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 cafĂ© 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

Friday, 9 October 2020

A CRAZY START TO THE SEASON...

A STATE OF FLUX

KING OF THE KIPPAX COLUMN - OCTOBER 2020



I’m writing this a couple of days after City’s 1-1 draw against Leeds United at Elland Road. Our season has been underway for a couple of weeks now, but has already been halted for the next fortnight due to international games. Safe to say, it’s been a very interesting start.

I’ll try and separate the sensational and the rational because the reaction between City fans has been so incredibly indifferent. I’d like to think I always just tell it as it is, although a few people do seem to think I’m always a bit too optimistic. I do like to find a positive in any situation and that applies to life in a broader aspect too. For City, as I see it at this moment in time, certainly seem to be in a state of flux.

KEEPING HIS GUARD UP

Pep Guardiola. The enigma himself. Rumours swirled throughout the six-week break regarding his future at City and none of those have been addressed yet. I never wanted to enter the new season knowing that, as it stands, it’s Pep’s last season in charge at the Etihad.

I always wanted some clarification and reassurance. My feeling was that we could do with no uncertainty in any way. As the games go by, the last thing anybody would need would be question marks over the manager’s future at the club and a potential saga detracting and distracting from what is happening on the pitch.

I feel like at the moment, I’m always looking for clues. Perhaps I’m overthinking it. I do that a lot. But I’m looking at Pep’s body language, trying to over-analyse what he says. What does that mean? Should I read further into that? Is he happy? Does he really care anymore? I’m driving myself a bit crazy with it and it’s absolutely not how I wanted the season to go.

Would I be doing that is everything was going tremendous on the pitch and we were sitting pretty at the top of the League? Possibly not. But I feel like it’s not helping anybody knowing that, at the moment, City could have a new manager next season.

Two important points here. Some fans don’t mind that. A section of Blues genuinely feel like Pep’s time here is done. In some ways, it feels like a transitional season. Are the signings he has made enough? Has he not been given more money to spend because some of it is being held back for a new manager next season to spend on a striker, amongst other positions? One said if the results continue like this, he should be sacked by Christmas. Reactionary or realistic? Everybody is entitled to their opinion after all. Have City become too predictable? Have teams sussed us out? Does Pep react too slowly to change games?

The second point is Pep has nothing to prove to anybody. Least of all, you and me. Yes, the Champions League saga will always be his achilles heel at City, as it was at Bayern. Should his time at the club be judged solely on his failures in that competition? No. It’s completely wrong to ignore everything else he has achieved at City: the record point tallies the trophies won, the domestic treble, not to mention watching some of the best football I’ve ever seen any players play in a City shirt.

I feel like the past five years have gone by in the blink of an eye. Time flies when you’re having fun; maybe it’s only recently when the party seems to have slowed down that I’ve realised how close we are to seeing the end of Pep at City. For me, it would be a travesty. For others, the time has come.

I do have to admit though, I’m still not over the Lyon game. I don’t think I’ll ever understand what really happened in Lisbon that night. The King of overthinking, yet a revolutionary football genius all the same.

ALL BETS ARE OFF

After the 5-2 Leicester defeat and the 1-1 draw at Leeds, a lot of blues were panicking. Questions over our defence, questions about Pep’s future and questions about our new signings and if they’re good enough. With starting the season after most other teams due to the Champions League last season, we’re already playing catch-up – and the heat was on.

Then Super Sunday happened.

Leicester – the team who beat us comprehensively just a week previous, albeit with the help of three penalties due to some school-boy defending by City, lost at home to West Ham 3-0. A surprise for a team that had started the season so well.

Next up, United. With an indifferent start, Spurs’ manager Jose Mourinho travelled to his old stomping ground Old Trafford, with a point to prove. Boy did he do that. A 6-1 thumping of United at home doesn’t happen every week (good memories for us blues!). It was another Solksjaer disaster class – how Leicester got £80 million for Harry Maguire will always be one of life’s biggest mysteries.

Just when we thought the day had served up enough surprises, along came Liverpool.

With three wins from three games, Klopp’s side had started the season strongly. Who would’ve thought that a visit to Villa Park would involve a complete capitulation from the current champions? A mess from kick off right through to the final whistle, Villa put in the most incredible performance to dominate and penetrate; resulting in a 7-2 victory for the home side. The biggest ever defeat that a reigning Premier League-winning side has ever suffered: leaving everybody stunned and bemused as to what twists and turns the day had served up.

It definitely put our 1-1 draw against Leeds into perspective. Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds have been playing some swashbuckling football and to go there and get a point could ultimately prove to be important. Not many other teams will get anything from their visits there, although I sense if both teams would’ve been playing in front of a sell-out crowd at Elland Road, the result could’ve been very different.

