Deal Or No Deal? The Dream Of Being A Fan AgainBy Howard Hockin | 08th February 2023
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, was it? You know, fandom and all that entails. It used to be about football, which is handy, because there’s a rumour that City have a match this weekend, though it may have temporarily slipped from your memory.
But on-pitch matters have once more been side-lined, and here we go again. In the trenches, dazed and confused. What does it all mean? Why does everyone have it in for us? Pass the tin foil, I need a new hat. Is this what the next four years holds? Opposition fans, who judging by their comments must struggle to tie their shoelaces every morning, talking about City being cheats, past achievements questioned, the stench of hypocrisy hanging in the air. If you weren’t exhausted beforehand, you soon will be.
The Premier League charges hit at two essences of fandom. They threaten the future experience as a fan for all blues, and threaten the perception of what has gone before. But do you care about the perception of your football club? You should, at some level. That perception was always going to be tainted, even if we were run by literal saints, because of the business model and the power that old money has over the game, thus ensuring that Big Brother dictates to the slavering masses how football should work – organic growth and all that. But the perception of City has gone way beyond that now. Much of it can be dismissed – if the views of someone on a Daily Mail comments section or behind an avatar of Mo Salah with angel eyes concerns you, I suggest going out for a nice, brisk walk. But City are now tainted, irrespective of where this all ends.
With that in mind, whataboutery is relevant, but also seems pointless. Not only have I lost the energy to point out the hypocrisy of all this, but the end result is one fanbase shouting at the clouds. The system is rigged, and even City occasionally benefit from that. The old status quo yield power and will work collectively to preserve what they once had and want once more. And they can’t have that if City are better at kicking a football around than them.
In the deepest recesses of my mind, a thought persists, about the possible unfairness of what we are witnessing. What have other clubs done? Exactly the same? Possibly, we will never know. City were only exposed of potential wrongdoings because of illegally hacked emails. Otherwise, there would have been no investigations. UEFA and the Premier League did not discover discrepancies on their own. And they won’t uncover any other clubs’ similar practices either, whatever they may be. City have been unlucky, whatever else you think of the situation and the individuals involved.
That’s not to misrepresent my position – City aren’t the good guys here. If they are in any shape or form victims due to being the only ones under the spotlight for flying too close to the sun (or worse), we are still talking about power struggles between super wealthy individuals, and the politics that inevitably results from globally-based owners. However rigged the system is, it has no bearing on the future for Manchester City. It is not an excuse if rules have been broken. Not liking said rules is not an excuse. If -IF – rules have been broken, then heads must roll for allowing the club to find itself in this position, repeatedly, dragging the club’s name through the mud once more, and a fitting punishment is justified. What counts as fitting however, is subjective. Elsewhere, it will be business as usual. Chelsea can wipe billions of loans and then embark on a £500m spending spree, as could United’s future Qatari owners, and that is fine. City have their market value sponsorship deal (and the Etihad deal was entirely reasonable in its size) funded from a second source, and they could be thrown out of the league. That’s how it is. What Chelsea and United do, and how unfair the rules may or may not be, is an irrelevance for influencing the outcome of the independent panel that City will now face. As irrelevant as one of the panel being an Arsenal fan and the new Premier League chair being a United fan. We know other clubs have lobbied and harangued and pushed for City to be “put in their place”, but what good is knowing this now? What good is moaning about the injustice? Maybe its relevance lies in what went before. Perhaps City’s board and owners should have tried harder with diplomacy in the past. Perhaps they tried and hit a brick wall. Perhaps they should have been more aggressive and protected their corner. We ultimately don’t know what they have done behind the scenes, we just know it hasn’t worked. If this is sportswashing, it is sportswashing for dummies.
