In my previous job as the north west Football League reporter for Press Association Sport, I anticipated covering a glorious season of promotion-chasing in the Championship last year as Blackburn and Bolton joined 2011/12's beaten play-off finalists Blackpool in the second tier. Champagne-soaked May afternoons and trips to Wembley (very much the Holy Grail after risking hypothermia on sub-zero nights at Boundary Park and Bloomfield Road) surely lay in wait.
Alas, Blackpool's flying start degenerated into a managerial merry-go-round and lower mid-table mediocrity after Ian Holloway decamped to Crystal Palace with an air of enigmatic disinterest; Blackburn provided more of a tragic-comic flying circus under Venky's bewildering attempts at football ownership and Bolton fell just short in a belated play-off push having initially adapted to the Championship's choppier waters with all the effectiveness of a kayak in a tsunami.
For the second successive campaign, Crewe Alexandra did the honours of providing my Wembley jolly - a turn of events I found no less surprising last time around despite all the evidence of Steve Davis' incisive management and the latest golden era of the Railwaymen's wonderful youth production line.
But I wasn't only wildly off the mark professionally last term. Having taken in most of Manchester City's pre-season friendlies, I was convinced Roberto Mancini's bold experiments with variations of 3-5-2 were the way forward, addressing the lack of width and penetration that threatened to suffocate the title triumph earlier in the year. So what if none of the summer's major transfer targets had arrived? This group of champions would go from strength to strength under a strong leader who was ready to stuff the Eastland's trophy cabinet.
It is now near enough indisputable that the fault lines which so brutally undermined City's title defence began to open this time last year. Manuel Pellegrini and his newly installed staff evidently striving to avert such errors is perhaps as good a reason as any for the clear sense of optimism surrounding the blue half of Manchester - something that seemed very unlikely indeed when sifting through the shambles and holistic hand-wringing of three months ago.
Quietly, efficiently and - perhaps most importantly - with plenty of bedding-in time to spare, Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic were acquired with a minimum of fuss to address clear deficiencies within a first-team squad that now takes on a wholly more balanced look. Although Fernandinho must contribute significantly to justify an outlay of £30million on a 28-year-old midfielder seldom capped by his country (a lengthy period playing in Eastern Europe does much to explain the latter gripe), the other three showpiece signings broadly represent value for money purchases and, as such, should be afforded the necessary time to adapt to the vagaries of Premier League football.
Talk of value for money within a £90million close-season spree will inevitably provoke howls of derision and accusations of being lavished one too many times by lusty swipes of Sheikh Mansour's oil-soaked cheque book. However, Negredo is a case in point.
The Spain international striker boasts a goal-record to compare with any of Europe's leading marksmen over the past two seasons, owns a muscular style in-tune with the demands of the Premier League that was so ably showcased by his pre-season strikes against Bayern Munich and Arsenal and comes in at around two-fifths of the money spent on Edinson Cavani and Falcao - both reported City targets - by Paris Saint Germain and Monaco.
Meanwhile, Manchester United are busy publicly failing to secure major transfer targets and lack significant additions to a title-winning squad - remind you of anyone? Also, the on-going wrangling between United and Chelsea, while Wayne Rooney gathers up his scattered rattle, toys and dummy, can only offer encouragement to City supporters as Jose Mourinho and David Moyes settle into surroundings respectively familiar and less so.
But what of those City players already in place, whose deplorable display somewhere in between apathy and mutiny in the FA Cup final loss to Wigan left such a bitter taste?
After appearing to knife a largely popular manager in the back, it may take a little while to fully renew the ties that bind supporters to those they wish to call heroes. At the same time, it cannot be ignored that Mancini's popularity on the terraces was far from mirrored in the dressing room.
The flawed wisdom of backing a playing squad by sacking a manager who displeased them may still come back to haunt City's hierarchy, but the initial signs are undeniably good. Most notably, Vincent Kompany appears free of the scowling funk that was omnipresent as last term turned sour and Pellegrini's efforts in piecing together Edin Dzeko's fragile confidence stand as a definitive early triumph.
Dzeko's free-scoring pre-season form - complete with screaming volleys against Sunderland and AC Milan - bears the hallmarks of a player enjoying an arm around the shoulder as opposed to a clip around the ear.
Pellegrini's high-pressing style has found a predictable ally in James Milner and, during a tireless, all-action display versus Bayern, the England international demonstrated he can be the iron lung beneath City's velvet exterior. Fans and pundits will crave the silky skills of Navas and Jovetic from the off but, if City are to enjoy a flyer, the dependable, non-nonsense Leeds lad shall have a significant role to play.
Milner will not be the only one churning up extra blades of grass if reports of Pellegrini's strength and conditioning sessions are anything to go by. "Brutal" was Jack Rodwell's assessment, although his subsequent lack of hamstring injuries at least suggests they are along the right lines.
A leaner, meaner City in 2013/14 is an absolute must. Even in some of the most convincing performances from the second half of last season - the FA Cup semi-final triumph over Chelsea stands as a prime example - the drop in intensity towards the end of games was a serious cause for concern. The ratio between Yaya Toure's lung-bursting runs and grazing periods needs to fall back in favour of the former.
Kompany was far from concerned by last Saturday's 3-1 loss to Arsenal in Helsinki, instead speaking with enthusiasm regarding a week of intensive fitness work preceding the match. The captain took solace, not uncertainty, from City appearing like a boxer who left it all in the gym before fight night.
Perhaps he was just bluffing as much of the rest of them in pre-season's extended poker play; only the months ahead can reveal how the cards were dealt. For what it's worth, I see City starting their new era impressively and benefitting from a relatively gentle start (September’s home derby aside) to the league campaign by getting plenty of early points on the board.
A situation similar to Luis Felipe Scolari's ill-fated campaign at Chelsea could play out as the days shorten and opponents become familiar with a scheming foreign manager's initially successful attempts to negotiate the Premier League.
However, it seems clear Pellegrini possesses the cool head and solid temperament to negotiate the sticky period when it inevitably arrives. From there, City must hope they are well-placed for the race to the line, with United and Chelsea sure to be in close attendance.
So, diving into the mugs' game and thudding a tin hat onto my scalp, I predict City will regain the Premier League title in this most unpredictable of Premier League seasons, based on their impressively assured summer work as the top of the division lies in a state of potential flux. And the Championship? Bolton, obviously, but only after Crewe knock them out of the FA Cup. Once bitten...
Now then, now then, now then, then now, come on...enough already! The battery of press attacks against Manchester City over the last few days has reached a fever pitch. But this is a good thing. A very good thing.
Blues enthusiasm hit rock bottom for the season after the Sunderland game and it became open season for reporters, many of whom had been sharpening their knives all season long waiting for this moment. Licking their lips, they had the articles primed and ready, all their sad headline-writers had to do was come up with some predictable pap of a banner and they could hit send.
This is perfect timing. Not only is Mancini under fire but stories abound on much of the team, the perfect tonic to unite the dressing room. Crisis at the Etihad, panic, Mancini to be sacked, get the army helmets out and dig in because this is one of the worst seasons I can remember for a long time. We broke the Premier League record with 20 consecutive home wins after the incredible comeback at Chelsea - you know what these really are dark days indeed.
I was most struck in midweek by one of the laziest articles I've ever seen written in a newspaper. Struck because my reaction to it would have been much more angry in days gone by. Instead, I felt a feeling of elation as Chief Football Writer of London's main daily was reduced to 'gutter press' status with his weak and feeble cheap shot.
"City are a ridiculous club," was his opening gambit in his tirade against the Blues on 4th April (article here). No but hang on. It gets better. "Having been willing to sacrifice most conventional football principles in a desperate and often ugly pursuit of silverware, they made their fast-tracked assault on the game’s elite all about the winning."
And you thought that was bad? "At a time when football is finally realising its general approach to financial management is utterly unsustainable, City’s largesse is grotesque if unaccompanied by any deeper philosophy or commitment to win in the right way and exhibiting a strong moral compass."
