Ask any Manchester City fan who is Superman and it will not spark a debate over whether Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain or Henry Cavill delivered the more iconic portrayal of the superhero.
The answer will be Stephen Ireland.The reason?An infamous celebration which earnt the Academy graduate the ‘Superman’ nickname and sparked a terrace chant bellowed out when he was lighting up the City midfield between 2007 and 2010.
Ireland is Superman (repeat until hoarse) were the straightforward lyrics to honour a player who had a habit of making the spectacular look remarkably simple.Indeed, the spectacular is rooted in the origins of Ireland’s Superman moniker.It began in November 2007, when the midfielder hit a sweetly struck volley as City beat Sunderland 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium.A superb goal was further committed to memory when the Irishman celebrated by revealing the Superman boxer shorts worn beneath his City kit.“Some people didn’t approve,” Ireland tells mancity.com 13-years later.“A few people called me a disgrace, but luckily the fans jumped on it and started calling me Superman.“I couldn’t have been happier because it was an amazing thing to have with the fans. It was beyond my wildest dreams.”Fortunately for Ireland, the celebration had not been beyond the thoughts of his team-mates.With Martin Petrov as one of the ring leaders, it was the Cork native’s fellow professionals who conceived the big reveal after being taken aback by the superhero inspired underwear.However, but for Ireland’s failure to score in a pre-season friendly, Superman might never have graced the Etihad Stadium.“We were away on a pre-season tour and I had the underpants on, not for any particular reason,” explains the 33-year-old.
“The lads saw them and said: ‘Why are you wearing these!?’
“They made a big deal of turning me around and looking at them and then they said: ‘If you score you have to get these out’. I said OK, but they didn’t believe me.
“When I took them off, they just went in the kit basket and then they found a way back.
“Week by week they just happened to be there. I’d turn up to a game and they’d be there, so I’d put them on.
“It came to that Sunderland game and when I banged the volley in, I turned and no word of a lie, I thought, there is not a hope in hell I’m doing this.
“And then Martin Petrov got in my face so much, I just turned and dropped them. It felt like I was standing there for minutes and I was thinking, what have I done?
“The lads couldn’t believe I’d done it. I’m not the dressing room joker. It was just because the lads said I wouldn’t.
“Looking back now I can’t actually believe it’s me in the photos, me who dropped my shorts in the middle of the Etihad.
“Even now, if I’m at a petrol station I’ll sometimes hear ‘alright Superman’ and it will be a City fan. It is amazing it has stuck so long.”
That it has is largely due to Ireland’s exploits the following season, when his superpowered, all action performances as the beating heart of Mark Hughes’ engine room gave new meaning to the song.
Scoring 13 times and providing the same number of assists, the then 22-year-old was nominated for PFA Young Player of the Year and was recognised by City fans as the Club’s Player of the Year.
There was no shortage of impressive displays.
A 20-yard curling effort saw him net another fine goal against Sunderland, whilst in a 5-1 demolition of Hull, Ireland was directly involved in four of the goals.
Each star showing was greeted with a rendition of Ireland is Superman and the man himself felt it only aided his performance.
“Every time I did something it would trigger the fans to sing the song,” he recalls.
“My brother was in the stand once and had a video of it. It was so loud. I felt so lucky and was so grateful that’s what they thought of me.
“For thousands of fans to chant that for things I’d done on the pitch is so rewarding. It will stay with me forever.
“I get emotional thinking about it. It’s amazing that I got to live and experience that.
“I would go to games knowing they were going to sing that, so that’s what I’d walk out onto the pitch with.
“I was confident, but how could I not be when I had the backing of the fans.
“How could I not perform? It was like being given 50 Red Bulls at once.”