Monday, 10 January 2022

KING OF THE KIPPAX COLUMN - JANUARY 2022

 STOP CRYING YOUR HEART OUT



I can’t believe they’re still talking about it.

By them, I’m sure you’re aware that I mean Arsenal fans. By the time that King of the Kippax goes to press and you’re reading this, they’ll probably still be talking about it.

Oh the injustice. New Year’s Day 2022 – the day when Arsenal turned up for 45 minutes against City and gave us a really good first half - but didn’t win and have cried about it ever since.

I’ll take you back to December as a whole. City, with a jam-packed schedule, still had players missing due to injuries and Covid. But, unlike other clubs and managers, did no complaining and just cracked on with it. Head down, professional and, not only did they play each and every game, but they also won the lot.

Admittedly, Brentford felt more like a battle than the previous fixtures. In a weird way, it almost felt like a cup tie, but an early Phil Foden goal was enough to give us all three points. But it definitely felt like a scrap.

And then came Arsenal away.

There had been a feeling like that match would be the hardest one of the festive fixtures. Arsenal, doing well under Pep’s protégé Mikel Arteta, were flying relatively high in fifth place. The game was coming just three days after that tricky tie at Brentford. Between the fixtures, Joao Cancelo had been attacked by intruders at his home whilst he was trying to defend his family – yet still was included as part of the travelling squad to the Emirates. Arteta, however, would be missing due to Covid, so his assistant Albert Stuivenberg took charge in the dugout.

I don’t know what gives Arsenal fans the guile, or the audacity, to be so inexplicably outraged at not winning the match. How can anybody be that entitled? The reaction since the game, or should I say overreaction, has been nothing short of outrageous. As far as I’ve known my entire life following football – the team that scores the most goals, wins the game. We’re back to football basics here.

I did say to my boyfriend at one point during the second half – if we go on and win the game from there, it’ll be absolute mayhem. And it was. But you cannot just turn up for 45 minutes against one of the best teams in the world and think you’re entitled to win the game. Life and football doesn’t work like that. They looked the brighter team during the first half – I make no bones about that. But a culmination of different events led to Arsenal losing their heads, their discipline and their way.

Once Gabriel had seen red for his second bookable offence, we dominated and the winner looked inevitable. Wave upon wave of attacks came over and over again and, at one point looking at the clock, I started to think it wasn’t going to happen.

Then, the breakthrough.




Deep into injury time, it was Rodri who grabbed the winner – and subsequently let the City players in a frantic, euphoric celebration in front of the home fans, like something straight out of the Emmanuel Adebayor archives. Debris rained down on the jubilant huddle – everything from bottles to toilet rolls, Arsenal fans made their feelings very aware. But the win was secured. City’s persistence had kept their winning run going – and extended the lead at the top of the Premier League table to 10 points.

Let’s be abundantly clear here. Arsenal had the chances to win the game – they just couldn’t find the back of the net more than once. Wasteful with their efforts, the Gunners lost all discipline once they went down to 10 men. The source of most of the outrage, the VAR decisions, were both correct in their outcome. Stuart Attwell chose to trust VAR when it came to a first half collision between the onrushing Ederson and Martin Odegaard – and when the VAR replays show the incident slowed down, you notice two things. Odegaard has his foot on Ederson’s and Ederson got the ball. So, correct decision.

The second one was between Granit Xhaka and Bernardo Silva. Bursting into the box – Xhaka attempted to stop Silva by sticking his leg out, and then, by pulling his shirt. The Portuguese midfielder eventually goes down – and this time, referee Attwell consults the pitch side monitor to decide the outcome. Once again, they are two key elements here. The leg from Xhaka and the clear and obvious shirt pulling on Bernardo.

There can therefore be no complaints whatsoever from Arsenal fans. It’s rare that City actually come out on the right end of VAR decisions. Since it’s inclusion, we can be rightfully aggrieved of many injustices at the hands of VAR – but this time, the correct decisions were made. So why all the outrage? Why the condemnation? Why the holier-than-thou response and attitude that made Arsenal fans so adamant that they should’ve won the game.

Take your chances. Keep your heads. Play to the whistle. This isn’t rocket science. If they would’ve done that, it may have been a different story. But it was City who rightfully got the win. An old football cliché talks about a team’s ‘character’, but in this instance, we really did see a gritty, ground out victory from Pep’s men. Call me crazy, but sometimes there’s a greater satisfaction with a smash and grab win – especially with a last-minute winner that’s celebrated in front of the home fans. This is elite level shithousing as we call it – City kept going, didn’t give up, refused to take no for an answer. We’re so used to watching majestic, breath-taking football from the Blues. While that’s nothing but a delight to the eyes, you’d be lying if you didn’t love a late winner that we all do delirious for.

I guess it should come as no surprise that City have somehow been painted as the bad guys yet again. I spoke in KK282 about the many peddled myths about the club and spent almost 5000 words dispelling each and every one. But the backlash this time really is tedious. I won’t mention the name of the comedian that went on a podcast and slagged us off with an entirely hypocrital and racist rant, he’s had far too much coverage ever since (I’m sure others will have done throughout this issue). But it’s the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, it’s all down to sour grapes. A very petulant bout of feet stomping, dummy spitting and toys out of the pram. So imagine my jubilation when Nottingham Forest beat Arsenal 1-0 in the third round of the FA Cup. Petty perhaps, but further proof that sometimes people really should let the football do the talking. I respond online to all of this usually with heavy doses of sarcasm – GIFs, photographs and memes. Mostly facts too - because nobody can deny them and people don’t like to hear the truth when confronted with it. Sometimes, as painful and as restrained as you have to be, it’s often best to try and be the better person and not get bogged down in tit for tat Twitter scraps with rival fans. It can take a lot to be the better person, but it’s worth it to not look like a complete and utter t**t. See the comedian above for example.

Let’s stick to the positives. City are still in three competitions – but the main thing is leading the race for the Premier League table ahead of Chelsea by 10 points and Liverpool 11. It’s a formidable position to be in half-way through the season – having played most of our tough games away from home too. I went on Five Live recently with fans of both Chelsea and Liverpool and they both all but conceded that the title race is over. I was much too humble and pragmatic to admit that the sky blue and white ribbons would be staying on the trophy for a consecutive season, but there was something exciting about hearing that both of our closest rivals thought the best option for them was to concentrate on other competitions. In a way, I think going out of the Carabao Cup early this season may have done us a favour – less games than them both, with more of an emphasis on the Premier League. It’s the one I always love to win. I would love to see us do it for the fourth time in five seasons.

It’s a long way between now and May, but the key element is always consistency and momentum. If we keep that up – Jack will be having a party against his old club on the final game of the season.

Now you can file that under ‘things I’ve love to see.’