Now we're in tears laughing are we not?! This is extraordinary! A London-based Chief Football Correspondent entering into the world of morals, philosophy, and life navigation. Is this a covert application for Martin Samuel's job at the Daily Mail?! You'll never get it James, he's too good!
Manchester City's owners have exhibited humility, kept their wealth well under wraps in Manchester, and as the country recovers from being on its knees they are busy planning an urban regeneration that is bigger than any government project in the area. Job creation, positive growth, a long-term commitment to a local community, a long-term commitment to a proud football club. There's plenty more deeper James, if you had bothered to dig that deep.
Mark Ogden reminded us this morning that he doesn't write the headlines. A closer inspection of his article that led with the headline, "Is it all getting too much for Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini" revealed a balanced article written by someone who could be bothered to recall his memory of Mancini's past efforts.
But if London's evening daily could only produce empty fag packets, then Manchester's daily didn't do much better. After much speculation about the front page headline, we were left to consider for what seemed like an eternally long nano-second how bad builders can occasionally be (article link). How very dull.
The best thing about this "exclusive" was that it was attributed to three MEN writers. It took three of them?!
What does all of this tell you about Manchester City in this moment? That we're good.
Good enough to win the title? As Buzzer said earlier today, "it ain't over till the fat lady sings."
All the best,
Manchester City are set to meet the 60 year old fan who finds himself at the centre of a storm that threatens to jeopardize the extensive supporter engagement efforts made by the club since ownership changed hands just over three years ago.
The club will hope that an investigation into the ejection of an older fan, at the match against Aston Villa on Saturday 15th October, will help to calm tensions around the perimeter of the singing sections at the Etihad stadium ahead of the next home game against Wolves on Saturday 29th October.
Mario Balotelli scored a fantastic opener in Manchester City's match against Aston Villa , only for events off-the-pitch in the East Stand at the Etihad Stadium to interrupt the flow of play shortly afterwards.
For it was shortly after the goal was scored that stewards, working for the stewarding company Showsec, took the decision to eject a 60 year old man in line with the club's policy on persistent standing.
In a heartbeat, one older supporter found himself at the centre of a growing tension between supporters and stewards that has its roots in Manchester City's well-intentioned attempts to improve the atmosphere at the stadium through the creation of a singing section.
Shocking YouTube video footage appears to show that it was the actions of one steward in particular that triggered the emotional reaction of surrounding supporters who rallied to the older fan's cause.
NB: This video contains strong language and is not suitable for viewing by minors or in an office environment
After the decision is made to eject the older supporter, he is heard saying,”I've done nothing wrong, why are you screaming at me?” All whilst being man-handled by a policeman and a steward.
The video then becomes unclear due to the growing disturbance in the crowd. When the video returns to the suppporter he is then heard saying,“I take 5 tables a day for heart problems.”
Promptly after revealing his condition, a steward that appears to have been observing the incident from further away, decides to climb over several seats in an escalation of the incident that sees the older fan dragged away from his seat.
The video closes with a disturbing image of the man lying on the ground at the front of block 109, as police and stewards stand in a circle seemingly unsure of what to do next other than wait for medical staff to arrive.
In a statement sent to MCFCfans by Greater Manchester Police, Chief Superintendent Gerry Donnellan said: "Just before half time during the match between Manchester City and Aston Villa, club stewards and security requested the assistance of GMP as, in line with their rules, they were asking a man in the crowd to leave the ground because he refused to sit down.
"Officers only assist if there is a breach of the peace or if there is a likelihood of a breach of the peace occurring and in this case there was one; stewards were struggling with the man and other people in the crowd.
"The man was arrested on suspicion of causing a breach of the peace, but de-arrested when the breach of the peace had ceased.
"He was seen to collapse and paramedics attended, where he was given a clean bill of health.
"Two men were arrested on suspicion of common assault after incidents with stewards. One was later charged and one was given a Fixed Penalty Notice.
"The force's Professional Standards Branch has received a complaint from a third party and will respond in the appropriate fashion in due course."
At this stage it is not known who has lodged the complaint to the police following the incident. Based on anecdotal evidence, there are many possible complainants due to the fracas that took place as a result of the incident.
The incident requires a full and transparent investigation backed by the courage to act
The uproar after the incident was unprecedented in recent times at the club. The club, already engaged in a variety of other public relations matters, was deluged with letters and calls from irate supporters.
Immediately after the incident, MCFCfans called for an investigation into the matter that was picked up by the natiional press (Guardian article). The club promptly confirmed that an investigation would take place and communicating to MCFCfans issued this statement, “The Club have invited both the older fan and a FSF representative to discuss the matter in person and the meeting will take place in the coming days.”
The Football Supporters Federation, known for tirelessly following up incidents of this nature and in support of more vulnerable supporters, stated to MCFCfans,“We welcome the club’s decision to investigate the incident in Block 109 during the Aston Villa game and to interview the supporter involved. We would be happy to assist in that process in any way which would be helpful to the parties.”
MCFCfans understands that the older fan has accepted the offer of a FSF representative to be present at the meeting with the club, something that may go some way to re-assuring all supporters that a fair hearing will take place.
So far so good, and the club deserves to be given the opportunity to investigate the matter fully.
The incident raises many questions. The questions that are consistently raised by witnesses to the incident are:
- Why was an older, apparently vulnerable, fan chosen for ejection, whilst so many other fans standing around him and on the same row were also presumably eligible for ejection? What process is in place to decide who is ejected?
- Once the older fan had highlighted his heart condition, why was the incident escalated by the lone steward? What training and procedures are in place in such a situation to ensure that vulnerable fans with medical conditions are treated with care?
The investigation at the very least should provide re-assurance to supporters that there are processes in place, checks and balances, incident reviews, learning and re-training, governance that involves senior club officials outside the seemingly closed circle of stadium security and its contracted stewarding company Showsec.
In short, could the incident have been handled differently?
Showsec for their part confirmed that they are co-operating fully with the investigation involving their client Manchester City, but were unable to comment specifically on the details concerning the ejection.
Thoughts will turn to the long-term solutions...
The current investigation should rightly focus on the specific circumstances surrounding the older fan. But this is unlikely to solve the problem of block 109.
Peter Fletcher, the club's Stadium Security and Safety Manager, finds himself in the unenviable position of attempting to balance club policy, ground regulations, licensing laws, and supporter safety.
It doesn't take long perusing supporter forums to know that Mr.Fletcher is not altogether popular, in particular with fans seated in the singing areas and adjacent blocks.
But it was presumably him that gave his blessing to the singing sections in the first place. So does he now find himself in a no-win situation?
The club's statement went on to state, “More generally, whilst the Club has adopted a collaborative approach with fans wishing to stand in certain areas, it remains the case that persistent standing within Blocks 109 and 119, which border the singing section, remains contrary to the policy for this season, a fact which was clearly communicated by letter to supporters in those areas prior to the first game of the season.
The Club continually review policy and procedure across all areas, as is the case following this incident. We will also be seeking to gauge the views of fans adjacent to the singing stand in the coming days and weeks to assist with planning for next and future seasons."
The statement shows a genuine desire by the club to engage with supporters to find long-term solutions for the singing sections and areas around them.
The FSF, knowing the history behind block 109 can play a vital role and went on to confirm their involvement to MCFCfans, “We have arranged to meet the Club next month to discuss a range of issues related to standing at the Etihad Stadium and the Club’s approach to this. We welcome the Club’s willingness to meet and note that the introduction of the singing area is a more progressive approach to this issue than is the case at some other clubs. However, there are clearly issues to be addressed relating to the management of standing in adjacent areas.”
It could now be said that leadership by the club needs to be matched by leadership from the fans. The FSF can fill some of this role, but perhaps the club also needs to find other ways of bridging the gap between the 'men in suits' and the supporter in the stand by inviting willing volunteers and supporters representatives to the debate.
One fan in block 109 did take a lead recently when carrying out a survey of 100 fans in block 109. The survey revealed that 90% in the block wanted to stand/sing all game, 8% during moments of excitement, and 1.2% wanted to be seated.
Many supporters may say a conclusive result, but those who wish to be seated will still wish to be heard.
