It feels like a lifetime ago since we were able to go to a game of football. And I don't mean the limited capacity games when there was a brief lifting of restrictions in December or (for a very privileged few) the behind-closed-doors matches which are currently being played. I mean since we were able to go to a game, do whatever our quirky pre-match rituals are and hug a random City fan you have seen many times before but never spoken to when yet another academy graduate smashes home a last minute winner.
I miss those days. We all do. There will come a day when they will be back and these strange, football-less days will feel like a distant memory. For now, all we can do is watch along on iFollow and reminisce.
I have been quite lucky in the sense that, as someone who has spent the majority of their City-following life as an exile, I am quite used to following the Grecians from afar over the internet; even in the pre-Twitter days when flip-phones would just display ROT 0-1 EXE. Despite this, I have also been lucky enough to have witnessed most of the big moments in the last 15 years or so, but these football-less times have got me thinking about those games I wish I had been at.
After a lot of reflecting, there are four games I really wish I had been there to witness: The play-off semi final at Oxford, the play-off semi final at Torquay, the final day of the season at Rotherham and Leeds away on the opening day in League One (simply because everyone who went has told me how great the atmosphere was and that the celebrations for Alex Russell's goal were mental).
I was truly surprised when, after reviewing the footage from the games, I found myself realising that the one I would really have loved to have witnessed was the Oxford game. I re-watched the penalty shootout again a few weeks ago and couldn't believe how tense and nervous I felt watching it, even though I knew how enjoyable it would be to watch Chris Zebroski hit the post and Steve Tully's cheeky smile as he turned around to celebrate. I can't even begin to imagine how I actually felt at the time.
My Dad and I were watching along in a small English pub called The Hole in the Wall in Castro Urdiales, somewhere halfway between Bilbao and Santander and about an hour away from home; the nearest bar we knew had Sky Sports and which would show the game. We had met the owner, a Leeds fan, through friends of my parents and knew he would put the game on for us.
I recall watching a good chunk of the game on the small screen above the bar. The locals were watching some other game and, despite our best efforts to convince them how great it would be to watch the mighty Grecians, it was a tough sell to get them to watch fifth division English football. Even though the screen was probably a tiny 12" and in low definition, we still had better visibility some 1,000 miles away from Oxfordshire than the officials, who had somehow disallowed a perfectly valid Lee Phillips goal for offside. I can still remember how little faith my Dad had that we would turn it around when Yemi Odubade somehow squeezed his shot past Martin Rice and me, a dopey 13 year-old with limited footballing knowledge, telling him we still had a chance.
My memory of the actual game is very fuzzy, only really aided by numerous rewatches on YouTube, but Matt Gill's pinpoint cross on the half-volley for Lee Phillip's goal is still vividly etched into my mind - mostly because my Dad repeatedly said that "if Ronaldinho had done that, they would be talking about it for months" some 20-odd times before we travelled to the final against Morecambe. To be fair, it is one of the best assists I can think of in my time following City, bested perhaps only by Craig Woodman's seemingly 200-yard ball through to David Wheeler against Blackpool in the 2018 play off final.
From what I can remember, we watched most of the second half and beyond on the big screen in the bar with the locals; whatever game they had been watching long finished. I'm not sure if it was the sight of two random Brits passionately following a nerve-wracking game or that the match was actually an enthralling affair, but the locals eventually became engrossed in the play off semi final between two teams they'd most likely had never heard of. I don't remember if they stayed long enough to witness the penalty shootout, but they did genuinely cheer when Stanno levelled the tie from an acute angle.
The penalty shootout is also fuzzy in my memory. I do recall my Dad saying it was typical that both usual penalty takers (Billy Jones and Richard Logan) would miss at such a vital moment. When looking back he often says that he thought Logie's miss was City blowing the chance to get to Wembley for the first time in typical City fashion. Thank the footballing gods for Chris Zebroski and Steve Tully.
We went mental - naturally. We were actually going to Wembley. Reaching a play off final might seem like a boring old trope now, but at the time it was a brilliant feeling - the pure joy on my Dad's face, he never thought we would ever play at Wembley. We were still jumping about when we were headed to the car when he realised he would have to tell my Mum we were booking flights to London in a few days' time.
Yes, the trip to Wembley proved to be fruitless and strange - looking at you Paul Tisdale masks and Gemini FM's cover of 'Walk Like an Egyptian' - but that night at the Kassam Stadium is one of the great nights in our club's history. The rollercoaster of emotions my Dad and I felt that night will live with me forever, I just wish we could have gone through it all in person.
What game do you wish you had gone to? Let us know either in the comments below or on social media.