 

Emily Brobyn

@kippaxgirlemily

 

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

KING OF THE KIPPAX COLUMN - NOVEMBER 2021




I remember years ago when I used to go on holiday with my Mum, Dad and brother, Simon. Simon and I would always try and get the new City shirt to wear for the plane. Adorned in Brother and Umbro or Kappa, we’d be ready to jet off to faraway shores wearing our colours with pride.

‘Awwwwww, you support Manchester City?’ The sympathetic voices would say, accompanied by a gratuitous, if not entirely patronising head tilt.

‘Well yes, yes we do,’ we’d reply, sticking our chests out like strutting poultry before a journey to the abattoir.

‘Didn’t know there was two clubs in Manchester,’ they retorted. The head tilt would continue, swiftly followed by a smirk, before they’d walk away.

This used to be a familiar occurrence wherever we went. Loveable old little City. The club people used to pity. The yo-yo club with a managerial merry-go-round that spun faster than any ride on Blackpool pier. Manchester City: with their ground deep in Moss Side, with the scoreboard that didn’t work and white plastic garden chairs for our subs bench. City – the butt of all jokes. City- the laughing stock of football.

Fast forward a couple of decades and Manchester City are now apparently the root of all evil. A side that have dominated English football for the past decade; sweeping up regular silverware by playing the beautiful game the very way that definition intended. A club that signs some of the best players in football, managed by a Catalan with a distinctly delightful football philosophy. So, what’s the problem?

Whenever I hear that somebody has a problem with City, I immediately associate it with jealousy. I’ve had so many discussions with fans of other clubs where I’ve said they all wish their club would’ve had the takeover we did. They all wish their club was as well run as ours is. They all wish they could be watching the calibre of players that we’ve been fortunate enough to watch over the past decade. There’s a lot of resentment out there.

Pardon the pun, but City are now a well-oiled machine. Success is never guaranteed in football: but the seeds were sown, the roots have grown and the club now consistently win silverware every season. You tell me a football fan that doesn’t want that for their club and I’ll show you a liar. So here are the biggest myths associated with City and just how I really feel about them.



‘Empty seats at home’

You can tie this in with ‘you’ve only had fans since 2008.’

We’re still the butt of everybody’s jokes, but now it’s because we allegedly struggle to fill our stadium. The Etihad stadium is regularly referred to as ‘the Emptihad’ – fans seem to think we have issues filling it. City had a regular core support at Maine Road of 28,000 fans: these fans are working class people who just love football. The football revolution that happened post-takeover at City has undoubtedly attracted more fans to the club, but the make-up of bums on seats is still in the main by local, ordinary folk.

What people, staggeringly, fail to realise is that most normal folk have a balance to address in their lives. Money has never been tighter and City are regularly still in all four competitions by February (a rare exception this season, having bowed out of the Carabao Cup earlier than usual). Following a successful football club doesn’t come cheap and fans have had to make sacrifices to stay committed to the cause. Champion League group stage games always attract more ‘irregular’ fans, which dilutes the atmosphere even further.

Some might say these are excuses – I’d like to refer to them as facts. There’s an argument to say we extended the South Stand a bit too soon, anticipating higher crowds. But we do still attract regular attendances of 52,000+. Post-Covid, City gave fans the option to defer their season tickets for a year in case they were concerned about health issues attending games or other matters. I know many blues that decided to take that up. I also know friends who have been put off by the club moving to digital tickets.

Overall, the vast majority of City fans I know were itching to get back to football after the pandemic. It’s a very testing experience watching your club solely through a television screen – it’s just not what the game is all about. It’s a bit soulless; there’s a disconnect, but I will happily admit that still having football in our lives during Covid certainly helped with my mental health.

The empty seat facts are that City’s ‘success’ is more recent to that of longer-established clubs in the Premier League ‘top four’. The club have only been conducting pre-season global tours for the past decade or so. The hardcore support is local: most fans have been there, done it, bought most of the shirts along the way. I’m proud of that though. I welcome and know fans worldwide who are avid City fans, but the make up in the numbers tells you most are local. There is no disrespect with truth. From Maine Road to the Etihad and now the next generation are going to matches too.

As annoying as the empty seat jibes are – take it as a compliment. It means they haven’t got much else they can find fault in, so they generalise a loyal fan base with mythical nonsenses. If it sounds pathetic - it’s because it really is.

‘You should grow a conscious’

This is one of my favourites. When the takeover at City happened back in August 2008, most blues didn’t have a clue what was going on. I remember watching the news unfold live on Sky Sports on transfer deadline day bewildered: what was going on? The club has been sold? Who to? Most people knew of the huge problems with the ownership under Thaksin Shinawatra, but nobody could’ve seen what happened coming. Suddenly, the tabloids were awash with headlines like ‘FANTASY FOOTBALL.’ Fans turned up at the Etihad wearing Arab headwear to watch a player that had boarded a private jet on deadline day thinking he was heading to Chelsea only to be met by Mark Hughes and told he was signing for City. Confusion was all around – but clarity wasn’t far away.

Success didn’t happen overnight - it came after years of meticulous planning and heavy investment. But the most common diatribe that is forced upon City fans is when people criticise us for supporting our club, whilst trying to hold against us the actions of the country that our owner is from.

‘It’s barbaric.’

‘It’s inhumane.’

‘How can you be so spineless, why can’t you grow a backbone?’

Let’s make one thing crystal clear. I signed up to support my inflatable banana-waving, none of the stands match in our ground, mostly awful at kicking a ball about football club because I just inexplicably fell head over heels in love with them. My first game, at Goodison Park, was love at first sight. I never looked back. Call me crazy, but I loved how perfectly imperfect we were: it was almost a reflection of me. A bit of an ugly duckling. The imperfections were endearing to me. Manchester City and I are kindred spirits. We had a manager who lasted 32 days in the job. The chairman sold toilet rolls. We were getting beat by Bury at home. That’s my football club. That’s what it was all about – turning up every week wondering what joys we were going to be subjected to this 90 minute round. Invariably, just when you think it couldn’t get worse, it did.

Then we went on a tour of Division Two, then right to the brink – and back again. Some of those days – then the Keegan era and the football we played back then – those away days, were the best days of my life. Before children and commitments: when disposable income meant never ever missing a single game. The stories we could tell. The people we met, the friends we have kept.

But what it all revolved around was football. 11 men kicking the ball around in a sky blue shirt. Football. The ties that bind us together – Manchester City Football Club. A sense of belonging, that feeling of home and familiarity. Sharing it with mates – creating memories you’ll struggle to remember but never forget.

