Lost in…Manchester (Manchester City) (Again)

Manchester City v Bayern Munich

Etihad Stadium / Champions League / 2nd October 2013

Rarely do I write a second blog about a ground. In fact, I’ve never written a second blog on a ground apart from one and that was Old Trafford; I felt being at Fergie’s farewell party warranted some sort of acknowledgement on this site. However, today I find myself on the other side of Manchester: the blue side. I’ve already written a blog about my visit(s) to the Etihad Stadium before, but as it was a personal landmark for me on this Wednesday evening I found myself wanting to commemorate the moment in blog form. Tonight was to be my first taste of live Champions League football.

Since I’ve lived in Manchester, for whatever reason I’ve found my sentiments leaning slightly more towards the blue side of Manchester than the red side. This isn’t to say that I dislike United, just for sone reason I’ve found more sympathy towards City and their fans. A similar thing occurred to me when I lived in Liverpool, when I found my previously more Everton-leaning ways, in regards to the two Merseyside clubs, switching to me preferring Liverpool after I had spent some time living in the city. I could never explain why: it could be that I walked past the Kop on my walk to work every morning or that I just found myself interacting more with fans of the Red Men. I could never really explain it. It’s a similar thing with City. Whether this be the great welcomes us Swansea fans have had from City fans whenever we have visited the club or perhaps just the fact that I’m a huge fan of David Silva. Or perhaps it could be the fact that I’ve grown up watching United win everything and that I found myself in Manchester when the ‘noisy neighbours’ conquered the usually imperious United and won the league on the final day in the most romantic of circumstances. Anyway, I’ve never really been able to explain it. However, I a large part of the reason I’ve got a slight soft spot for City is their stadium. Obviously, I love football stadiums/grounds. The more old-fashioned and traditional the better. However, as far as new-build grounds go, I believe if you are going to build a modern arena at least make it stylish. The Etihad Stadium is certainly that and I do love a trip there. So tonight was to be my first live Champions League game and in a stadium I love visiting. There was one other thing making tonight’s footballing night out extra special: the opposition.

BAYERN FLIPPING MUNICH! OK, so I’ve never really had a massive love for the club (if I’m being honest I’ve always preferred Dortmund actually, after I watched them conquer Europe as a child in 1997), but this was the current European Champions and it’s not often you get to see them in the flesh. And a Pep Guardiola team at that. I very much consider the Barca team he forged between 2007 and 2012 to be the greatest club side of my lifetime and I was excited to see what he could to do to a clearly already very well-oiled Bayern Munich team.

Obviously, Champions League football means midweek fixtures and of course this meant that I had a full working day to get through before heading from Irlam back into Piccadilly Gardens at the heart of Manchester.After a quick pop into a couple of shops, where I even acquired myself a new flat cap, I decided I would walk towards the stadium instead of catching the bus or even riding the new tram route, which now goes directly to the ground.

As I was heading off on my expedition towards Eastlands, there was another convoy making their way East: the riot police along with a whole load of Bayern Munich fans. Clearly Greater Manchester police had had enough of the Bayern fans enjoying themselves with songs and beers in Piccadilly Gardens and had decided to shepherd them on to the stadium. It was a shame really, as the Bayern fans didn’t appear to be causing any trouble, just enjoying themselves with a sing-song in the heart of Manchester. Even as I walked a different route to them through the streets of Manchester, I could still hear their songs in the distance, echoing through the Mancunian streets.

In my head the walk to the area around the Etihad Stadium should have taken about 15 minutes, but instead it took just over 30 minutes. The time was only just creeping over 17:00, so obviously I was not heading straight to the ground just yet, as kick-off wasn’t until 19:45. My City supporting mate Rob (also now a big shot  at West Didsbury & Chorlton FC these days) had spoken highly of a pub near the ground called The Corner Shop and that was where he was heading for around 6 o’clock. Before that, I decided I would head to a brilliant little pub I had visited before the Swans travelled to the Etihad last November and where me and my fellow Swan fans had enjoyed a pleasant afternoon’s drink mingling with the City faithful. Sadly, I couldn’t remember the name of the pub, so I texted a couple of my Swans pals asking could they remember the name of the pub. They could: it was the called the Corner Shop. Job done!