As far as all parties in the debate are concerned, actions will speak louder than words.
Is Safe Standing the future?
It's ironic that all of this should take place so recently after the Hillsbough debate in the House of Commons.
The FSF's Safe Standing campaign is one of the recognised national attempts to solve the wider issue, which in their words can be summarised as,”It is clear that many supporters have a strong desire to stand.” The campaign, officially supported by The Liberal Democrats, states, “The FSF believes that football supporters should have the choice to stand in a Safe Standing area, if they so wish. Stadiums would retain seated accommodation for those who wished to sit.”
Do you support Safe Standing?
What is your view on City's singing section and where it should be located?
And have you been impacted by the persisent standing policy?
Mario Balotelli scored a fantastic opener against Aston Villa on Saturday, only for the game to take a twist off the pitch that is only now becoming clear. As City looked to build on their 1-0 advantage, the flow on the pitch was lost as fans around the ground became concerned at events taking place in the East Stand
Speculation abounded in other parts of the Etihad stadium that a stray away fan may have been identified and held responsible for the activity, which prompted a number of stewards and police officers to surround block 109 in the East Stand.
Footage released on YouTube was the first shocking indication that the incident was actually completely avoidable. An older fan, complaining of a heart condition, appears to be singled out as part of the ongoing standing debate at the club.
The reaction of Manchester City and Showsec, the stewarding company, so far is alarming. The Manchester Evening News reported a City spokesman as saying, “A supporter who was persistently standing was politely asked to sit down by stewards, following complaints from supporters. After refusing to co-operate with the stewards, the police intervened to help eject the man.
"The man refused to leave, prompting a small number of surrounding supporters to become aggressive to both the stewards and the police. The man in question was evicted and a further two men were arrested for assault."
This response masks a much deeper suspicion that has angered fans as to the apparent singling out of an older, apparently vulnerable, City fan who has no doubt been a life-long supporter of the club through thick and thin.
Showsec have issued the following statement, “Showsec’s operational role at Manchester City Football Club falls within the club’s match day operation. In this instance we were directed by the club to eject a supporter for persistent standing, which contravenes the ground regulations and followed repeated complaints from other supporters in the area.
The ejection was carried out in line with the club’s policy and upon the gentleman’s refusal to leave the ground we requested the support of Greater Manchester Police in order complete the process. The company will continue to support the policies of the club and any eschewing investigations.”
This statement does at least confirm that it was the Club that sanctioned the ejection of this supporter.
So the following questions must be answered:
what was the process followed that led to the singling out of an older, vulnerable, fan from the ground when so many others in the block and in the away end were also standing? what records are kept of such decisions and what governance is in place to review them at board level?
what communications took place between the control room and the stewards in the block before, during, and after the incident, especially once the fan had advised his heart condition?
what investigations are now underway at the club in order to give all parties a fair hearing in this matter?
The Football Supporters Federation (FSF) confirmed to MCFCfans that they have been deluged with phone calls, e-mails, and contact from angry fans since the incident. The FSF chairman is now likely to take up an earlier offer to meet the club, and fans can provide Amanda Jacks, who deals with Policing & Stewarding with statements if they witnessed what happened (contact details avaialble on the FSF website here), anonymously if requested.,
We can only hope that the discontent generated by this shocking incident do not spill over into tomorrow evening with its special singing stand arrangements. With the world watching, all supporters would be well-advised to rise above it and enjoy the game tomorrow night in the knowledge that formal representations are clearly being made on behalf of the fans.
Sergio Aguero became Manchester City’s club record signing and emerged after signing his contract to an excited crowd of supporters at the Etihad stadium yesterday. MCFCfans caught the mood with exclusive footage of Kun making a point of dealing with every single request from fans to sign autographs and take pictures, with two delightful junior Blues over the moon at securing his signature.
Sergio has his picture taken with a junior Blue
City fans demonstrated their excellent command of Spanish, though Sergio was clearly briefed to not respond to questions. However, when City fan Norman Burkitt asked,"how are you?" in Spanish, a smiling Sergio replied, "bien!" Life-long City fan Burkitt is now on his way to Dublin hoping to see Sergio play for the first time in a City shirt, whilst his daughter Jasmine appears in the BBC3 documentary series,"Small Teen Bigger World," on Monday at 9pm.
Aguero remarked on his Twitter feed some last night,"I'm already a City player. I'm happy to be in this club and in this town. Thank you all for the welcome and the reception!!!"
Comment below with your ideas for a Kun chant !!
Produced by Kirsty Malcolm for MCFCfans
Sergio Aguero has become become Manchester City’s club record signing and arrived to an ever-growing crowd of supporters at the Etihad stadium today. The deal is believed to be worth in excess of £35 million in order to trigger the release clause in his contract with Atletico Madrid, which spares the Madrid side the potential embarrassment that would have followed any move to Real.
Supporters began gathering at the Etihad stadium from the moment Twitter feeds began reporting his arrival at London’s Heathrow airport today. A medical was followed by further meetings and negotiations, before a smiling Sergio Aguero emerged from the City @ Home building to make his way to the Colin Bell Stand.
Sergio happily signs for two very happy junior Blues
There he made a specific point of dealing with every single photo and autograph request from the waiting fans over a period of half an hour or so, a true gentleman.
So what do we know about the 23 year old “Kun” from Argentina? Born into a large and poor family, he’s a prolific goalscoarer with arguably more of a killer instinct for goal than Carlos Tevez, albeit with a weaker shot, having scored 74 goals in 174 appearances at Atletico.
He is a loyal player and still loves his first home club Independiente, a club that stands to benefit from a slice of the transfer fee and where he has a lifetime box.
Off the pitch he is the husband of Giannina Maradona, the youngest daughter of Diego Maradona. It is likely that City, with the future so rooted in youth development, will keep an eye on his son Benjamin. Just two years old, the young man is reported to be an extraordinary talent with the round ball himself. Kun is also reported to be very close friends with a certain Lionel Messi.
His English is unlikely to be much better than Tevez, but with British Airways now offering a direct flight from London to Buenos Aires, who knows maybe Carlos, Kun and Pablo can fly back and forward together in order to get around the homesickness clause that may well have been included at Mancini’s insistence!
All eyes now on his first appearance....and what will his chant be?!
From planking to scoring - SWP is making his mark
Manchester City ventured into Vancouver for the second match of their US tour, a match that only went ahead following the herculean efforts of Vancouver Whitecaps staff and fans who spent hours clearing the Empire Field pitch of water following a deluge over the weekend. Paul Barber, Whitecaps CEO, explained in an interview on Team 1040 radio in Vancouver that the club had probably sold the city out of screen wipers that were used to help clear the pitch.
The company that the club hired to lay a natural grass pitch on top of an artificial surface, standard practice in the US for such exhibition games, described it as,” probably their best ever installation,” according to Barber. The heavens opened moments after that conversation took place in Vancouver.
Hats off then to the Whitecaps for making the game a reality for the 24,074 sell-out crowd, and it must have been ‘hearts in mouths’ time when Yaya Toure was taken off injured on a worsening pitch, with reports since making it very clear that it was caused by catching another player’s foot. City players were put to the test with a cruel goal from the Whitecaps that took a wicked deflection off Stefan Savic after half an hour, before John Guidetti equalised for City in the 68th minute.
Earlier in the day Ryan Ruocco on ESPN New York radio had been discussing the huge boost that soccer in North America had received from the Women’s World Cup, with the USA disappointingly falling to Japan on penalties in front of 13.5 million viewers. Penalties he said were like,” a home run derby,” and no way to finish a competitive soccer match. As word spread that the Whitecaps game against City would be decided on penalties in the event of a draw, up stepped a much-loved City favourite who is determined to make his mark on this US tour – Shaun Wright-Phillips. Five minutes from time Wright-Phillips produced a rasping thunderbolt into the top left hand corner that was reminiscent of many of his long-range efforts of old.
