This was a new me, a Douglas Elder shorn of his liberal, nervous, over-complicated approach to following football. For one night only, I was to be a Chelsea supporter.
Normally, such a decision would lead to either a suicide or self-denouncement, but Premier League title races are fickle, and as Chelsea have had little interest in this battle for about six months, I decided to tackle head-on all the issues that being a supporter of the fine club involves. Until May or so, I hate Chelsea, but I hate Manchester City more. It's a bit like choosing between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, or - for those who have no interest in politics (Chelsea fans) - Freddie vs. Jason.
I approached the game with a kind of nervous anticipation. I love neutral games as I can watch with the liberated feel of a man who has recently swapped briefs for boxers. I like being able to sit back, knowing that it wouldn't be my team keeping me on the edge of my seat due to a combination of their incompetence, my hyper-activity and my Scottish pessimism. The pressure was in many ways off, but I still had a reason to support a team, and reasons to be strangely optimistic. In recent weeks, Manchester City had forgotten how to play football and Chelsea had done the opposite.
Besides, in the past, every time I wanted Chelsea to lose, they would always seem to pull out a jammy win, so I thought, surely by tricking myself into liking Chelsea, not much bad can happen. Well, my generally deflated demeanour (kicking the cat, slamming the door - and hurting my hand - and only cleaning my teeth for one minute because, at the end of the day, what's the point?) upon arrival at home suggested otherwise. I have been let down by my Chelsea contacts, and it is a strange feeling that I am still pining for a time machine so that they could win tonight's game.
Anyway, after a long wait, the match, dubbed "El Cashico" by people smarter, funnier and lonelier than me, began. The game itself is neither important nor up for much analysis, but it was an OK game...for a neutral...which I wasn't really. Instead of killing time at home, pretending to do coursework or something constructive, I went to the pub (where 83% of Chelsea fans live, so I was getting in character). With little regard for my Manchester United based-heritage, I decided to put away my prawn sandwiches, my camera and my Chinese passport, swapping them for a tattoo, a short back and sides haircut and nonsensical remarks about football and Polish builders.
For about fifty-five minutes, I sat nervously as all those around quaffed their pints, argued about the merits of Fernando Torres' continued existence and showcased general apathy towards the game itself, interrupted by the occasional shout of "Go on Chels" or "Keep the Blue Flag Flying High", both of which make - at best - little sense. Perhaps the race for fourth place is not as absorbing as those at Sky have us believe, spooging at the very mention of it, but the lack of interest was strange. That was at least until Gary Cahill opened the scoring with quite possibly the jammiest goal of all time.
Chelsea, who had struggled to create anything of note until that point, relied on a combination of: set-piece, David Luiz, Cahill and massive deflection. Not that I cared, Chelsea - my team - were ahead and I was going to milk the moment for all it was worth. I was even tempted to shout out a rendition of "Blue is the colour", but I realised that it is a terrible song, which is essentially just a mission statement - "we play in blue, we are called Chelsea, we aim to win". Brilliant.
After the goal, I am sorry to say it, but Chelsea were so, so, so bad. They offered so little in attack and not much more in defence, as wave after wave of City attacks descended upon their goal, like an overpriced, light blue swarm of wasps around David Luiz's stupid, stupid hair.
As well as my attitude to City, another badly-kept secret is that I frigging hate Carlos Tevez, and his introduction served only to raise the temperature some more, so much so that I had to remove my cardigan - a must-have for any Chelsea fan. City's push for an equaliser always looked likely to produce the goods, and so it proved when they were awarded an incredibly dubious penalty. After a corner was half cleared by Petr Cech (when did he get so bad?!), Pablo Zabaleta, a player who will take over from Wes Brown as the worst player to win a Premier League medal should City top the league, fired a shot at Michael Essien. Save from a James Franco-style amputation, there was little the midfielder could do to avoid the shot. Nevertheless, Mike Dean, a referee who has never liked Chelsea, pointed to the spot with not so much conviction, but urgency, with a creepy smile on his disgusting, smug face.
Upon converting the penalty, City pushed more, buoyed on by the shouts of all seven of their raucous supporters. Chelsea continued to show little ambition going forward and inevitably, they were punished. Samir Nasri - a player I hate nearly as much as Tevez - swapped passes with the %^*& Argentine and after losing his marker Frank Lampard - clearly tired after playing his second game in seven days - supplied a neat finish to put City ahead. The Etihad stadium nearly exploded, such was the fiercely moderate reaction of the home fans.
Time of death: 21:35ish.
The duration of my life as a Chelsea fan was an entirely miserable one, as the visitors could not muster the effort or skill to pull themselves level. No-one in the pub seemed to mind, possibly as they had turned their attention to their next fight/hilariously witty comment. I was suddenly a Manchester United fan in a Chelsea pub, and in typically courageous United style, I got the hell out of there.
Hopefully Chelsea become good next season, because I do not want to go through tonight's events again any time soon. I prefer the boring, mundane life of a Manchester United fan, supporting a team not as talented as Chelsea, yet infinitely more competitive.
At the weekend, as they are the next to play my rivals, I will become a Stoke fan. So I will eat nothing but pies, forget how to read and highlight the benefits of a football team which plays rugby. I love football, but boy I hate what I become as a result. Try and make a Chelsea fan support United and you will get the same problem. We fans are all tribal in nature and are prepared to hate our rivals more than we are to love our own team at times.
I'd love to say tonight taught me something new, that being with Chelsea fans in their environment was both eye-opening and enlightening. But it wasn't. You love who you love and hate who you hate, and that's it.
That, sadly, is football.