Eventually, after wandering through the various estates of East Manchester I arrived at the Corner Shop pub, which is found in the middle of a housing estate with the Etihad Stadium towering next to it. It’s safe to say that the Corner Shop is not exactly the most glamorous looking pub from the outside, but go inside and you find a classic, pre-football pub. The place is only small, but the place (and the people in it) ooze character; there are even two old school street lights placed inside the pub. I was quite surprised to find the pub relatively empty on my arrival, but as the time creeped closer to 6 o’clock the pub began to fill up and I was soon joined by Rob and his girlfriend Samantha, who was attending her first ever City game. One last round of drinks and a quick catch up on the latest goings on in the North West Counties Leagues (the league in which Rob’s other love West Didsbury & Chorlton play) and I decided to make my way towards the ground.

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The very humble Corner Shop pub near the Etihad Stadium.

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Inside the Corner Shop.

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Rob and Samantha enjoying a prematch drink.

The time was now 18:30ish and I still had no plans to go into the ground. I was heading towards the club’s fanzone. I’m a huge believer in the concept of fanzones and this is largely down to my past experiences at Manchester City’s ‘City Square area directly next to the Etihad Stadium. I praised City Square highly in my first blog about City’s home, but I feel I should reiterate again how great a prematch area it is. I still can’t believe more grounds, especially new build stadiums, are not incorporating the construction of fan areas into their plans. Surely it is financially beneficial for clubs and it’s great setup for fans. Tonight’s entertainment at City Square was provided by a blue-suited brass band and a prematch talk show live on the stage in the middle of City Square, featuring chat from Paul Dickov and BBC Radio’s Mark Ratcliffe. Former Big Breakfast host Mike McClean even made a brief appearance hosting a very brief section of the prematch entertainment on stage – his career has clearly fallen away. I didn’t really get much from the prematch chat, but I was loving the brass band.

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The Etihad Stadium looking delightful on this Wednesday evening.

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The “AGUEROOOOOO!!!” moment proudly displayed at the end of the City timeline that circles around the whole outside of the ground.

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City Square

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Prematch chat at City Square.

I turned away from the stage and headed towards the Summerbee Bar for a pint or 2, before kick-off. Predictably, alcohol was expensive here with a pint of Fosters costing £3.80, but at least the plastic cups had a bit of jazz to them with the City crest proudly emblazoned across them. Along with my pint, I also had the large screens littered around City Square showing all the prematch buildup.

As the time crept past 19:15 I decided to head into the ground itself, as there was crucial part of the night I was determined not to miss (more on that later). En route, I spotted a familiar face wearing a blue polo shirt just like myself to blend in with the City faithful: blog regular Mark from No Clash of Colours! I didn’t know Mark was even about at the Etihad that evening, but we had a quick chat about our shared love of fanzones (they are the future we both agreed) and enjoyed a bit more of the brass band before I darted off towards entrance G of the Etihad Stadium.

Anyone that read my previous blog about the Etihad will know that I love this bit. My seats were on the top-tier, which meant only one thing: going up the, as I dub them, ‘twirly tower’ walkways! It’ll never get old for me going up those things, although they can mess with your head a bit if you go up them too fast.

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Walking up one of the ‘twirly tower’.

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Walking up one of the ‘twirly tower’.

Unlike many groundhoppers, I rarely purchase a matchday programme at football, largely because I don’t know where I’d store them all, but as tonight was a big game I paid my £3 for a memento of the evening. And I have to say it was a good read.

