When Manchester City qualified for the Champions League final last May, I was asked to write a piece about what it meant to the club’s fans to reach the final of Europe’s premier cup competition after years of near-misses and knockouts.
While I can’t speak for other fans – so much of supporting any club is a unique mixture of the deeply personal and the intensely tribal – I wrote a piece that tried to make sense of the extraordinary journey the club has undertaken since the 2008 takeover transformed its fortunes.
The column ran in the build-up to the Champions League final last May, which ended in defeat for City in Portugal at the hands of Chelsea.
If the match ended in disappointment, I now remember that May weekend for different reasons. Not long after the piece went live an email popped into my inbox from someone called Tim March.
Nothing unusual in that – readers contact The National all the time to offer perspective, feedback and suggestions on our reporting and commentary – except that the sender’s surname was the same as mine and, intriguingly, his given name matched that of my brother, who lives in Singapore.
This was odd, as I had been swapping messages with my brother Tim all day on WhatsApp and had spoken to him minutes before on Zoom as the final approached.
Why had he suddenly switched platforms and sent me an email?
When I opened the email, it turned out this was another Tim March, who I now know is a long-term Sharjah resident and, like me, a City fan.
We, the alternate Tim and I, began a correspondence on that day founded in the first instance on our shared surname, but the more we dug into our own stories, the more we found out that there were connections rooted in experience.
Tim had been brought up watching the same City idols as me – Peter Barnes, Steve MacKenzie, Gary Owen, Trevor Francis and a host of other names familiar to fans of old – glide across the lush turf of Maine Road, the club’s famous old stadium.
And like my own family, Tim’s had been transplanted to Manchester.
The March side of his family moved up to Manchester from London in the early 20th Century. My parents, who met and married in Manchester, found their way to the city by different routes. My mother had moved there as a child from the north-east of England. My father was born in London, but moved to Manchester at the start of his career.
Our families ultimately settled in different parts of the city, Tim’s in north Manchester, mine to the west of the city, although we moved close to London a few years later when my father got a promotion at work.
The football parallels ran deeper than a mutual admiration for Manchester City.
Our conversations over the past few months have involved a lot of discussion about the footballers in our respective families.
Tim’s dad, Stan, was a youth player at Blackburn Rovers, before making his debut for Port Vale and going on to play for Macclesfield.
He was an outstanding youth prospect before injury curtailed his career. Tim tells me that Stan missed out on the chance to play at Wembley with England schools, but did end up touring Germany with a representative side. The two caps Stan earned on that trip remain a cherished family heirloom. He still takes a decent free kick today, by all accounts.
Stan made his league debut against Queens Park Rangers, who my grandfather, Richard “Dicky” March, played for many years before. Dicky went on to represent the club more than 300 times over a distinguished career with the London club.
When he was granted a testimonial by QPR in the 1930s, the match programme praised his judgement, resourcefulness and willingness to work for the team – life attributes that I like to think have been passed down the family tree.
For more than 20 years, Tim March has called the UAE home, working in sports education since 2001. My own branch of the March family arrived in the country in 2008, which mirrors the journey to Manchester that our respective relatives made years ago.
We’d need to dig into family histories to see if there is any genuine ancestral connection, but friendships have been forged before by coincidence and circumstance such as these.
I spoke to Tim this week, prompted perhaps by City being back in Portugal for the Champions League for the first time since that final defeat last May or by Chelsea recently being in Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup.
Tim was back in Manchester when I caught up with him. A breath of sadness tinged our call, as he had returned to the city because his mother had recently passed away.
Very graciously, he was happy to talk, even at such a difficult moment.
“I am sure somewhere there is a connection,” Tim told me, while also saying that he felt my contacting him at this time was another instance of the strange serendipity and chance that courses through our story.
We plan to meet up when he returns to the UAE. Our parallel lives may well soon divert their course.