park early in the season to see them torn apart by Arsenal, and their defence is both inadequate, unloved, and fails to communicate with each other, as well as being lead footed. Paul Robinson does his very best in goal but has a sieve with a gaping hole, in front of him.
Besides getting very wealthy new owners from the UAE, manager Mark Hughes has had to contend with 18 UEFA Cup matches added to the busy EPL schedule. Today he was without Shaun Wright-Phillips and Craig Bellamy. The referee was Mike Dean, last years F.A. Cup Final referee and an experienced FIFA official. He had a commendable performance.
We spend time before, half-time and after the match in The Tudor Room for VIP guests whose walls are full of signed programmes, football, boots, jerseys, photographs from the past. One of my favourites was the photo of 'Victory' or 'Escape to Victory' cast, with Sly Stallone and Mike Summerby, Pele, Bobby Moore etc. I spotted Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni, plus ex City legend Colin Bell, ex Blackburn and England captain Ronnie Clayton with me in the Directors Box.
By half-time it was virtually over. Felipe Caicedo the Ecuadorian scored after 27 minutes, followed by Robinho 7 minutes later and an Elano PK just before the interval. Three Rovers players were booked in the protest over the award of the penalty, which seems par for the course for Sam Allardyce managed clubs. They did get a goal back from Andrews in the 65th minute but it was their 4th away defeat on the trot, lost by a collective score of 12-1. Not good enough Big Sam. The club is for sale, they won't get relegated, but who would want to buy them?
Getting back to town turned out to be a nighmare. I had some of the excellent tea and cakes in the Tudor Lounge to wait for the crowds to disperse then walked to the bus stop. Well, we waited and waited for the bus no 231 and about 150 people joined the line. One finally showed up and we all piled on board until there was double the capacity. I felt like Hillsborough with people on top of each others feet and up the stairs to the top deck.It rocked and those upstairs stamped their feet. I shouted to give me more room for my 5 tier wedding cake in my bag-to no avail!! Anyway, they all started singing. 'Blue Moon', 'Filthy Man Utd and the Pope' , 'I'm City till I Die', 'We all play on a Blue and White Team', and more City songs and chants from a never ending list. We tumbled off back in the middle of the city and into some fresh air.