Let’s start by filtering out the hysteria. City are not bringing down the Premier League with their smoking gun evidence, as I doubt, despite what they will know about the practices of other clubs, they have any firm evidence. There is a strong argument that burning bridges is hardly a sensible plan of action anyway, reserved as a last desperate act to uncover the hypocrisy of it all. All that is left is to beat these charges, somehow. After that, who knows? We’re fighting the tide after all, trying to portray Manchester City as being good for the game. Just look at the fairy tale down a few roads at Wrexham. A couple of handsome Hollywood stars financially dope a club and the gushing praise feels like an avalanche. I’ve nothing against them to be honest, but it is pretty telling about how narratives work in this business. Investment is a dirty word – sometimes.
Ultimately, this will die down in the short-term, because we cannot obsess about it 24/7, and more importantly, this will clearly drag on for a long, long time. It needs to dies down, as we cannot go on like this. Nothing is being decided this season or next, and it may do us all some good. By the time a decision is made, Pep could be gone, the UK economy will have tanked to the extent that only the lawyers involved in the arbitration can afford football tickets anymore, and we will have new and important things to worry about. The Bluemoon thread will reach page 27000, but we will be little nearer to comprehending how this may ultimately play out because there is too much important information we do not possess. If serious questions were asked at the time for punishment when City postponed a game against Everton because members of the squad caught Covid, you can only imagine what lies ahead with these allegations, regarding 115 financial breaches. Step away, for your own good.
This is a feeling that I will need to put on hold for up to four years possibly, but the fact is that if there is proof of wrongdoing, to the extent of falsifying accounts, then those actions have destroyed my club’s reputation. The more serious the charges, the greater the burden of proof, and the longer the process will take. The high stakes could both bury City or actually work in their favour. Again – IF, and it’s hard to comprehend such high-flying, renowned, successful executives doing such a thing. But if they have, there is no excuse. As unlikely as it seems that they would go to such lengths to circumnavigate Financial Fair Play regulations, until this is resolved, there will be the nagging doubt of “just maybe..?”. After all, do we hold such people in too high a regard? The same people that sign dodgy deals with gambling firms that appear to have no website, cryptocurrency agreements, and sign the club up to a Super League, a staggeringly ill-conceived decision. Time will tell. But if the rumours of those high up at the club being privately relaxed about all this, then it suggests that they can’t have done anything particularly bad, and certainly not criminal. Ultimately, we don’t know, and we are all waiting to find out. But whilst I can imagine the possibility, however unlikely that it may be, that around 2011 or 2012, board members at City moved money around to head off the dawning realisation that the club may fail FFP regulations and be hit with a punishment, I cannot comprehend that they would continue on such a dishonest path for nine consecutive years. If they have, they’re not the people we think they are.
Like many others, I am probably overthinking all this. But what really grates is the thought that even if the impropriety is fairly minor, such actions have destroyed the club’s reputations. Fans, executives and owner alike have known for a decade that rivals would be out to get us. It should have resulted in us being even more squeaky clean than ever, to provide no ammunition for those wishing to destroy us. Many will now be sniffing blood, the opportunity to knock City off their perch having finally arrived after years of lobbying and concerted efforts. As always, it is the fans that bear the brunt of all this. Our board are privately relaxed, whilst we are stressed about the future of our club, once more firefighting online, taking dog’s abuse and having to cope with such momentous news without having a full grasp of the facts. We can cope (kind of) with our team bring crap, with not winning things, with fallow periods and dashed hopes. But there’s nothing worse than being considered cheats. It diminishes all achievements, if not the memories themselves.
And then there’s the media to deal with, though ignoring much of their output proves to be easier with each passing year. There has been no media discussion about the implications of City actually being innocent of the charges filed, which makes you wonder what the point of the panel is. Not a single word written. We’ve been here before of course. We’ve seen the articles written verbatim when City were charged by UEFA, then banned, then read the pitiful excuses once CAS exonerated City of said charges. No wonder that Groundhog died last week, it had probably had enough like the rest of us of dredging through the same old shit all over again. No one could blame it for taking the easy route out.