That’s the thing to remember. There are so many contributing factors to this extraordinary, unprecedented season, that mean that we may just have to embrace the madness that unfolds. Players having to self-isolate and miss games due to producing a positive Covid test, no crowds generally meaning that home advantage doesn’t exist anymore and tiredness from players who didn’t have much of a break and no pre-season of note. All bets are off.

WELCOME TO THE PLEASUREDOME

Much has been said about the new signings that City have made. Plenty of people have been questioning if they’re enough, or good enough.

Nathan Ake, a 25 year old Dutch defender, was signed from Bournemouth and initially, seemed to leave quite a few people under-whelmed. Signing a defender from a relegated club, will he be good enough?

I was cautiously enthusiastic. He can play either centre back or full back, which is always a bonus, it helps to have that versatility. Plus what I loved was the well wishes that he received: a lot of people spoke very highly of him and you can see the impact he had amongst his team-mates. He adds some much needed height too and, from what we’ve seen so far, he’s been consistent and reliable.

One signing I was really excited about was Ferran Torres. A highly rated 20 year old midfielder from Valencia, Torres is tipped to be the best winger coming out of Spain right now. He’s made an interesting start at City: he scored at Turf Moor during the Carabao Cup fourth round win there and he got two assists so far. His blend of attributes makes him such a dynamic player – a winger who loves to cut inside, take players on and shoot. Pace and trickery in abundance. But one thing I’ve already noticed about him is his work rate – something that certainly sets him apart from the winger we’ve just sold to Bayern Munich. A few blues have called him a ‘luxury signing,’ but I think he’ll prove a snip and do really well for us. I’m excited to see how he develops and progresses at City.

Finally – Ruben Dias. Arguably the position we were all desperate to strength in was centre back and, after a summer of ‘will-they, won’t they’ surrounding Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, it was Dias who was announced just days before the window shut.

Signed from Benfica, Dias was club captain before departing for Manchester. I won’t profess to know much about the Portuguese international, because I don’t, but he looked promising on his debut against Leeds. A few fans were torn about what they wanted from a centre back: do we sign a younger player and hope he grows and develops in the back line, or do we bring somebody in who is more experienced and can hit the ground running.

We know we’ve had problems surrounding our defence, perhaps even before Vincent Kompany left. People keep saying we haven’t replaced Komps – how do you replace the irreplaceable? You don’t. You can’t. Not only for his defending, but his attitude, passion and leadership. We’ve lacked in all those departments since he left. It’s his qualities we’ve desperately missed and could really do with.

You knew as soon as you saw him in the line-up, we’d fight. That’s what I can deal with. I can cope with a defeat, so long as the players battle, fight and look like they care. If it’s all half-hearted, with a lack of desire, it’s bitterly disappointing. All you want as a fan is to see the players play like you wish you could if you were out on that pitch.

But with Nicolas Otamendi gone, John Stones in and out of the team through injury and players testing positive for Covid so missing games, are the signings enough? For me, the left back position has always been a problem right back to having Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolorov.

It has always been ‘square peg, round hole’ when it comes to left backs. When we signed Ben Mendy, we thought our prayers had been answered. Then he suffered a horrific knee injury. Delph and Zinchenko were asked to fill in and did remarkably well at the time, given the circumstances. Both were playing out of position and helped us cope, helped us to silverware.

Now Delph has long gone – Zinchenko is not a left back. I’d always said I hadn’t seen enough of Mendy to be able to judge his ability – he’s been unlucky with injuries at City and been in and out of the first team. But I do feel like now, I’ve seen enough. I’ve been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for so much now. He’s had a pass because of his injuries, but I can’t continue to defend him and deflect from what is glaringly obvious – he’s just not good enough.

I also think we need a striker – but I’d be willing to wait a year for Erling Haaland. That is for sure.

TEAM TALK

Carrying on with the Mendy talk. I am willing for him to prove me wrong. Please Ben, please do it. But I’m always torn when I watch him. When he’s bombing forward on the wing and whipping in a cross to assist – fantastic. When he’s struggling to defend and committing stupid fouls – not so great. Pep loves nothing more than attacking full backs, but they’ve still got to be able to defend. If Mendy can’t, then he’s a winger, so should be treated as such?

It pains me to single out individual players to subject them to such criticism, but you’ve got to be able to be diagnose problems throughout the team as you see fit. Just don’t message them abuse on social platforms – there’s no need and I’ve seen plenty of people doing it recently. Let’s keep it classy, blues.

Another player that frustrates the life out of me with Riyad Mahrez. You can’t be critical about him on any social media platform, because he has the most loyal, vicious fanboys that defend him every step of the way. It is so perplexing. But there are reasons to be critical.