When the takeover happened – did people genuinely think we were supposed to walk away from everything we’d ever known? Players come and go. Owners come and go. The only two constants are the club and the fans. We support the club no matter what. MCFC OK. A recognised broadcaster berated me once for having the audacity to have enjoyed myself supporting my club and their successes over the past 10 years. I was on national radio – they’d phoned me to speak about the European Super League saga and, initially, I was obviously appalled. City fans had been blindsided by it all and we were all struggling to process the news.

‘But you’ve enjoyed it all, haven’t you?’ He said, dryly. ‘You celebrated; you’ve enjoyed every moment.’

What exactly do you expect me to do? Hold my hands up because my club have come into a bit of money and say no thanks, you’re alright, that’s it, I’m throwing the towel in? Seriously? This club has provided me with some of the worse and best times of my life.  Whether it’s under Francis Lee, David Bernstein or Sheikh Mansour – I’m supporting them. For me, it’s really not that deep. It’s football. It’s 11 men kicking a ball of air around a football pitch. The team that scores the most goals, wins. The club with the most points at the end of the season, lift a trophy. The fans celebrate. Don’t guilt trip me for celebrating and enjoying the ride – heaven knows, I’ve paid my dues.

I said I fell in love with this football club and I meant it. When you love somebody, it’s unconditional. It’s for better, for worse, in sickness and in health. As far as I’m concerned, I was there for them at their worst, so am I not allowed to celebrate them at their best because certain elements of the media disapprove of our ownership? Do you seriously expect that from loyal fans? Have you seen that from other clubs? Do they berate those fans as much as us? This isn’t me wallowing in self-pity – make no mistake – this is me attempting to make said people realise just how ridiculous their stance is. Let people enjoy themselves free from an illogical cloud of judgement.

‘The owners will get bored of their project’

We’re currently 13 years post takeover. There cannot be a shred of doubt left as to the dedication to the ‘project’ at City from the owners.

Some owners drain money from their football club. Other owners simply lie stagnant and refuse to re-invest the colossal sums they make.

Our owners have gone beyond transforming the football club. They’ve transformed the entire area surrounding it. They’ve invested heavily into East Manchester – it wasn’t required, but they did it nonetheless. They’ve built homes, built a college; the investment has a knock-on effect and benefits local businesses. Surely that’s to be commended, not condemned? They’ve built a state-of-the-art training facility, complete with offices, hotel facilities and invested further in both the academy and women’s teams. It’s a carefully-planned, meticulous process that has been years in the making to get to this point.

City in the Community have recently celebrated their 35 year anniversary of engaging in youth projects and outreach programmes throughout Manchester. They do tireless, dedicated work and they deserved significant recognition. I particularly want to give credit to the ‘Kids Fanzone’ that they put on before each home game.

If you’re unfamiliar with them, because you’re in the pub pre-match, the Kids Fanzone is an interactive and fun-fuelled experience that is held on one of the indoor pitches at the CFA. The club do one-on-one sessions, five-a-side kickabouts, football zorbing, arts and crafts, target practice, goalkeeper sessions, fussball tables and much, much more to involve the younger generation at City and encourage them to come to games. My two children, aged seven and four, absolutely love it. The most incredible part is that the club do this for free.

Cynics may see this as a marketing tool for City to entice children to come to games – I view it as it’s something that no other football club do for their younger fans. It’s an ingenious idea to make going to the football a full day out for our children. After all, they’re the ones who we will all the passing the blue baton onto eventually. One day, they will want to be in town downing their pints before heading to the Etihad, but for now, while they’re young enough, it’s a match day experience for them like no other out there. Most of the staff there too volunteer their time to participate simply because they love it. I’m incredibly grateful to every one of them (if you haven’t been yet and you have young children, you can get up to six tickets free with you season ticket). I know that City in the Community were there before the takeover, but the owners value it and recognise it as part of the beating heartbeat of the club.

Bored? I think there’s plenty more to come.

‘City are that insignificant that nobody cares about them’

So, why are you talking about us then? Hypocrite.

‘You’re just Wigan Athletic with money’

Well, we finished 15 points above Wigan a few months before the takeover happened. They may have beaten us in the FA Cup Final and knocked us out in the quarter finals in 2014, before beating us in the 5th round 1-0 with a solo goal from Will Grigg is on fire, but let’s look at that as the Latics winning the battles but not the wars.

Wow, those games were grim weren’t they.

But it’s safe to say, for the vast majority of the time, we’ve mostly been better than Wigan Athletic. Money or no money. It’s straw clutching at its finest. Next.

‘City are the problem with modern football’

Fingers firmly being pointed in the wrong direction.

When did it become acceptable for all clubs not only to release three football kits a year, but charge an exorbitant amount to fans for the privilege? Further to this, then release an even more expensive ‘player worn’ kit. Modern football is Sky, Champions League, VAR, half and half scarves, Go-Pro-ing at the game, vloggers, grown adults making signs begging players to give them their shirts after the game. Modern football isn’t City-specific – it’s football-specific; so it’s wrong to try and leave all of the above solely at our door.

Sometimes the problem is modern football as a whole – and is there really any going back from that, is there?

‘City aren’t and never will be a big club’

This is one that even Ole Gunnar Solskjaer peddled out ahead of the recent Derby at Old Trafford.

‘United will always be bigger than City.’ The headline screamed across the tabloid’s back page.

Bigger? What does that even mean? Do you get an open top bus parade for claiming that your club is ‘bigger’ than the rest? Does size equal trophies?

Does anybody really care? Once upon a time, Nottingham Forest, Everton and Aston Villa were ‘big clubs.’ What definition are you going by? Success in Europe? Is that all it really boils down to? Sounds like a manhood-swinging competition to me. When all else fails and the trophies dry up, let’s just claim to be a ‘bigger’ club. That more people ‘care’ about us. Does anybody really care about the ‘big club’ label, is it really that important and relevant to anything or just does it help you sleep better at night when your team is floundering and struggling to keep up with the rest?

In recent years, the ‘top four’ has been dismantled and become a thing of the past. This should be welcomed: football had become too predictable and stale. It should never be a closed office: we saw the rightful reaction to the European Super League. We should want the Leicesters, the Citys, the West Hams to be up there too. It freshens it up, it should be encouraged. Every team should have a chance to challenge the so-called ‘elite’ – it usually takes a takeover to do it, but clubs have been spending money long before the Premier League’s nouveux riche.

People are too quick to point fingers at Leicester, City and now probably and eventually, Newcastle because of their takeovers. Jack Walker at Blackburn – the money from his steel business meant that Blackburn Rovers won the Premier League title. That wouldn’t have happened without his cash injection. Chelsea and Roman Abramovich – United being floated on the Stock Exchange – it all comes down to spending to accumulate – although we are currently witnesses to the fact that spending money doesn’t always guarantee you success.

The ‘big club’ humble brag is what my old psychology teacher would tell me is a crutch for the weak. Because it is. Add it to the list of insults you use because you’re living off past glories and struggling to keep up in the present.

