The Etihad Experience
At home with Manchester City
The 2018/19 season is fast approaching and there is every expectation that the trophy count will be even higher this year. We've already got the Community Shield in the cabinet. For some, it may be hard to imagine it wasn't always like this, but so much has happened over the decades. Ups and downs. Happiness and despair. I rather enjoyed last season especially. In calling up some memories, recent and further back, let's start with a sensational five goal thriller one sunny day in May 2018.
A welcome sight to greet us all
I'm on my way to one of the most impressive sporting venues in England. Strike that. The most awe-inspiring venue of any kind on the planet.
The place to be
To say there was a buzz around the ground would be doing the atmosphere a severe injustice. The Premiership title had been secured the previous week, thanks to an astonishing (not really) slip-up by Red Rags United at home to West Brom in mid-week. West Brom of all teams! Serial relegation battlers, finally destined for the drop.
A thunderous roar, cheering to the heavens. A massive, collective feeling of joy. A celebration to top all celebrations. A friendliness, a warmth. A welcoming environment for the committed and anyone with just a passing interest. Home to the best. The biggest in the land. A team that had topped all other teams all season. My Manchester City. The bus rolls in at 1:45pm. Pep disembarks first, striding purposefully through the adoring masses. And then the team. The manager has done wonders for team spirit and togetherness; players and supporters alike.
The Champions arrive
Next, a stroll around the concourse to soak up the pre-match atmosphere. To wander past the stalls selling Champions 18 shirts at £78.95. The benefit of winning the title so many weeks in advance. I wanted a shirt. Instead I settled for a programme and a copy of the legendary fanzine King of the Kippax. Still going strong after all these decades.
The stadium is vast. Still fairly new. Built for the Commonwealth Games in 2002, named the City of Manchester Stadium, then converted into a football venue and handed over to the pride of Manchester. It feels a bit like Wembley, but is even more impressive. The stadium is the jewel set in a very grand environment. The campus is extensive, beyond many people’s expectations. A secondary ground (The Academy stadium), a mass of training pitches, medical facilities, a range of related buildings and big plans for more. If not quite a town then certainly more than a village.
More than a stadium: photo via airviews.info
It’s not just about the Premiership. Think of the academy, the Women’s Superleague, the youths. Football is a way of life here. A place to work with the finest the sport has to offer.
The whole superstructure and almost everything that goes on here is funded by the Abu Dhabi property group, owned by Sheikh Mansour. There is a criticism sometimes hurled at the club, that City has bought success. Which Premier league winning team has not? But worse, the claim is that success has come on the back of cheap labour in the United Arab Emirates. It’s hard to knock this back. There is considerable inequality built into this project, and the club must be careful to remember exactly where the finance has come from. Few other clubs, if any, have had such generous benefactors and investors.
In contrast, and in purely footballing terms, few other clubs have had to endure the low points that City have been tormented by in previous eras. City fans have suffered longer and more deeply than most. I endured 35 years before seeing the club win any trophy. Not even the Full Members' Cup. Dark times. Relegation five times between 1983 and 2001. David Pleat running manically across the Maine Road pitch. Habitual under-achieving. Heart-breaking.
Even falling into Division two, the third tier of English league football. That excrutiating play-off final against Gillingham when I switched off my radio at 0-2 down, only to be told that City had equalised in injury time, and now it was penalty madness. Nicky Weaver, you can stop running now.
Nicky Weaver at Wembley for the Division 2 play off final in 1999
Further back, the FA Cup defeats to Halifax Town and Shrewsbury Town. Losing the 1981 final to an early pair of Argentinian wonders. Thankfully, we have the best Argentinians in the land now.
Leading the Red Rags 2-0 at home, with two goals from Niall Quinn, only to succumb to a 2-3 defeat in the second half. Losing 5-0 to the same opposition, I don't like to recall exactly when or how often. The tables have been turned completely now. That’s what we do to them. Remember the 6-1? Why always me. Thanks Mario.
Still a good question! Now inherited by Benjamin Mendy
Previously, City were perennial favourites to win the Cup for Cock-Ups. Thanks to Frannie Lee for that one. Even in the 2017/18 Champions League Campaign, Roy Keane said it was in City’s DNA to mess things up. Keane talks a lot of sense these days. He’s finally found his calling, being obliged to watch City's progress towards inevitable success in Europe.
City so nearly did mess things up in 2012. On the verge of a first Premiership title (and first top flight title since 1968). Having hauled ourselves to the top spot, making up an eight point deficit in the final weeks of the season, we nearly blew it against doomed club QPR on the last day. United were almost laughing.