When he scores, the goals are often remarkable. Thunderbolts. Net rippers. But if Gabriel Jesus was born offside, Mahrez was born selfish. How many times do we see other players in great positions around him and, instead of passing, he shoots? It’s often preferable for him to pass instead of shoot. When he played as a false nine against Leeds, I felt like he impaired instead of inspiring us. He didn’t press like a false nine should, he looked lazy. At times his positioning was far too static. When you’re instructed to play in that role, you should constantly be chasing down the ball. It was exasperating.

Whether we like it or not, this is a transitional period. The team we had during the record-breaking seasons of 2017/18 and 2018/19 has fragmenting and is changing. Evolving. Players come, players go – nothing ever lasts or stays the same forever. Which means patience is required. You can’t win everything all of the time, especially when the clientele is different.

As things stand, it’s Fernandinho’s, Aguero’s and Pep’s last season. Think about that for a minute and think about how influential, important and crucial all three have been to City’s successes.

I understand that having a manager of the calibre of Pep sends the expectations into the stratosphere – especially with the silverware and the achievements we have reached during his tenure. Seeing Liverpool romp the Premier League last season has added to that pressure. Competition is good – and winning silverware creates a lifestyle as a fan that is insatiable and addictive.

There are plenty of positives. Kevin De Bruyne – finally winning individual awards to recognise the exceptional talent that he is – is in my opinion, the best midfielder in the world right now and he plays for Manchester City. Phil Foden, England drama aside, is one of the countries finest young players and he is finally getting consistent game time. 17 year-old Liam Delap, one of our EDS stars, scored an incredible goal during his debut in the Carabao Cup game against Bournemouth and looks to be another encouraging Academy player. Raheem Sterling has now scored 34 goals in all competitions since the start of last season. That’s just for starters. Look for positives and you will find them.

There does seem to be a divide between fans on social media. Some fans are just really happy to enjoy the ride – they may mention the ‘good old days of York away’ for perspective and context every now and again, so their criticism of any current results are minimal. ‘We’re not really here’, ‘going down with a billion in the bank’, let’s just see what happens next week.

Generally these fans are branded ‘happy clappy’, ‘living in the past’ and ‘delusional’ by other fans – the fans who are ‘hyper critical’: these tend to be fans who are in the ‘Pep Out’ category. A defeat triggers a deluge of reproach and condemnation. They tend to refer to themselves are mere ‘realists’, thinking the club are papering over their many cracks and that the team have problems all over the pitch, from the goalkeeper to the strike force and beyond. A win creates ‘smoke and mirrors’ for these supporters – you do tend to wonder, with that much pessimism in their lives just from City alone, how they’re coping with life in general in 2020.

I would like to think I’m a bit of both. I’m capable of referencing our time in Division Two with nostalgia, whilst still recognising that we do live in the here and now and it’s only right and fair to judge a game off our current circumstances and not by which division City played football in 20-odd years ago. When we have a stormer and tear a team apart, I will heap praise on every player where it is due. Likewise, if we have a stinker, I’ll rightly criticise. It’s all about having a balance and being honest. Just call it as you see it.

I never thought in my wildest dreams, I’d live to see City win the trophies we have done. I could’ve never predicted that I’d go to Wembley that many times to the point where I’ve actually now lost count. I am so grateful, so appreciative for all the incredible memories City have given me. Of course I want to keep experiencing that – winning is infectious – once you’ve tasted it, you want more. It’s addictive. My eldest has been to dozens of matches and still never seen us get beat. He’s been to Wembley three times and had a 100% win record there. He doesn’t know he’s born.

But I’m also realistic. You can’t win everything all the time, you just can’t. You can’t win every single game. I do believe that, at the time of writing, we seem to be in a situation where to a certain extent, we have been found out. We don’t have much of a Plan B - but when Plan A works, it’s spectacular. Plan B seems to be whipping crosses in to our strikers, who aren’t the tallest of people, which normally isn’t effective. Teams know that we struggle against the low block: sit your team behind the ball, absorb the initial 25 minutes of pressure, frustrate us, limit our movement and attack us on the counter to exploit our vulnerabilities and you’re in with a chance. That’s the situation we find ourselves in right now. So where do we go from here?

Of course, what most fans do agree on is that football without fans just isn’t anywhere near the same. With the introduction of VAR, the ridiculous hand ball rule and now, Covid, fans are becoming increasingly disillusioned with what once was the beautiful game. How is it fair that, in early October, you could go to a cinema to watch a live football game, but not be sat outside, watching the game itself for real?

