The last time I wrote for King of the Kippax was October 2015. My son, Vincent, was a year old and I had no idea that the next time I contributed, I’d be a mother to two boys. My second, Noel Sergio, is now eight months old, born into a world where Manchester City are regularly fighting for the Premier League trophy, have Pep Guardiola as our manager and some of the finest players football has to offer on the pitch at the Etihad.
You can say that my children will never know they’re born when it comes to City. They’ll never know those dark days of Division Two, the managerial merry-go-round of the mid-90s and the superstar signings of Martin ‘Buster’ Phillips and Lee Bradbury. But I think they’ll at least know Typical City™. Somehow I don’t think that’s going anywhere anytime soon. We’ll always have that element somewhere – I mean, whose bright idea was it to have the fireworks before the Everton game? I couldn’t see the first 15 minutes of the game! I watched it back on Sky when I got home and it looked like a bad foggy night. Typical City™.
THE PEP EFFECT
I always find that some of the most interesting content for articles comes from overheard conversations between fans. Case in point: coming back on the train from Wembley in April after getting beat in the FA Cup Semi Final by Arsenal. We’d ended up in First Class because the train was that full (Mr Branson had kindly declassified it for us mere mortals), so we were inevitably surrounded by Blues lamenting the performance. Expectations had been sky high when Pep joined – I think some fans expected him to waltz through the door and sweep the opposition aside, without really giving much thought to the squad that he had inherited. So the conversation revolved entirely around Pep and whether he was the man for the job. Yes, for the entire two hour journey home.
At the time, it was almost like Pep was immune to criticism because of his reputation. His excuse for the season had been that it wasn’t his squad – he’d inherited the vast majority from Mancini – and if he’d inherited it from Mancini, that doesn’t speak volumes for Pellegrini. Had any of Pellegrini’s signings actually been made by him or were they Txiki and Ferran specials? There was a conclusion that City had just been treading water under Pellegrini – he’d just been manning the fort until Pep was available.
So for the inherited squad reason alone, Pep couldn’t be judged for his debut season. The dead wood needed to be shifted – and wasn’t it just. He needed to bring in the players he wanted – and didn’t he just. Every player on the ‘hit list’ has left and been replaced with upgrades. Full backs Ben Mendy, Danilo and Kyle Walker, winger Bernardo Silva and goalkeeper Ederson have arrived and, with the deadline looming as we go to print, there could potentially be Alexis Sanchez on the way to us too. Here’s hoping.
With the dead wood now shifted and players brought in that Pep has requested, this season there can be no excuses. There’s nowhere to hide – it’s either do it this season or go for it in the final season of his contract. He’s already a third of his way into the contract, he’s made the right signings so the time is now. With Mourinho and United making strong improvements during the Summer too, it looks like it will be an all-out two-way assault for the title. Great, just when you hate the rivalry enough and it really heats up.
Pep has already admitted that he won’t change the way he plays to adjust to the rigours of the Premier League. Sometimes it has felt like there isn’t much of a Plan B: certain teams who park the bus are difficult to break down, and if they counter and grab the goal, they sit on the lead and our style makes it hard to play through that. It’s fine when a team plays open, attacking football that offers us space to play and create, but against the Stokes and the West Broms it often results in frustration.
Take this season so far for example. Everton played superbly at the Etihad; they put in an excellent defensive display and, once they’d grabbed the goal, were extremely difficult to break down. The equaliser did eventually come, but it took patience. Same as the opener at Brighton away – patience until Aguero broke the dead-lock with 70 minutes gone. Bournemouth: came at us, took the lead with that exquisite goal by Daniels but proved to be a little more lacklustre and allowed us back into the game. The 97th minute winner from Sterling – although incredible – was our get out of jail card used up. We’ve seen a lot of possession, the tippy-tappy so familiar with Pep, the trickery and skills from individual talents, but not a convincing team display so far. Of course, we’re only three games in with new players bedding in, but the past couple of seasons we’ve got off to a flyer and lost our way a bit. Where to go from here?
I like Pep – I’m a big fan. I’m not one of the Twitter minority already calling for his head. But I’m also not blinded by his past successes. He’s not immune from criticism and shouldn’t be. I know what his teams are capable of achieving – but I also know that sometimes successes can’t be replicated, especially in a league as difficult as the Premier League, where there’s no such thing as an easy fixture. Every team views us as City – a scalp, a Cup final, it’s an achievement if they beat us. That’s not being arrogant – that’s just the stature of the club now. But we should be capable of overcoming and dealing with that.