SWP caught the online headlines early in the tour for what was undoubtedly the best planking effort displayed by a member of the City squad posting their efforts online. A goal to finish off Club America was followed in Vancouver by the decider to ensure City notched up a confidence-boosting comeback from a goal down. It has so far been tough to pick out the stand out performers on this tour, but if Shaun Wright-Phillips can adapt his play to the kind of passing game he is beginning to show then it will be a sign of a top player maturing in his trade. As Micah Richards quotes in his daily blog today, ”A class goal from a class guy,” and to view SWP’s humble post-match comments we would have to agree.
The City team have arrived in Los Angeles in preparation for their next match against LA Galaxy on Sunday, with the Galaxy first concentrating on their match tonight with Columbus Crew. A clean sweep of wins on this US tour would be a fantastic start to pre-season.
This article is dedicated to the Real Way Down project :
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A perfect storm for a perfect player
Sports journalists are clamouring for a copy of Paul Lake’s new book, “I’m Not Really Here,” and on turning the last page we can understand why. Paul Lake made his first team debut for Manchester City in January 1987, having played in City’s FA Youth Cup winning side of 1986. His signature was chased by no less than Alex Ferguson, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, and George Graham, and he was hailed as a future England captain by the late Bobby Robson. He then went on to suffer from a catalogue of misfortune with knee injuries and woeful medical support that can at best be described as lazy and at worst negligent. Universally liked in the football industry, Paul Lake is set to release his memoirs, excellently co-written by his wife Jo, of a deeply moving and inspiring account of a man taken to the brink as he faces losing the game he loves.
MCFCfans is to publish a series of articles in the lead up to the release of the book on 4th August 2011 by Century (part of The Random House Group).
Book signings planned City Store (Etihad Stadium) 25th August and City Store (Arndale) 26th August
By Dom Farrell, MCFCfans
When David Silva opened his Manchester City account a mere eight minutes into last Thursday's Europa League clash with Salzburg, the feeling of relief was tangible.
The build up to the match was dominated by quotes from boss Roberto Mancini, Nigel de Jong and Silva himself claiming that the former Valencia player's apparent problems in acclimatising to life at City were about to come to an end.
The cruel nature of football can often throw such words back into the protagonists' faces, but when the Silva nonchalantly side-footed Jo's knockdown into the bottom corner, the comments seemed prophetic.
His start to life at City had a number of parallels with the club's stuttering fortunes in the opening weeks of the season - initial excitement and flashes of top level potential, but no definitive impact.
But Mancini seems to have recognised a stretch of seven games in three weeks as the point of the season where a statement can be made and, in Silva, identified a player who can grasp the moment.
The Canary Islander continued to display the subtleties of his craft three days later as City eased to their second 2-0 win of the week, this time over Wigan in the Premier League.
Newly shorn skipper Carlos Tevez was the star performer at the DW Stadium, opening the scoring with a delightful finish, before laying on the second goal and its associated breathing space for Yaya Toure.
In the past week Tevez appeared liberated by the Silva’s presence, freed up to roam with the trademark belligerence that has been absence since his horror miss in the defeat to Sunderland.
A playmaker of Silva's undoubted quality can make football a far simpler game for those around him.
There is an ongoing and understandable wish among City fans for Mancini to give Silva, and Tevez more support in the final third of the field.
In-form England winger Adam Johnson could count himself unfortunate to miss out at Wigan and the prospect of him working alongside Tevez and Silva's burgeoning relationship will surely become too good to ignore. And this is before the firebrand talents of Mario Balotelli are added to the mix.
The problem is that supplementing the attack will necessitate breaking up the central midfield barricade which is performing with such distinction. De Jong and Gareth Barry brim with increasing certainty and expression, while Yaya snatched his first City goal at the weekend and is starting to provide the penetration and dynamism that was lacking from the Blues engine room last season.
A difficult decision awaits Mancini in the coming weeks because for all its merits, his current approach is operating within uncomfortably fine margins. A couple of botched chances and Wigan could have been another Sunderland.
It seems perverse to suggest a victory over reigning Austrian champions Salzburg, who boasted a 100% record in last season's Europa League group stage, was less trying than a trip to Wigan. City's previous league outings offer reasons to take such a view.
A haul of one point from a possible six against Sunderland and Blackburn was unacceptable for the ambitious Blues. It represented a stark reluctance to consume the bread and butter that sustains the campaigns of title contenders.
Roberto Martinez' Latics have staggered punch-drunk through the opening rounds of the season, gathering themselves briefly to land a haymaker on Tottenham, so were written off before a ball was kicked.
Additionally, the days’ other games provided a blockbuster between Manchester United and Liverpool and Chelsea’s latest demolition job.
Against this backdrop, a routine, nondescript win that passes almost without notice is vital. Such wins are the foundations that successful season are built on.
More of the same in the Carling Cup against West Brom on Wednesday night is crucial before City look to derail the Chelsea bandwagon.
Beneath the layer upon layer of articles about big money signings and whether the manager of the day can fashion a side to win the Premier League, there are always incredibly heart-warming stories to be heard about the generosity of City fans around the world.
One such story concerns the huge dedication of a small number of fans to make the impossible possible. On Wednesday 25th August Phil Holme, Tony Griffiths, Alex Channon, Howard Burr will travel to Freetown in Sierra Leone in order to deliver a mini-bus for an aspiring youth football club that was setup as a City supporting club. Paul Lake, Ambassador for City in the Community will also travel with the party. They have been helped by the generosity of fans around the world to make it happen.
Here is an abridged version of the story so far as told by Phil Holme of the Portadown Supporters Club branch...
Armani with future young MCFC Sierra Leone players
In the autumn of 2003 a member of Reddish Branch of the MCFC supporters club completed 30 years as a police officer in Manchester and retired. He then started working in Sierra Leone in West Africa, where his job was to train detectives out there to investigate child abuse.
Sierra Leone has for the past several years been either last, or second to last in the world wealth league tables published every year. Average life expectancy is around 38 years and living conditions for most people are appalling. On top of all these problems the country has gone through a particularly bloody civil war that lasted 11 years and only ended in 2000.
When he arrived in Freetown, the capital City, Tony noticed the usual scattering of people wearing Arsenal, Liverpool and Stretford shirts. It soon became apparent that football is massive in the country and most people follow the English Premier League.
At the end of his first week he was enjoying a beer at a beach bar when a young man approached him by the name of Armani Sheku Kamara who was selling watches, sunglasses etc. He noticed that he was wearing a Stretford lapel badge and as Tony is a dyed in the wool blue he joked with the young man that he could not buy any of his merchandise from a man wearing such an offensive item. Within a short time he agreed to throw the offending item into the Atlantic Ocean and negotiations commenced.
It soon became apparent that not only did he have a good knowledge of Premier League football he also had a good knowledge of the ups and downs of Manchester City. He assured Tony that he was only wearing the offending badge because a customer had given it to him and he promised him that if he could get him a City shirt he would be a City fan for the rest of his life. Little did he know what that conversation would lead to.
In early 2004 Tony returned to Sierra Leone having spent a few weeks back in Manchester, and of course took back with him a City shirt for Armani. Within a few days of receiving the shirt Armani told Tony that he was setting up a Man City Supporters Club in Freetown. When Tony next returned to UK he discussed the Sierra Leone situation, first with Howard Burr the Secretary of the Reddish Branch and then with Alex Channon former Chair of the CSA. It was then that the Sierra Leone Branch of the Manchester City Supporters Club was born.
On Tony’s next visit he was able to take back with him several dozen assorted City shirts donated by City fans over here. They proved very popular and soon were being seen all around the Freetown streets. Soon Armani had formed a Manchester City Football team in Freetown as well as a Junior Man City team. The problem was that they were wearing a red and white striped kit that they had to rent on a match-by-match basis. Following discussion with Lorraine Firth at Manchester City the Club kindly donated a full kit for the team out there. There was also a concerted effort by a lot of Branches to collect as many shirts, boots as possible these were also sent out to Sierra Leone.