‘City are ruining football’

Did City invent the art of spending money? Did City turn football into a business? It would be argued that the birth of the Premier League and the Champions League aided that. Sky constantly changing fixtures and altering kick off times that regularly make it near on impossible to make the last train home is nothing short of a disgrace. But we’ve all just grown to accept it as the norm now, haven’t we?

12:30pm kick offs, 5:30pm kick offs and now Amazon Prime with their ingenious 8:15pm kick off times. Sky happily admitted that they knew fans would probably revolt at first, but would eventually get used to it. The football times that change on a whim too, when fans have already spent their hard-earned money booking trains and, in some cases, hotels in advance because that’s when these things are always cheaper.

It’s a very similar argument to modern day football, so I won’t repeat myself, but if you think City are ruining football when they’ve brought some of the most attractive football you’ll have ever been privileged to watch to the Premier League, it tends to sound like sour grapes on your part.

Just sit back, watch and appreciate. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.

‘You’ve got no history’

This was the line used at me a few years ago outside the Etihad by ‘DT’ from ‘Arsenal Fan TV’ fame. I’d say it was bellowed repeatedly at me with pointed, gesticulating fingers rather than just used, but you get the idea. It’s a popular one too – I think fans like to use it to make themselves feel better about their own team’s shortcomings.

What even defines history though, solely winning silverware? I argued to him that it’s so much more than that and he wasn’t having any of it.

I’ve reached a point in my life when I’m just too old in the tooth to tolerate nonsense. I just say it how it is these days. I’ve learnt that pandering to people doesn’t work. You get sick of hearing the same nonsense. How can a club founded in 1880 as St Mark’s, Ardwick Association Football Club in 1887 and, finally became Manchester City Football Club in 1894, have no history? City have 114 years of history before the takeover happened. City had won trophies before the takeover happened. It’s yet another tiring, false narrative that is inaccurate and insulting to the club legends that City rightly hold in such high regard.

Try telling the late Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee, Francis Lee, Glyn Pardoe, Mike Doyle, Paul Dickov, Shaun Goater, Nicky Weaver, Kevin Horlock to name a mere few that the club has no history.

But make sure if you’re daft enough to tell the people who played a part in creating the history, that it’s to their face and not online. The coward’s way of insulting people.

Oh, you don’t fancy doing that? Didn’t think so.

All of the above and so much more used to really wind me up no end. People use these myths as a stick to beat City fans with – enough is enough. Ultimately, we are just loyal, passionate fans like any other club has. Don’t begrudge us enjoying any good times we may have supporting our team when we’ve been dedicated to the cause through so many dark days in the past.

I never ever thought I’d live to see the day my team lifted a trophy. I thought winning the Division Two Play Off final while United won the treble, including the Champions League, was as good as it would get. I didn’t think that I’d ever feel that adrenaline rush from Paul Dickov’s goal and when Nicky Weaver saved the last penalty back in 1999 ever again. We had a lot of good times and played some great football under Kevin Keegan and they were brilliant moments…

But…wow.

When I take a step back and reflect on just how fortunate we’ve been…it’s mind blowing when you think about it. The sheer amount of times we’ve been to Wembley alone; to know that area so well and be so familiar with it because City have been that often, that is something I still never take for granted. Any trophy means so much. In fact, trophies or no trophies, strip it all down and it’s just City that mean the world. Because underneath it all, it is still our club. Sometimes you have to look a little harder: past the glossy exterior, the dozens of sponsorships, the ‘City Football Group’ brand that includes several other clubs dotted around the globe in our network that no City fan I’m familiar with truly cares about.

But it’s there. I see it in City in the Community. I see it in a few faces that have worked at the club from Maine Road and are still there now (they’ll probably be too embarrassed for me to acknowledge them by name, but they know who they are). I see it in the way the club values the young fans by putting on a free Kids Fanzone before the home games for children to engage and enjoy. They’re the next generation – they’re the ones who will still be flying the flag when we’re all worm fodder.

I see it in Dave and Sue, who have worked tirelessly and thanklessly for years making the best football fanzine out there. They have dedicated years of their lives having their matchdays disrupted by selling fanzines before and after the games, home and away, in all manner of weather conditions to bring you the real voices of the fans. We all know how the media are now: it relies on clickbait to engage supporters. Fanzines are more important than ever. They are one of the only outlets nowadays that bring you real, raw, honest and unsanitised opinion and dialogue from fans. Dave and Sue are devoted to their cause – City wouldn’t be the same without them.

I see it in the fans. The faces you recognise on away days, but don’t always know the names. The regular stalwarts. The characters. Pete the Badge. Helen the Bell (god rest her soul). Jackie. Every fan that shares this love, this passion, this dedication. The ones who have suffered, but now reap the rewards of endless loyalty. The club wouldn’t be the same without them.

Cynics will say it’s far from a fairy tale – a Middle Eastern man helping to payroll these trophies they say – but to us fans, it’s been the ride of our lives. None of us signed up to a life like this. We didn’t have a crystal ball that said if we endured enough, we’d enjoy everything else. How were we supposed to know? Why the hell should we just walk away? It’s time to cut loyal fans some much-needed slack and recognise them for being just that – loyal fans. Stop picking holes in people’s support, stop telling other fans how they should feel and how they should behave – let people live their lives the way they see fit and they only way they know how to.

That way is turning up for kick off come rain or shine, come Francis Lee or Sheikh Mansour, come Lee Bradbury or Sergio Aguero, come Division Two or the Premier League champions. Because if we’ve learnt anything throughout this pandemic, isn’t it that football without fans really is nothing? The show did go on, but it lost its soul. Its sparkle. Its key ingredient.

Fans make football what it really is. They’re the life and soul of any club. Some of us were here long before the good times came to town. Some of us fell in love with this football club way back when – flaws and all - so try and remember that when you’re judging us for being here now. Been there, seen it, done it, lived it, breathed it – got plenty of t-shirts. Good times, bad times, awful times, amazing times. No other football club in the world has been on the journey that we have as fans. The ups, the downs, the twists and the turns.

They call it character building – it makes you humble; it keeps you grounded.

You know what? I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

Emily Brobyn

@kippaxgirlemily

 

Sunday, 28 March 2021

KING OF THE KIPPAX COLUMN - MARCH 2021

MARCH OF THE INCREDIBLES

What a difference a few months can make. It only seems like yesterday since ‘Pep Out’ was trending on Twitter, City were in the bottom half of the table and Liverpool fans were positively giddy about the prospect of retaining the trophy they’d waited 30 long years to win.

I think it’s safe to say that ship has sailed.

Then we had United fans posting pictures of the Premier League table and claiming Joint Top was a thing.

