The Real Fan Problem at Manchester City

The Real Fan Problem at Manchester City

After watching City overcome Monaco in one of the most exciting European nights imaginable, it’d be easy to think the next article will be wax lyrical about Pep Guardiola’s side. Or, perhaps to fit in with the mainstream media, it will take away from the spirit shown and focus on the many faux pas we saw and bemoan two poor defences. It will do none of these things but it will attack a certain element of Manchester City, while defending its most important aspect: The fans.

When Willy Caballero saved from Falcao’s penalty, this writer celebrated like City had won the Champions League, such was the level of tension and passion in the stadium. It was a night where the Etihad took it up a notch. The fans feeding off the team’s fight, the buzz energising the players. The perfect example of the symbiotic relationship that should exist between those in the blue shirts and those in the stands.

If the people that have the direct say in City’s success – the men on the pitch – can see the importance of the fan base, why can’t the people that organise the club’s affairs do the same?

The official line from Manchester City will be that the fans are the number one priority: #Together. It’s great marketing, and on some level, there’ll be people that work for the club who believe it. But constant oversight and a lack of corrective action makes one doubt how genuine the words are at corporate level.

Of course, the example last night, and reason for this article, is the continued problem of gaining entry to Etihad Stadium on match day – especially European nights.

To have it happen once is forgivable, twice is disconcerting but no major issue, for it to happen constantly with no cure in sight is sacrilege.

Just like the Celtic game at home, queues zigzagged around the concourse, patiently waiting in lines that needn’t be there but the club refuse to address. Thousands of fans – that have paid full price for their ticket – are expected to miss up to twenty minutes of the first half. All because of City’s arrogance.

Before we go any further, let’s nip the two favourite retorts in the bud once and for all.

Get to the ground with plenty of time to spare.

Fans shouldn’t have to arrive one hour prior to kick-off to ensure access to their seat.

Increased security measures will cause delays.

The extra searches do not slow down or hinder access to turnstiles. They mean the person(s) being searched are delayed by thirty seconds. The queue moves past them, the turnstile never stops turning.

Another, weakly spoken, response, is fans arriving at the wrong gate cause delays. This does happen, and cup games mean new guests or people in different seats, but it does not equate to thirty minute delays. If there is any argument for ticket issues, it’s staff not directing supporters quick enough when their card or ticket is repeatedly jammed into a turnstile that’s displaying a red light. Patience, in this moment, actually saves time.

No, none of the diatribe aimed back at the fans adds up. A main contributory factor is clear: unnecessary redesigns have purposely limited the volume of traffic at preferred gates.

Take the M2 to M1 situation. Once upon a time – before the club started their final corporate solution of hospitality clubs and glass tunnels – allowed fans in the third tier of the South Stand to use both turnstiles. And the traffic flowed, not a queue in sight.

Fast forward to the present day, a wall has been built meaning those gaining entry via M2 can’t walk across to the stairwell for the upper tier. The preferred upper class customer no longer need worry about the upper tier riff raff sharing their turnstile. They can watch them queue instead.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Donald Trump’s comments, it’s that people don’t like walls being built.

The annoying thing about this wall is that it has a lovely set of double doors. The same doors that are opened post-match to speed-up everyone’s exit from the stadium. But, for reasons known only to City – those doors must remain closed until the ref blows his whistle for the last time.

etihad-stadium-the-problem-doorIt’d make no sense to allow the queue to dissipate and direct people once inside. Best to keep lots of people disgruntled, right? And it means staff manning the M2 side get to stand around and avoid work based stress. Excellent for all involved…

etihad-m2-empty-gate

Maybe United fans not being in the Champions League have gotten the last laugh: it gives them a free night to take jobs at the Etihad and help run City’s European nights.

It’s not as if City don’t know how many people to expect or can’t call upon vast experience of running match days. No fan should have to wait thirty minutes to gain entry to a ground. And it keeps happening. Against Everton, as reported here, the staff at the turnstile broke procedure and opened the exit gates to allow fans in. That, obviously, can never be the solution, but by now there should have been one.

Instead City show signs of madness, repeating mistakes, expecting a different outcome, and continue to neglect the working class fan. You can put your mortgage on the fact that if ten corporate visitors were made to queue outside in the cold for twenty minutes into the first half, there’d never be anything that resembles a line of people within a mile radius of Eastlands ever again.

Traditional fans, worried about becoming marginalised, continue to see basic consideration diminish. There’s no suggestion here it comes right from the top – Sheikh Mansour has gone to great pains to maintain inclusion for all City fans, all over the world – it’s the daily heads of office that are guilty of mismanagement, oversight, and a lack of care.

The current entry system (not security checks, the poor use of all turnstile resources) is not fit for purpose. If the people responsible for direction and management of City match days do not use some common sense to remove the current façade, they make themselves as effective as the crippled system they stand by.

Before the decision makers in Abu Dhabi consider further expansion, player acquisitions or ground improvements, they should look at the basic running of Etihad Stadium. There’s a lot of deadwood that needs removing.

Safe Standing is Football’s Oxymoron

Safe Standing is Football’s Oxymoron

Until three o’clock yesterday afternoon, I would have described myself as a proponent of safe standing areas in football stadia. The arguments for have mounting evidence as teams in Germany, and now Celtic, demonstrate its effectiveness. Then a turnstile failure at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium gave an example of why the risk with standing areas is greater than any benefit.

On the face of it, safe standing is sold as a modern take on an old fashioned way to view football matches. Those that want the system will explain how each person is allotted a seat number which relates to the folded away chair. This ensures order and crowd control. Within the standing areas barriers prevent surges, eliminating forced migration of fans into areas when things get a little raucous.

