No One Likes Us. Do We Care?By Mark Meadowcroft | 31 July 2020
It’s over. We won. It wasn’t close but it also wasn’t Huddersfield 1987. The task now is not to be a pub bore about it. City’s decisive victory in CAS and the award document that confirms that UEFA’s case had about as much non time-barred evidence behind it as the legendary Shutt and Sheron strike partnership had goal threat is rightly being celebrated by a club and a fan base that felt besieged.
Others more qualified than I have picked over the bones of what happened in the increasingly capacious law reports section of 93:20. That’s not the Bert in me speaking. That’s the informed citizen heading to the most credible source of information available, the people with by far the best track record of informed accurate analysis and the source that nailed what CAS would say and why in February. For all that though, I’m quite keen to hear more in the coming months of Stefan’s maudlin pessimism about City’s on-field prospects than his undoubted legal expertise.
Alternatively, a variety of newspapers are available to you with plentiful comment from others based on very little knowledge or interest in comprehending that this wasn’t really about FFP but a technical legal and accounting case on which City always occupied the firmer and higher ground and were always heavily favoured, if not certain, to prevail. The risk of defeat in the end was barely greater than the residual risk in any legal action, no matter how strong a case is. It’s never certain. The problem was that the consequences of defeat would have been very severe, defeat could not be ruled out and the detail released this week suggests to me that while City won with something to spare, it wasn’t a blowout, and as usual the fervency of the pontification of certain people with large platforms will be in inverse proportion to the understanding of the underlying issues, but we’re used to that now.
However, you will notice that I haven’t said that City are perfect. Simon Evans of Reuters, whose journalism on this story has been a beacon of excellence and is well worth a follow, pointed that it’s not just UEFA that isn’t smelling of roses right now. Neither are City, and Blues who think otherwise or believe that the goodies won and the baddies lost are mistaken.
City objectively failed to co-operate fully with the UEFA investigation. Therefore they have to expect to be punished. Equally it’s fair to say that they had some very strong reasons not to. The fact that they gave UEFA evidence in confidence one day and read about it the next day in the New York Times is morally damning but it is not a legal defence.
So City are somewhat pungent right now, largely because while they emerged undeniably and correctly victorious, they knowingly chose to have a public scrap in an open sewer. They could have dealt with this more discreetly but decided not to. The advantage is that the world now knows that UEFA were asked for the receipts for the allegations they made and they were unable to produce them. The good news is that the odour is temporary and can dealt with easily enough. It will also demolish many – if not all – the narratives surrounding the club in the way that an agreed and more dignified settlement would not have done.
But enough of that. History is bunk. The future is everything and part of the skill of winning is knowing when you have won and moving on to the next chapter
One thing this has proved is that City are not popular. While the cool kids in Madrid, Munich, Liverpool and Trafford hang out and get to play Mario Kart or go Pony Trekking together, the Blues are the kid that never gets invited to anyone’s birthday party. Is this a problem, or should we just say to ourselves that the Abu Dhabi lads can be judged by the quality of their enemies? After all, anyone who can wind up the dreadful Franco-supporting Javier Tebas quite as effortlessly as Khaldoon Al-Mubarak must be doing something profoundly right.
But while that’s true, there’s no point winning the war if City neglect to win the peace that follows, and that involves moving on quickly. When fans are finally allowed back into grounds in decent quantities, I have no doubt that a couple of songs about CAS will enter the repertoire, but that should be about it. I am personally guilty of taking a strong liking to the phrase “particularly cogent”, and I know it is going wear thin with wife and my team at work extremely soon.
It’s going to take discipline to show the good grace that some others have completely failed to show both before and after CAS, but it’s needed.
IGNORANCE IS BLISS
Some people can be ignored. Virgins on twitter will continue to scream “oil money”. Bless – there will, I promise, be a day they see a lady with no clothes on in real life rather than on a laptop screen.
Then there’s the lads who never go near East Manchester but spout meretricious drivel on their blogs and twitter feeds from South Africa, Poland, Brazil, Ireland and wherever. These just need to be denied the oxygen of publicity. Let them howl into a void. I don’t think the City hierarchy could give a toss what they say, however libellous it is, and if they don’t, then nor should you. Move on.
There will also a type of football journalist that will carry on just as before, like a Bourbon King, neither learning nor forgetting anything. Howard Hockin of this parish has written about how to deal with people who accept City’s hospitality only to continually repeat lies, a bit like Nigel Farage in the European Parliament. While it sticks in the throat, I would do precisely nothing about these no-marks whose careers are built and will inevitably crumble on the rocks of the attention economy.
One of them in particular is clearly desperate to be banned from the Etihad. Don’t give him what he wants. And while we’re at it, the owner of City really doesn’t want to get into a debate about press freedom. In spite of the unremitting bad faith of his opponents, it’s one he won’t win, and rightly so.
