The Fatigue Of Being A Manchester City FanBy Howard Hockin | 16 February 2020
(Photo by Andrew Yates/AFP)
Modern life is tiring. Many of us struggle to sleep, especially those of you with young children. Life is stressful, frantic, tough. Football has always been a release for millions of us. An escape from the grind of daily life. A chance to vent some frustrations, cheer, shout, celebrate. But for many of us City fans over the past decade or more, it has been anything but an escape. The opposite in fact – it’s actually been the most tiring part of our lives. Because for many of us, we have been accused of being little more than trolls, and defenders of human rights abusers. How has it come to this?
Ah nostalgia, I love it. Things ain’t what they used to be, sadly. I used to go to the football, come home, read a match report then get on with my life – until the next match. If City had lost, and they had a tendency to do just that, I’d have a bit of a sulk, then move on. But then everything changed. The internet became a household norm, social media arrived, and everything had to be analysed. Battle lines were drawn, the age of banter dawned, and decent discourse pretty much fizzled away. It’s actually common nowadays when City have won a game that I actively try to avoid social media because it will kill my mood. This is the era where an unprecedented domestic treble is greeted with vitriol, asterisks and abuse.
The irony here is that effectively all of this is nothing to do with us. Not me, nor you, nor you. The thing is, and you’re probably aware of this, is that City fans are not responsible for pretty much everything that happens at their football club. We’re not running the club. We’re not rearranging sponsorship deals or moving money about. We’re not scouting Eliaquim Mangala. Likewise, we’re not scoring two goals in injury time to win the first league title in 44 years. If anything, considering my mood in the ground for that final 20 minutes, that happened despite of me, not because of me. Our contribution has been financial, but that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this money-soaked crazy world of modern football. But that is to misunderstand fandom of course. We feel responsible. We feel the need to defend our club. We feel what they do rubs off on us, good and bad. They represent us, in a way, we represent them. It thus helps when they don’t fuck up.
But this is not on us, nothing is. We’re allowed as football fans to just go and watch football. If our owner(s) began every day by strangling 100 kittens before launching bunnies out of a cannonball, then that is not your fault, and what’s more, you’re allowed to criticise them. Nevertheless, it is so, so tiring. It has been since 2008. Every day you wonder what’s coming next. Why always us? Fandom will inevitably lead to some defending the indefensible. For a small section of any club’s fan base, their club can do no wrong. But beyond that, there is so much drivel, so many mistruths spread, that it is a full time job just to read it all. The sensible thing of course is to walk away and get on with our lives. Who cares if Dave from Aldershot thinks City’s success is tainted? Who cares if Miguel Delaney thinks “state-owned” City have killed football? But we’ll keep logging onto Twitter, rubber-necking at the latest missives slagging off our football club. We’ll keep commenting on the perceived bias, inaccuracies, prejudice, unfairness of it all. The daily routine with trolls. Quoting attendances in 1982 to prove we WERE there when we were shit, but that rival fans certainly weren’t. You could set your clock to the routine. Log on, deal with human rights accusations, brunch, debate about empty seats, light lunch, argue about net spend, cup of tea, slag off a journalist, log off, watch Pointless. Rinse and repeat. What I quickly learned about social media, is that the world is quite literally full of morons. And they’re probably all earning more money than I am.
But still we persist, because as sports fans we somehow think we are not just part of our team’s success and failures, but that we’re responsible for them – well the success part anyway. Can you be proud of something you have no say over? Or are we all in it to share on other people’s glory? I once told a friend, and I don’t know why, that i was proud to be left-handed. He asked why I was proud about something I was born with. It’s like being proud of having big feet. I didn’t have an answer, but then can we be proud to be English, or a City fan? Yeah, damn right we can. If you’re a United fan that hates the Glazers, you are no less likely to be proud of your club. The Glazers are not the club, they simply run it, in the same way City’s owner does. They’ll move on one day, but we won’t.
But since 2008 it’s been a constant fire fight, and if you’re active on social media and/or write and podcast about your club, the battle has felt like a full time one. A fight with precious little support from the club, if I’m honest. It’s the fans after all that are at the forefront of trying to protect the club’s reputation. Day in, day out, 24/7. How do the club do the same thing? I’ve no idea. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s naive to expect the club to act with the fallout for the fans in mind. I don’t expect the world. But the reputation of the club is linked to such actions. If the fans are getting it from all directions, then those in power at the club have failed to protect said reputation.
This is not all on City’s PR department. They can’t place City supporting journalists into newspaper roles or ex-players blinded by prejudice onto Sky Sports or BT. Hey, Mike Summerbee told a few home truths after a televised derby many years ago and was never seen on screen again. They knew their new money wasn’t welcome, and that any potential disruption to the cartel, to the status quo, would be fought tooth and nail. Ferran Soriano won’t get to sit on any UEFA councils, City will never be at the forefront of major discussions, they don’t belong. Know your place. That’s why a club like Liverpool, can ride any storm thrown their way, and still be seen as the romantic’s choice for success, even after themselves not meeting FFP guidelines (they weren’t in Europe, thankfully for them), hack into rival’s computer systems, have a player banned for racial abuse then all wear T-shirts supporting him then later boo the victim of the abuse and also get a ban for breaking rules in the signing of youngsters, whilst destroying an opposition coach, yet City and their Arab owners are the pariahs of world football. Maybe City deserve criticism (they definitely do, for various things), but certainly not just them. This is a grubby sport, after all. So much money attracts such grubbiness, and politics and back-stabbings. Spanish teams, including Real Madrid were ordered to pay back state aid in 2016, and barely anyone will even know about it. Why were they not thrown out of Europe? As if! They got it overturned, but their record in such matters stinks. Leicester have failed FFP in recent years, Chelsea have of course had a transfer ban, many a European club has gone through what City currently are, and on and on and on. Grubby clubs?