Plans were in place for fans to return to grounds in a staged approach, so only allowing a certain amount of fans in at once, but I don’t believe it’s remotely fair to let any fans in until all fans can return. What fun is it being selected to go to a game, when none of your mates will be there, because the selection process is a lottery as to who gets let in and who doesn’t? The whole part of what makes match day so special is the fellow blues you endure, or enjoy it, with. I miss it more than I ever thought possible. But I’m prepared to wait for the day when we can all enjoy it together.

 

TALKING US UP

As usual, I’ve been keeping really busy. 2020 has been such a difficult year for everybody: I’ve been pre-occupied with my children and other work projects, but my media work has increased again post-lockdown.

I made the difficult decision to finish contributing to the ‘Forever Blue’ podcast. It was something I’d been thinking about for a long time. I’m beyond grateful for the opportunities that have come my way as a result of being involved in such a platform, but I felt the time was right to walk away to experiment with other avenues.

I’m being asked onto BBC Radio Manchester’s ‘Talking Balls’ show a couple of times a week. I think both Kyle and Gaz are brilliantly talented (although I’ve seen Dave say otherwise in here before, can’t win them all!) and it’s a pleasure to be involved with such a great show.

I still get asked to go on BBC Radio 5 Live, it’s always the breakfast show. I was asked to film a piece for Football Focus alongside my partner and two children and I’ve been booked to go onto BBC Radio 5 Live Sport to appear on ‘The Squad’, a popular show that is broadcast on Sundays.

I’ve also had a few messages from different City fan-based media outlets asking me to be involved. I’ve recorded a few Bolt from The Blue podcasts (alongside KotK’s very own Colin Savage), been on the Manchester is Blue video channel and quite a few video interviews for Man City Fan TV. I’m sure at this point, people will be sick of the sight and sound of me!

I am always astonished that people think I talk any sense. Writing has been my comfort zone for over 20 years, so I always feel nervous about pushing myself to try new things. For the most time, I do try and embrace everything that comes my way and I’m learning to develop a thick skin as opinions are always varied. I just try to stay true to myself and honest. I think if you put on a persona or try to be controversial, it’ll ultimately backfire.  

I’m just so appreciative to anybody who gives me any feedback or even listens/reads. I’ll keep it up until somebody tells me I’m stealing a living! Thank you if you take the time to get in touch – it means the world to be doing what I enjoy, knowing that somewhere along the time, a few people may actually agree or like my opinion or optimism. Some don’t, but those tend to be the ones that don’t even like themselves, so I’ll take that with a pinch of salt.

Here’s hoping that everybody is doing okay through this hideously surreal year and that we will be all back having a beer together in the not-too-distant future.

Those were the days – and they will be again. They’ll be worth the wait.

Emily Brobyn

@kippaxgirlemily

 

THESE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES....

A LIFE LESS ORDINARY

KING OF THE KIPPAX COLUMN - AUGUST 2020



I sat down to write my latest article for King of the Kippax and had a startling realisation that the last time I managed to write anything was February. February. Safe to say, it feels like the whole world has changed since then. I’m not sure even I can be so succinct to summarize it all, but I’ll give it a go. Let’s start with the talk of world football…

 

JUDGEMENT DAY

 

Dave emailed me to say that he was holding off on this month’s deadline to allow for the CAS verdict to come in - and what a masterstroke that was. The news came in – the proposed two year ban in Europe overturned and the fine reduced to £10 million. I’ve subsequently spend all morning on the social media channels trying to educate rival fans on why they should be applauding this outcome instead of condemning it.

 

We all know that Financial Fair Play was dreamed up by the UEFA ‘elite’, to attempt to protect the old world order in football. The fine imposed is apparently due to City’s initial lack of co-operation into the investigation – but who can blame them for playing hardball, when the evidence was obtained in such an underhanded and illicit manner? No wonder they weren’t forthcoming! FFP was a concept conceived post-City takeover. Coincidence? I think not.

 

It really frustrates me when I see fans of other teams so uneducated towards City and their financial conduct. We’ve been very astute in the transfer market: we pulled out of the Harry Maguire, Fred and Alexis Sanchez deals, because we disagreed (quite rightly might I add!) with the valuations and figures involved. Just because we’re Manchester City, owned by Sheikh Mansour, doesn’t mean we will be taken for a ride and allow clubs to exploit our financial situation. For the three transfers mentioned there alone, it’s proved to have been incredible foresight and I’m happy that the club conduct themselves with integrity and respect.

 

But the fury and venom that other fans have been spitting is, depressingly predictable, but nothing short of extraordinary. I’ve been astonished that people act like City are the first club to ever spend money in football. Have these people been living under a rock? Can they see any City players in the top 10 transfer records? It beggars belief. I expected a reaction, but some of the vitriol and vile I have read (and been subjected to, because I have dared to defend the club) is incomprehensible.