These guys will continue to write what they want. It will continue to have a very Brexit and Trump relationship with the truth, but City are following the strategy of Biden and Starmer on either side of the Atlantic in combating fact-lite populism. Only engage occasionally, deal in cold, hard evidence, be unemotional and don’t give them the response they want. It’s dull but it works.
Der Spiegel will continue to be a source of scoops. When they get to December 2015 in Rui Pinto’s stash of stolen emails, they will see the what the guys at Etisalat got Simon Pearce in the Secret Santa and there will be renewed calls for a Champions League ban. Ben Rumsby from the Telegraph will retweet it with the comment “Smoking Gun?”
Finally, there are the lads who are somewhat invested in the story, who were banking on the award document talking about “technicalities” and went it didn’t moved directly from the denial stage to the anger stage – I am less worried about them – and those whose inability to detach themselves from their club allegiances is making them look like fools.
I must admit I am surprised that they are surprised that good quality evidence is the usual precursor to a successful legal outcome, but in truth that’s neither my, your or Sheikh Mansour’s problem.
However, I don’t buy the Henry Winter idea of neutrality in football reporting for similar reasons to the fact that you don’t find many eunuchs in brothels. I like the way Danny Taylor of The Athletic handles this. He’s a Forest fan and loves writing about his club but that doesn’t stop him being objective about others and fiercely critical of the people he desperately wants to do well. However, Tony Evans really needs to go and write for a Liverpool fanzine.
This hyper partisanship is something we will need to live with. We need to let it fail by its own contradictions and let the free market take its course with this sort of content in anything other than the low-quality partisan websites which will always be with us. We should also remember that if you are reading this, you are almost certainly partisan too. I certainly am, and while I try to adjust for that, I don’t entirely succeed.
But having looked at areas where City shouldn’t engage, there are other things they should do.
Let’s begin with fans of the other clubs, and the first thing to remember is that the people we all meet in real life are far more representative of the court of public opinion than @peakclinicalmagicalfirmino – aged 17, never been to Anfield, football finance expert and definitely beginning to get better at talking to girls.
Your friends from the pub, badminton partners, posties and parents of your kids’ friends have a realistic view of the way football is run, and while some may subscribe to a general “no smoke without fire” view on City, they are also of the opinion that all elite football is to a greater or lesser extent a moral cesspit. So while, as Simon Evans points out, City aren’t smelling of roses right now, nobody else is particularly fragrant.
However, that said, your average punter also thinks City are entitled to a fair trial, not to have evidence they give immediately leaked to UEFA, and if stolen emails are going to be held against them it’s not unreasonable that they are very carefully and honestly presented in a way that cannot be suggested gives misleading impressions.
They also understand that it’s not for City to disprove this, it’s for UEFA to prove it and that serious allegations need serious documentary backup. You can listen to Stefan and Lloyd expressing this is their lawyerly way, but most of your United-supporting colleagues and neighbours do get this in a way some people with a very large platform seem unable to grasp.
Accordingly, their view is that either there never was an issue, there was an issue but it’s ancient history now, there was an issue but it was minor and everyone else was doing it anyway, or there may have been an issue but there wasn’t enough evidence to convict and City were not unreasonable in asking UEFA to show the evidence and employing an expensive legal team to represent them.
You may like some of these conclusions more than others, but that’s wholly unimportant. The matter, one way or another, is closed. Let’s not labour the point because the only way they will regain interest in this is if we bang on about just how innocent we were. In our own interests, let it go.
We’ll continue with the nine English clubs who made total arseholes of themselves over this. Let’s be clear, if CAS describes their case as “moot”, that is lawyer-speak for them being told to stop wasting everyone’s time and fuck off. There’s some debate about City’s overall margin of victory, but on this point CAS are giving an unambiguous message. Privately, key people at these clubs will know that and be embarrassed at signing something without reading the small print, but we are going to have to be graceful. We have to deal with them.
We’ve had a dry run with Burnley, a club whose board I am sure now thinks signing that letter was very stupid. When they visited the Etihad last month and that repulsive banner was flown, City could have hung them out to dry. But we didn’t as while they may have been prevailed upon by Arsenal or Liverpool to sign a hatchet-job letter, that banner doesn’t represent them as a club and it was the right thing to do. There’s going to be a lot more of doing the right thing in the years to come and treating others better than we have been treated ourselves. As for United, of course the Glazers were going to have a cost-free pop at City. That’s what they do. Liverpool? Are you really surprised? Smile sweetly, and onwards.
I’d been waiting for the comments of the chief European ringleaders in the campaign to keep City out of the cabal, and at long last Karl-Heinz Rummenigge of Bayern Munich has broken cover. Poor old Rummenigge’s heart wasn’t in it, was it? There’s a shifting of blame from City to UEFA, who got both barrels while we get just one. They are a practical, realistic bunch in Bavaria, business is business, the plan to exclude City from the top table failed so they are now part of the establishment.