Tony Griffiths last visited Sierra Leone in March 2007 and we were proud to hear of many men women and children wearing an array of City shirts around the capital and beyond. The football team formed such a short time ago is going from strength to strength and Armani is something of a local celebrity who is frequently interviewed on national radio in Sierra Leone and works extremely hard to promote Man City for no financial reward. On 23rd November 2008 the Man City Youth team appeared in the Sierra Leone F.A. Youth Cup final and WON. Not bad for a team that did not exist 4 years ago. You now can't walk through Freetown without seeing a City shirt and hearing shouts of “City till I die”
Unfortunately the first team had to pull out of the main league last season as it did not have enough cash to fulfil their away fixtures although the league have agreed to keep their place in division two for next season assuming they have funds in place.
The next phase is to try and help make the team financially independent by raising money for a mini bus this doubles up as both transport to away matches, which is one of the most prohibitive costs to the team, and during the rest of the week it becomes a revenue maker by running it as a proper bus in Freetown. This will give two people a job and also raise enough cash to keep the teams running. Also it should provide enough to replace the bus every 10 years.
This is not just another fund raiser - the work being done is changing lives and keeping young people off the streets and giving them a common bond - it is CHANGING LIVES and even SAVING some.
The bus arrived in Manchester on 12th July where it was liveried up with sponsorship logos including the new MCFC Supporters Club logo. Special thanks to Barclay Signs Ltd from Stockport who did this free of charge. The bus is now on its way to Sierra Leone with all the kit and equipment donated by Man City fans where Tony, Howard, Alex, Paul, Neil Cole from Endemol (who will be filming the whole process) and myself (Phil Holme) will be there to meet and deliver it to MCFC Sierra Leone and Armani.
We can’t thank the Club enough in particular Garry Cook and Paul Lake but everyone has been fantastic, there are too many to mention but our heartfelt thanks goes to EVERYONE who has been involved in helping or donating in anyway whatever. Without you it would not have happened but please remember the appeal goes on.
City as a Club have always been fan friendly. When we were taken over, there were those who thought here we go another rags or chelski etc. Well I’m here to tell you the heart of Man City is in great shape and if anything is going to get even more fan friendly especially with the unification of the Supporters Club. I am proud of my football club (how many can say that in this day and age) long may it continue thank you Sheikh Mansour.
On 28th July a container was loaded with the bus and six pallets of kit, training gear, laptops, books, a kids bike a scooter and a partridge in a pear tree (well maybe not the last one) Alex and Howard were there to lend a hand and Neil was there to film the container being loaded. The long journey began on the 29th July with the container off to Felixstowe where it will be loaded aboard the ship bound for Freetown and is due to arrive on 26th August. We, that is Tony, Alex, Howard, Paul, Neil and myself will be leaving on 25th August for Freetown to meet the ship the following day - here’s hoping it’s on time (everything is crossed).
There is a very busy itinerary whilst we are there Armani has contacted the Minister for Sport and various media outlets that want the story. We will be going to various schools and we will be attending a football game of MCFC Sierra Leone. On the Saturday we will be handing out training gear and kit to the teams at our hotel and on the Sunday it will be the official handover of the bus outside the National Stadium.
So it’s all go from here guys - I reckon we may add just a little water to the docks on the 26th - can't see there being a dry eye so to speak
Thanks again for all your support - and please remember we are still collecting.
The countdown to the MCFCfans No.1 video continues ahead of this evening's potential banana skin against Scunthorpe. This video was very nearly our No.1. What a night this was at White Hart Lane. Definitely one of the most incredible games I have ever been to. 3-0 down at half-time I remember buying a Bovril (presumably no booze that night) and having put it on the ground for one second someone kicked it over. At that moment I thought things couldn't get any worse. In the comedy of having Barton sent off and being 3-0 down it seemed that we were still due to witness something else. When the first City goal went in I had the genuine feeling we could get a replay. But no one imagined what would happen next. One of the best City videos on the internet...watch it week in week out.
No.3 - Neville has a shocker
Well it seemed only right on the day of a derby match that we drop the low-rated video trash and stick to a firm derby favourite as we continue our video chart countdown. This game was one of the most enjoyable games to watch live and has to be up there in many a City fan's top 10. 3-1 would be a tidy result tonight and if the team on paper performs on the pitch then we could have one foot in the final. Come on City !!!
No. 4 - We're not really here
Do you ever ask yourself, what will it be like if and when we start winning trophies? An entire generation of City fans look forward to the moment when City lift their next trophy. The Carling Cup is a mere three games away. But do you think that younger City fans are ready to experience winning?!
This is another video that caught our eye for a low amount of views even though it's an interesting video. Professor Cary Cooper talks about the psychology of City fans with a video that contains some great footage of the stands at Maine Road. This one deserves more than the 2,954 views it has had so far so we've put it in at No.4 in the MCFCfans video chart.
City dropped two points today as the inability to keep a clean sheet begins to take its’ toll. It was an improvement on last year’s 3-1 loss. But it was certainly disappointing to miss out on the opportunity to capitalise on the results going on around us this weekend.
We were happily informed by Shaun Goater’s ‘Read the Goat’ column in the match programme that he would be wearing his t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops whilst watching the game in 70 degrees heat, just as it started p***ing down in Manchester. At that point City announced what on paper looked to be a formidable attacking line-up with Petrov, Bellamy, Tevez, Adebayor all starting. But the shape didn’t pay huge dividends, and it was clear that the raft of recent internationals has interrupted City’s learning curve.
After a dull start, the game had its’ first highlight in the 11th minute when the Kippax identified a posh chap from Fulham in a pink jumper. “Who’s the tranny in the pink?” was followed by variations on the same theme for a couple of minutes before the aforementioned posh chap, who to be fair acknowledged the City end with a hearty wave, became so embarrassed that he took his pink jumper off. For all Fulham’s population of the away end looked pretty pathetic their dogged determination on the pitch certainly wasn’t.
Petrov was awarded with a start after his good performances and operated on both sides, swapping with Bellamy in order to take up corner-taking duties. But the 10-man Fulham defence made it hard for City to stretch down the flanks, and the attack often found itself in a circular formation that lacked link play in the middle. It could have been a setup that Ireland would have been more suited to in the berth alongside Barry.
When the deadlock was finally broken in the 53rd minute it was a scrappy goal that was awarded to Adebayor during the match, but seems to have been given to Lescott post-match. Great link-up play then saw Petrov pick his spot with a superb finish to make it 2-0. City were cruising and it looked like the floodgates might open. However, they opened at the other end in five minutes of defensive madness. The warning signs were there for all to see when Zamora somehow missed from point blank after a series of defensive howlers saw Fulham dance into the box earlier in the match. There was a lack of organisation in defence that needs to be resolved rapidly.
Tevez and Bellamy led by example in their promotion of work-rate, Tevez regularly getting into the box to create chances, but it was telling that City had twenty-four (24) chances and only six were on target. The benefit to the team provided by the ever-improving Bridge was more than wiped out by Micah Richards who was a passenger for most of the game. To be fair to him he did a job that would have been done by Zabaleta had he not been suspended, but it was an obvious area of weakness that Fulham did well to exploit.
Overall, a disappointment but not a catastrophe. As TLDORC blog rightly points out, the press will be on the lookout for a new crisis club now that Liverpool have beaten United. We need to make sure it is not City, starting with Scunthorpe.
All eyes on Anfield as City look to gain ground
The fact that City’s army of London-based fans have chosen to take the earlier trains to Manchester, even though they are 30 minutes slower than the later trains, perhaps signals that it is not just Mark Hughes who will have his eye on the game at Anfield today. How times have changed.
City entered Mark Hughes’s notional second block of games this season with a draw against Wigan. A good result seen as it ended with 10 men against a well-organised side that always give City a run for their money. Saturday’s results at Wolves and White Hart Lane, alongside the ongoing dropping of points by the so-called ‘top four,’ lend weight to the argument that this will be one of the Premiership’s most open seasons in its’ short history. At last.
Today the world’s press will focus on the game at Anfield, and then no doubt splurge enough predictable, pre-written pap to fill a new landfill site. City fans will emerge from Mary D’s Beamish Bar with a smile on their face if both sides share the points, before taking their seats to see City quietly go about their slow overtake up the inside lane. For at this point in the season, City sits in a sweet spot that suits the club perfectly. Not so high up the table to attract attention, a sneaky game in hand, and crucially in touch with the leaders.
