Has there ever been a barmier soap opera of a side than Manchester City? Just 12 seasons ago they languished in the third tier of English football. Today, they are owned by Sheikh Mansour, the richest man in the sport, with an estimated £20bn in his current account and a family wealth valued at around £550bn. The UAE oil baron is so minted that he can sanction wages of £250,000 a week without batting an eyelid.
Not the sort of chap to settle for second best, Mansour seems set for more cash-splashing until City achieve on-pitch success. It means that the current crop of City superstars – like Carlos Tevez, the Toure brothers, James Milner and Joe Hart – can expect fierce competition for their places to keep arriving.
But amid the envy and loathing that these spending sprees generate among rival fans, it’s worth remembering that City is still a famous old club with some of the most loyal and long-suffering supporters in the game: find a True Blue and you’ll enjoy their company on match day. After decades of playing second fiddle to their city-mates in Red, after all, they may finally be in a position to put one over United.
There is plenty of history here. Founded in 1880, City have spent the majority of their history in the top flight, albeit without much success. They bagged the league title in 1937, and the late-60s side was a fine vintage, winning the championship in 1968 and adding the FA Cup in 1969 thanks to players like Mike Summerbee, Francis Lee and Colin Bell.
The European Cup Winners’ Cup and League Cup double was added in 1970, but quality sides through the 1970s (they should have won the 1972 title) gave way to mediocrity and City were relegated in 1983. It’s been literally up and down ever since. The rollercoaster ride saw a final-day relegation in 1995; a drop to the third tier in 1997; financial upheaval; a dramatic play-off promotion back to the second tier in 1999 and immediate return to the Premier League the next year; relegation in 2001; record-breaking promotion in 2002.
Eventful stints from managers Kevin Keegan, Sven Goran Eriksson, Mark Hughes and Stuart Pearce kept things interesting too – as did the move to the spanking new City of Manchester Stadium, and the purchase of the club by Thaksin Shinawatra, a former Thai PM with a dodgy human rights record who had been deposed in a military coup. As you do.
Little wonder pessimism is hard-wired into City fans. Even having a new Arab zillionaire lavishing them with riches is seen as too good to be true – there’s a definite attitude of “It’s bound to go wrong. It’s City.” And there’s every chance that things could end horribly for the Lancastrian Galacticos. One thing is for certain, though: it won’t be boring.
Built by the local council for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and leased to the club thereafter, the City of Manchester Stadium – also known as Eastlands, or to sarcastic away fans as the Council House – is one of the better new stadiums that has sprung up around the country over the last decade. Housing 47,726 supporters, the bowl-shaped ground has two tiers all the way round and third tiers along the sides. The spacious feel and unobstructed views allow the club to plot a £1bn expansion to 60,000 seats, which would help put capacity in line with the club’s grand ambitions.
Manchester Piccadilly is the closest mainline station to the City of Manchester Stadium and is a 25-minute stroll to the venue; alternatively catch a train to Ashburys, a smaller station situated to the south on Alan Turing Way, a 15-minute walk away. Sat-nav M113FF if you’re driving – it’s just a couple of miles off the orbital M60, in the east end of the city. Come off at Junction 26 and follow the A662 then the A6010 – the stadium is well signposted. Numerous buses also run straight to the stadium from all directions.
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