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City and I: Will Greenwood's life in Blue

In the first of a new series, we speak to famous figures from the world of sport and beyond about their abiding passion for City. First up, is rugby union legend Will Greenwood.

The world may be in union right now with the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan the centre of global attention.

But for England World Cup winner Will Greenwood – a legend of the oval ball game – his own sporting universe revolves around his beloved Manchester City.

A wonderfully gifted centre during his rugby playing days, Greenwood was one of the totems of Sir Clive Woodward’s famed 2003 World Cup-winning side.

Over the course of an illustrious career that took in spells with Harlequins and Leicester Tigers, Greenwood also featured for the British Lions. A fitting honour for a player who personified bravery and whole-hearted commitment to the cause.

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Post retirement, the 46-year-old has further cemented his standing in the game as one of rugby’s most perceptive, thoughtful and witty analysts through his acclaimed roles with Sky Sports and the Daily Telegraph.

Along the way however the one sporting constant that has stayed with him through the decades, through thick and thin – from the back streets of Moss Side to emotion-charged trips to Wembley and the Bernabeu - has been Greenwood’s abiding passion for City.

It’s a relationship that, as Will explains, was forged in his formative years and has been cemented into a lifelong bond that is now ingrained into his very psyche.

 “I grew up in a little village outside Blackburn, but my Uncle Ian and cousin James, who is two years older than I, were both mad City fans and lived in Davenport, Stockport,” Will recalled.

“My old man (former England international Dick Greenwood) played rugby and was away most Saturdays, so I used to go and visit my Uncle and Aunt on Saturdays and if it coincided with a City game, I would go in Uncle Ian’s old clapped out C-class Mercedes.

TRUE BLUES : Will Greenwood in conversation with City legend Paul Lake
TRUE BLUES : Will Greenwood in conversation with City legend Paul Lake

“We’d park in the back streets of Moss Side, pay someone a quid to look after the car and then wander into Maine Road.

“The reality is I only probably went about seven or eight times as a young kid in the 80s but once you’ve been, that’s it – you are stuck with it.

“That’s how it started, and it just carried on from there and following City over the past 30-odd years has given me some of the most incredible moments.”

As his England career took flight, Greenwood had to fit following his beloved Blues around his increasing hectic demands as a player during the late 90 and early 2000s.

But despite his life in rugby’s international front-line, Will never lost his sense of priorities.

“Whenever I finished a Six Nations game or a World Cup game, the first question I always asked in the dressing room was ‘What’s the City score?” Greenwood recalls.

“My England captain Martin Johnson was Liverpool, scrum-half Austin Healey followed Everton, but a lot of the others weren’t necessarily into it like we were.

GLORY BOYS : Will Greenwood and Lawrence Dallaglio with the World Cup during England's 2003 victory parade
GLORY BOYS : Will Greenwood and Lawrence Dallaglio with the World Cup during England's 2003 victory parade

“There was friendly rivalry but, in those years, more often than not it was us that got the kicking!”

His love for City may have put Greenwood in the minority during those halcyon days in the England dressing room.

But the priceless memories he accumulated through City’s ups and downs during those years still burn bright today.

“In terms of favourite memories, I mean seeing us beat Gillingham in the 1999 League One play-off final was just unbelievable… incredible.

“I was there at Wembley that day with my brother Tom and cousin James. At the time I had been out for a year with a groin problem and I thought I would have to give up rugby.

“But suddenly there I was watching City and having one of the great days on my life. For me that whole crowd, especially Paul Dickov and Kevin Horlock, will always be enshrined in immortality.

“What’s happening now wouldn’t be happening if they hadn’t scored those goals that day.

“But looking back City have given me so many special magical memories.

“Watching Shaun Goater come in and shinbone them home most weeks was a joy… it doesn’t matter how they go in as long as they go in!

“Being at the Etihad for the first derby in 2004 where we won 4-1… that was huge with Shaun Wright-Phillips hitting a screamer.

“I was also at Highbury in 2005 when SWP scored an absolute cracker. I was in the Clock End that night with an Arsenal mate and had to sit on my hands. It was the best goal I’d ever seen, and I couldn’t say anything!!

“I also remember going to Anfield on New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago when Wijnaldum scored. We drove five hours up from North London as I wanted my lads to hear ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’

“And then as soon as the first syllables pipe up, three thousand City fans start chanting ‘City, City’, so we never actually heard it!”

However, as would be the case with the overwhelming majority of fellow Blues, for Greenwood one life-changing, iconic moment in City’s history eclipses all others.

So much that Will says being at the Etihad in May 2012 to see us win the most dramatic title race in Premier League history serves as his ultimate sporting moment – even ahead of that dramatic 2003 World Cup win over Australia.

“To be behind the goal when Sergio Aguero scored THAT goal - that was my best-ever moment in sport,” Greenwood declares. “No question.

“You are doing your job when you play rugby. You can’t compare the emotions of being 2-1 down and seeing the clock tick away and then Edin Dzeko scores.

“When we played that World Cup final in Sydney, I didn’t go through the emotions of Australia kicking a penalty to draw level in the dying moments.

“And when Jonny Wilkinson put our winning drop goal over in extra time, we weren’t jumping up and down.

“It was simply: ‘Get back and do the job, the celebrations come later.’

“But as a supporter you live every second, you kick every ball, but you can’t control it. When you’re playing, you just think about the next job.

ICONS : Will catches up with former City captain Vincent Kompany
ICONS : Will catches up with former City captain Vincent Kompany

“So, when I’m old and doddery, that is what Archie and I will talk about. That is why sport is so good. It transcends across families and you get to share those moments that live forever.”

And Will has also ensured that the City torch has been passed onto the next generation with sons Archie and Rocco in particular now lit by the Blue flame.

“Where my kids were born you could see Stamford Bridge from the bedroom window. It was the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital,” Will reveals.

“All my mates were buying me baby grows and mugs with Chelsea on. Safe to say, they are now all in a charity shop somewhere in Wimbledon!

“The kids come to games with me. We came up for the Brighton game recently and it was 11 hours travelling there and back and I said to the lads: ‘Are you sure you want to go?’, and they were adamant – which is brilliant.”

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