Naturally, nothing less than a win will do today. A draw away to Wigan followed by an interruption to the home record would be seen as the potential beginnings of wheels coming off. City will field a strong team against theoretically tired Fulham who played on Thursday night, so a win should be straight-forward. But Fulham have a tendency to surprise, especially in the face of adversity so the defence will need to be on its’ guard. In fact City should be targeting 9 points from their next three league games in preparation for the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham to come. A strong run to the year-end will confirm what many fans prefer to keep quiet for fear of exciting the demons. Say no more!
On the player front it will be interesting to see whether Petrov is rewarded with a start. The signs are that there could be more goals to come from Petrov, so why not. It’s healthy rotation that keeps others on their toes. In the meantime, it will be a joy to continue watching the likes of Barry (see Observer interview) and De Jong ply their trade. As one friend recently put it, “De Jong is playing the Makelele role better than Makelele.” If anything it is our longer-serving stars that need to come out of their shells somewhat. SWP has been guilty of giving the ball away too cheaply at times, while Ireland has yet to really start firing. Tevez is surely like the first sip of a fine Malbec, the best is yet to come. And a final word on Robinho. Yes we can live without him – but we can also live with him. He will yet prove his worth with the under-rated talent around him.
City start the club management’s next pre-defined block of games in an exciting season against Wigan on Sunday. The first block went extremely well, and if City are in the top four by new year then I ‘ll have a fine Scotch in honour of a great first half of the season. To be honest I’ll have a fine Scotch anyway, but it’ll taste better if City are up there!
City have defied the pre-season critics both on and off the pitch, smoothly riding the waves of press vitriol coming its’ way. One can only hazard at the current state of mind of Sir Alex Ferguson who in yesterday’s Daily Mail advised us that City may be heading for financial disintegration in the future, questioning at the same time whether or not it can be good for a club to have financial stability.
The tide is turning. Sport magazine, a London-based sports freebie, has been something akin to a United fanzine for much of the early season. So it was no surprise that its’ editor didn’t reply to my friendly e-mail requesting some balance in their coverage. It’s a decent Sport weekly, so why did they see fit to profile a different United player each week?
Well maybe they were listening this week as the player profiling gave way for “The Power List 2009,” a list of Sports view of the 50 people who wield the most influence in British sport. Sandwiched in between Lord Coe at No.3 and Jeremy Darroch, Chief Executive of BSkyB, is our very own Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayad Al Nahyan. One of the world’s most powerful investors who has brought instant stability to City, certainly not the prospect of financial disintegration that £700 million of debt brings.
Kicking off the season again with a win against Wigan will be important. It’s a tough game that provides a stern test of resilience. We will miss Bellamy if he’s not fit, but it’s up to the team to make sure we win games like this. Once again the Manchester City Babies in Ghana have provided great inspiration. The club picked up a triple crown of league victories in all age groups two weeks ago, and finished last weekend unbeaten with two wins and a draw – see their dedicated page here.
The respect handshake prior to the City match against Arsenal
What a fantastic victory against Arsenal. We really did Sheikh up the Gooners. But what a shame it has been over-shadowed by reporting that can only be described as totally un-balanced.
City have reluctantly accepted the FA charge for the stamp on Van Persie, almost certainly the right decision in the circumstances. The situation that remains with the goal celebration is an altogether harder one to judge from the club's perspective. Can City really expect a fair hearing at appeal in light of the totally un-balanced reporting in the press?
It's a mystery why there has been so little coverage and comment of the behaviour of a small section of Arsenal fans at the front of the away end. Their reaction was of the kind I have never seen at a match in my life, with the exception of a fairly large riot at a derby match in
No mention in the press reporting of Van Persie's celebration in front of the City fans when Arsenal equalised. Not one that I have noticed. City fans, impeccably behaved in recent history, watched aghast at the reaction in the away end to Adebayor's celebration. When Van Persie trooped over to the home-end corner of the Colin Bell stand did you see objects and chairs flying towards the pitch? Not a bit of it. No crowd rush, barely even a reaction and yet this has been nowhere in the reporting of the Adebayor celebration. No mention either of Henry's unpunished celebration in front of Spurs fans in 2002.
If any readers have in fact found a balanced report of this incident, please could they post a link as we would like to congratulate the reporter involved.
City fans are fair-minded supporters with a passion and love for the game. We're light-hearted and full of good humour. We don't believe in player hate campaigns. We don't take life so damn seriously that we need to rush to the front of the away end and knock a steward out. Sure, Adebayor's celebration was perhaps over-the-top and most City fans would probably accept that. What we don't accept is the relentless attack against our football club. In this particular case, the un-balanced reporting of this incident has the real potential to make idiotic so-called fans of clubs everywhere to think that a reaction like that is completely acceptable. We appeal to quality reporters everywhere to stop and think before getting caught up in the anti-City hysteria that your industry peers seem intent on whipping up. Our time has come, let us enjoy it.
MCFCfans (see poll on our home page)
There is no time for intricate research and intelligent commentary this morning. No City fan is going to make any allowances today in their pursuit to get to quite clearly the biggest game of the season so far. The fact that this Arsenal game is immediately followed up by the derby next week makes it extra special. There is also the outside chance of an appearance from the owner in front of a sell out home crowd for the first time.
The atmosphere today will be something close to the Hamburg game. It is the first big test against one of the so-called 'big four'. It's game on, the talking stops here, and the playing on the pitch is everything. It's time for a huge performance from every player. What a mouth-watering prospect.
No Tevez for City won't make a jot of difference given the circumstances. City's approach to the game will be the key. What will the mental state be? If we give Arsenal too much respect in the face of the pressure then we stand to be taken apart. But if our confident strutting is carefully employed with an Adebayor goal or two then we're in good shape with a belting crowd behind us.
Time to get in the car and drive to the match. Can't wait. Will be collecting kit for the Manchester City Babies in Ghana on the way. They play Standfast FC this weekend, a rival side based in Tamale and above the Babies in the league in every age group (see MCFC Babies page). It will be a tough weekend for them but here's hoping for top points for City and the Babies this weekend.
This morning's reports quoting Richard Dunne's comments while on international duty have left City fans feeling uncomfortable. The recent squeeky clean media effort has seen the first blot on its' copy book.
The week started so well with Oliver Holt's report in the Mirror entitled, "Why Kaka might regret choosing Real Madrid over Manchester City." Finally, it seems the media is beginning to believe in the City "project."
However, City's official website report on Richard Dunne's departure seems to conflict with his own comments in the press this morning. Mark Hughes said in that report, "It would have been difficult for Dunney to stay given his standing at the club and I understand that. I wasn’t going to stand in his way. I could have tried to stop him going and said I wanted him as a squad player but out of respect for what he has done for City I wasn’t going to do that."
But Dunne himself suggested that he was forced out of the club speculating that it was a decision taken by the club to balance the books. This morning's Times article reports that Dunne was led to believe that the club were busy selling him behind his back. Dunne is reported as saying, "From the day after the Bulgaria v Republic game in June, I was getting phone calls from people saying Garry Cook has been trying to sell me behind my back. That was two months after me going to him and saying if he has any problems to come and deal with me."
As discussed on other blogs this morning (Lonesome Death of Roy Carroll), these reports sit uneasily with City fans who appreciate the years of service that loyal servant Dunne gave to City. Most fans agreed that it was time to make changes in central defense. The club has been making credible efforts to reach out and be a more supporter-facing club. City fans and players alike will be keen to know that this effort extends to loyal playing staff. However, the conflicting reports suggest that it may not all be a one-way street. The Independent suggests that City dispute Dunne's claim that he was promised a testimonial. They also reportedly argue that they compensated Dunne adequately by giving him a £600,000 golden handshake and agreed to reduce the transfer fee with Villa down from £6m to 4.8m. As is so often the case, we may never know the real truth.