It isn’t and they’re not. Ole’s reds left with that sinking feeling yet again.

Now Pep is steering City’s juggernaut vessel downwind with the finish line firmly in sight. Since mid December, it’s been virtually nothing but plain sailing for City. Our phenomenal 28 game unbeaten run thwarted only by United, the Incredibles are marching on towards a fifth Premier League title and Pep’s third – but what other trophies will we secure along the way and will we all be able to celebrate together in some capacity if circumstances allow? Brighter days are coming; it’s just a matter of when, not if.

YOU’VE GOT THE LOVE

I remember when the world as we knew it stopped turning during the first lockdown in March 2020. When everything came to a standstill: the skies were stripped bare of planes, the streets desolate and football was put on pause. When rumours started to swirl about the Premier League returning, the game as we knew it came under massive scrutiny.

Was it money over safety?  While we were social distancing and wearing masks, players were able to tackle, line up in a wall and celebrate together for goals. Was it right? So many questions were asked, but the show must go on and football did return – and may I say, for the greater good too.

The most recent lockdown has been even more difficult for so many people. We may not have had football during the initial lockdown, but we had sunshine in abundance. The feeling that we were all doing our bit and that it would only be for a limited amount of time meant that people were almost generous in their enthusiasm to stay at home, wash their hands and help out in exchange for their freedom in a few months. We all banged our pots and pans, painted our rainbows and lived in hope for a prompt return to normality.

By the time nine months had passed by and Boris announced another lockdown, the rainbows had faded and most people’s enthusiasm had long waned. With one of the coldest and wettest Winters for years, the days were cold, dark, dismal and repetitive. Homeschooling was a firm part of every parent’s juggling act. But this time, one thing was different. We had the football. We had City – and boy did we need them.

I’m grateful for my children, for their youthful ignorance has been my bliss and a welcome distraction. I’m grateful for my partner for helping to keep me sane, rational and positive. I’m grateful for my Mum, for being our single child support bubble and helping with the boys when the juggle and the struggle has been too much.

But I’m grateful to for City. So, so grateful.

For when most of our basic rights and daily hobbies are taken away from us, City have been the one constant that we’ve still been able to enjoy. Through the snow, rain and freezing temperatures, City have been there to offer us some normality and I think that has really helped me through the past few months. I know that nothing can ever replace going to matches and I’ve really felt that. For years, we have planned our lives around the fixture list and to have something so consistent removed from our lives was initially so difficult. I’ve missed the smells, the atmosphere, the adrenaline and emotions. But most of all, I’ve missed the people.

It may sound precious with the amount of people who have lost loved ones and key workers under incredible pressure, but I mean it with the best of intentions and only in the context of providing us all with something that is relatable, common and the most welcome of distractions. A degree of normality in extraordinary times. Not only have City kept us company, they’ve provided us with the most phenomenal winning run we’ve seen since, well, City did it last time. 22 wins in a row and 28 games unbeaten – with Ilkay Gundogan and Pep Guardiola winning the Premier League Player and Manager of the Month award for January and February.

So many questions had been asked. How would we cope without Kevin De Bruyne? Could we finally win at Anfield? Where does Laporte fit in when Stones and Dias have forged such a formidable partnership? Would Aguero ever play for us again? Possibly the biggest question people had dared to ask was ‘is Pep done at City?’

Every question had been answered and then some.

THE EVOLUTION OF PEP

There have been a couple of questions that I’ve been asked a lot recently when I’ve been invited onto the radio. The first one being, ‘what has changed so much for City to turn their season around since mid December?’ The second is always, ‘which era of Pep football have you enjoyed the most?’

I’ll answer the first one. I really feel that City’s lack of pre-season left them so ill-prepared for the season of the 2020/21 campaign. De Bruyne has always been vocal about this: how much he struggled to find his feet and settle into the demands and rigours that the Premier League ask from their competitors. I also voiced my own concerns over the potential disruption and uncertainty about Pep’s future and whether that could play a part in players or even the manager himself feeling unsettled.

Once Pep addressed the question marks over his future and the players found their feet, fitness and rhythm in the season, there was no looking back. Everything clicked into place: the momentum built, the consistency was established and, just as important, the mentality and team spirit was clear for all to see. This was a team flourishing; growing in confidence and working hard for each other. A team thriving and striving for success in every competition. It wasn’t so much as Pep was back – he’d never gone anywhere. And let’s thank our lucky stars for that.

As for the eras? It’s a difficult one. Much like the luxurious headache Pep has to endure when selecting his starting XI with such an array of talent at his disposal, we have really been spoilt during the past few seasons with the football that we’ve lucky enough to watch. So much so, that it’s testing at the best of times now when it comes to watching other games on the television. The standard that City have set is so superior to the rest, it’s often a tedious affair trying to sit through neutral matches.

But it’s always only been their own standard that City have been chasing. City have set the bar so high for everybody. The eras of Pep at City have been conveniently defined by the club themselves through the catchy slogans they label the seasons to help the club shop sell leisurewear. The first season was more of a transition season, so we won’t talk about that. The second season, 2017/18, was the Centurions season. The era of free flowing, fantasy football, the likes of which the Premier League had never seen before. The League was won with a 100 points tally – 19 points ahead of our nearest rivals, United.

The third campaign, 2018/19, was the Fourmidables. The season that we won the domestic treble and fought a colossal battle with Liverpool for the title – toe to toe – winning it on the final day with a 4-1 victory against Brighton. I think that season is the most stressed I’ve ever felt following City – well, since the individual games vs QPR 2011/12 and Gillingham at Wembley 1999. The fourth was 2019/20 – a far from normal season as we knew it and nonetheless, slightly disappointing given our recent standards.

But this time round, 2020/21, should be recognized as the season of the Incredibles. A term that Pep used repeatedly after the 5-2 Southampton win because of the Laporte penalty decision and the incredulous Foden penalty/non penalty saga, but incredible fits well with City this season for many different reasons. The reason that impresses me the most is what I like to call The Evolution of Pep.

Too many times last season, we were coming up against teams and walking away post-match declaring that Pep’s style had been ‘found out’. A high line, a low block; hit us on the counter, grab a goal, then sit and defend the lead. Frustrate us. Was it his achille’s heel? How do we solve the problem? Teams know that by playing too open, they run the risk of us going full throttle and scoring three, four, five against them. An open game for us can be like carving a knife through butter.

But Pep has learnt and adapted. This season, we’ve seen a much more cautious side to his style of play. I think a certain amount of it has been down to game management: so many games to play and trying to not expend more energy than necessary. But definitely against United at Old Trafford and Liverpool at home in the League, we witnessed a manager who was displaying restraint. A man would had given due diligence to being undone on the counter by these teams before and who knew the value of one point over three.