God knows how it went right down to 93:20, but thank God we wiped the smiled off Phil Jones’ face, just in time. We will be forever grateful for Aguero time, and to Sergio himself. Assisted by Mario. Given a chance by Edin, who nodded in only two minutes earlier. Up to that point, I defy anyone to say they still thought we had a chance. That was typical City. Typical. But the players and Roberto never gave up. And now, every time I watch the replay my heart warms. Life doesn’t happen like that very often.
Aguero scoring that goal
Now, sitting there, with an overwhelming sense of joy and buoyancy in 2018, it was scarcely possible to imagine still greater excitement and triumph, still more happiness and elation. Yet my mind still goes back to that day in May 2012. Somehow I manage to grasp the enormity of what happened on that life-enhancing day.
Now, the Swansea match. A game where we could reasonably expect goal after goal after goal. We are sitting in the Family Stand. Goal posts to our right. A bit of a mismatch. Swansea, relegation favourites, looking down the barrel. City, the team of the century, poised to break even more records.
There’s no bad seat at the Etihad. No poor vantage point. Unless you’re in the away section. There is room for a few away fans; those lucky few who are privileged to watch their teams take on the finest in the land.
In the Family Stand, looking towards the South Stand
The East Stand
City lining up after parading through the Swansea's guard of honour. It became a habit towards the end of the season.
Finally the referee blows his whistle. It’s not long before David Silva – Il Mago – hooks one in at the far end. Soon after, a pulsating move sets up Raheem and it’s 2-0. Swansea are in for a right hammering, and it shows in their demeanour. Surprisingly, there is no addition to the score by half-time.
On the restart, KDB finds space on the right hand side, tees up a shot and Bang! A screamer into the far corner. Fabianski had no chance. The ball would still be travelling were it not for the net breaking its path. An instant glance at the linesman. No flag. 3-0 to City, and I’m thinking goal of the season.
Next, Raheem bursts into the box and runs into a desperate trip. A definite penalty, but he won it so well. Step forward Gabriel Jesus. Aguero is absent injured, alas.
The one that got away? Very nearly
Woe is me! A decent shot but the keeper saves it! No!
But wait, Bernardo is first to the rebound and slams the ball in from a tight angle. It’s four.
The end approaches. Phil Foden, the youngster, comes on for some more big time experience. Next, following a season long injury, Benjamin Mendy comes on. Ever cheerful, we all remember him racing down the touchline in his plaster cast to join in the celebrations for a very late wonder winner. Here, a comeback to delight the crowd and the man. Surely, only winning the World Cup could top the sensation of finally making his comeback on such a grand stage.
For Pep’s final move, on comes Yaya. Yaya Yaya. Yaya Yaya. Yaya Toure. A rapturous reception for the big man. A favourite of many. Rightly so, for dominating the midfield, for inspiring his team-mates, for those Wembley goals against Rags United and Stoke. The FA Cup Final in the bag. Awarded a statue in his honour. Let’s leave it there, I think.
In the dying minutes, Yaya senses one last opportunity for greatness. A perfectly executed lob over the defence. Gabriel Jesus beats the offside trap, connects with a looping header and the ball makes its way into the corner of the net. Fabianski looks back helplessly. 5-0 and it’s party time!
A well-deserved, comfortable win for the Champions. A humbling for a division one team in waiting. 83% possession for City. Almost unbelievable, except that that level of possession, or somewhere approaching it, was achieved frequently over the season.
The final whistle. A naughty fan makes his way over the barrier and onto the pitch. Then another, and another, and now it’s a full scale pitch invasion. But a friendly one. The final home game of the season is in two week’s time, but no one can wait.
I’m cautious. A bit proper. But I eventually take the plunge, step over the advertising boards and stride across the hallowed turf. The pitch is still in pristine condition. Greener on the other side indeed. Selfies galore, a bit of a sing-along.
Taking it all in
Eventually, it’s time to depart, and we make our way out of the stadium. Back to Piccadilly for a pint, a vegan burger and the train home.
It’s been a blast. The kind of thing that never used to happen to a City fan. But this is the new era. 2018. One fine day out of many at the Etihad. The following week, Huddersfield misbehaved and claimed a 0-0 draw in the last home game of the season. So annoying. Still, the trophy was awarded and held high. My Captain Vinnie.
Trophy day for the Premier League Champions 2018
And finally, an injury time winner from Gabriel Jesus at St. Marys. 100 points! Centurions. 50 at home. 50 away. Thank you Pep. Thank you City.
We are magnificent.
Now let’s do it again, but even better.
© Eddie Hewitt 2018