If there’s one thing that has me shaking my head, it’s the absolute nerve of people to talk about threats to fairness and integrity in the English Premier League. The absolute fucking nerve. That ship sailed a long time ago, and that’s before VAR was introduced. Betraying football as a spectacle, the most pitiful line of them all coming from Barney Ronay. Where did the 2018 Russia World Cup rank in such betrayals, I wonder? I might check out your book for some clarification. Guidance on how we as fans should think from selected football journalists is hilarious. They are desperate to project the idea of football being a haven of respectability and morality. I’d split my sides laughing if the situation wasn’t so serious. Their shrieking indignation at the idea that rules being broken is the ultimate sin. That it destroys everything we hold dear. The game has been so corrupt on so many levels for so many years, it’s hard to fathom where this delusion originates, unless it’s an editorial choice. A corruption that was almost inevitable once the big money flooded into the game. Oh for the good old days of unmarked notes in brown envelopes, that allowed a bang average manager with half of Fleet Street in his pocket to purchase one of the most desirable properties in the country. Where did it all go wrong?
There will be no retrospective action, no stripping of titles. Put your asterisk back in the drawer, Liverpool fans, reverse the trophy bus back into the garage yet again. For blues, the concern should focus on what the future holds. I can take owners leaving (not that I expect them to be going anywhere), a fallow period, anything in fact as long as the club exists. It’s the thought of losing the wonderful players that triggers the greatest anxiety. Players that have helped forge the wonderful memories in my brain, some of the best days of my life. They will never be taken away, but they have whet my appetite, made me greedy, forced me to yearn for many more in the future.
If this shitstorm has taught me one thing, it’s that there truly is an upside to relegation/expulsion. No sane City fan wants it to happen, it is bravado to state that and nothing more. But football at City’s level, at the top of the pyramid, is lacking something. We all know it, this week providing a handy reminder. It lacks soul, it lacks fairness, it is manufactured, a product for the masses. This storm involves the UK government, geopolitics, on which we are all now experts, and billion pound investment deals. This is a different world to the Gene Kelly stand, queuing for play-off final tickets, or shouting abuse at Peter Swales after another false dawn. Competing against the likes of Liverpool and United has left a bitter taste for reasons away from the pitch. Tribalism is king, genuine discourse and debate left in the gutter. At times, despite the staggering joy my football club has given me over the past twelve years, it does feel like a promotion challenge would be more fun than this. Despite those highs, a lot of the time, is supporting City actually enjoyable? We don’t seem that happy judging by online activity (a flawed approach, admittedly), and nor do many rival fans. Because ultimately, coming full circle, having lost countless hours reading, debating and arguing about financial provisions, image rights, hidden contracts, FFP and more, the end result is once more debilitating fatigue from following my football club. It’s a shame City’s executives have no comprehension of what it’s like to be a football fan. They may have viewed matters differently if so. They may have acted differently. Or perhaps they did not need to – the ignorance we have over what the truth is has only added to the fatigue and the anxiety. But as Stefan said on the 93:20 podcast today, we have a right and an expectation for our football club to be run competently, as a bare minimum. There’s a reason for the protests against Peter Swales, and thousands of others by fans across the globe. Because we expect – and we deserve – better than this crap. After the club won its battle over UEFA, we should not have to go through it all again.
The logic then is that this needs to be sorted soon, and whatever the outcome, the club and us fans can move on, and deal with whatever our brave new world entails. But I want the opposite. The longer it goes on, the more I suspect that diplomacy could still triumph, though many with more experience of matters than me will argue that we have gone past that point. Either way, it cannot go on like this forever. There has to be a better way. I want to talk about football again, and only football. Moan about inverted full backs, the lack of bar service, and the tram service after matches. And yet, with every breaking story, it feels less and less likely that I will ever be able to do so again as the norm. To watch football for the same reasons that made me first fall in love with the “beautiful game”. And that is sad. And the saddest of all are as always the fans, those that least deserve it. Football is our emotional crutch, so it’s the deal we signed. For the first time in my life, I’m considering ripping up that deal.