Sports often extend beyond their respective playing field to reach a greater purpose, and that truth shone for a family that has been tied to Manchester City for many years.
A large contingent of New York-based Citizen supporters gathered in Manhattan on Friday evening to honor the late Steve “Jepo” Jepson — a fanatical Man City fan who brought his passion for his boyhood club to the United States in 2007.
Jepo’s long battle with ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — came to a devastating end in December 2017, but his family had the opportunity to receive a tremendous surprise on behalf of his favorite side.
Pauline’s wife, Pauline, and two sons, Ben and Sam, were greeted by many friendly Man City faces at Amity Hall on Friday night, however, there was one warm welcome that the family hadn’t anticipated.
Upon finding their way to a private section in the back of the bar, the Jepson family quickly found themselves pleasantly greeted with chants of “Here’s to you, Vincent Kompany. We love you more than will know.”
Those chants were then followed by the Man City captain himself, one Vincent Kompany.
Pro Soccer Talk caught up with the Belgium defender prior to the event, and discussed the Citizens’ historic 2017/18 season, Kompany’s expectations for Belgium at the World Cup and much more.
PST’s Matt Reed: The club and yourself have been visiting the U.S. on a more regular basis over recent years. Can you just talk about the experiences you’ve had stateside and are you surprised at all by the following that club has in America?
Vincent Kompany: I think we’ve always had a very big, hardcore fanbase, but clearly it was mainly in the UK for many years. I think as people traveled we expanded in that way. But over the years, and I’ve been at the club for 10 years, every single year we come back to America there’s something about the team that seems to catch on with the fans in America. I don’t know what to expect out there, but I just hope to see another confirmation of how well we are doing and how we are connecting with the fans. It’s about creating loyalty.
MR: Man City has been able to participate in the International Champions Cup for several years now. Is the tournament as enjoyable for the players as it is for the supporters?
VK: It’s a weird one because for us we’re in preseason, so we call it friendly games, but in recent years they haven’t been friendly games anymore. We played Tottenham Hotspur, I remember, and it was an intense game. We finished the game, and it felt like we had played a Premier League game. It was meant to be a preseason game, but then we played Real Madrid with 100,000 fans in the Colosseum. There’s another moment in you where you can allow yourself to not make the most of this environment. We play big games and when you fill big stadiums, that competitive drive comes back in and less and less I’d call them friendly games.
MR: Having been at the club for 10 years now, you’ve been involved in several title runs. This one was obviously significantly different than say 2011/12, where it came down to the final day. Taking it into account that City reached 100 points and all the other records your side broke, is this the best team you’ve ever played for?
VK: Yeah, it’s the best team I’ve ever played on. I think the big difference between the first time we won and now was that the first time was bigger for Man City’s recent history because it allowed everything else to happen after that. I think that the title now, in the history of football, is a very meaningful title. It takes it to another level, but nothing could have happened for us the way it did without winning that first title.
MR: There was a lot of stress put on Pep Guardiola when he first arrived in England, and after finishing third last season that sort of carried over to 2017/18. Do you think he’s been hard on himself for not capturing the Champions League, despite all the amazing things your club accomplished this year?
VK: No, unfortunately we’ve been hit by history in this case. We’ve always had difficult games at Anfield. They’ve always given us trouble no matter the situation. They [Liverpool] are just a team that have habitually given us trouble, and we went through a similar event in the FA Cup. We played Wigan, and if you know our history, Wigan is a team that usually kicks us out of the FA Cup. Unfortunately we drew Wigan in the FA Cup and Liverpool in the Champions League, and it just shows that we have to deal with these two fixtures in the future.
Question: This will be your second World Cup with Belgium. There’s going to be greater expectations this time around for your country. How are you guys feeling heading into the tournament?
VK: First of all, for me personally, I will be the player with the least stress. I will have zero percent stress. Everything that I have today is a bonus. I was written off so many times before and I just enjoy training and being there. I enjoy coming into games and training sessions where I can feel that I’m as good, or better than, the players I’m playing against. For me, it’s already won. And at the same time, because I prepare so well, I don’t have worry too much about what’s going to happen on the pitch. Everything takes care of itself.
Question: Do you find yourself watching MLS on a regular basis? And are there any teams in particular you like to watch?
VK: Probably once a week I’ll see a game. I try to watch as many games of New York City as I can, but with the time difference sometimes it’ll be like 2 o’clock in the morning. I’ve seen a few games of LA FC as well because they have a Belgian player, Laurent Ciman. And yes, the level is improving so much.Follow @MattReedFutbol