City forced to defend early in the first half
A well-deserved one-nil victory (City Official Match Report) but an expensive three points for my wallet! The foundations of my goal-fest prediction were all there. But when I turned up and realised we were to be playing in white I thought the entire strategy might be undone. I’m a strong believer in third kits being a bad omen.
I’ll exchange a dent in the wallet for three points any day. City dominated for a lot of the game but it's fair to say Pompey gave us some cause for concern in various areas. It was a great atmosphere and we roll on unbeaten in the league, unbeaten away from home, the only side to have not conceded a goal. As one fan bellowed out in reply to Pompey’s cheating chant aimed at Adebayor, “Same old City, always winning!” Yeah, steady on...
Any fans who weren’t at the game will know better as it was televised on Sky, but I hear the disallowed goal should have stood on the grounds that Barry was offside and not Richards. Was Barry interfering with play? There were also two big penalty shouts. I thought both were penalties, but the Tevez penalty shout was probably the most blatant I have ever seen. Again Sky may have already proven me wrong. Either way, had a couple of all of those chances gone in the 3-0 correct score and total goals call might have looked a little more sensible. I hope readers didn’t wager too much on similar outcomes. I heard one fan on the way out say he had Adebayor to score first and City 3-0. Gutted.
Adebayor's goal brought about rapturous scenes in the City end with Adebayor's newly adapted song being bellowed out to a silent Pompey crowd (see home page for video). If Adebayor can keep up the steady trickle of goals then our away form might just continue.
As it was many City fans were sweating like Aussies in a spelling test for a period during the second half when Pompey pressed for an equaliser. Shay Given’s call for composure in seeing games out was not entirely heeded, as the gut instinct for many City players is still to rampage up the pitch in search of another goal late on. But the 1-0 held and City fans celebrated to avoid the riot that would have unfolded had Pompey equalised after the Tevez penalty shout.
City fans celebrate the final whistle...let the good times roll!
With readers having watched the game on television it leaves me to point out a few subtle nuances picked up in the terrace. Firstly, the terrace banter is getting better and better. The production line of imaginative and humorous songs that used to be the reserve of standing in the Kippax is on its’ way back. If you’ve not been to an away game yet this season then I can highly recommend it.
On the player front Tevez looked a bit tired as the game neared the end. More match fitness is required. I guess I have to break my protective silence on Wayne Bridge as well. He must close down potential crosses quicker than he does, or at all. If we’re vulnerable anywhere it is down the flanks. Finally, an observation on Petrov. I spotted it at the Blackburn game and noticed it again at half-time at Portsmouth. His body language seems to be saying, “what am I doing here,” like he would be more interested staying at home pairing his socks up. Head down and no enthusiasm. I hope I’m wrong and he wins a place to prove his attacking worth.
After the international break, City have two huge games in the form of Arsenal at home and United away. The Chairman’s recent interview with the official site suggested the Sheikh could be in town soon. Arsenal at home would represent a fine way to greet an adoring and grateful City faithful.
Bring ‘em on!
The MCFC Babies in Ghana
We've been quiet on this blog for a while now but there's been a good reason!
Many readers of MCFCfans, MCIVTA, and other City forums will be aware of the Manchester City Babies in Ghana. The club is a youth football club run by Peter Amoabil, who is also the Representative of the Ghana branch of the Manchester City Centenary Supporters Association (MCCSA).
Alex Channon, Chairman of the MCCSA, launched a kit and funding appeal for the MCFC Babies in Ghana that many of you kindly donated to. That appeal began an association for me with the MCFC Babies that was to become the inspiration for setting up a charity to support youth football teams in Africa and beyond.
Well, after months of preparation, over a hundred e-mails back and forth to Ghana, gathering Manchester City kit and footballs from far and wide, missing flights and buses, finally here I am writing to you from Tamale in Ghana. What a huge relief to be here!
Peter met me at the airport this morning and it was an exciting moment. It feels like the beginning of a great journey. But it is one that I need help with and so I am starting the process of spreading awareness now.
The long-term vision of the charity project is to combine the desire of English Premier League clubs to raise their global profile with the genuine needs of less developed areas and communities. Supporting the creation and development of grassroots football is merely the vehicle through which we’ll try and address some of those needs. Clubs tend to have quite good charitable links within their local catchment areas. But many seem to be missing a way of helping communities further afield.
The fundraising concept is to create an umbrella fund of individual sub-funds for each Premiership club. Clubs and fans donate into their own club pot and once the pot reaches certain levels so grants and sponsorship can be awarded to genuine youth football club projects. The system would enable clubs and fans to follow the progress of the club they have sponsored, in much the same way as you can follow the MCFC Babies progress in Ghana on the web page we created for them on MCFCfans: www.mcfcfans.co.uk/mcfc_babies.
The medium-term aim might be to arrange an exclusive partnership with a Premiership club, and being biased Manchester City is obviously preferred. The timing, credit crunch aside, couldn’t be better with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and City announcing their pre-season tour there. The club is deluged with chairtable requests every week and such a charity would provide a means of centrally co-ordinating charitable efforts related to youth football outside the UK. But we need to make more progress in setting up first.
I have been researching this project now for several months. I have contacted many other organisations (The Craig Bellamy Foundation, Footballs4Fun, Streetfootball, FIFA’s Football for Hope) with a view to collaboration and exchange of knowledge. There is no point starting from scratch when partnering can deliver immediate results.
The research continues and the short-term objective is to learn as much as possible and establish track record by supporting the development of the MCFC Babies in Ghana. I will be sitting down with Peter, coaches and local football administrators tomorrow to work through our respective plans. The Babies will also play a match in the morning wearing their newly donated Manchester City kits.
So what can you do to help? Continuing to donate kit is very much welcome and there is an address on the MCFC Babies page for this purpose. But what is really needed is the time, dedication and commitment of willing volunteers. I’d be most grateful if anyone with charitable experience, administration, youth football experience, trustee experience, or just a general willingness to give up some time could get in touch.
I will continue to post articles to various outlets but you can also follow progress at this Soccer Babies (provisional name...better suggestions welcome!) website, which is currently being developed: www.webjam.com/soccer_babies
In all of the trials and tribulations of supporting City, it’s easy to forget there are ways we can help those less fortunate than us through a mutual love of football.
Keep the faith.
In the final part of a two-part series (Part One is at this link) of articles reflecting on the Kaka transfer saga, MCFCfans looks forward to the ultimate remedy: let it all out on the terrace. Fans are ready to put the papers in the bin and make some noise on Wednesday night.
Journalists whizz down to the lowest common denominator
City may well have been running before they could walk, as Mark Hughes suggested to Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail on Friday. Interestingly, Hughes also chose this interview to pick out Sulaiman al-Fahim, ADUG's first spokesperson, as being the root cause of City’s uphill PR battle. He’s probably not far wrong. Talk of signing Cristiano Ronaldo was naive, and not just because it wasn’t what City fans wanted to hear.
Hughes went on to comment, “A lot of people at this club are new to the football business and maybe we need greater knowledge of what makes deals happen.” Are these comments part of a positive group hug-like learning experience for club management? or is it really the beginning of a power play of different agendas between Hughes and Cook, as suggested by this week’s Guardian Sport Blog post by Paul Wilson? Lets hope the former. Just going back to the Guardian blog post, did I really just read, “City were right to go for Kaka?!.”
Most wouldn’t disagree with City's need to sharpen up their deal-making and PR efforts. But the article by Michael Henderson in The Telegraph entitled, “Send in the clowns – it’s another episode in the sad saga of Manchester City,” tested City fans’ patience to the limit. Marina Hyde in The Guardian was yet another example of how journalists, faced with the need to stand out when a big story breaks, jump on to the slide in the reporter’s playground and race down to the lowest common denominator. These folks have already moved on to their next 'holier-than-thou' feeding frenzy, happily passing on the opportunity for intelligent and reflective debate.
We don’t have space here to discuss all of the debatable points that reporters had an opportunity to discuss. However, the most obvious discussion on the table is the one concerning salary and transfer caps. One that has been quietly mentioned by the odd random football club chairman, but one that in reality the Champions League cartel would rather not discuss.