 

So, what now? Finishing second in the League means Champions League football next season. Could Pep sign an extension, galvanised by the CAS outcome? Perhaps the best form of ultimate revenge will be trying to win the competition that UEFA pride themselves on so dearly. Not much of a team talk needed there. The cream always rises to the top. Go and get them lads. The draw was interesting: beat Real Madrid and we then face Lyon or Juventus in the quarter finals. The semi finals will be Napoli, Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Chelsea. There is a bright side – get through them, and you’d have to fancy us as favourites. They even attempted to move the game to Portugal instead of playing it in Manchester – a concept so non-sensical because Portugal isn’t on the Government’s fly list. So the City team and staff would’ve had to quarantine on their arrival back into the United Kingdom.

 

I have a feeling UEFA won’t take this lying down, but what can they do? Surely it’s the end of FFP – I just hope Newcastle fans are ready for the backlash if their takeover goes ahead. They’re a good bunch, I welcome the idea of another takeover in the League, but they’ll have to have their tin hats ready. Every other fan has slated City since 2008 – because deep down, they wish it would’ve happened to their club.

 

WE’RE NOT REALLY HERE

 

What a truly bizarre/astounding/terrible/baffling few months it has been. I could never have imagined having been to Wembley and Hillsborough; that those would be the last football matches I’d be attending for a fair while. Those games feel like a lifetime ago. The pandemic has been awful: we lost our neighbour and my boyfriend’s Grandma to it. They are both gone far too soon and such senseless losses to us.

 

It’s been a lot to get our heads around: my eldest son, Vincent, had just started in primary school this year and was enjoying greatly his reception year. I have to admit that I’ve absolutely loved having him at home. I’d really missed him since he started school and, although the home schooling has been a real challenge for me, on the whole I’ve looked at it as a particularly special time for us. It’s been a time in our lives that we will never replicate and always treasure, for the good times and the bad.

 

As for the football? Where do I start?

 

Initially I was incensed by the idea of football being allowed to return behind closed doors without fans. Who wouldn’t be? When you’ve based your life around the fixture list for as long as you’ve known, to be told that the game can return without you, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. I didn’t believe in null and void. I’d (painfully) made my peace with Liverpool winning the League, this wasn’t about them. We were still in two competitions – the FA Cup and the Champions League. With the Community Shield (!) and the Carabao Cup already sewn up, all was still to play for. But the thought of us, the fans, who’d been a constant through thick and thin, not being allowed to be there, seemed so radical initially. I was so against it.

 

As time ticked on and the lockdown was gradually lifting, resumption of the Premier League arrived. I watched the Arsenal game and felt a bit sick when I saw the players walking out of the tunnel at the Etihad Stadium to be greeted with a sea of empty seats (cue the tiresome jokes). We should be there. It didn’t sit well with me at all and it just felt so alien, so wrong.

But then the game got underway. The passing started. The players I’d missed, the football. I didn’t think I’d missed football that much until I watched City and realised – I really had. It’d been a life less ordinary. The constant had been missing. City were back – just not as we knew it.

 

The results – barring Chelsea and Southampton – have been incredibly impressive. Some of the football we have played has been astounding. Which makes it even more baffling as to how we’ve lost nine games (at the time of writing) this season. Individual errors, wasteful in the final third and Laporte’s injury – three factors that have contributed hugely to the never-ending 2019/20 season and put paid to our title chances.

 

We know when City play that there is no other team like us. Our passing, pressing, movement and ingenuinety. Nobody plays like City play. I was pleasantly surprised at how sharp the players were and at our fitness levels. Kyle Walker, over his blip in form, is now a world class right back. Raheem Sterling is now enjoying is best ever goal-scoring season, with 27 goals after his hat-trick against Brighton. David Silva rolled back the years with a vintage display during our win against Newcastle, with a beautiful free kick to boot. Kevin De Bruyne – what can you possibly say that hasn’t already been said? Surely he will be in line to win the Ballon D’or one day. Aymeric Laporte – a Rolls Royce of a centre back – so calm and assured , always level-headed and offers so much reassurance in the back line.

 

Pep has also been keen to include the youth after the restart. Phil Foden – I am such a huge fan of the confidence Foden has. He has confidence backed up with ability. When he plays, he doesn’t look remotely out of place amongst the big boys. You can tell he’s been learning from the best – some of his first touches, vision and passing his been exemplary. Nobody could ever replace David Silva, but it’s good to know the options are thrilling for when David does depart. Foden is exciting – he makes a nuisance of himself and always offers a threat. He’s not one for the future, he’s one for now.

