MANCHESTER – I tapped out at midnight. The same lot had sung "Campeones" straight through since five and while their tone remained impressive -- really, the English do a brilliant job at choral singing -- it was time to go.
The scenes really were remarkable in Manchester Sunday night - not just for what we saw, but what we didn't see. There was a police presence, but there was little of the menace that has historically been associated with soccer crowds in England. Perhaps it was the sense of disbelief that hung over the blue-clad faithful, but even the dejected United fans, tracking glumly back to their homes, shirts in hand, were getting hugs.
In the center of the city, at the Victoria Statue at Piccadilly Gardens, there were a sizable group of fans drinking and celebrating, open container law be damned. The police were keeping a watchful eye on matters but the biggest bit of mischief seemed to involve putting an inflatable version of the trophy into the late Queen's arms. Fans were coming and going in good cheer and the officers had an air of bemusement about the whole thing. "There's been no trouble at all," said one sergeant.
Even the hipster area of the city, all vintage shops and rockabilly hairdos, which seemed at pains yesterday to remove itself from football, couldn't. Those that think sport is too gauche for skinny boys in skinny jeans would be wrong -- there was something charming about seeing a gang of beardos arm in arm with pensioners, singing, "this is what it's like to be City; this is what it's like to be small...Kun Aguero, Kun Aguero, Kun Aguero!" to the tune of Inspiral Carpets' This It How It Feels.
It's hard for Americans to understand just what winning this title means for the long-suffering Citizens. The facts are harsh, but seem more businesslike than illuminating. In the forty-four years since City last won a top-flight title, the Premier League had come into existence, they'd cycled through 29 managers, been down in the third division and were close to bankruptcy and liquidation.
In fact, Manchester City wouldn't even be here today had Matt Busby not turned down City's offer to merge with United in the 1960s.
The emotional history is harder to convey. City has always had more fans in Manchester than United, possibly due to the club's hard-knock history. Many fans wore City shirts declaring that they "watched them when they were s---." After all, despite the polish on this congenial city, it remains a proudly working-class enclave.
City, for all its money, has also managed to avoid a war with its faithful fans over ticket prices - a sharp contrast to their neighbors. They haven't alienated their core with debt servicing and ill-thought-out policies. City's fans are wearing blue - not protest green and gold like United's fans - and while the owners of City might be mega-rich sheikhs, they are far more welcome up north than the wealthy and asset-stripping Americans who own United.
No wonder that City's fans felt like celebrating. They might well have bought themselves a title, but so far, they have managed to keep the faith and the essence of the club. United often feel more like a brand than a team these days, and while there is no discounting their pride or history, the Sky Blues have managed the difficult transition into the modern game well.
Yet even the delighted fans acknowledged that times are changing. City is now a global power, and with that comes global expectations. They will no longer be the little brother of United but a European force of their own. Soon it will become apparent that City is no longer just Manchester's to own and control. How well City's Emirate ownership manages that remains to be seen.
But for now, it is City's day. The sun was out, the streets were clean and even the sober-suited men on the train, heading out to work, had faint smiles as they read the papers this morning. That is what it feels like to be City. They are no longer small.
Tonight, I'm off to Brussels and then from there to Munich, all by train. The Champions League final is next, and your next postcard will come from Bavaria.