“Those Who Matter Don’t Mind” - Why I Admire Manchester City’s Fanbase
Twenty years ago to this very day, Saturday 24th April 1999, some 29,337 gathered in attendance on an all too typically cloudy Manchester afternoon at a weathered Maine Road, a once beloved ground suffering as much from financial neglect as the team that called it home to watch Manchester City succumb to a 1-2 home defeat to Wycombe Wanderers in a game of Division 2 football.
Their cross city rivals Manchester United by contrast werecapping off a magnificent decade in which fortune favoured their continued success at a time when commercial growth of the sport around the globe heralded previously unforeseen riches. As the season’s climax approached, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were full bore into an eventual 33 game unbeaten run that would within a few weeks cement their place at the top of the footballing table by achieving “The Treble”.
A nine day whirlwind, whistle-stop tour from Manchester to Wembley to Barcelona produced a Premier League title on the final day of the season, an FA Cup trophy added to the cabinet six days later before rounding out the campaign with the most coveted of all, the Champions League trophy.
The prize that had for so long eluded Ferguson in his quest for greatness was clinched in archetypal fashion thanks to two injury time goals, the 93rd minute winner guided into the Camp Nou net by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the man who now finds himself following the path forged by his old boss and mentor in the Old Trafford dugout.
The loyal yet disillusioned souls huddled on the Kippax at the dawn of the new Millennium couldn’t have been further away from balmy European nights in the Basque country yet football has a funny way of making what is perceived to be impossible come to life.
Two decades on, those dyed in the wool Blues have had every ounce of their patience rewarded with their very own Basque hero bringing them footballing joy envied not only on the Red side of town but the world over.
Yet in May 1999 the Cityzens experienced their own last minute goal at the home of football that changed the destiny of their own football club forever. For all that almost two decades have since past, diminutive Scotsman Paul Dickov’s equaliser in the 2nd Division Playoff Final at Wembley is only revered possibly more by one goal since, that by a diminutive Argentinian sharpshooter back in 2012.
Although not a winning goal, it’s hard not to consider Dickov’s strike as the catalyst for all that has followed. From the relocation to the City of Manchester Stadium under continued financial constraints through the arrival of foreign investment and City overnight becoming a financial powerhouse.
The on field success that has followed in the decade since has also been accompanied by jibes from fellow supporters and media outlets alike due to attendances not reaching capacity at the Etihad Stadium.
An unfair expectation is placed upon the shoulders of a club’s fanbase anytime its owner shows ambition in moving to a stadium of any size that it is now your responsibility as a fan to fill it regardless of success. If you cannot then your fan base is seemingly poor.
Where success exists, increased attendances must follow in the eyes of the media. But why? Cities and towns are not infinitely populated with those with no affinity or allegiance to a football club.
Through all the “Emptihad” jibes thrown their way, Manchester City’s support in an era of economic uncertainty, unforgiving fixture congestion and inflated ticket and travel prices remain backed by a hardcore, a majority who fondly remember the not so good old days such as that 1-2 home defeat to Wycombe Wanderers when their attendance that day bettered the average of ten Premier League clubs that season.
Is this attitude born from jealousy? That because their ground’s remaining seats aren't filled with tourists, as if that is the new barometer of success, that they don’t deserve it.
I’m not sure what “deserving” has to do with anything in football. You need every bit of luck that comes your way in this game, ask Coventry fans if they would welcome foreign investment right now.
Tomorrow evening Guardiola’s men begin a 3 game challenge whith the aim of amassing a 98 point total to retain their Premier League title playing arguably the greatest football the top tier has experienced.
Whilst the innovation and implementation of technology in the sport means they have to wait at least one more year for the European success, when the whistle blows to commence tomorrow’s Manchester derby, each club lead by their respective Basque hero find themselves in vastly different places to 20 years earlier.
I for one don’t begrudge the success that those faithful back in 1999 have experienced since, I envy it.
And I swear we’ll never see anything like it again.