Man, what a power shift as the world unites behind City
In Manchester the world turned on its axis as City staged a palace coup in the Theatre of Dreams, smashing rivals United 6-1 away from home to take a five point lead in the race for the English Premier League and stake their claim as the new kings of English football.
If you know anything about football, and even if you don’t know anything about football, you’ll know that Manchester United are the biggest soccer club on the planet. Yes, Spain’s Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have hundreds of thousands of members and passionate Latin American support, but since the Premier League’s inception in 1992, no team has won more devotees around the world than the Red Devils.
United’s reputation has been built on sustained footballing excellence, millions of pounds of match day revenue, and the simple human desire of fans around the world to back a winner. Or shameless glory-hunting as it is otherwise known.
In Sydney, Melbourne, Bangkok and New York, Manchester United supporters around the world woke this morning with the hangover from hell.
Yesterday, at their “Fortress Old Trafford” citadel, where they had only lost to City once in 37 years, they were brutally, ruthlessly, quite magnificently put to the sword, destroyed 6-1 in their biggest defeat in Premier League history: their worse loss to City since 1926.
Does it hurt? I sure as hell hope so. For I am a City fan, a proud Blue, “City Till I Die” as our song goes, and today I am walking on air. As a City fan I think this epic 6-1 Derby Demolition of our cross-city rivals is a massive story in world sport.
I grew up in Edinburgh, passionately following Heart of Midlothian, while most boys in my class followed one of Glasgow’s Old Firm. Why? Because they won things. In 1986 Hearts led the league for months until the last day of the season, only to be pipped on the last day of the season by an agonising sequence of events they saw Hearts lose 2-0 at Dundee and Celtic win by the necessary 5-0 margin to take the title on goal difference.
Did it hurt? It hurt like hell. But that’s sport. You win some, and if you’re me, you lose lots. To compound my misery, the next week Hearts went to Glasgow for the Scottish Cup Final and Aberdeen, managed by a certain Alex Ferguson, crushed my dreams again 3-0. 1986 was a bad year.
In 1992 I arrived in Manchester to study, but mainly to dance in the Hacienda, then the Wembley Stadium of dance music and Ecstasy culture. Looking for a live football fix, to my eternal shame I visited Old Trafford before Maine Road. To my credit, I did not succumb to the red malaise.
Standing in the pub, watching the Premiership every week, I could not understand how so many of my fellow students, mostly from London or the Home Counties, were supporting Manchester United. What was wrong with Arsenal, Tottenham or Chelsea, or Watford, Reading or Gillingham?
These fickle fans were obviously glory hunters, lured to support United by the scent of victory, and as mercurial as their hero Eric Cantona, chasing the money and glory from club to club. Most of them probably supported Liverpool FC in the 1980s before moving on to the coming red force.
Eventually, on March 7, 1993, my love affair with Manchester City began. I spent £50 on a scalped ticket to watch City lose 4-2 to Tottenham in the FA Cup Quarter Final. We lost, but with incredible on-field drama and police horses having to clear a pitch invasion, it was the most exciting game I had ever seen.
Since that fateful day, I have suffered occasional highs and many lows. For years City were the quintessential yo-yo club, barely spending a year in the same division before relegation or promotion. Instability was guaranteed and the managerial door never stopped swinging, with 14 different gaffers taking the helm. “Cityitis”, Manchester City’s unerring ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, entered football folklore.
And through it all, across town, Manchester United were winning titles and European Cups. It hurt.
I spent thousands and thousands of pounds watching City struggle through grey, miserable winters at some of the grimmest grounds in England, from Grimsby to Huddersfield, Gillingham to Hell: it was hell.
Under the swashbuckling Kevin Keegan my team eventually found football fun again, winning the old second division and returning to the Premier League. Then our first foreign manager, the Swedish lothario and former England boss Sven-Göran Eriksson, whose short tenancy coincided with the purchase of the club by Thaksin Shinawatra, the deposed former Prime Minister of Thailand, and a thoroughly dodgy geezer.
And through all this turbulence, Manchester United’s global appeal deepened as their stock priced soared.
In 2006, United were taken over by American Malcolm Glazer in a highly leveraged deal that left the club with debts of £716 million and interest repayments today totalling approximately £45 million per annum.
Meanwhile, out of nowhere, in August 2008 City were bought by a private equity company owned by Sheikh Mansour of the Abu Dhabi royal family, whose Emirate sits on decades of as yet untapped oil revenue.
In a marvellous reversal of the status quo, United have struggled to hold on to their best assets over recent seasons, while City have spent hundreds of millions building a side able to compete with Europe’s best.
Last season, City beat United in the semi-final of the FA Cup, going on to win the final and our first trophy in 35 years. Today there is a massive amount of schadenfreude revelling in the vanquishing of our neighbour. United are massively in debt, City are the wealthiest club in world football.
Yes our success is fuelled by Abu Dhabi’s petrodollars: but without such a cash injection we would never have caught up with the biggest clubs, however passionate and loyal our supporters. Are such financial injections bad for football? Only if they’re not happening to your club.
And our supporters are so very, very loyal. As another song goes, “we’re the only football team to come from Manchester.”
While United’s Old Trafford ground sits in the nearby City of Salford, and the club’s match day supporters include tens of thousands of glory hunters from across England and the world, City’s stadium, like the vast majority of our fans, lives proudly within the city limits.
As soon as it is released I will be buying Man City’s new DVD “Can We Play You Every Week?” and watching it, on repeat, for the rest of my life.
The sight of Sir Alex, the most successful manager in English football history, being serenaded with “you’re getting sacked in the morning” by his boisterous, hitherto easily dismissed “noisy neighbours” will live with me forever.
City fans have a song, first sung in the dark days of the late 90s when we playing in the third tier of English football: “Just like the fans that follow the Invisible Man, we’re not really here.” Well, today, we really are here.
The ground is shifting, an era is ending. The Blue Army is on the march.
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