I headed to my seat just as the City and Bayern teams were exiting the pitch following their warm ups and I should add what great seats I had, situated right on the front row of the top-tier. I got chatting to the City fans next to me, who informed me that they had all sat together in a similar seating formation since the darker days for the club at Maine Road. The guy next to me seemed determined that Manuel Pellegrini had got it wrong in his lineup tonight and he was adamant that City would get turned over without James Milner, Alvaro Negredo or David Silva in the starting XI for City. I definitely agreed with him regarding SIlva, as I’m a massive, massive fan of his (he’s easily one of my favourite players in the world actually), but I assumed he was on the bench after coming back from an injury, and as for Negredo and Milner, well, I thought we’d have to see.

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The iconic Champions League Anthem begins as the teams come out.

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The City fans show their colours.

Now the moment I was really waiting for was coming. I had made sure I had got into the stadium early enough to witness one thing. Yes, the sound system came into life at the Etihad Stadium and soon the words and sounds of the delightful orchestral music were resonating into the Manchester night:

Ils sont les meilleurs/ Sie sind die Besten/ These are the champions/ Die Meister/ Die Besten/ Les Grandes Équipes/ The Champions.

For those that don’t recognise those words, when they are sung at their euphoric best they make up the Champions League Anthem – easily one of the most iconic pieces of music in the sporting world these days. It truly was a goosebumps moment for me hearing the anthem live for the first time at a Champions League game (we did once convince Oliver at Curzon Ashton to play the anthem over the sound-system at the club’s Tameside Stadium home before a preseason friendly against Blackburn, but it didn’t really have the same effect – especially as we did it an hour before kick-off).

Now with music aside, it was time for the game to kick-off with City obviously in their usual light blue and Bayern in their famous red strips. In the early moments of the game, it was hard to actually watch the game as my eyes were constantly turned towards the red corner of the stadium made up of the Bayern fans. They were superb! They did not stop singing and bouncing for the whole game. However, you really were wasting your money if you were watching the Bayern fans, as even in the opening minutes of the game it was clear to see that what this Bayern team could do on the pitch was a little bit special. They were certainly playing like a team that was currently the European champions.

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The very vocal Bayern support.

The passing. The movement. The constant rotating of positions. It was all absolutely effortless for Bayern and the City team were chasing shadows from the first minute. Guardiola’s Bayern were playing like an ultra-efficient version of the Barcelona team he had created into one of the greatest teams in club football history. Bayern were like a sumptuous footballing cocktail of Pep’s Barca team mixed with dashes of Heycknes’ all conquering Bayern team from last season adding an extra kick. From what I was to see tonight, I think this Bayern team could certainly go as far as them in entering the pantheons of great teams of the modern era.

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City fans can only look on as Bayern deliver a masterclass.

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Bayern on the attack in the first half.

After Bayern had led City a merry dance throughout the first five minutes, it was through a City mistake that Bayern would open the scoring, as a Frank RIbiery effort from long-range, although admittedly struck with some power, went straight through Joe Hart’s outstretched hand. It was another blunder from an out of form Hart and many of the City fans around me were up in arms screaming their anger that Hart was still in the starting XI after a few dodgy displays of recent. “That’s it. Get Pantilimon in on the weekend,” was to be a regular comment throughout the evening.

Bayern carried on playing absolutely joyous football and I, and a lot of the fans around me, soon realised that we were witnessing something special. I was completely mesmerised by Bayern’s play. It was a world away from the game I had watched the Saturday before: Leek Town v Goole AFC in the 8th tier of English football. God knows what this Bayern team could do to them if they were doing this to City.

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Me at half-time

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Bayern kick-off the second half.

To their credit, City held on at 1-0 until half-time, although a few City fans around me were already applauding Bayern off the pitch. They really were fantastic. The theory in the stands was that they couldn’t get any better during the second half and that City would come out a lot more fired up for the second 45. Sadly, for the home fans, the game was to carry on much in the same way as the first half.