When Rummenigge says in a few months that the whole thing was all a misunderstanding, we’re great friends now and he’s always had a soft spot for the Blues since the days he followed Uwe Rosler’s career in England with great interest then an eye roll is permitted – but only one. We want to be civil with people. It’s better than the cold war of the last few years. They don’t really “deserve” us, but we can’t be prisoners of the past.
As for Tebas, I will make one exception and exclude him from my generally emollient and sunny disposition. His outrage is a badge of honour. Cry me a river, Javier.
We can do all this while being openly sceptical of the G-14 or the European Clubs Association or whatever they are called this week. Possibly City do need to involve themselves in this racket, possibly they don’t but they need to make clear that not only has FFP as it is currently understood gone thanks to Covid, they are not going to treat other clubs seeking to break into the elite the way they were treated – and after this verdict the likes of Bayern Munich are going to have to live with that.
So the clique will have, grudgingly, to accept us and we will, to an extent at least, tag along. We will be invited to Laserquest. But what, beyond good grace and being serene and demure should City do?
Since 2008, the ADUG management has done an excellent job with the traditional City fanbase. Apart from some bumps in the road surrounding ticket pricing and allocations, we feel valued and looked after. Those of us who remember the Swales era are also huge fans of competence. The post 2008 club is fully connected to the 114 years that preceded it and given the dizzying pace of change that is a huge achievement.
But City’s ambitions south of Stockport, east of Glossop and west of the M6 have only been partially realised. We have to accept that our global reach is still less than those with whom we now seek to compete. Now is the time to focus on that rather than giving Miguel Delaney airtime.
However much a small corner of Twitter is shouting now, City now have no less clear or more besmirched a name than their rivals. That doesn’t mean exoneration. We’re just quite like the others. It seems fanciful to think that UEFA will come after us again without a bulletproof case – and ADUG are extremely unlikely to give them that.
Winning the Champions League this season would obviously catapult City forward as a global brand, combined with the story of the guys who were backed into a corner but stood up for themselves. City’s opponents have done something extraordinary – they have allowed the men who are “Richer than God” to become the scrappy underdogs of the story.
Combine that 114 extremely eventful if not always successful years, 93:20, the Centurions and the Fourmidables, Lee, Bell and Summerbee as the opening act for Kompany, Yaya, Aguero and Silva, De Bruyne and Sterling now and Foden in the future and there’s a compelling story to be told. Khaldoon must now be pondering how to tell that story, but no wonder people are scared of what must look to competitors and outsiders like a machine.
What To Do?
How can your average City fan help? In a line, don’t be boring. In 2025, there will still be some Liverpool fans litigating who controls what in the UAE, who think Standard Chartered is a workers’ co-operative and have never heard of those good Scouse socialists, the Moores Family. They are dull now, and as time goes by will be seen by almost everyone else as completely swivel eyed. They actually help City, but we don’t need to respond.
Above all, now is the time for City be classy off the pitch as well as on it. Do that and the prize is the one everyone from Sheikh Mansour to Dave from Romiley wants. A club that is deeply rooted in its locality but is global in reach and outlook. A club that revels in its extraordinary history from Joshua Parlby and Billy Meredith, vast crowds for over 100 years, 1937 in Germany and Trautmann in England, glory in the 1960s and the Cups for Cock-Ups that followed only for Paul Dickov to become the unlikeliest of redeemers. But also one that in the 2020s is reimagining what a football club is. All this is possible and the events this month have given City a golden opportunity to define themselves as all of these things and the club that stood up to vested interests because it was telling the truth and won. But only if we stop fighting battles that have already been conclusively decided and focus on what comes next.
At the moment, it’s not quite true that no-one likes us. We get invited for play-dates at West Ham, Everton, Lech Poznan and Newport County, we’re thankful for that and we won’t forget. We will remember that Sheffield United didn’t get involved in a pile-on when almost everyone else did. But we need a wider circle than that.
We should care about our unpopularity and we need to do something about it. In the 1990s, our bitterness almost consumed us and the barbs thrown at us by United fans contained a lot of painful truth. I was there and I was one of the guilty ones. Let’s not make the same mistake in utterly different circumstances. Now is the time, like David Silva, to see the bigger picture while everyone else is focusing on the detail and be the sunshine in the Manchester rain. Not many people like us. We need that to change, and we can make that happen. Failure to win the Champions League now would not make this impossible in any way, but if we did it would really help and that, rather than helping Fleet Street’s finest through their seven stages of grief, should be our priority.
This is dedicated to the memory of Denise Johnson, whom I was obsessed with from afar in 1991 when I first saw her singing with Primal Scream but was a twitter friend in 2020. Her music and particularly her contribution to “Screamadelica” has been a constant accompaniment to my life from the age of Niall Quinn to the era of Kevin De Bruyne. Denise would like that, because amongst many things, she was a massive Blue. Sleep well Denise.