Manchester City v Queens Park Rangers, 5.30pm
1 September ~ For a brief moment on May 13, 2012 a run-down corner of east Manchester was the happiest place on earth. Displacing Disneyland and, moments earlier, the away end of Sunderland's Stadium of Light, the City of Manchester stadium housed 48,000 people united in delight after unexpected triumph. City's histrionic title win correctly overshadowed QPR's generously bankrolled disaster aversion in the post-match accounts but one of the less remembered aspects of the day is the feeling of goodwill between the two sets of supporters.
A YouTube clip from the away end on that afternoon shows the jubilation after Bolton's relegation was confirmed, sparing QPR, then several fans in hoops shouting "Come on City!" before celebrating Sergio Agüero's winner like it had been scored by Kevin Gallen against Chelsea. Outside afterwards there was mutual backslapping, drunken hugging and optimistic talk that the two sets of supporters would form an Italian-style amicizia, a friendly alliance that is often borne out of epochal moments shared by two teams.
The clubs have a fair amount in common. City's history of high farce is mirrored in London. In recent years QPR have starred in a tragi-comic documentary exposing their ludicrous owners, been knocked out of the FA Cup by Vauxhall Motors and gainfully employed Paul Hart. In the previous most significant game between the two clubs, in 1998, Jamie Pollock generously got City relegated to the third tier in QPR's place with a spectacular own goal. It saw him voted the most important man of the past 2,000 years by mischievous Rangers fans in the early days of the internet.
These days the parallels are like unresolved fables about modern football. City have bought their way to a title that few begrudged them, given the thrilling circumstances. QPR are making enemies with their strategy to buy a dream team from 2005. Frighteningly high-profile names Julio Cesar and Esteban Granero have arrived this week from European giants, joining a squad filled with enough midfielders for around seven Premier League teams.
It is common for one transfer window’s influx to invalidate its predecessor at badly run clubs. In QPR’s case, signings from earlier this window have been rendered a quaint irrelevance by the business they have done recently. In their opening two games the upheaval has been evident. A lack of cohesion and criminally weak spine were torn apart by a rampant Swansea on the opening day and clear vulnerability down the flanks would have been punished by a better team than Norwich during last weekend’s 1-1 draw.
If Rangers arrive in Manchester this teatime with similar openness it will serve as a polite invitation for Roberto Mancini’s side to begin their season in earnest. If they can turn in the sort of illogical performance that saw them beat Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool last season the friendly attitude between the supporters is unlikely to endure and QPR will be able to count City among their growing list of foes. Thom Gibbs