There are great expectations that come with City now: the money spent should equate to trophies come May, so the heat is on. That pressure and expectation means Pep has to deliver or risk failure. I won’t judge him – until May. That’s the way football is now; people expect instant results, particularly with his track record. He’s now got the squad capable of it, there’s nowhere to hide for him this season.
LEAVING US BLACK (AND BLUE)
Is it me or is the standard of refereeing in the Premier League getting worse with every season? I didn’t think I’d see a performance as incompetent as Robert Madley this season, but of course, his highness Mike Dean topped it at the Vitality Stadium. Madley sent off Kyle Walker for a second bookable offence – a raised elbow – that didn’t even make contact with the player. That was the tip of the iceberg on a night of inconsistencies that left us battling for a point with 10 men against a tricky Everton side.
But Mike Dean, honestly, I’m struggling to find the words. I was waiting for the obligatory Kompany red card to come, but the Sterling red card was nothing short of an utter disgrace. Where is the common sense in that instance? Where the away team have just scored a winner, adrenaline goes through the roof with both players and fans, and you forget where you are for a few seconds. Euphoria rushes through your body and the celebrations where a reflection of that. The fans encroached on the pitch – the players didn’t jump into the away end so technically there was no rule-breaking going on.
If he’s following the letter of the law, he has to book every player that joined in because it wasn’t just the goalscorer that took part. Similarly, if he’s following the letter of the law, he has to send Ake off for being the last man when he tackled Jesus. He has to book Daniels for his goal-scoring celebration when his kung-fu kicked the corner flag and booted the advertising board. He at least has to book Cook for his potentially career-ending lunge on Jesus. But he didn’t. He opted against common sense in the closing stages of the game and decided to rewrite the headlines. He wanted to be the star of the show, like he always does. Interestingly, a host of pundits and footballers spoke out on Twitter post-match slating Dean’s decision. Bobby Zamora, now retired, said that Dean was ‘one of the worst #arrogant’.
A last-minute winner is one of the best moments as a player and a supporter to enjoy – take 93:20 for a cracking example – but the enjoyment and fun is being zapped out of the game by the officials. This is football – our life revolves around it. Some fans had stayed overnight for the game, some had set off at 4:30am to be there for the rearranged kick-off, and the thanks they got for celebrating the winner was being grabbed by over-zealous stewards and being put into a head lock. Fair play and kudos to Aguero for trying to help the young lad out: not so much over-paid, out of touch, prima donna now eh? The thanks he got? The steward accused Aguero of throwing a punch at him. The mind boggles.
When will the inconsistencies stop? How are referees being allowed to get away with such incompetence week in, week out? I know if I put in that performance at work, I’d be looking for another job. It’s unacceptable, particularly when big decisions mean players go missing while they’re serving bans, potentially costing us crucial points. The FA needs to wake up – I’m not entirely convinced that VAR will solve anything, but something must be done because it’s becoming a depressing reality every week.
BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY
Like everybody, I couldn’t believe the despicable events that happened at the Manchester Arena on May 22nd. We were on holiday in Cornwall at the time: my boyfriend Adam had woken to make a bottle for Noel at midnight and I’d checked my phone for the time. There was a news alert on my phone – suspected explosion at Manchester Arena. We both went on Twitter straight away – and were aghast at what we found. Terrorism on our doorstep again. 22 people killed; the youngest of them just eight years old. The target? Young kids enjoying a pop concert. An attack yet again on our freedom but even more shocking, at our children. Our mothers. Our fathers.
A lot of fans have had their say on the increased security outside the Etihad Stadium. After the Paris attacks, fans have to park away from the Citystore when visiting the shop and can no longer park outside. There are also increased bag searches and ‘wanding’ when entering pre-match. I’ve been in a queue many times and heard people moaning about having to queue for this – it beggars belief. Once a guy was moaning because he wouldn’t get his pre-match pint – what cost your life, sir? I understand Dave had an encounter recently where a steward questioned him when trying to bring in fanzines (something he’s been doing for many years, so very bizarre), but generally I obviously support the vigilance and think everybody else should too.
You can’t put a price on safety at the moment – I believe football stadiums are a prime target for terrorism and have been for a few years (see what happened with the Paris attacks with a suicide attacker detonating his vest outside the Stade de France because he’d been denied entry). Any event or place with Westerners enjoying a social activity in groups of people is deemed a target – especially with so many people in a stadium together. It’s always better to be safe than sorry and the club have to be seen to co-operating with security measures whether the fans agree or not.
