Regular commuters on the tram to Ashton got a shock a few weeks ago as they approached the Etihad.
As most were looking at their phones to pass the time, one man could not help but yell with excitement as his eyes came across the stadium that he only ever thought he would see on Google Earth. Menzi Percy Khuzwayo already felt his 14,000-km, 22-hour journey to see his beloved Manchester City was worth it from that moment, and things got even better over the two weeks that followed.
Menzi’s love for City goes back not to a significant moment in their history but a key one in his: as a teenager, having watched the 2010 World Cup and adored David Silva in the winning Spain team, the software developer finally found enough money to be able to watch European football. If that wasn’t enough, a year later City signed a player who shared a name with what one of his friends was known as – [Edin] Dzeko – and the rest was history.
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From then on, Menzi has followed City from afar, watching any game he could afford on TV and keeping up to date any way he could through social media. They aren’t the only team he likes – there is Barcelona in La Liga, Juventus in Serie A – but as far as the Premier League goes it has always been City because of Silva.
Supporting a football club comes in many forms and City’s core fanbase is traditionally working-class, local and loyal; despite the ever-increasing cost of living in the UK, there are thousands of Blues who will not have thought twice about paying out on a second trip to Madrid in a few weeks after Real followed Atletico in the Champions League.
Much has been made of the importance of fans in football after they were prohibited from attending matches for over a season as a result of the pandemic, but what about the connection for those who may never see the team in real life? Coming from a small, rural town 90 minutes north-east of Durban called KwaSwayimane Estezi, it is a question Menzi has been asked before.
“That’s a thing you would get teased about in South Africa,” he said. “The moment people think you are too involved in European football, they tell you that you won’t see these players so what is the point when you can watch South African football?
“My biggest response would be that you love your Beyonces and Jay Zs even though you don’t see them so football is the same for me – I love the Kompanys, the Agueros. I can’t see them but I feel happy when they play and that passion that I have for the team is real. I still want the team to win, I just can’t give them the support in person.
“Spurs came to South Africa and United came [for friendlies] so I thought City would come but I always thought that one day if it was meant to be it would happen.
“As much as I haven’t been able to watch them regularly because of the cost, you get glued from what you see and want to watch more and more. My family questioned why I would spend money on it at first because they are not in football that much but now I have posted so much about them that my sister loves Raheem Sterling!”
As happy as he would have been to continue supporting from afar, the brand of football that Pep Guardiola brought to City made Menzi’s mind up that he had to see them up close, and in 2019 he started saving for a trip to Manchester. Last month, he arrived for a fortnight that would turn his dreams into reality.
After getting off the tram at the Etihad complete with two big suitcases, he was so excited that he managed to pose for a picture outside of the stadium with his South African flag upside down. He returned to the stadium that day after dumping his bags, and would go there 13 times over 14 days.
Having already bought a ticket for the Brighton game, Menzi also managed to see Watford, City Women’s clash with Leicester and – most thrillingly of all – the Real Madrid blockbuster. But just as exciting for him were the non-matchdays, when he went to the academy complex to wait for a glimpse of the squad coming out of training.
“The Real game was the highlight out of everything, but then the happiest moment was seeing the players live [after training]. Phil [Foden] actually signed the small South African flag I had. When I saw Phil, I could faint because I was so happy.
“I couldn’t believe it. I took so many identical pictures, I was looking back and thinking these are all duplicates!” he said. “I was just so excited, I thought ‘I have been with Foden! Phil Foden!’
“It’s been epic. I’ve been happy for the whole time I’ve been here.”
For all some supporters at other clubs may sneer at someone being able to come over from South Africa and buy a ticket for the Real Madrid game, there can be no doubting the commitment of somebody undertaking such expense in time and money to come and see the team he has followed from afar up close. Menzi was welcomed by all the fans he attended games with, and – having only told his family before setting off – his trip picked up more and more attention as he posted his activities online.
There were friends claiming he must have Photoshopped pictures with players, there were messages from his community back home and further afield asking how he had arranged his trip as they began to formulate a similar plan.
“My friends didn’t believe it until I went to a stadium for a live game and on social media,” he said. “I didn’t expect so much reaction. What | have taken from all of it is I have inspired more South Africans. Now they see the possibility that they can do it. They want to experience this. Even people I’ve never interacted with before who are some of the most well-known in South Africa were congratulating me and telling me they want to do it one day.
“They were just overwhelmed by the news because no-one thought that a normal guy would be overseas just for soccer, it is insane to them that someone could save such an amount and do it.
After returning home last week, Menzi will be watching the Real Madrid game on Wednesday just like many other Blues around the world. And after showing what could be done without needing any help, he will likely not be the only supporter plotting their next dream trip to watch City in action.
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