At 3.00pm on Saturday afternoon Manchester City will take the field away to Blackburn Rovers in the first match of the 2009-10 season. For Manchester City fans it’s not just another start of another season. Over the past few months around 100 million pounds has been spent on new players. The oil-rich owners of the club have invested what is small change to them. They have not put their expenditure as a debt on the books of the club like other owners of English Premier League clubs – at least not at the moment. But they will want something in return – their money is an investment rather than a gift. It is not quite clear exactly what they want, but a good image, certainly. So the first return on their investment has to be success.
Pity the poor manager if the result at Blackburn is not a victory for City or at least a ‘we was robbed’ draw. The press pack would be howling that the manager has only a few days to save his job, if not to be sacked forthwith. There will be no excuses for failure to be at the top of the league table or thereabouts after the first few matches and to remain there until next May. So no pressure there, then!
I’m old enough to remember City carrying all before them, playing flowing football. But even in those days, if there was a banana skin to be slipped on, City found it. One of their great players once remarked: “If there was a cup for cock-ups, we’d win it every year”. It has been City’s endearing, if frustrating, all-too-human qualities that has made them such fun to follow. Even down into English football’s third level where the home crowds were still larger than those of most teams in the top division. The great quality of the fans was they could laugh at themselves in their chants and songs.
Some clubs have now almost reached the point where playing football is the means to promote their merchandise – replica shirts and a whole catalogue of branded goods. Winning increases sales. The commercial revenue stream becomes more significant than the income from spectators. Their desire is to become a global brand, as well known as Coke. Real fans, that is those who actually watch matches, don’t just become customers, they pay out good money to participate in someone else’s money making scheme.
So the day of reckoning is not just about success, it’s also about style, at least for this fan. Will City become a team that grinds out results through superior players, where the three points when the final whistle blows is all that counts and the notion of football as an entertaining spectacle - the ‘beautiful game’ and the ‘workers’ ballet’ - is relegated to obscurity? Something tells me, and I hope it is true, that fallibility is in the DNA of the club. Otherwise, all the fun will go out of being a City fan.
Of course, I do want City to beat clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United. I just don’t want City to become like them.