“THERE used to be a football club over there,” said departing Tottenham Hotspur manager and newly-crowned UEFA cup winner, Keith Burkinshaw, as he left his job amid standard 1970-80s acrimony with his board of directors in May 1984.
It’s a thoroughly re-hashed quote and has entered the annals as a bona-fide timeless football aphorism. It’s a resort when an indulgent gripe and groan about the modern game is called for. Whether or not it was a fair observation at that time in the sport’s, and Tottenham’s, history others may debate, but it has always seemed prescient.
No apologies here to any Manchester City travellers who may have chanced upon this “preview” for what you are about to be reminded of. You aren’t a real football club. There. It’s so obvious that no-one says it anymore. How quickly they forget. You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when they bought you. They picked you out, moved your ground, turned you into something new.
The TV especially likes people to forget. “Here we are at the home of the mighty Manchester City.” What does that mean? Why are they mighty? Mighty implies something that has been built. Established. Something worthy. Something earned. Not granted, like a wish.
Manchester City were a real football club. A mad one. With fans going admirably nuts with season upon season of yo-yoing between adventures and rubbish managers. I always went to Maine Road. It was always an experience. I remember going to Maine Road in the 90s, and standing in the away end listening to their lot singing about the mercurial Georgi Kinkladze to the tune of Oasis’s Wonderwall. The refrain/lament that “after all….we’ve got Alan Ball” bringing the house down.
Maine Road. Scene of so many big Liverpool wins in the golden age and beyond. Maine Road, where they held big FA Cup semi-finals when FA Cup semi-finals were inherently big. Maine Road. In the heart of Moss Side. Then, sad, impoverished Moss Side. A Victorian inner city town(ship). Liverpool had it rough in the 1980s, and the likes of Toxteth and Kirkby were not happy places then, but I never saw anything as bleak or as beaten back as Moss Side.
In Liverpool you had a sense of people surviving and smiling and thriving, against the odds, in the face of adversity. There was craft and graft. Some of the folk of Moss Side looked like ghosts to me. It broke your heart.
The crowd at City were a bit wild. They’d chuck things at you. You expected it. It was usually because we were winning. When I got older and had a job I occasionally found myself encountering and working alongside lads from Manchester. They were always City fans. To a man. Maybe others have a different experience of that place, but my over-arching impression was that Manchester City were the team of the citizens of Manchester.
I always thought the City fans were funny fuckers. Witty, sharp, and cool. Piss-takers. Like the lads in Liverpool bands when they’re young. Moss Side was a grim place but it was also a brilliant place for a football club. Manchester City were clearly doing what the Northern football clubs (in particular) were invented to do. Providing respite to a community.
Now they take the football grounds away from the communties and put them in the countryside and build car parks around them. They perimeter them with business estates and industrial units. You can seem them from motorways and ring roads.
The Etihad is not the stadium of Manchester City of Moss Side. It is the arena in which a collection of soccer all-stars perform. The entity that calls itself Manchester City has only a tenous connection to the near-century old Moss Side-based Manchester team. The Etihad — aka The City of Manchester Stadium — barely feels as if it’s connected to Manchester itself in any way. It could literally be anywhere.
Maybe that’s enough. Maybe just the fun of following a team that will take you on its back to Madrid and Munich, rather than Port Vale and Middlesborough, is enough.
The money though. The money. Doesn’t it change the way you view your team? Doesn’t it make you wonder what the sporting contest is about?
I’d like Liverpool Football Club to have more money and to be winning more things. The amount more we would need though wouldn’t change the club forever. We’ve always been a massive club. Always been competing. But to go from clinging to the top division by your finger nails to being richer than Real Madrid?
That’s some crazy shit right there.
And it happened overnight. You probably haven’t ever had time to catch breath and to reflect. I don’t blame you. You’re having fun after all.
This isn’t sour grapes from a jealous rival. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a glory junkie. I’m in it for the points and the pots. I desperately want (need) Liverpool Football Club to be winning stuff. I’d sell chunks of my soul to see Lionel Messi in red at Anfield. But not all of it.
So let’s talk about this Saturday’s game. The team that calls itself Manchester City will host Liverpool Football Club in its arena in a giant car park next to a ring road. On a Saturday night. Under all those lights and with the cameras making it look like we all buy into this.
Manuel Pellegrini will be mulling over selection posers prompted by superstars returning from injury. Whether or not he gets Sergio Aguero or David Silva back (both have trained this week) doesn’t really seem to matter. They have so many players. They can pick any players.
Pellegrini must know that they could also pick any manager — and he could still win with these resources. Pellegrini could win his second title for the team known as Manchester City. It should make him a god. The football club called Manchester City should be building statues of the man that wins them the league twice. They won’t though. They’ll probably sack him if Pep Guardiola gets bored in Munich.
Liverpool have Jürgen Klopp. Liverpool have Klopp because despite the unsentimental march of modernisation, the club has retained a soul. The football club that Bill Shankly built still has a heartbeat.
It wanted Klopp because he had succeeded at a club, in Dortmund, that is the antithesis of what Manchester City has become. Klopp — we feel, we know — would not take the manager’s post at Manchester City. He wants to win, but win within context.
Victory without context is meaningless:
“We won 5-0.”
“That’s great, who did you play?”
“It doesn’t matter, 5-0 is just great, right?”
No of course it isn’t. Its always about the context. The context is the contest.
I will drink in Manchester before the game. It’s still a great town. I’ll go to that arena and cheer on my club. My club is still a great football club.
We’ll more than likely lose, but I think we won’t do it without a fight. I hope Jordon Ibe is fit and picked again. He’s fast and strong. He’s our future. I hope Daniel Sturridge is on the bench, if only as symbol of what we might yet become. I hope Dejan Lovren can continue his rehabilitation and keep us safe.
If by chance we beat this team that plays in an arena on a car park by a ring road it will be great. Really great.
But when the jumping and the punching of the air is over and calm falls again, I’ll wonder, as I did at Chelsea three weeks ago, just exactly who it is that we may have beaten.
What space in the game’s halls of relevance do they occupy? The team from where. Who do they represent? Who do they win for?
So think on Raheem, you spiteful ship-jumping traitor.
The team to give Sterling’s boys one helluva beating: Mignolet; Clyne, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno; Lucas, Can, Milner; Coutinho, Ibe, Benteke.
Last match v Manchester City: March 1, 2015: Liverpool 2 Manchester City 1 (Premier League).
Odds: Manchester City 4-6, Draw 14-5, Liverpool 4-1.
Injured: Henderson (foot), Sakho (knee), Flanagan (knee), Gomez (knee), Ings (knee), Rossiter (hamstring).
Match details: Live on Sky Sports 1, kick-off 5.30pm.
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Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo