New York City v St. Mirren
City Football Academy Stadium / Friendly / 10th February 2015
Mid-January saw me visit Rotherham United’s New York Stadium and in the process use up a few ‘Big Apple’ references and puns. It seems I’m now going to have to come up with some more, as mid-February would see me be in attendance for the first game in the history of new Major League Soccer Club, New York City FC. Sadly, once again, I was not heading across the pond for my New York-related football fun; I was to remain in my adopted home of Manchester. So why on Earth were New York City FC playing their inaugural game of ‘soccer’ on the hallowed fields of East Manchester?
Unlike the top flight on these shores, the pinnacle of football in America, Major League Soccer (MLS), relies on the creation of franchises. MLS’ resident New York team has been the New Jersey-based New York Red Bulls, formerly the Metrostars, since the league came into fruition in post-1994 World Cup America. However, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced in 2010 that he intended to introduce a second New York club to the league with many speculating that the iconic New York Cosmos, renowned in the 1970s for their all-star roster including Pele, Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto, would rise from the ashes and become that club. The Cosmos would rise from the ashes, but instead opted to build slowly in the second tier of US soccer. Then, New York City FC (I feel it necessary to always add on ‘FC’ as just saying ‘New York City’ sounds weird) emerged from nowhere, backed by the lucrative, oil money-fuelled owners of Manchester City, and were announced as the 20th addition to the MLS. They will make their league bow in March 2015.
The links with Manchester City have brought the club over to the UK with NYCFC using City’s new academy facilities to prepare for their first season as a club. Two friendlies were arranged to take place in City’s new Academy Stadium for the New York club: a Sunday afternoon game versus Danish side Brondby and the game I would be attending on this Tuesday evening – a game against the mighty St. Mirren of the Scottish Premier League. I was probably not going to be able to make the Sunday game v Brondby, so it was decided that I could not miss the St. Mirren game on the Tuesday evening. This game gave me a great excuse to visit Man City’s glittering new training facility, complete with its own 7,000-seater mini stadium, as well as the added appeal of it being NYCFC’s first ever game.
In the nascent stages of Sheik Mansour’s reign as Man City backer he claimed that, “We are building a structure for the future, not just a team of all-stars.” Since Mansour made this claim back in 2010, City’s new multimillion pound Etihad Campus has flourished and developed at a rapid pace. The City Football Academy (CFA) was opened by City legend Tony Book in December 2014 and has since played host to a few of Man City’s Elite Development Squad games at the centrepiece stadium. As well as the stadium, the CFA houses 12 youth development football pitches, 4 first team football pitches and its own dedicated school and accommodation. That’s not to mention top class leisure facilities for the team and the community, auditoriums to analyse games and the hub of the City in the Community project; the amount of money and redevelopment City have put into East Manchester is incredible and something which I feel is not heralded enough outside of Manchester.
I met up with Lost Boyos regular Rob and his dad, Peter, in the Lower Turks pub near Shudehill bus station. My school had been OFTSTED-ed the Thursday before, so I was horrified to learn that Rob’s Dad is a former teacher who now works as an OFSTED inspector. He did dispel the myth that school inspectors are monsters though as we discussed all things school and football-related.
After a couple of (flat) pints, we hopped into a taxi shortly after 6pm to make it to City’s newest facility ready for the 7pm kick-off. Speaking of transport, I should add that there is a tram stop directly across the road from City’s new Academy Stadium as well as the Etihad Campus tram stop behind the Etihad Stadium – great stuff! Very convenient, but we were just a bit late and so a taxi seemed the easier option (and equally as cheap probably).
I have seen City’s new facilities quickly develop over the past year or so on my visits to the Etihad, so it was great to see the finished product as we approached the site via Ashton New Road. Equally impressive is the new bridge that links City’s Academy Stadium site to the Etihad Stadium; apparently, also a symbolic idea by the club to demonstrate the link the club hope to forge between the first team and the club’s youth. Think Barcelona’s iconic La Masia academy – that is what City are aspiring to get to.
