My Weekend: Philip Bellamy

Times Online, October 8, 2007

Manchester City has always been there or thereabouts as one of those football clubs that provoke a smile of sympathy rather than a snarl of envy. Despite a venerable history, in recent years City have threatened to do something great, only to flatter to deceive. And then, of course, there is always Manchester’s other team, those pesky Red Devils in whose shadow the Blues have been consigned to live a half-life, one of drama, humour, bathos and pathos, but not a lot of silverware.

Philip Bellamy, the head of property for Manchester law firm Rowlands LLP, knows all about the peculiar fortitude required to be a Manchester City fan. Indeed, the 60-year-old – for 10 years Rowlands’ senior partner – might just qualify as the club’s most ardent supporter. This is a man who has missed just one league game in the last three seasons, who’s barely been absent from the terraces at all for the past 25 years, and whose colleagues, just after he joined the firm in the wake of City’s 1969 1-0 FA Cup victory over Leicester City, decorated his tea mug with sky blue ribbons on the Monday morning following the win.

“I fell in love with the club when I was seven,” says Bellamy, whose father was a Derby County supporter. The old adage that sons follow their father’s teams was turned on its head by the young Bellamy, who went on to convert his father to City, as well as the rest of his family. Indeed, Bellamy even met his wife, Amanda, at Maine Road. “She’s almost as fanatical as me,” he says.

The pair had brief cause to rue their mutual devotion to City 15 minutes into a flight from Southampton airport. Bellamy takes up the story: “There were 15 of us on board a small plane, including Amanda. We’d travelled down to see City play Portsmouth, in what turned out to be David Seaman’s last game of professional football. Despite being 2-1 up at half time, we went on to lose 4-2.” Classic City, I suggest. Bellamy chuckles, but what happened next was no laughing matter.

“A short while after taking off from Southampton airport the plane began to lose height. We could smell burning and it soon became apparent that we had a defective engine. It was very disconcerting for me because I could see into the cabin, where the crew was flicking through a manual.” Happily, all 15 passengers – including the Manchester City board – lived to tell the tale. “The Captain was magnificent. The procedure he followed was to shut down the engine, and luckily we were at the requisite height for him to do this.” Bellamy says that the plane was diverted to Farnborough airport, and that when it landed “there was an almighty cheer.”

So, too, shortly thereafter, a large bar bill. The fortunate 15 were taken to a local pub and ran up a tab of £547.50 by way of stress relief. “The club picked up the bill,” says Bellamy, who himself once entertained ideas of joining the club at board level. However, he opted to retain his fan’s eye view, once which has seen no little drama at Maine Raod over the years and some exceptional footballers. “Bert Trautman, Colin Bell and Georgi Kinkladzi were the best I’ve seen,” says Bellamy.

Bellamy confesses that for some time he was a tortured soul on account of Manchester United’s seemingly exclusive rights to success. When United won the 1969 European Cup Final against Benfica, he confesses that he hid away to avoid knowing anything of the team’s heroics. By the time United had replicated the feat by winning the Champions League in Barcelona in 1999, he was better adjusted. “The golden era of life under Joe Mercer and Malcom Allison changed everything. For six years we went to Old Trafford and beat United on the trot. I almost felt sorry for them.”

Many neutrals felt sorry for the likes of Bellamy when Sven-Goran Eriksson was appointed Manchester City’s manager at the beginning of this season. “I didn’t exactly do cartwheels,” admits Bellamy, who, rather prophetically, posed in 2002 next to the waxwork of Eriksson at Madame Tussauds. But the long-suffering City stalwart has been impressed by the Swede. “I like the way he’s got the team playing passing football and he’s been very impressive so far.”

Should Eriksson continue to deliver the goods, Bellamy might just arrive at work at the end of the season to find his tea mug bedecked in sky blue ribbons. Then again, City might, as so often, throw it all away. In a sense, to the true fan, it matters not. For as Bellamy says: “It’s a relaxation, a release from the rigours of the day job. There’s an appealing madness about the club that’s irresistible.”