 

Eric Garcia is another player that has really come into his own. I’ve loved seeing him getting more starts. We’ve been linked heavily with a move for the Napoli centre back Kalidou Koulibaly: he would be a fantastic signing for us, there is no doubt. A few have question marks over the fact he’s 29 years old, but I think we need an established, experienced and strong centre back to partner Laporte. We need consistency in defence moving forward. But that’s not to say there isn’t a place for Garcia. He’s in a perfect position, should Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones decide to leave. He’s proving to be a competent and mature talent. But Garcia has been linked with a move to Barcelona – and after the Sane saga, who knows?

 

Cole Palmer, Tommy Doyle, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Jayden Braaf are all top young prospects from the academy that have been promoted to the first team squad and I’m looking forward to seeing the part they play moving forward for City. Let’s just hope we can avoid another Jadon Sancho situation – we don’t want that level of ability going through our academy and ultimately leaving us.

 

 The games have made me excited for what might be next season, but also for the FA Cup and the Champions League games to come. By the time you read this, we will know the outcome of the FA Cup semi final game – against Arsenal. Again, a very peculiar feeling having no hotel or plan pencilled in to go to Wembley, but in these strangest of times we have to go with safety and that is priority. It’s Pep v Arteta and we all know the prize that faces us if we manage to get passed the Gunners – either Chelsea, or a Manchester Derby FA Cup final. I know who I’d prefer to play! I don’t think my nerves could take it.

Who knows when it will be when we’re allowed back into a football stadium. Pubs have opened, hairdressers are the busiest they’ve ever been and you can go and get a City crest tattooed on your arm if you’re that way inclined. Yet we can’t go back to watch our football team play.

 

How long will we have to wait?

 

Rumours are that the new season will be starting in September and the Carabao Cup will be sacrificed due to the 2020/21 season being condensed. I have missed the social aspect of football the most. I miss going to the pub before my mates and trying, but failing miserably, to predict Pep’s starting line-up. I miss all the faces I see around us in the South Stand. I’ve missed the camaraderie. For me, that’s what makes football, and City, so special. The characters we have, the friendships that we’ve made and the lives we have shaped because of the club. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we’re allowed back and we might, just might, have even more reasons to celebrate together by then too.

 

Just make mine a pint, yeah?

 

Emily Brobyn

@kippaxgirlemily

 

 

THERE'S ONLY ONE REAL RIVALRY AT CITY...

YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW

KING OF THE KIPPAX COLUMN - MARCH 2020

 


Over the past couple of seasons, much has been made of our battle with Liverpool for the League title. After the whole bus saga at Anfield, the media seemed determined to pit us both as rivals – even more so after last season, with the title race being decided on the final day. Everything became very intense, bitter and often very personal.


But for me, Liverpool have never been our rivals, and never will be. With this season finally being their year (and I’ve made my peace with that, I really have), there is one thing that City and Liverpool should be united in – enjoying the demise of their real rivals over at Old Trafford.


It was the 2-0 defeat to Burnley at their ground that made for a vintage night on social media. Many an ‘Ole’s at the wheel’ meme, along with transcripts of Rio’s ‘get the contract out’ impassioned rant and photos of Phil Jones doing the rounds, providing much amusement amongst City fans and beyond (can you imagine the pelters we would’ve took if social media existed in the 1990s). It may sound absurd, because that game came in-between United beating us at home this season twice, but at the moment, (in fact for the past couple of seasons), it feels like United’s crumbs of comfort have been coming from taking points off us in a season. How the mighty have fallen.


If you’re an old school blue, you’ll be oh so familiar with the history of it all. I’ll pick it up with my memories of the rivalry, at the beginning of it all for me – the 5-1 derby win. ‘The Maine Road Massacre’ as it’s fondly known. When City tore apart an Alex Ferguson side that included the most expensive English defender at the time, with City featuring players brought through the youth system, like Steve Redmond, Paul Lake and David White. That was back in 1989 – three years before the formation of the Premier League, a time that signalled an era of United dominance – and City’s decline.

 

My time at both high school and college coincided with this era of football. United were the Premier League poster boys: scoring goals for fun, terrorising defences, with some of the best players in the world playing at Old Trafford. Only Arsenal, Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers (once) could hold a torch to them. With Ferguson at the helm, they were a formidable force – they were winners, leaders and champions. If you think it’s painful just reading that, try living through it.

 

City, on the other hand, were on the slide. Manager Brian Horton came in and had some good ideas, along with some decent players. Paul Walsh, Peter Beagrie and Uwe Rosler were all Horton signings, and with them we played flashes of flair football – but also endured a 5-0 defeat at the hands of United. An Andrei Kanchelskis hat trick helped condemn us to an abysmal loss – with his celebrations still seared into my memory. The next day; going into school wearing my Umbro City coat, forced to face a barrage of torment and abuse from the United fans – none of which had ever stepped foot inside Old Trafford. It was Glory Glory all right – and the beginning of a truly rotten, miserable time to be a City fan.