Our taxi dropped us off right by the turnstiles and as the McKays headed in through the North East entrance, I took a jog round to the other end of the ground to collect my ticket (bought in advance for £5, but Rob claimed prices did eventually drop to £3).
I found myself entering the ground in the corner that seemed to have been taken over by the 200 or so St. Mirren fans who had travelled down from Paisley. This was the first time I had come face-to-face with the innards of the new home of City’s glittering new Academy Stadium and once again I found myself impressed with the arena. Down the one side of the pitch is a standard single-tiered stand with a sort of elevated roof, I’m assuming to let more light onto the pitch. Opposite is the main stand of the stadium, complete with all the usually amenities. My favourite feature of the stadium though has to be the fact that there is a standing terrace behind each goal – a feature I heard many wooping for joy about as they entered the ground. Each stand stands by itself meaning that the corners are all open and it is within two of these corners that you can find the usual food/drink vendors. However…no alcohol! Rob, who had visited the stadium twice since its opening, stated that this is also the case for City EDS games too. I couldn’t help feeling that City had missed a trick here; especially, since the club have the opportunity to get fans in for the early 11am youth games on Saturdays and then keep them within City’s grounds until the first team kick-off at 3pm. I suppose they don’t really need the money though.
Also located in these corners tonight were the small New York City FC merchandise stalls. For quite a few years now I’ve been a little bit in love with the New York Cosmos, after reading the brilliant Once In A Lifteime (and watching the subsequent documentary film). I even own a New York Cosmos tracksuit top. There was an opportunity for New York City FC to earn some love from me tonight with the purchase of a club scarf, but when I saw the £15 price tag I decided that I’d hold out for a Cosmos scarf one day in the future instead.
I ventured past the Scottish contingent, down past the main stand and towards the north standing terrace to meet back up with Rob and his Dad. I found them queuing for the NYCFC merchandise stall with packets of popcorn in hand. I thought this was a bit of a strange food choice to enjoy Tuesday night football with, but the strange purchase was soon explained: it wasn’t a purchase at all – the ‘Propercorn’ Salt/Sweet mix popcorn was being given away for free around the ground. With no alcoholic beverages on sale, I walked away from the food vendors with free popcorn and a coffee, whilst Rob and his dad came back wearing NYCFC hats (marginally cheaper than the extortionately priced £15 scarve at £12).
We took our place on the terrace behind the goal (with some netting behind the goal to protect us from any wayward footballs) and soon the teams were ready to come out on to the pitch. The announcer hyped the game up repeatedly as ‘The first game in the history of New York City FC’ and referring to them as ‘City’s sister club’, whilst Jay-Z and Alicia Keys New York State of Mind blasted over the PA system (I preferred Rotherham’s United use of Frank Sinatra’s New York). There was still time for the announcer to read out the two teams again and inevitably the loudest cheer of the night would come when the name of New York City’s skipper was read out: Spain’s all-time top goalscorer, the legendary David Villa – probably one of the greatest finishers I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.
As cheers rung out for New York’s captain, I made sure to throw in a few boos when the announcer read out the name of St. Mirren’s captain: former Cardiff striker Steven Thompson. Boo!
Some City fans cheekily retorted, “Why isn’t Lampard playing?” a little joke at the fact that supposedly Man City loaned Lampard from NYCFC until Christmas, only to decide to keep hold of him until the end of the season, much to the annoyance of NYCFC fans apparently. New York City FC have already sold an impressive 13,500 season tickets on the back of signing big names like Villa and Lampard (only a small minority demanded refunds when it emerged that Lampard wouldn’t be there for the start of the season); not bad for a team who have never played a competitive game before. Still a long way to go to fill the Yankee Stadium, where they’ll be playing for the next 3 seasons (at least).
The game got underway and New York City patiently passed the ball around to ease themselves into the game; after all, the group had only been together a matter of weeks and had supposedly only had around 15 training sessions together. Particularly impressing me in the early stages was Colombian Sebastian Velasquez, who I described as NYCFC’s answer to MCFC’s David Silva (obviously very much David Silva-lite though).