Just as worrying though is that the hatchet pieces in the press show that football journalists have no fear of the club, or of any consequences of what they write. Are City a soft touch? Soon after the takeover, certain journalists were given a tour around the ground and “worded” in an attempt to stem the tide of negative press pieces. It worked in the short-term, but was never going to last. Nowadays it’s open season on the club, and many will argue it should be, a free press being of course a good thing in a democratic society. But we’re certainly a long way from Alex Ferguson’s United, and the open season shows that the attempts to portray the club in a positive light have now truly failed. And part of me thinks it failed because the club has been too closed, too suspicious and too cautious for too long. Other clubs use the fan base as PR. They allow fan channels and writers access to the club, because it makes sense to do so. When did City last do anything like that? The fans spend all waking hours defending their beloved club, whilst the club does nothing. That’s not true of course, but right now, in the moment, it feels true. With a bit of help, we could have done so much more. The club’s bond with the fans is often non-existent, as is the manager’s, and is quite frankly a disgrace. Maybe the club should clear up its own mess with that in mind. Maybe this originates from the suspicion within the club that the media is only too happy to destroy them, so they became a closed shop and froze everyone out. Perhaps – perhaps – they could be more approachable, warmer? Or perhaps they know it would make no difference whatsoever.
And so as I toil under this fatigue, as it grinds me into the ground, whether it is fair or not I do not feel that City’s media department have succeeded in making City remotely likeable. In fact I know they haven’t. When media outlets take UEFA’s side over your club’s, then you’ve probably taken a wrong turn or two along the way. Maybe they were fighting the tide from the beginning. Maybe the expenditure and the origin of our owner made it an impossible job. Or maybe their approach has been a failure. What more could they do? You’ll all have suggestions. It might have helped too not to sail too close to the permitted loss figures and takes a more long-term approach to global domination. Partially at least, they only have themselves to blame for this shit-storm. And there’s little need for us as fans to defend everything our club does – whilst I will be eternally grateful for what our owner has given us, and the memories and associated glory I have experienced because of that, I have little feeling for him on a personal level, nor those running the club at a lower level, from Txiki to Ferran and more. If they are found to have made mistakes, they deserve the criticism. What’s more, if City have decided to fight this to the bitter end and have declined a slap on the wrist deal as is rumoured, then the consequences of failure at CAS are all theirs, and theirs alone. It is not for any of us to defend that, though the feeling remains that in the grubbiest of sports, it is always City that take the biggest blows.
But some of the fire fighting has been justified, whatever your position. Much (most?) of the criticism has been directed straight at the fans themselves, questioning the loyalty and support of many who have followed the team through thick and thin for decades. Empty seats is just the start of this. From the latest headlines, you would assume City had done something truly appalling, beyond allegedly moving some money around or inflating a sponsorship deal. Something like match-fixing, doping or worse. And it’s not just from rival fans. Of course since the announcement on Friday night that ruined many a Valentines, the vultures were out. The scale and depth of pieces is staggering, especially the opinion pieces from the likes of Paul Hayward and Sam Wallace lecturing us all on what a dirty little club we all follow. Sensational talk of stripped titles, points deductions and even relegation abound. So, how is that sports-washing project going? After all, if City win their appeal with CAS, do you think the hatchet jobs will end, do you truly think journalists will back-track or apologise for their previous pieces? If you do, maybe you also believe in Santa Claus and fairies.
We can slate such pieces all we want, and we will, but their words will seep into the footballing subconscious along with all the others written over the past 12 years. The damage is done. Power-mad cheats, success bought and played out in front of half empty crowds. I just hope that if the CAS appeal is successful, the gloves really do come off at City, because it seems that for all of us, the fight is just beginning. The fatigue is about to hit new levels. Much of the media response since has not been balanced reporting foreseeing what lies ahead, but more their own personal dream scenarios for a club they clearly seem to despise. Not only have a few battles been lost, perhaps the war has been too. If City wanted a salvaged reputation, they probably had to nip this in the bud before it got to CAS. Even if they are acquitted of all charges at a later date, guilt will be assumed by many. Journalists have shown their true colours, with vitriolic pieces devoid of caveats of what the future may hold. Maybe guilt would have been assumed anyway whatever UEFA decided this week, as soon as the leaks emerged. But for us fans, the fight never stops.
Should we care? Do it matter what people within your social media bubble are saying about your football club? Was it better when we were a joke club that everyone felt sorry for? Or is it preferable to be hated, and to develop a thick skin and man the barricades for the rest of your lives? I don’t have the answers, I just know that as I sigh repeatedly whilst typing these words, I feel tired once more. Oh for the old days when we just talked about the football. That’s all I ask for in the future. Before that elusive day though, things are only going to get worse. But now the gloves are not just off for the fans. Maybe the club realised this weekend that being a soft touch is no longer an option, with UEFA and the media. Reputations are now at stake. Be careful with yours though, as we didn’t ask or choose for any of this. Walk away, enjoy life, and you may just sleep sounder because of it. This was never our fight, but tomorrow morning, I’ll ignore everything I’ve just said, be back on Twitter, and the cycle will start all over again.
(Photo by Oli Scarff/AFP)