But I also believe that the queues themselves could be deemed a ‘soft spot’. That amount of people grouped together, with no security on the Etihad Campus before you reach the turnstiles, could potentially be a disaster waiting to happen. All it takes is one or two terrorists – it doesn’t bear thinking about. I’ve become a bit paranoid about attacks and terrorism and it’s brought on a bit of social insecurity I didn’t previously know I had. Now I feel nervous in crowded areas. I’m always
looking for the exits; I’m forever suspicious of people and feel on edge and panicky. Safety in numbers has never been less true. But it’s what they want – to cause psychological distress and anxiety and we can’t live our lives in fear. Keep coming, keep enjoying the games and try to carry on as normal. Just understand the guys on the turnstiles have a job to do and they’re trying to protect us, just respect it.
City sure know how to get people talking. Case in point – The Tunnel Club. The new state-of-the-art corporate hospitality facility at the Etihad, where fans get to pay £15k+ plus for the privilege of watching the teams walk out through a glass tunnel before the game. Come on down, cried City. For here is the place where you get a tactical briefing by Brian Kidd, ignored by Leroy Sane as he enters the stadium wearing his headphones and sit in plush leather seats with Astroturf beneath your feet instead of concrete. The stuff of dreams – if you can afford it.
But at what cost to the core support? Plenty of fans have been forced to relocate out of their usual seats to make way for the new corporate seat section. Fans who have sat there for years have now been moved onto the third tier. While The Tunnel Club was being built, a big wall emerged in the middle of the Colin Bell Stand, which meant fans separated by a couple of blocks could only socialise with each other at half time by cutting through the seats in the stand. Since The Tunnel Club opened for the first game, there is now no access as a thoroughfare through the Colin Bell Stand.
This now means that fans who have had long-standing half time meet-ups can no longer do it. I can no longer walk round to my brother in the East Stand to meet him at half time, because a steward stops me and tells me The Tunnel Club’s security is priority. So the core support, fans for years, are having traditions they’ve kept for years quashed at the expense of City trying to attract new business clients. It’s nothing short of a disgrace. It’s disgusting. I don’t care if I can meet him before the game, I want to be able to continue with traditions. I liked to meet other friends a couple of blocks down at half time, friends from Twitter that I only get to see at half time, but oh no, The Tunnel Club has put paid to that. Thanks, City.
Never mind the fans who stayed loyal during Division Two; they’re disposable, they’re statistics on a spreadsheet. Hospitality is no new concept, but now we need to pander for the business customers, who use football as a way of wining, dining and impressing clients. It doesn’t necessarily matter which team they use to do it – so why not create a unique experience for them to host their guests in? It may inconvenience our long-standing support, but who cares if it makes us a shit load more money. Sorry, it’s just not for me. It’s a human aquarium, a voyeuristic goldfish-bowl but the club will say a way of balancing the financial fair play books. It’s also been noted that any fans in The Tunnel Club qualify automatically for away tickets – again, taking away from us mere mortals, prioritising those with the financial means over those with long-standing loyalty. Somebody at City needs to have a think about how to keep the core support happy as well as making a few quid. Quite a few people have been very pissed off by it.
SO FAR SO GOOD
It’s hard to judge the season so far. Having only played three games, it’s unfair to be too harsh based on the fact we do have the age-old excuse of new signings bedding in. Mendy looks a quality signing – he’s an absolute unit and his first time balls into the box against Bournemouth were a sight to behold. Bernardo Silva looks magical – when he combines with David Silva they remind me of an elite version of Berkovic and Benarbia. They’re going to cause some defenders some grief this season. The ball seems to stick to his feet like glue and he’s fitted in well. Kyle Walker has of course been the subject of a huge injustice with his red card, but looked comfortable, pacy and solid during the Brighton game. I need to see a bit more of Danilo before I judge him and Ederson’s distribution is already an unequivocal improvement on Harts.
But what I have learned is that we’re all going to have to try and be a little bit more patient. Is that even possible? It’s not that I have become a spoilt fan, I know where we’ve come from, but I do think we are right to be expecting a little bit more. We have the players, the talent on the pitch is astronomical, and I do feel like when it clicks it’ll be something really special. It’s just how we approach and deal with the trickier games- those are the games where the real tests will come. The wet and windy nights away at the Britannia. The promoted sides that are playing their cup final. When 10 men sit behind the ball and we’re trying to walk it into the net. We’re in an era that we didn’t ever think could or would possibly exist at our football club, we’ve had twists and turns we didn’t think possible, we’ve just got to keep holding on and enjoying the ride.
I’ll show my sons the videos of some of our performances at Maine Road one day. They won’t believe it. They’ll think we’re making it all up. While all my friends at school chose to support United in their glory era, I picked City.
At least they can be thankful of that.