He could’ve rolled the dice and gone for it. I’ll admit that I was screaming for him to do it. But he knew that, by doing that, we risked conceding on the break. At the time, I was a bit sceptical. But, looking back, I realise that it was a clever decision to make. We’ve seen a few games this season, the Sheffield United games are first that come to mind, where it’s been methodical and at a much slower and steadier pace than season’s past. The key has been not to use many subs, not to overly exert yourself. Grab a goal, keep possession, see the game out. There have been games this season that we would’ve, or did, lose last season, had we not have evolved and learnt from past mistakes. It’s a sign of a top drawer manager: one who has won most things on offer in football but is still learning, adapting and experimenting. But we’ve seen real guts too. Determination, endeavour, courage, passion and fight. Some games really have just been about getting over the line. Some have been a real battle. In a season packed full of matches, I can forgive them for that. It shows again a different side – no guts, no glory.

The rotation this season has been clever too. For the best part, we’ve been lucky to have an almost fully fit squad. Many people talk about the value of our bench – this takes me back to the days of Garry Cook and that napkin. Although I worked with Garry for a few seasons, I never saw the napkin, but I know that the idea was to have two players of real quality in each position across the pitch. To be able to swap Stones for Laporte, Zinchenko for Cancelo, Rodri for Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne for Gundogan is an extraordinary opulence. It’s even more impressive in that it doesn’t affect the outcome of games. Each player knows their role when it comes to the bigger picture. It’s a team effort – you only have to see that when the players celebrate goals and at the final whistle. They’re working for each other, striving for their targets and it’s exciting to see.

So many players have stepped it up too. Gundogan, who I have championed since his arrival at the club, was so influential during De Bruyne’s absence and really came into his own. Bernardo is back to his brilliant self – his work rate is nothing short of exceptional. Mahrez – often the scapegoat for so many people – he has been more consistent of late and produced some dazzling goals. I’m also enjoying him being more selfless too. He has one of the best touches and techniques I’ve seen from a footballer; it’s always only been about consistency when it comes to Mahrez. Cancelo has been a revelation: he’s been our joker in the pack and has played more of a midfield playmaker role than a full back. Credit has to go to Zinchenko too. This season he’s been more assured: he’s matured and been more consistent and assertive. The positives are plentiful.

I could heap praise on each and every player, such has been the nature of the football we have been enjoying. I’ll save it for a future article. But I will say this – we cannot underestimate the importance of how improved our defence has been. The signing of Ruben Dias has proved pivotal to that: he’s a naturally confident leader. He marshalls, orders, bellows, instructs and leads with aggression and authority. Alongside a resurgent John Stones, a solid and consistent partnership has flourished and it’s been one of the true joys of the season. The confidence that comes with having a dependable defence has helped to shape our team, mindset and driven us forward throughout our record-breaking winning run. It’s a team effort – but I do believe it will be the amount of clean sheets we have kept and the vast improvement of our back line that has had the biggest say in potentially bringing the title back to the blue half of Manchester this season.

WE WILL FIGHT FOREVER MORE, BECAUSE OF…

Most City fans would’ve known that our remarkable 21 game winning streak would come to an end sooner rather than later. Many old school blues would’ve know that was bound to happen against United. That’s just the way it goes as a City fan. But to lose the game 2-0 at home in the manner that we did was disappointing to say the least.

I know I may come across as spoilt by saying this, but there is nothing wrong in admitting how disappointed you are at a particular result, despite what the League table says. There seemed to be a real divide on social media after the game. Disappointment yes, but some seemed to be happy because we still had a sizable lead at the top. But there was still a decent amount of blues that were bitterly frustrated by not only the result, but the manner of the defeat.

So many managers of the past have embraced City and what the club represent: its values, traditions and its DNA. But the only thing that Pep has never really seemed to grasp is the importance to fans of winning a Derby game. It may be just another game in a frenetic season to him, but to the fans it’s a Manchester Derby. The term ‘bragging rights’ is mostly abhorred by people in football, but when it comes to a Derby game, it resonates true. Like most blues, I took pelters for years off United fans who were only too happy to revel in the glory of their successes and the misery inflicted on us time and time again.

But it’s funny how the tables have turned. They may not be yo-yoing through the divisions, but their fans seem only too delighted to bask in the triumph that a Derby victory brings, even if that means that City still ultimately win the title. Back then, I lived for anything from a Derby – points from a Derby game meant a successful season in my eyes. I think that banner that a lot to answer for.

After the defeat, I was conflicted post-match. I did feel hurt – it had been a while since I’d felt what a loss felt like. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can still be hugely exasperated at City losing another game to United under Pep and still be optimistic about the rest of the season. It’s never been cut and dry supporting this club, it wouldn’t be City if it was.

A BRIGHTER DAY

At the time of writing, City are currently still in all four competitions. But this is a big week coming up – with both the Champions League second leg against Borussia Moenchengladbach and the FA Cup quarter final against Everton to play out. A lot has been made of the club’s chances of winning the quadruple – but nearly all the talk has come from the media. I don’t think I’ve heard a single fan really mention the possibility – but you can be sure that, if it doesn’t happen, plenty of rival fans will be goading us straight away.

‘Ahahahaha, there goes your quadruple!’

Trust me when I say this and I’ll say it louder for the people at the back (who usually have selective hearing anyway and believe only what they’re fed by the media); I will be delighted if the Premier League is the only trophy that we win. To many, it may not be viewed as progress, or demonstrate a severe lack of ambition on my part. But I love winning the title and to win it after the first half that we had to the season too, for me, would be a remarkable achievement.

I understand that expectations have changed and we have to compete on all fronts. I’d love to win all the silverware. But it’s not solely what I’m here for. It’s all part of the roller-coaster ride: I still think we’d get grief even if we won the Champions League. People would stick find some irrational stick to beat us with. I’m still waiting for Pep to receive the plaudits he deserves for not only retaining the Premier League, but for winning the domestic treble that season too back in 2018/19. I know, I’ll be waiting a long time.

Rumours have been rife recently about the prospect of 10,000 fans being allowed in for the last two games of the season. It would be magnificent to see fans return and I’m assuming the club would have to organize a ballot to decide which fans would be the chosen ones. I don’t have a chance because I share a season ticket with my partner at the moment (due to childcare and financial restraints – I’d always had a season ticket; but had to give it up when my eldest was born. Since then, I cherry picked my games until a couple of seasons ago, when we started to share one. Such is life). But you can be sure of one thing – I’ll be the one leading the socially distanced conga outside the stadium!

I think just the thought of that situation would put so many smiles on people’s faces. Nothing has been won yet: as City fans we know better than to get the open top bus out until it’s mathematically certain. Even when we’re 3-0 up in a game, I find myself unconvinced until the final whistle, which is ridiculous considering the football we have played this season. I know that in an ideal world, we would love the Etihad stadium packed to the rafters to cheer on the boys to victory in the blazing Manchester sunshine (should the weather Gods comply). But these haven’t been normal times for a time and I’d be happy to take anything if it meant being reunited with familiar faces that I haven’t seen for so long and celebrating together – even if masks and social distancing has to be in place. Ultimately, like everything during the past 12 months, that will be decided by the government. Let’s see what happens.

It really has been a season like no other and there’s still so much to come from it yet. Rest assured, we will all be back together in the not-too-distant future. We have so much to potentially look forward to. So many reasons to be optimistic. We’re bound by our love of all things blue – so let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope we can all be together to celebrate soon too.

Emily Brobyn

@kippaxgirlemily

Thursday, 21 January 2021

KING OF THE KIPPAX FEATURE - JANUARY 2021

 

‘I was put on this Earth to be a footballer’

My tribute to the King of the Kippax, Colin Bell

1946 - 2021


When the news broke about Colin Bell, my first reaction was disbelief. I think in grief, we go through different stages: disbelief, denial, reluctant acceptance, then reflection, amongst many others. As fans, we’re so used to footballers being our heroes. We put them on a pedestal to worship, admire and respect. We don’t stop and think for a second that one day they will be gone. It couldn’t be that day. It surely wasn’t time.

My instant thought was to my boyfriend’s Dad. Stephen Porter is 70 years old – he’d often relay passionate stories to me about the days of following Bury because of Colin Bell. He was such a fan, so enamored that he followed Bell when he made the move to Maine Road and Manchester City – and has remained a blue ever since.

It was the fondness, sincerity and warmth in which he discussed Bell that struck such a chord with me. This player he spoke so highly of left a huge imprint on his life – the days out he had following City and the goals Bell scored during those days that lit up his life. Bell was the one – nobody could ever come remotely close to him as a footballer and, once he’d met him, a person. He wept when he met him, he wept when he heard of his passing. His hero. The hero.

He named my boyfriend after him – Colin was a popular name amongst Mancunians of a certain age who had been lucky enough to witness Bell play. If you were one of those lucky ones – treasure those memories. The outpouring of emotion from so many City fans after the tragic news broke was remarkable, with hundreds of blues sharing their own personal stories and tales of what Colin meant to them and the emotion they felt to hear of his passing. It was the mark of the man to the reach and effect he had on so many.

A generation of us in that sense were born in the wrong era and only have the grainy YouTube videos and stories passed down to us to go off. But every story shared, each tale told, helps to educate the younger blues on why Colin is held in such a high regard by City fans, the club and football as a whole. The videos of young City fans on away days in the concourse, beer flying everywhere, arms flailing, singing ‘he’s the leader of Man City’ to Colin’s song from the terraces is further proof to that – the respect we all show to the former footballer who has left a legacy in sky blue behind, transcending the ages, for all of us to cherish.

A legend in every sense of the word

A man who had a stand named after him by the club he achieved so much at. A man who could never understand why people would walk up to him outside the ground and ask to shake his hand, want a photograph with him to treasure or an autograph to frame. A man so humble and so unaware of the impression he had left on so many people’s lives – yet Colin Bell really was a legend in every sense of the word.

After starting his career at Bury, he made his name playing for City in the so-called ‘golden era’ of football during the 1970s. He was part of the ‘dream team’, playing alongside Mike Summerbee and Francis Lee and won numerous accolades and trophies for the Blues.

Colin went on to play for England, but his career was cut tragically short when he severely injured his knee during a match against City’s arch rivals, Manchester United. He was only 29 and at the peak of his career. After recovering, Colin went on to play in America at the San Jose Earthquakes, but eventually retired, leaving behind a career full of silverware and goals.

I was lucky enough to interview Colin – I am still incredibly aware of just how fortunate I am to have been able to do this, because he very rarely gave interviews. When I asked him where was best to meet, he suggested in the Marks and Spencer café at the Gemini Retail Park in Warrington. This was typical of Colin – beyond normal, not an ounce of flash or awareness as to his distinction or fame in any way. He even bought the teas. He was warm, passionate, genuine and a lovely, decent human being. Above all – he absolutely loved football. Football and Manchester City.

‘I don’t know if anything made me want to become a footballer,’ Colin said.

 I just thought that I was put on this Earth to be a footballer. That’s the way it went through the early stages of my life in school. I was always playing football. I always went everywhere with the ball at my feet. I was playing football at school at an early age. I just thought, at the back of my mind, even though I was going through school, I would become a professional footballer.

‘It’s only in hindsight, years down the line, you realize how lucky you are that it all happened that way. There are a million kids that dream of becoming a footballer now and it never happens for them. But fortunately enough for me, it happened.’

Modest, unassuming yet astonishing

Happen it did. He started his career at Bury and scored 25 goals in 82 appearances for the Shakers. After three seasons and being club captain, in 1966 he moved to City for £45,000 under manager Joe Mercer. During his 13 years at City, he scored 152 goals in 492 games and endeared himself to the City fans forever, who gave him the nickname ‘King of the Kippax.’ He was a box-to-box midfielder who did everything: ran, chased, tackled, tracked back, passed and scored. He was a complete footballer – he ticked every box. But he almost acquiesced in just how brilliant a footballer he was. Modest, unassuming yet astonishing. Football was all he ever knew.

‘I was close to three players at City because they had a similar personality to me – quiet and reserved. Alan Oakes, Glyn Pardoe and Mike Doyle. If we ever went away on club trips, we would tend to run together and play golf together. We did everything together when we were away with the club, basically because we shared a similar personality and temperament.

‘I just loved football. I just wanted to be a professional footballer. I just loved it. To me, it was a hobby, but to become a professional footballer and get paid for doing something that you love, there’s nothing better in life. I was getting paid to do something I loved. It was fantastic. From being a young child, I wanted to be a footballer and it worked out for me. I was very lucky.

‘I wouldn’t have changed when I played. The only thing that I would probably change would be the wages and probably the pitches. Other than that, the time I played, the people that I played with and against, I personally feel that it was a better era. A better time in life and a better standard of football, better everything other than the two things I mentioned.’

The influence of Bell alongside players like Francis Lee, Pardoe, Doyle, Oakes, Neil Young, Mike Summerbee, Joe Corrigan amongst many others, helped City to win the Second Division, First Division, the FA Cup, the European Cup Winners’ Cup and the Charity Shield and League Cup twice. He made 48 appearances for England and played three games during the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

‘The thing that I am most proud about is when you come out on top after those 42 League games,’ Colin mused. ‘So I would say winning the Championship was my favourite achievement. Winning the League is so, so hard to do. It’s a huge achievement.

