Wednesday, May 9, 2012
This was how it felt to be City
John Brewin, Senior Editor
Champions-elect and deservedly so on the balance of the 2011-12 season, Manchester City are footballing proof that "Money Changes Everything", as Wythenshawe Blue Johnny Marr once entitled a Smiths instrumental. Just don't expect everyone to applaud you when big investment finally pays off.
City were once admired throughout the country for the loyalty of their fans, and the sharp gallows humour displayed at Maine Road.
"If cups were awarded for cock-ups then you would not be able to move in City's boardroom," said Francis Lee some years before he too presided over a regime tainted by high farce.
"Forward with Franny" proclaimed the banners. Downwards with Lee in charge was soon to be the club's trajectory once he assumed control from the hated Peter J Swales in 1993.
In the late 90s, I was an office boy at an ailing insurance company to the south of the Mancunian sprawl. One of the few co-workers who had a PC used a neon screensaver that bellowed "I bloody love Frank Clark". This was the 1997-8 season in which a Clark-led Blues were headed down to the third tier for the first time in their history. Manchester City was that sort of club. The fans were always able to laugh at themselves and their team's plight. The rest of us laughed with them.
Five years ago, a Stuart Pearce-managed City team failed to score a single Premier League goal at Eastlands after New Year's Day. Worse still, a missed penalty in their last home game by Darius Vassell all but handed Manchester United their first title in four years. It was a time when their new home - Eastlands - truly was a "Temple of Doom", as Sir Alex Ferguson once joked.
Now, of course, Ferguson laughs on the other side of his face. "No-one can match City's financial power - no-one," he moaned at the weekend, before making a highly pertinent point about UEFA's probable inability to rein in spending through their Financial Fair Play legislation. The workings of that or otherwise are bound to be a developing newsline over the next few months, but for now, Ferguson is correct to state that an already winning team is bound to be replenished by multi-million-pound augmentation. Eden Hazard looks likely to be just the first of them.
Meanwhile, City fans must accept they are no longer likely to be many people's second-favourite club. The nouveau riche are never quite taken to heart in football, just as in society itself. Just ask Chelsea, admired but never adored. For better or for worse, Manchester City as a club has changed so much as to be unrecognisable.
Of course, City's title is not yet secured. An outbreak of the old City may yet prevent glory though Ferguson is left to look to a former player he fell out with in the mid-90s in Mark Hughes and the perennial example of Devon Loch, the race horse who stumblingly lost the 1956 Grand National having been acres clear. Among those who lost money on the horse were its owner, the Queen Mother, and Ferguson's own father.
Perhaps Ferguson's best chance of his greatest escape yet is Djibril Cisse, the quixotic Frenchman who has either scored or been sent off whenever he was worn a Queen's Park Rangers shirt. We wondered why he celebrated a goal scored that made it QPR's one to Chelsea's six but perhaps he was happy that he now would not have to get himself dismissed.
Djibril, erstwhile Lord of the Manor of Frodsham no less, which is it to be?
As Blackburn Rovers departed the Premier League under a deluge of chicken-derived puns, it became time to acknowledge that their angry fans had been right all along. Steve Kean is not nearly a good enough manager, and Venky's have failed to keep up with any of the lavish promises they made on buying the club in November 2010. A leaked letter from deputy CEO Paul Hunt has served as further confirmation, as if any were needed, of a club on the brink of total disaster.
Fans' protests are too often dismissed by those on the football gravy train. Blackburn's fans were condemned for making their feelings known in as public a forum as they could. Accusations that they were undermining the team would seem to centre around the idea that a football fan is a homogenous simpleton whose role in life is to blindly cheer on the team, come what may.
It was as plain as Kean's face that no amount of his "taking the positives" could hide the true picture. Venky's were not present in any capacity at Ewood Park on Monday and so Kean was left to face the hate mob alone. Yet sympathy cannot be extended to him.
Much has been made of Kean's supposed dignity in adversity. That Kean was a well-paid patsy on a salary far higher than almost all who attend Ewood and has only been too happy to be the mouthpiece for a defective footballing outfit both on and off the field hardly meets the dictionary definition of being dignified.
Now that matchgoers are routinely described as 'customers' then, short of violence, Rovers fans are within their rights to complain. And their ire runs far deeper than receiving poor entertainment for their hard-earned cash. The football club has been a rich source of civic pride to a proud corner of Lancashire that has fallen on hard times since its industrial powerbase was lost. That pride has been damaged - perhaps terminally - by a neglectful absentee landlord.
Should the same ownership, management and playing staff be in situ for next season, then only someone as deluded as Kean's press interviews suggest he is could ever suggest that Rovers will be back in the Premier League any time soon.
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