The Fall and Imminent Rise of Manchester City: It's Nothing New!

Tom JCorrespondent ISeptember 10, 2008

This article was a response to one by Anthony Sanchez "The Fall and Imminent Rise of Manchester City Football Club". He generously suggested that I should post this as a separate article. It is a little adapted from the original, which you can find as a comment on Anthony Sanchez's.


My grandfather was one of the original shareholders in Manchester City. He bought a single share of the 2000 original shares. He lived in Hulton Street in Moss Side.

I went to school in Moss Side in the 1950s. In the years after the Second World War, it was City that were the rich club. They spent vast sums in those days on "star" players.  I remember Alex Harley holding a goal scoring record... I believe they spent more than any other First Division club in those years.

Before the war, too, City were the big club with luminous stars. But this money was not well spent by managers, and did not buy much success. My recollection of those days was of Bert Trautmann saving the club from relegation year after year, and the manager Les McDowell being showered with halfpennies as he left the ground with chants of "Sack Mac!" following him to his car.

City's reputation for unpredictability was undiminished. Out of the blue, I recollect them defeating Spurs 6-2 at White Hart lane. "Fantastic City!" the "Football Green" headline screamed in 2 inch high headlines. Some people would not buy the "Football Pink"....
(Many forget that City bought Denis Law for a then UK record fee of £55,000 before he went to Italy and later came back to play for United.)

The sums of money have got bigger. More and more is spent on advertising through football, through the media, and more and more is spent by the fans on merchandise and tickets. Someone mentioned a Premiership level playing field last week, suggesting that Man City's new owners had made it unfair. This did make me laugh. There has NEVER been a level playing field. Maybe it was a bit more level in the past, but it's been far from level for decades now.

The top four are the top four largely because of money.

In one sense, football has been taken away from the true supporters who are referred to in Anthony Sanchez's article. But it was always owned by directors who often treated the players with contempt and the supporters, too, if the truth be known. Men with big egos who wanted to be seen to matter.

The fundamentals are much the same, but the form has changed beyond recognition.

But so has our society. And in many ways we should not want to go back to the past, as there was more abject poverty. Before the Second World War, football matches were a brief diversion from the interminable grind of physical labour. 

We look back with rose-tinted spectacles—although mine are blue-tinted.

However, we must keep a sense of proportion and remember that it is a game. Being taken over by a succession of unlikely billionaires is entirely consistent with the unpredictable strand which has always run through Manchester City.

But in another sense, the game itself can never be taken away from the supporters and fans, if they can afford to see it (the fact that many can't afford to watch it live at the ground is the sad thing). Every spectator can identify with the brilliance of play, can have their favourites, can have their own opinion.

We are chief pundits for at least 90 minutes, or at least at half time. And for the rest of the week.

There lies the true ownership and democracy of the game. All the other aspects of rivalry into which many of us were born are ancillary to that. And the soap opera of what happens in between games and all the socialising that makes up supporters' lives can never be seized by oligarchs or millionaires.

I used to watch City reserves every other week, along with about 1000 other fans. It's true, I am sure, as Anthony Sanchez writes, that many of the friendships and social groupings of fans on match days were destroyed when the club moved to Eastlands. But it had to happen.

When they bulldozed Moss Side and relocated the community all over the place, they destroyed the same thing. It was far more important than football and wrecked people's lives. I remember a man whose mother had had her house bought under a compulsory purchase order by the Council for £50. It was her pride and joy, well maintained, and she was devastated.

Maine Road was a depressing ground in many ways, rooted in the uninspiring environment of Moss Side. The school I went to in Moss Side is still there and physically, it must be one of the the most impoverished schools, visually speaking, in the whole of Manchester. It's on Princess Road.

It was the games and the play that lifted the faithful supporters, not the bricks of Maine Road. It's the genius of individuals which is always unpredictable—that genius which inspires young children to dream, to aspire, and to achieve. There were great days in the late 60s, with Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison and an unremitting attacking style of play.

So do not mourn the move from Maine Road. It's what happened there that is memorable and untouchable for those who witnessed it. Remember, if you can, too, that this is football. It's always been a plaything of those with power and money. Now it's more so. But they can't own your dreams.

If the very best players in the world are going to be brought to Manchester City, then celebrate it. If new supporters of the club emerge from all over the place, does it matter?

I will still know that I was at Maine Road when there was the lowest attendance ever in the 1960s. And other fans will have their own memories they treasure and re-tell to their friends and family. But it is just a game, just a form of entertainment.

We have struck lucky for now, it would be perverse and curmudgeonly not to enjoy it. No investor in their right mind would invest in football. Chelsea FC is effectively an insolvent business, it's just that they get a massive cash injection to balance their losses, from the man who got his hands on all the wealth created by the power industry workers in the old Soviet Union.

None of club ownership is fair, little of it may be honourable.

Fans invent reasons for their allegiance. Much of it is not rational, but it is all human. The dream of Maine Road, Platt Lane the Kippax will live on as long as there are those who remember them. Who would have thought in the dismal and dark days when City dropped out of the old "Second Division", that the club would one day play in a massive new stadium? 

Who would have thought that greatest players in the world might put on the sky blue shirts (not quite sky blue, I know)? And the club badge isn't worth going to the stake for. Three stars are OK, and I would not mind too much if there was a camel hump in it sometime in the future. We could always put a fibreglass camel in Alexandra Park or in Eastlands for the kids to play on. And it can always come out.

It's not selling out, it's facing the fact that if you want "real honest football", then best go to the semi-professional leagues, or even the local park—it has gone from the modern professional game. But don't let them take away your dreams, for they should run true under the madness of the modern game.

It seems to me, from a very prejudiced point of view, that at least in respect of Manchester United, the playing field has become a little more level at last. And if it tips a little in the blue direction, isn't it about time?

As my parents lie serenely in Southern Cemetery, I think they will be quietly smiling at last.

Actually, no—my mum will be roaring with laughter.