Ten minutes into the second half, Dante found Thomas Mueller with a pass, thanks largely to a puzzled looking Gael Clichy, and the German international rounded Hart and slotted in to an empty net. 2-0 to ‘FC Hollywood’ and the Bayern fans were now going crazy. Soon after Mueller’s goal the travelling fans were taunting the City fans with a mocking rendition of “Football’s coming home” – a German football favourite since Die deutsche Fußballnationalmannschaft won Euro 96 on English soil when Baddiel & Skinner’s iconic football song was released.

Moments later it was 3-0 to Bayern as Mueller won the ball from Fernandinho, who had been useless all night, and played in Robben who blasted home past Hart’s near post. Once again, Hart should have done better.

Not that i know them personally, but as people I’ve never liked Robben and Ribiery – they’ve both always come across as knobs to me – but tonight they were both causing havoc, particularly Ribiery, as well as scoring their goals. However, the star of the show for me was Philipp Lahm, now playing in his newly acquired central midfield role which Pep has allocated to him. I’ve seen some great players live in the past, but I do have a small list of players who I very much consider the ultimate elite players I’ve witnessed deliver masterclasses in the flesh. Lahm is certainly on that list. He was superb and watching him live made it even more clear why Pep considers him one of the most intelligent footballers he has ever worked with.

With the game at 3-0 Bayern continued to easily dominate the home team, but Pep Guardiola still seemed discontented and he was quite a presence on the touchline – a real ball of energy always demanding more and more from his players. Pellegrini on the other hand still looked fairly relaxed, but he was soon bringing on Milner, Negredo and Silva, just as the guy sitting next to me had wanted from the start. Fairplay, to that City fan, he was spot on. City were so much better with those three on the pitch. Silva was particularly delightful to watch – just as he always is.

It was to be Alvaro Negredo who would pull one back for City with a fine left-footed curling effort, which flew in off the post and past Manuel Neuer, who had had nothing to do all evening.

With ten minutes left the night was turning slightly in City’s favour, as former City player Jerome Boateng was sent off for Bayern after bringing down Yay Toure when he was the last man. He exited to choruses of “City reject! City reject!” SIlva would hit the crossbar from the resulting free kick 20 yards from goal, but that was to be City’s last chance against ten man Bayern.

Full time: Manchester City 1 – 3 Bayern Munich. Quite possibly one of the greatest team performances I’ve had the privilege of seeing live. An absolute masterclass.

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The Bayern players celebrate with their excellent fans.

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A good night of Champions League football.

So that brought an end to my first ever live Champions League game and I was delighted with the game I had chosen to lose my Champions League virginity to. Amazingly, I actually thought that I had got my £48s worth just from the wondrous display of football that Bayern had put on for us this evening. Many City fans remained at the end of the game to applaud the away team, as they headed over to their raucous away support to thank them for their support.

Now just for the walk back to Manchester city centre with a very downbeat City fanbase.

Highlights: The Corner Shop, the fanzone, the Etihad is a brilliant stadium, the Bayern performance was mesmeric, the Bayern fans, Philipp Lahm’s display.

Low Points: (predictably) expensive beer in the fanzone, no beer sold on the concourse (as it’s UEFA rules on European nights), City fans were quiet, but they did have little to cheer.

7 thoughts on “Lost in…Manchester (Manchester City) (Again)

  1. Hi Matt, great read: I’m tempted to go onto enemy territory and visit the Etihad 🙂

    The comments about Hart are interesting as his form is becoming a bigger issue and that opens up the debate about how good he really is. Sure, he IS good and he could be excellent but it’s ridiculous to describe him as world-class when he owes much of his previous reputation to status at club and country, in both cases with v little real competition. It’s looking like a matter of time* before Pellegrini has to bring in another ‘keeper.

    * Just as it’s a matter of time in terms of the Glazers having to ditch Moyes: the wrong man for the job at the wrong time and with a game-changing (no pun) effect on the ownership position.

  2. Big Shot?? Cheers mate. haha I am the mere wordsman for my little club. Glad to see my photograph of you made it in without the man’s shoulder in it!

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