‘But for glory, it would probably be the FA Cup in 1969. I was lucky enough to win that as well. Both of those come very high in honours really. But the most important thing for me was when I got injured and I came back from the bad injury to really be able to finish my career.’

‘I had this connection with City supporters from day one’

The knee injury that Colin sustained in 1975 came as a huge blow. He was only 29 and at the peak of his career. His determination to recover and play again for City from the injury gave him his favourite memory as a footballer; the game that marked his comeback after two years out, against Newcastle United on Boxing Day, 1977.

‘My favourite game has to be that day,’ Colin said. ‘There were 45,000 fans there and I got a standing ovation from both sets of fans. I just had this connection with the supporters from day one at City. They just took to me straight away and the reception that I got on this particular day was absolutely fantastic. Football is a team sport, but this day I came on as substitute at half time, it was a standing ovation for me personally. I will always remember that game, it was my number one game. I’ve played for England, I’ve won these trophies, but that had to be my favourite game. It will stay with me forever.’

After 13 wonderful years at City, Bell made the move across the Atlantic to play for San Jose Earthquakes, alongside another footballer who had made his mark in Manchester, this time playing in red – George Best. Bell, so reluctant to recognize his own brilliance, was quick to heap praise on others when and where he felt it was deserved.

‘George was very special,’ he said. ‘He will stand out in history as a great player and he really was. But the number one thing about George Best, even though he was a great player, he was a lovely person. I used to run with him when we played for the Earthquakes. We played away somewhere and we would run together. He was a genuinely lovely person. I hadn’t met him prior to that: all the times that I played against him when he was at Manchester United and I was at City. I hadn’t bumped into him or gone out with him. But for a few months at San Jose, I got to know him and he was lovely. But, as everybody knows, he was a very special player.’

Bell called time on his career after only a few games for the Earthquakes but looks back with nothing but the fondest of memories. He went on to open a restaurant in Whitefield, alongside his former Bury team-mate Colin Waldron, called Bell Waldron, before becoming a Club ambassador for City.

‘I opened a business when I retired,’ Bell stated. ‘I had a restaurant in Whitefield, many years ago. I knew that it was a short career. Nowadays they can retire on the amount of money that make, but in those days you had to have something to fall back on. So I opened a restaurant for when my career came to an end and I had it probably for about 10-15 years. But now, if they play for three or four years, players can be set for life.’

‘I’ve always considered City as a big, big club’

Bell’s first wage at Bury was £12 a week and he admitted how much football has transformed since throughout the years, conceding that finances were key to success in order to compete at the highest level. But it wasn’t always that way.

‘Football is moving with the times,’ Bell said. ‘The thing that I have always thought about over the years, is why somebody with money hadn’t invested in City sooner. I’ve always considered City as a big, big club. Why we hadn’t had interest from people with money before, I’ll never know. I’ve had my fingers crossed for a long time that somebody would finally come in with money and I’m so glad that finally happened.’

‘The money was needed without a doubt, you can’t go anywhere without money nowadays in football. The Premier League had become very predictable, it was always the top four clubs winning everything because they had money. That’s unfair to the rest. In my time, everybody in the First Division always had a chance of winning the Championship because it was the same wages for everybody. Everybody could afford the top players so everybody had an equal chance. But now, it’s a crying shame that the other clubs are just struggling and there’s talk of relegation from day one. It’s a crying shame.

‘I do think the money involved these days though is well and truly over the top. It’s a short career and I do believe that footballers should be paid decent wages because they are entertainers. They are classed as entertainers. I think it should be a good wage, but the wages at the moment that you keep reading about in newspapers are well and truly over the top.’

‘I can’t blame the players for taking the money. It isn’t their fault. If somebody comes along to you and says there’s X amount of money, I’m sure you would just say thank you very much. It isn’t their fault. There should have been a ceiling years ago on transfer fees and on wages. Somebody at the top should’ve done that a while ago. It’s too late to change it now. A lot of footballers would agree that they are very lucky to be picking up the kind of wages that they are.’

‘Let’s give some of our youngsters a try’

Bell was lucky to play alongside so much homegrown talent in a City side that featured many Mancunians – something that is increasingly rare nowadays in the sport. But he also acknowledged that the game now has benefitted from an influx of foreign talent, although he still wanted to see the youth prevail too.

‘There were a lot of Manchester lads back then,’ he said. ‘Which was great because I was a Manchester team. I would think that about 50% of the players were Manchester lads. You talk about foreign players coming in now; I don’t mind the quality players coming in, I didn’t like it a few years ago when they first started coming in, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Once the quality players are coming in, I would rather give English players a chance after that. By all means, bring quality in if it’s going to improve the team, but at some stage you have got to draw the line and say, we have got the quality players now, let’s give some of our youngsters a try or our own players. I think it should be a happy medium really.’

Colin also had some words of advice for the younger generation of footballers. Facing the glare of the media spotlight and the scrutiny of a social media-driven world, it’s a very different era for players these days to the one that Bell excelled in.

‘Football is a short career and you have got to knuckle down and be whiter than white,’ Bell stated. Especially nowadays with the amount of press and television coverage. It only lasts perhaps 10-15 years, so it isn’t a great length of time, so you have to put the brakes on everything and be whiter than white. That’s how professional footballers should be. I get annoyed or frustrated when they get caught out, whether drinking or doing things that they shouldn’t do. They know what the press are like, they are looking for anything. They shouldn’t give them an excuse – they should be squeaky clean.’

‘I was blessed and so lucky to play football’

For such a glittering career, his injury was his own regret. In 2004, he received an MBE for his services to football. Yet despite all his achievements, he still felt like he could’ve won more.

‘I picked up an injury when I could’ve played for another five years with the way my career looked at that moment in time,’ Bell said. ‘To add another five or so years onto my career when I was at the top and had played 40-odd times for England, I could’ve probably reached 100. I could’ve probably won more trophies. I could’ve probably got another 200 or so appearances in, my goal-scoring chart would’ve looked better…there’s so many things.

‘But that’s my only regret. I was blessed and so lucky to play football.’

The thousands that were fortunate enough to have witnessed his genius will agree. They were all exceptionally lucky to have stood and watched his talent, his skill, his dedication and his passion. Those who didn’t, have listened to the tales with disbelief, in bewildered awe. He starred in the ‘ballet on ice’ game, featured during the match that condemned United to relegation from the First Division and remains City’s 4th all-time top scorer.

For a player to touch people so deeply with such longevity, tells you everything you need to know. Colin Bell will be remembered not only by City fans, but by football as a whole, for being one of the best midfielders the sport has ever seen. He made the number eight shirt his own. He was the beating heart of the Club.

King of the Kippax. A legacy for a legend. So drink a drink a drink to Colin the King, the King, the King. Forever the leader of Man City.

 

Emily Brobyn

@kippaxgirlemily