They rightly point out that in today’s top flight, many fans stand anyway. In doing so they are at greater risk than if they were inside a properly policed safe standing area.

In a perfect world, the arguments for safe standing cannot be denied. 70% of Premier League clubs would back its return, Tottenham Hotspur are even including the feature in the design of their new stadium. It’s also believed Manchester City would incorporate such a section within their North Stand when it’s remodelled to add an extra tier.

But this isn’t a perfect world. The supporters of safe standing never consider the potential pitfalls. At the Etihad on Saturday a power loss showed how errors can align to create potential nightmare scenarios.

It should be noted, there were no major problems at the ground but the blueprint for disaster was written.

As turnstiles became inoperative, queues quickly filled the concourse outside the back of the South Stand and the streets beyond. With some fans being delayed for up to fifteen minutes, there was clearly pressure on staff to appease the frustration.

So they opened the large exits walls beside the turnstiles and allowed fans to flock in, en masse. From a slightly elevated position on chairs, staff made the call for fans to have passes on display. But with such a determined flow, and at least several people wide, it would have been difficult to say with any degree of certainty that every ticket and seasoncard was seen. As with any system, it is the introduction of the human element that leads to problems.

Had Saturday not been against Everton but a Manchester Derby, and the fans were rushing into a safe standing area, the outcome could have been very different. There would have been more fans than available spaces. Unlike with a seat – where if you don’t have one, you can’t sit on someone’s knee – with safe standing the uncounted extras would have squeezed in next to their mates.

Human nature would have led many fans to share their space. But the fans would have kept coming, the available space decreasing. Unlike an all-seater stadium, where overcrowding is immediately apparent, the safe standing area would encourage a stealth swell.

All these elements to align like this would only happen once in a blue moon, but to have the potential for it to occur once is one time too many.

Tragedies like Hillsborough should have taught us to safe guard against a repeat. To ignore the Taylor Report and legislation in the 1989 Football Spectators Act demanding all-seater stadiums, would be a step back. A step in the direction of needless danger.

Events at Manchester City on Saturday display only one perfect storm template. There are countless others and it’s the ones that can’t be imagined that will slip through the net.

In hindsight, the safest thing City staff could have done was to deny access until each supporter could be counted through one at a time. It would have led to mass disappointment and thousands of refunds but wouldn’t have courted with danger.

Because the match day experience in England is now so sanitised, the staff working the grounds, many of them too young to recall the tight-packed days experienced in places like Maine Road’s Kippax, don’t appreciate how close they are to catastrophe.

Without better training and education, highlighting the unique hazards packed sporting events face, errors in judgement would prove fatal if the safeguards of the Taylor Report are removed.

Formula One isn’t looking at ways to make the cars more dangerous because the current safety measures are proving effective, so why is football looking at ways to drive without a seat belt and helmet?

The words “safe” and “standing” should never be placed together and spoken aloud in the Premier League. Failure to heed the warnings of the past will see the future tainted with further failings.

Made of Stone

Made of Stone

The Stone Roses are once again back in Manchester. After the 2012 Heaton Park reunion the unknown has been replaced with a new question: Will they fill four nights of gigs with unheard material?

Leading up to the Heaton Park performances the fear was the band would no longer have the magic. That history had made The Stone Roses the thing of legend. That a reunited band, most likely driven purely by money, would desecrate the memory of something that was fleeting yet special.

The causes of a collapse were made before any evidence surfaced. Ian Brown was a prime target. Bootleg copies of old gigs revealed a voice that was left wanting. Even the most ardent fans braced themselves for a disappointment.

They needn’t have worried. The Stone Roses moved into the modern day effortlessly. The fears over performance immediately subsided. Even if Ian Brown had struggled to sing in 2012, it wouldn’t have mattered – the crowd did it for him. So timeless are the tracks from their two albums, age hadn’t harmed them at all.

Without the concerns they could no longer do it, one can rightly ask what makes this new Manchester experience a must see. Why did extra nights need to be put on? New track “All for One” indicated it was perhaps an old fashioned tour to promote new material. That reasonable assumption would be incorrect.

If the 2012 events were a heavy nostalgia trip, this one buckles under a weight of reminiscence surpassed only by a demand for tickets.

Out of twenty songs performed on the night, only two were new. The aforementioned “All for One” clearly designed for a quick feel-good stadium sing-a-long, that unlike the back catalogue, won’t survive the test of time.

This isn’t to say it was a bad night – far from it. But it was another live performance of their greatest hits album which is really just an album and a half worth of music. That’s all they have ever produced. And there lies the initial fear from four years previous: what if they have nothing left in the creative tank?

Perhaps they don’t? But it doesn’t matter when what remains is so enduring.

Other bands can go under the radar with greatest hits tours, they pull their material from sources spanning decades. The Stone Roses lack that luxury, thus, are bound to face criticism.

Like a stone, they are hard to reshape now. Creatively they have become rigid, captured in time like a fossil. Pure nostalgia rather than pioneering or fresh. However, the audience seems to connect with this condition.

There were more bucket hats on the night than particles of confetti Chris Martin had spread on the Etihad weeks earlier. The fans no longer blown away by a return to form, just soothed into rose-tinted memories of an earlier time.

The Stone Roses have always been a snapshot of a band in their prime, a music scene at its peak. Maybe it is with careful plotting they have decided not to tarnish that with a modern take, allowing their followers to immerse themselves into a myopic musical memory.