St. Mirren’s John McGinn went close with a decent 20 yard strike, but generally the chances were falling the way of the New Yorkers. There was some decent football on show, although real clear-cut chances were few and far between. Some spectators became more preoccupied with grabbing more free popcorn, as staff began heading into the stands to give out packets of the stuff from countless boxes (admittedly, I was one such person pursuing the popcorn providers).
On the 33rd minute, the deadlock was broken and New York City FC had their first ever goal. Of course, it was scored by David Villa. A simple cross from the left evaded everyone in the box and Villa was left completely unmarked and with time to slot home past Marian Kello. The PA announcer proudly declared that we had witnessed the historic first goal in the life of NYCFC.
There was one lighthearted moment just before half-time as David Villa nutmegged Jim Goodwin, only to lose the ball to him immediately with Goodwin running away jokingly giving Villa a ‘1-1’ gesture in regards to their duel, but that was all that the closing stages of the half had to offer.
Half-time: New York City FC 1 – 0 St. Mirren.
It seemed the popcorn had finally run out by half-time and with there being a sizable queue for hot beverages, we stayed on the terrace to watch the half-time entertainment. I’d witnessed the brilliant ‘Get the ball in the boot of a Skoda’ game at Northampton on Saturday, so today’s entertainment was never going to top that. This evening’s entertainment offering was to be a sort of football version of bowls with two lads rolling the ball from 18 yards out to the goal line. Nearest to the line wins. Amazingly, one of the lads competing was a New York native who had travelled over for NYCFC’s two games at the CFA. He won the ‘football bowls’ game and the prize of going to meet the New York team post match; to be honest, I felt he should have earned that privilege at the very least just for travelling all the way from New York in the first place!
In true non-competitive football style, there were wholesale changes for the second half with New York virtually changing their whole starting XI. David Villa may have only played the first half, but the second half introduced us all to the legend that is NYCFC’s no.99 Tony Taylor. The alliterative name seemed to win over the fans around us (and me) straightaway and the pacey forward was looking dangerous from the moment he came on.
The second half plodded along in a similar manner to the first, except without intermittent popcorn breaks in the stands. However, a long ball over the top in the 69th minute saw Tony Taylor through on goal with the ball bouncing into the box. “Van Basten it!” was my shout to him. He must have heard me, as he obliged by walloping in a volley to make it 2-0. Soon the fans were singing (to the tune of THAT Yaya Toure song – also known as No Limit) “Tony! Tony Taylor! Tony Taylor! Tony, Tony Taylor!” A cult hero already.
There was very little else to report from the remaining 20 minutes as the addition of St. Mirren substitutes slowed the game down even further, although the Scottish side were to be denied a goal by a superb save from sub goalie Akira Fitzgerald in the closing minutes.
Full-time: New York City FC 2 – 0 St. Mirren.
As Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA bombarded out of the ground’s speaker system, I reflected on a fairly standard friendly match, but enjoyable nonetheless. NYCFC look a decent team, particularly considering they are still in their infancy. Fairplay to the travelling St. Mirren fans who made noise throughout and to any New Yorkers who travelled over – I definitely salute you!
I made a point of crossing the new bridge from the CFA towards the construction site that is currently the Etihad Stadium’s new South Stand and headed home. It wobbled underfoot more than I expected – or I’ve started suffering from some form of vertigo.
The CFA is truly a magnificent facility and has to be one of the best training facilities not only in the country, but even Europe and the world. Recently, Argentina took on Portugal at Old Trafford (I was there for that one) and Argentina used City’s new facilities. Leo Messi gave the facilities glowing praise – if its good enough for him, then its good enough for anyone.
Hey, and did everyone notice the lack of New York puns too. Well done me!
Highlights: being there for the first game in New York City FC’s history, City’s new Academy Stadium is very impressive, seeing David Villa play/score, Tony Taylor!
Low Points: no beer on sale, expensive NYCFC merchandise, quite a dull friendly game really.
Check out all my photos from my first trip to Manchester City’s new Academy Stadium here.