 

It wasn’t long before Horton was sacked and the rot really set in. Alan Ball arrived and the only positive from his reign at the club was the signing of a certain Georgian midfielder, Georgi Kinkladze. Dancing through defences and scoring dazzling goals, Kinkladze was a truly magical talent, a lightning bolt in the storm that encircled him.

 

But even his genius couldn’t save City from relegation from the Premier League. As United were lifting another League trophy, the Blues dropped down into Division One – and the managerial merry-go-round started to spin. Asa Hartford, Steve Coppell (!), Phil Neal, Frank Clark, Joe Royle…during the 27 years Ferguson was in charge at United, City went through 18 different managers.

 

We were widely regarded as a comedy club: a football team whose club legend-turned-chairman Francis Lee had promised to one and all that City would be the ‘happiest club in the land’ after he took control from Peter Swales. Really, the damage had already been done during Swales’ tenure, but no irony was lost on the fact that Lee had made his fortune running a toilet roll manufacturing company, so really we should’ve seen it coming. It was all lies and empty promises that he couldn’t deliver.

 

The players weren’t good enough. The football was shambolic. Back then, it was take the rough with the rough, as it was all we ever knew. Typical City: disastrous, laughable, with our mis-matched Meccano stadium in the heart of what was then called Gunchester, Moss Side, with a substitutes bench that was basically a row of white plastic garden chairs. We’d make the journeys home and away with blind optimism – I don’t think it ever crossed our minds not to bother, because we’d just become accustomed, almost brainwashed, that this was City. Take it or leave it. What you see is what you get. Factions of fans did demonstrate against Lee and his regime – and rock bottom wasn’t far away.

 

As if the jibes, the digs and the mocking couldn’t get any worse – the unthinkable happened. Stoke City away. May 1998. Relegation to the third tier of English football. It was hard to take solace in Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal pipping United to the title when your own club were in such dire straits. It had gone beyond parody, beyond reprehension. At that point, it was soul-destroying. Heart-breaking. But the season ticket was a no brainer. At no point did it ever occur to us to stop. In fact, that season started with a packed Maine Road in the summer sun, beating Blackpool 3-0.

 

Us fans just took it in our stride. When Stockport County beat us 2-1 at home and a streaker ran on the pitch – it was all just Typical City. Week in, week out, we turned up, we asked the other stands in the stadium to give us a song and we got behind the team. My teenage years were spent following City during their decline – while over at Old Trafford the story couldn’t be more different.

 

May 1999. More contrasting fortunes. City won the Division Two play-off final against Gillingham after a penalty shoot-out. United won the treble – the Premier League, FA Cup and the Champions League. The achievements were poles apart – but celebrated just the same by both sets of fans. For us, it was the start of our resurgence. We’d managed to battle, fight and scrape our way out of oblivion – it was time to get back to the Premier League.

 

I don’t begrudge United their success during that time. But it definitely amplified and compounded our failures. Their fans were so accustomed to winning – that mentality was drummed into them through their consistency; for many, winning was to them what losing was to us. But with triumph came arrogance.

 

The Banner™.

 

Many, if not all City fans, will be all too familiar with The Banner™ I’m referring to. The infamous ‘ticker’ banner. The one that displayed the amount of years that had passed since City had last won a trophy – 1976 to be precise. It took one individual to think of it, yet thousands to beg for it to come back after he’d removed it. That banner was the bane of my life. Their years of power - our years of frustration. Their egotism – our self-deprecating humour. That banner wasn’t humour, it wasn’t funny, it wasn’t tongue-in-cheek. It was cruel. Malicious. Gloating at its worst. They draped it like a badge of honour, pride of place, in their stadium, while they lifted silverware and we watched our side slump to another defeat. It was an unnecessary evil at a time when the boat didn’t need any more rocking. It was rivalry – this was rivalry – but it cut so deep. 

 

Our resurgence back to the Premier League, and the subsequent takeover by Sheikh Mansour, has seen City reach heights that I could’ve only dreamed of once upon a time. Beating United in the FA Cup semi final in 2011 to go on and win our first piece of silverware in 35 years paved the way for an avalanche of monumental successes at the Etihad Stadium. The Banner™, for so long a monkey on our backs, finally relinquished. The ‘not in my lifetime’ manager Ferguson, resigned to City beating United to the Premier League title in May 2012 after that goal by Sergio Aguero. The changing of the guard across the City: the Blues leading the trophy charge, with United left to fight it out to struggle to qualify for Europe every season. Their only merit

 

Not that finishing sixth every season is any disgrace. It’s not. That’s where my main problem lies. These United fans have been so spoilt by their own success for so many years, they’re judging themselves on their past successes instead of dealing with being a fan and just getting on with it. I’ve heard so many reds on phone-ins moaning and whinging about how low they feel as a fan following their team these days – and I find it beyond incredulous. You’d think they’d be struggling, with a relegation dogfight on their hands. But they’re not. When it didn’t cross our minds to renew during those torrid times, across the road they’re mostly not even bothering to show up to see their team play top six Premier League football these days.

