Monday, March 12, 2007

Blue Doom

My football predictions are rubbish, always have been, probably always will be. With one exception that will always be true: Manchester City will never be more than a season away from a crisis.

If you reflect back 7 years to the first time this decade that Manchester City visited Ewood you enter a dark part of my soul and one of the lowest in my life as a Blackburn Rovers supporter. We lost 4-1 in a gutless second half collapse, chaotic ticketing meant our ground was overrun by boozy ecstatic Mancs and the pitch was invaded by them. All that our manager could do was rant as we finished the campaign rooted in mid-table. To make matters worse, Burnley were on the rise again. Everything about our club seemed rotten.

There is no way I could have predicted then any of what has since followed: promotion by an exciting footballing side, three European campaigns, Corrado Grabbi, the Worthington Cup, learning to love Andy Cole, two top six finishes, Tugay, Graeme Souness leaving a club in a better state than what he inherited, another top manager, a team of bully boys, Robbie Savage, Benni McCarthy and a second FA Cup semi-final in three years.

I wasn't reared on thrills and spills but mind numbing mid-table mediocrity, occasional play-off defeats. And Simon Garner.

Even the most optimistic City fans that day knew they were heading back down again in a short space of time. Crisis is in the DNA of the club. Even the windfall of a new stadium paid for by the council and Sport England and the greatest boom in football history has been left in tatters by Kevin Keegan's spending spree. The last two years have been marked by dreary drift. But as David Conn reported in his Wednesday column in the Guardian, something else has gone from City, a part of the soul of the club has gone too.

Once a byword for English fans' bloody-minded loyalty, Manchester City now embody the paradox at the heart of a booming game. While the Premier League's £2.7bn TV deal and exploding interest around the world thrill US investors, at home, in the blue moon heartlands, resentment at the game's direction is turning lifelong supporters away.
The rest is here.

On Sunday the travelling support gave a glimpse of the pride and the passion of the club and its perennially frustrated potential. But without sounding like I'm gloating there was only ever one team going to win. The moment that summed up City's season came ten minutes before the end. Tugay, starved of his enforcer - Aaron Mokeona - won the ball in the centre circle then had time to roll the ball around before he chose which one of three thirty-yard passes to make.

Living in Marple and working in Manchester means I come across a load of City fans who are good friends. After yesterday I genuinely fear the worst. City look like a doomed team while Charlton have hit form. I hope I'm wrong about this, and right about my other prediction that Rovers will lift the FA Cup at the new Wembley having swept past...Middlesbrough.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Michael,

As a Man City fan I agree with the Guardian article you link to.

But it is much more than new characterless stadiums, high prices, poor standard of football and lack of players' effort.

This week saw the first anniversary of the passing away of Jimmy Johnstone, which I mentioned on my blog although it is focussed on communications.

Why did I do that?

Jimmy was a member of the 1967 Celtic side that won the European Cup. The Lisbon Lions were all from Glasgow - a Glasgow Boys 11 beat Inter Milan to be the first British club to achieve that.

He was the equal of George Best in terms of talent, but he played for his club not for money, image rights or because his agent thought it was the right move.

Jimmy played because he loved his club and was a Celtic fan. He was a very modest man, much the same as Colin Bell, who played for the love of it - he saw it as a priviledge.

Man City reflected these values as did many other clubs. The values that attracted fans and kept them loyal are eroding fast.

I have found more passion from FC United's 4,000 attendance and players or Sale Sharks 9,000 fans and players than many football matches.

More money, less soul. Very sad.

Rob