The Champions League has arguably done more damage to domestic football competitions in Europe than the arrival of wealthy foreign owners. The clubs at the top of the EPL have moved in line with the increased number of places in the Champions League. The approach taken by Aston Villa and Manchester City to mount a challenge seems quite different. But both clubs are backed by significant wealth, and both clubs intend to gatecrash the ‘big four’ party.
What will this mean for such money-spinners as ‘Grand Slam Sunday’ on Sky Sports? Is the football fan not much better off with six, or eight, or ten competitive teams versus the original boring and dominant one? In fact the EPL has advanced to a point where the gulf between the clubs is smaller, and competitiveness has greatly increased. But how long will it be before the European G16 (or whatever number it is!) decide that the little Ciddies and Villas of this world are becoming too big for their boots, and begin proposing European or Global leagues? Again, none of this broader debate about the systemic issues in football was apparent in the recent reporting on Manchester City.
‘You can’t spend £100m on one player’ – yes you can
It is totally understandable that all football fans should look at the £100m sum and immediately consider what this same sum of money could do to solve some of the world’s real problems. However, it is of no immediate benefit to do so. Manchester City should not be made to suffer for participating fairly, and within the rules, in what is a transfer fee-based system.
Before the advent of satellite television, the top division of English football had an audience mainly limited to within its’ own borders. Record British transfer fees were still four or more times the value of buying a house, but the exponential growth potential was constrained by the size of the television audience.
The English Premiership now has one of the largest global sporting audiences of any other sporting league. This audience carries a market value, just as royalties are received by music artists according to how many people listen to their music. The sudden and dramatic increase in the global audience is the reason for the sudden and dramatic increase in transfer fees and wages.
If football decides to constrain fees and wages, then all it does is transfer the audience income from the performers (players) and the producers (clubs) into the hands of broadcasters, football authorities, and other vested interests (well back to the fans would be nice too but what chance!). Why should the players not be remunerated according to their global appeal, skill level, and huge audience? Why should clubs not be compensated for releasing a player, who they have discovered and nutured, from their contract? The revenue stream has to find a home somewhere. It would be far more productive, and morally appropriate, to have a debate on securing a larger contribution from the top clubs to develop football at grass-roots level, at home and abroad.
The attraction of the EPL throughout the world is the quality of the players and the football on show. In remote parts of Africa huge crowds of hundreds gather around the smallest of televisions desperate to get a glimpse of a big EPL game. Is there a sudden consensus that we don’t want to see the likes of Kaka play in the EPL? No, there is a view that Manchester City doesn’t deserve such players in a blue shirt.
Daring to dream
In spite of Harry Redknapp’s free spending, the huge debts of many football clubs, the renewal by RBS of their Six Nations sponsorship, some balance in the reporting of Manchester City was in short supply last week. When it finally arrived it did so from an unlikely source, The Daily Mirror. Oliver Holt’s subtle prose in his article, “Don’t gloat over Manchester City Kaka-ing things up...all they’ve done is dare to dream,” hit the nail on the head. “They [Manchester City] were the devils sitting on Kaka’s right shoulder, whispering temptations into his ear, while the angels [AC Milan] on his left shoulder told him to follow his heart,” Holt wrote.
In the meantime, Mark Hughes and City fans can look forward to the contribution that three new signings will make on the pitch. Wayne Bridge, Nigel de Jong and Craig Bellamy are all good signings who will make an impact. Shay Given is looking increasingly likely to follow, there may well be another striker in the mix before the window is out, and we shouldn’t miss out on Miguel Veloso. He's a hot prospect.
Mark Hughes reports that the recent press barrage has brought the team closer together. If you believe McGarry from The Sun then you’d think the dressing room is an anarchic free-for-all. What nonsense. You can put money on there being a collage of press articles on the dressing room wall on Wednesday night.
Of one thing there is no doubt, the press bruising has left City fans in defiant mood ahead of the Newcastle encounter. Mark Hughes has seen a huge surge of support in our “Should he stay or go” fans poll on our home page, which is due to close at the end of the transfer window.
What better way to put the deafening roar of ‘ignorant and predictable pap’ to bed than to raise the roof on Wednesday night.
In the first of a two-part series of articles reflecting on the Kaka transfer saga, MCFCfans makes no apologies for broadening and balancing the debate. In part two we find fans desperate to put the papers in the bin and make some noise on Wednesday night.
What has been most disappointing about the recent press speculation and coverage of the Kaka approach, and Manchester City’s ‘project in general, is the narrow range of debate that has tended to dominate. It is currently in vogue to ‘bash the rich kids,’ and there are so many parallels to the narrow coverage of the credit crunch. Find a simple target and blame it for the world’s ills.
The word ‘obscene’ was used generously
In what one BBC Radio 4 presenter called, “the biggest made-up story in history,” the use of the word ‘obscene’ to describe City’s approach tells you all you need to know about the propaganda trap that City walked in to.
Simon Caney, Editor-in-chief of Sport Magazine, rightly pointed out that the generous use of the word ‘obscene’ was missing the point. Sheikh Mansour does his share for good causes, but in any event this was a fair and legal approach in a transfer fee-based market. If Jo and countless other players can transfer for £18m, then Kaka can transfer for £100m.
“We recognise the need to ensure that our sponsorship activity reflects the process of restructuring that the bank has under way,” a Royal Bank of Scotland spokesperson said in reaction to reports (BBC Wed 21 Jan) that RBS had extended its’ title sponsorship of the Six Nations Championship for a further four years to the tune of £20m, a figure denied by RBS. This is the story of arguably one of the biggest contributors to the UK’s credit crunch putting up what is arguably taxpayers’ cash at a time when they are laying off staff. Is this not ‘obscene’? Not if the relative column inches are anything to go by.
The credit crunch – upside down thinking
“It is a bit bizarre that, in these times of credit crunch, we are talking about a club paying £100m for one player,” wrote Gordon Taylor, Chairman of the PFA, in his exclusive column on givemefootball.com. Virtually all of Gordon Taylor’s comments are worth challenging, but this notion that Manchester City are going against the grain during the credit crunch is utterly absurd.
David Conn, writing in The Guardian in May of last year, reliably informed readers that Manchester United’s accounts showed the club’s total creditors at £764m. £666m owed to financial institutions, including £152m to hedge funds. Reports stated RBS joined Deutsche Bank in arranging securitisation for the acquisition finance. Hicks and Gillett at Liverpool are no different with The Financial Times reporting on Friday that their RBS loan extension of £350m lasts only until July. If you’re looking for contributions to the credit crunch then look no further. Was all this debt labelled as ‘obscene’ by Mr.Conn or the wider press?
Manchester City has no such debts and therefore does not contribute to the UK’s possible bankruptcy. Indeed it offsets the UK’s leveraged position. The investment by ADUG constitutes new investment, a fresh injection of cash, and a removal of debt. Does that not sound like good news during a credit crunch?!
The boost to Manchester and the UK of having a new investor with capital to invest will not be quantified until specific development projects are announced. However, the circulation of new money within the game at a time like this could indirectly end up being a lifeline for some clubs. That it may give Manchester City a short-term advantage is open to debate. In fact it may give the club a short-term disadvantage, something that most reporters chose to ignore.
One City fan recently wrote to David Conn at The Guardian to question the, “unanimous opprobrium.” He went on to write to Mr.Conn,” I have always felt that, amongst the ignorant and predictable pap emitted around the world of football, The Guardian is a voice of reason.” Conn had the decency to reply, but the damage to City was done.
Part two of this article will be published at the same time tomorrow. In the meantime why not add your vote to our Mark Hughes poll, "Should he stay or should he go" on our home page.
Breaking news: The re-arranged Portsmouth away fixture will be played on Saturday 14th February at 3pm. As if travelling all the way down for the cancelled fixture wasn't difficult enough, now you've got to fight the missus to go to the replay!
Breaking news: New signing Nigel de Jong will wear the number 34 shirt, while Craig Bellamy has taken number 39.