Empty Seats: Change The Record, Pep.

By Howard Hockin | 27 January 2020
Pep’s latest bemusement at empty seats is not acceptable.

(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty)

Even those you love dearest have their imperfections. Unconditional love is tough, but can still be achieved whilst admitting flaws in those you worship. It could be their devotion to Love Island, not screwing the lid back properly on that jar of gherkins, talking in their sleep or that brief affair with John in accounts. Whatever the reason, none of us are perfect. And Pep Guardiola certainly isn’t. The greatest manager the club has had, in my humble opinion, and a generally decent and humble man to boot. I don’t expect perfection from him, tactically or in personality, but nevertheless, there is one small issue that I cannot keep quiet about. After all, Pep’s been subtly questioning our support again.

To get to the heart of the matter, when we’re decrying 40000 attendances for Sunday lunchtime kick offs against lower league opposition, then there’s simply no point even beginning a debate. Because reasoned debate is dead. It has ceased to be. The same tedious jibes parroted every time. What a weird British obsession it is concerning seats being filled. There’s little weirder. But then if you want reasoned debate about anything City-related, you’re going to struggle, let’s be honest. That’s rather the point here. If City had not been taken over in 2008 by wealthy “Arabs”, no one would give two hoots how many people turned up to a City match. And if City’s current manager had the faintest idea of the struggles many of the fan base go through on a daily basis, he would know better than to make an issue over this, and perhaps even stand up for us for once in a blue moon.

It’s easy to say Pep is not speaking his first language, and that often he is placed on the spot by being asked questions other managers would never be asked. Fair enough, but he could just as easily deal with questions over support better, and he brought the issue up himself this time around. City fans get enough shit from the Carling-drinking banter-loving dullards that roam social media without our own manager stoking the fires. Stuck up for us for once, it might help create a bond with us, rather than portray you as a mouthpiece for a marketing department trying to shift the final few tickets for Wednesday’s derby match. Tell the interviewer or the assembled press that the cost of modern football is crippling, there are too many games, and coming off Christmas in a game against lower league opposition on TV, it is understandable that some may not be able to attend, and that an attendance close to 40,000, one of the highest of the round, should be applauded not decried, especially as the travelling support was meagre. I mean, considering how tetchy he gets at other types of questions on a regular basis, is it really too much to see him get tetchy over this too, and say something positive? I won’t hold my breath.

I mean, you truly don’t know why the attendance was what it was? Really?! No idea at all?! Are you not actually that intelligent then, have we got you all wrong? Because it should be blatantly obvious why the attendance is what it was. And it should be blatantly obvious that the attendance on Wednesday will be higher and the atmosphere completely different, for a far more important occasion. How strange that Pep can see the strain of too many games on players, but not the strain it puts on fans. It would be nice if he could make the connection at some point. I haven’t received any income for over 5 weeks, am down to my last £50, and for the first time will not be going to Wembley for the Carabao Cup final, should we get there. What’s more, there is the weird assumption that the cost of attending a game is the ticket price alone. It is not. It may surprise those at City to learn that we are not all magically teleported into our seats just prior to kick-off. No one is forcing me to have pints of beer before and after matches, but the social aspect of the day is a major part of why many of us go to matches. I’d rather go to two matches and have some drinks than go straight to four matches then go straight home again after the full-time whistle.

The atmosphere is linked to all of the above too, naturally. Fulham went down to 10 men early on, on top of being a goal down. The game was effectively over, it was clear as day. It is not surprising that the atmosphere would not be the greatest thereafter. Why would it be? If you wanted the perfect storm for a poor atmosphere at a football game, this was it. The game moved to the worst possible time, then televised, then the opposition team playing a weakened team then going a goal and man down early doors. Every single element of what makes football great had essentially been stripped away from the tie.

Pep clearly gets frustrated with the crowd, expecting more passion, full houses, and perhaps more people there on the full-time whistle. Baffling considering that Barcelona have often played in front of under-capacity crowds for many a year, and I doubt he was on the fan base’s back when he managed them. A half-empty stadium at full-time is a shit look, simple as that, whilst at the same time you or me or anyone else has every right to leave whenever they desire. But you feel sometimes that Pep is not only ignorant of how normal people live, but is not overly interested in forging a bond with fans. I am not that bothered if he keeps winning stuff, but to others it is important, and it seems weird that he wouldn’t want to create that bond anyway. Most the time that bond IS there and you only have to listen and watch him talk about football to feel fortunate to have him at our club. We’ve got Pep Guardiola. But he does not always help himself.

And look, the atmosphere, as at most Premier League grounds, could be better. Much better. But as I have said many times before, if Pep is THAT bothered about it, choose your battles appropriately. Fight for a return of standing, rally against creeping corporate areas around the ground, fight for cup games against lower league opposition being included in season tickets, or else shut up. Ask your superiors why the need for every penny of income is more important than creating an atmosphere. Ask them why TV deals do not allow for televised games to be refused, why they rarely subsidise the crippling financial cost of supporting a successful side.

I’m probably being grumpy due to a lack of sleep and constant phone calls from my bank manager. Pep said a few words, and writing a whole blog on those words can easily be seen as a massive overreaction. But it’s not the first time, and it has rankled with me one time too many. City fans have been the fall guys (or gals) for too much over the past decade and more without being accused of not supporting the team. The sanitised modern game and the horror that is VAR has already driven many away from the game, before we get to the cost of watching football. The last thing we need is to be in the firing line for the tough decisions many of us have had to make. He should be savvy enough to know too that any comments he does make will be twisted by the media, which is what the BBC and others were doing within hours. I don’t need a rallying call from my manager on how and when to support my football team. And Pep doesn’t need every seat filled to make his team play well.

(Photo by Andrew Yates/AFP)