 

Try being relegated. Humiliated. A low for a football club is not finishing sixth in the Premier League – they should know, they experienced relegation themselves back in 1974. That’s a low, a feeling I would never want to wish on any football fan. Relegation is such a demoralising experience – but then again, look at Bury. Imagine supporting them and going to Gigg Lane throughout your life, only for the club to not even exist anymore. I can’t begin to think about the emotions you would feel if that was your team.

 

Sometimes it can take looking at the bigger picture to appreciate what you’ve got. I’ve seen certain City fans spit their dummies out more than once this season, purely because we’ve enjoyed so much success recently, and this season admittedly hasn’t been to our own extraordinary standards. At the time of writing, City are second in the Premier League. We are still in the FA Cup, the Champions League and in the final of the Carabao Cup. So many fans of so many teams could only dream of their team being in that scenario. Yet a minority of blues don’t think it’s good enough. We all want to do the best we can and win trophies as often as we can, and it can be frustrating when you see your team underperforming, but nothing gives us the divine right to win everything all of the time – especially if we’ve just not been good/consistent enough.

 

I often struggle between the head vs heart tug-of-war that is ‘remember where you came from and what we’ve been through’ vs. you can only judge your team on the here and now. I can’t justify a 2-0 defeat at home to Wolves based on the fact that we used to lose to Stockport County at home 22 years ago. I can look at it in the context of the bigger picture and think well, it could be much worse. This season we’ve not been clinical enough, we’ve not been consistent enough and the defending has left a lot to be desired. When so many things are to blame, questions are rightfully asked. But I’m not going to stomp my feet and throw a strop just because the Premier League title isn’t heading to the Etihad stadium. I’m big enough to be able to admit when another football team deserves it more and Liverpool do this season – they’ve played some fantastic football (whether you want to lay the blame with VAR for helping them or not, but I think that’s more a reflection of you) and been consistent where we haven’t –who can really argue with that?

 

No team has been on the ‘journey’ that City have. Journey is normally a word that makes me cringe, but in the context of our history, it’s necessary. To have been in the Premier League, relegated multiple times, sink down to the third tier of football and to come back up again, only for the club to be taken over and win everything bar the Champions League, that’s some ride to have been on. We had a few more bumps along the way – think Stuart Pearce, David James upfront, Thaksin Shinawatra – and many say we won the football lottery. Maybe we did. But in anything in life, you need to speculate to accumulate. But the ride, the journey, makes every high that little bit sweeter. We could never be arrogant, we never should be, it shouldn’t be in the make-up of any City fan to demand success.

 

We’re right to want the best for our team, but I think our past failures make us realise our present faltering are mere blips in the road and not pitfalls. To stay grounded after the couple of seasons of football we’ve all been so lucky to enjoy, to exactly the way we should be. If I was at school now, I’d be skipping in the classroom. City fans have so many reasons to be grateful. There’s some irony in having not been able to enjoy our success: the media’s continued obsession with finding fault with City tries its best to drown out the cheers from our fans. Whether it be citing oil money, Arab regimes or counting how many empty seats we have at a fourth round FA Cup game, the tabloids, broadsheets and broadcasters seem determined to discredit City’s triumphs by all means necessary. We’re not the poster boys, the darlings, the fawned over. We’re an ‘average team with a small fan

base that were lucky enough to win the football lottery.’ They’ll never let you forget that.

 

I let out a wry smile in the fact that Typical City will never die. We played the worst United team we’ve seen in a long time this season and they beat us twice. They even beat us two seasons ago to delay our title win – and you witnessed just how much that meant to them that day. That used to be us – if we were lucky enough to be playing football in the same League as them. It used to make our season if we managed to take points off them, I don’t even mind admitting them. Because that’s a rivalry. But don’t even think about feeling for them now. Some might say their plight is the worst it’s been. Some will think it can get much worse. It did for us. Those were the darkest of days – but now the tables have turned and we just have to try and enjoy that for as long as it lasts. I might feel an ounce of sympathy for them, if they would’ve given us the same virtue way back then, but they didn’t. That’s a rivalry. That’s the way it goes.

 

You reap what you sow.

 

Emily Brobyn

@kippaxgirlemily