Noel Gallagher, a Manchester City fan who has also done some recording and touring, laughed and told me a story about his kids. His daughter is 21, and until she was 16, he said she believed all Manchester United fans had six toes. When she told him this, he said he looked at her like she was nuts.
“You told me that when I was a child!” she said.
He waited a beat. Rock stars have great timing.
“I’m such a good parent,” he said. “I should do a self-help book.”
Gallagher grew up in a Manchester council flat and could see the lights of City’s old Maine Road stadium from his childhood bedroom window. Selling millions of records with Oasis, and now as a solo act with his band, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, and a new album, “Back The Way We Came: Vol. 1,” coming out soon, he’s become the most visible Man City fan in the world. He’ll be in the stadium on Saturday, in Portugal, for the Champions League final. I said that sounded like fun. He corrected me.
“I’m not sure it’s gonna be a lot of fun,” he said. “The travel arrangements are gonna be quite stressful. And of course the game is gonna be f—ing stressful. These things are not so much fun. They are fun for the neutrals.”
He laughed again.
“One of the great things about being me is I get into f—ing football matches for free,” he said gleefully. “The worst thing is I am very f—ing recognizable as a Manchester City fan. If we lose, I’ll get abuse. People shout at me in the f—ing streets.”
For decades as he grew up, Man City suffered through relegation and losing campaigns while their crosstown rivals, Man United, became the most famous and successful football team in the world. An underdog spirit bound City supporters, who prided themselves on taking punches rather than throwing them, tying them to the grit of the faded factory town roots that still define modern, cool Manchester.
Gallagher grew up to be a rock star and 22 years after he attended his first game at Maine Road, he and Oasis played a sold-out show there. That night for the encore, they played a cover of Slade’s “Cum on Feel the Noize,” an old song full of nostalgia and echoing amplifiers, which had to be what it felt like to stand under lights Noel could once see from his bedroom. They were a band on the edge then, having left behind the safety and limitations of home, out conquering the world.
This is putting words in his mouth a little bit, but it seems fair to say that Gallagher’s love for his club is how he remains connected to his life before fame and money. When he’s watching Man City, it seems, he transforms into a kid who yearned for so many things, and not the adult who got them all. His kids have every advantage in the world, and they won’t ever know the kind of life he knew. But even though they don’t live and die with a football team, he has passed down some essential lessons, beyond the bit about the six toes.
“They’ll hear me screaming and shouting and they’ll come in and say, ‘Dad, are we losing? Yes, we’re f—ing losing … get out!’ The main thing they know is we f—ing hate Man United. I f—ing loathe them. I hate all their players and their s— manager and their s— grounds. They dress like f—ing clowns. They wear the worst shoes. I hate everything about them.”
Gallagher saw a lot of bad football, and he said the worse City got, the more crowded the games seemed to be, as if the fans
That’s not surprising, really, because his crew of 17 has a lot of serious football fans. Once, when Liverpool was losing a Champions League final to Real Madrid, Noel and the High Flying Birds were actually on stage in Scotland. He could see the iPads all around the monitors and guitar racks —
So in the bar in Santiago, he said, the mood was tense. There were fans of lots of clubs on the crew. If Man City won, they won the league. If they lost, United won the league. When City’s Sergio Aguero scored in the last minutes to win the game and the league, Gallagher said he cried. Wept like a baby, was his description. The band hustled to the venue for the sound check and the British ambassador turned up backstage simply to congratulate Gallagher, as if he’d won the game, which in a way he had.