Legend n 1 traditional story or myth, 2 famous person or event, 3 stories about such a person
The Oxford Dictionary defines the word legend as all of the above, and Manchester City have succeeded in providing a perfect blend of the three definitions with a new and enthralling insight into the club’s past, present and future.
City have taken giant strides on the pitch in recent times capturing Premier League titles and domestic Cups, and similarly, the club has kept up the pace off-the-field with creative and innovative supporter experiences.
Match day entertainment and interaction with the fans in City Square surpasses anything served up by any club in the country, irrespective of it being a Saturday lunchtime, Sunday late afternoon or weekday evening kick-off… and City have the awards to prove it.
Three points or progression through to the next round of a cup competition are always the main focus when the place is heaving with crowds of 45,000+, but a new attraction now awaits true blues when the Etihad is decidedly empty.
The Legends Stadium & Club Tour is a compelling proposition, serving to enhance any City fan’s understanding and engagement with the club they love.
It’s a behind the scenes odyssey encompassing the club’s 19th century origins to the here and now as the Champions of England, embracing some astonishing highs and some unpalatable lows in the history of the only top flight team to hail from Manchester.
Accompanied throughout by one of the club’s hugely knowledgeable guides – we were educated and entertained by the superb Norman Swift – the big selling point is spending something like 200 minutes in the company of a former City star, The Legend!
Tommy Booth, City’s centre back stalwart from 1967-1981, was first up when the Legends Tour, launched on October 9th – 46 years to the day after making his City debut in a 1-1 draw against Arsenal at Maine Road.
A few weeks on, with the next Legends Tour about to commence, we were gathered in the Colin Bell Stand main reception and Norman was conducting a quick round of ‘Guess the Legend’ questions.
Who was it going to be – Colin Bell, Joe Corrigan, Peter Barnes, Mike Summerbee, Shaun Goater even Tommy Booth making a 2nd consecutive appearance…?
It soon became apparent it was a player who never won major honours in a City shirt, but who nonetheless, was instrumental in piecing a once broken club back together, and an individual who had triumphed in the face of personal adversity.
A new generation of City fans might not be familiar with the name Jeff Whitley, but for the tens of thousands who rode the City roller coaster between 1996-2003, he is readily identifiable as one of the heroes of Wembley on May 30th 1999 – the day Manchester City’s modern day renaissance began, via a Second Division Play-Off Final win over Gillingham.
With 133 first team outings, six goals, two promotions and two relegations in City colours, Jeff was an integral part of ‘Typical City’ of a bygone age.
Now, 35-years old, Jeff has overcome well documented problems with both drink and drugs, to emerge as an excellent ‘ambassador’ for City, the club he still regards as ‘his team’.
On this, the second ever Legends Stadium & Club Tour, Whitley played a blinder, so much so, that Read But Never Red will be writing a follow up feature on the man who was born in Zambia, made 20 senior international appearances for Northern Ireland, played for the best club team ‘In all the land and all the world…’ and finally put in a superhuman effort to haul himself back from the dark precipice of drug and alcohol addiction.
Suffice to say he should be regarded as an asset to Manchester City, and anyone who books a Legends Tour and finds Jeff as the host, will soon discover what a privilege it is spending time with an articulate and self-effacing man who has re-invented himself.
The tour is a large slice of sky blue heaven as the party see, touch and ‘feel’ the usually inaccessible elements of the Etihad.
It’s a wonderful eye-opener; the trophy room, the dressing room, the pre-match warm up area, the Chairman’s Suite, the Director’s Box – complete with heated seats – the media room, the tunnel leading to pitchside, the ‘dug-out’ & subs bench…you even get a look at Manuel Pellegrini’s match day hairdryer – somewhat different than the one dished out by Fergie over in Trafford Borough.
There’s also an in-depth exposure to the graphics and imagery of the new Etihad Campus and City Football Academy – recently opened with a reputed £200m development cost – giving City the best training facilities in the world. One can only imagine the stampede for places when City start running tours around the simply ‘mind-blowing’ complex.
Events get off to a flyer as each ‘guest’ has a photograph taken with Jeff and the Premier League trophy in front of the ‘green screen’ – a great memento to be collected at the conclusion of the actual tour, prior to a sumptuous lunch in an Executive Box.
Norman is in his element as he waxes lyrical with an endless array of facts, figures, dates, names, places, and cherished memories of his lifelong affiliation to the club. Above all else he excels with wonderfully witty anecdotes about players, managers, chairmen, royalty…you name it!
It’d be unfair to reveal too much of Norman’s amusing ‘cabaret’ but as a City supporter you come away with a different perspective on the likes of, would you believe, Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson!
He is a proper character and he and Jeff make for a winning combination in the eyes of the 18-strong tour party.
The tour element runs for approximately 90 minutes, during which time Jeff chats on a one-to-one basis with the paying guests and also bares his soul in a ‘Question & Answer’ session, sitting in the hot-seat often occupied by Manuel Pellegrini during his press conferences.
Prior to lunch at just after 13.30hrs, the Etihad ‘tourists’ return to the trophy room to be given their complimentary photographs with Jeff and that splendid piece of silverware, held aloft by Vincent Kompany on May 11th, this year.
A quick lift ride up to the ‘posh’ parts of the Colin Bell Stand, and it’s time for a thoughtfully created and exquisitely presented three-course lunch.
Jeff is last to finish his food, on account of him regaling the party with both hilarious and poignant tales of his life as a footballer and struggles with addiction.
At £70-a-head The Legends Stadium & Club Tour represents true value for money and a thoroughly enjoyable three-and-a-half hours at the home of Manchester City…and all without the worry of City dropping points or being knocked out of a competition…as they had the night before against Newcastle United in the Capital ‘Punishment’ Cup!
If you’re a City fan it really is the proverbial ‘must do’ and, with Christmas fast approaching, a Legends Tour ticket would be most welcome in many a sky blue stocking!
The all important dates for the next four scheduled tours are;
- 14th December
- 18th December
- 8th January
- 29th January
Read But Never Red is delighted to partner with Manchester City to be able to offer one lucky reader the chance to savour a behind–the-scenes journey around the Etihad in the company of a City Legend.
For the opportunity to win two tickets all you have to do is tell us is:
How many appearances did Jeff Whitley make in the City first team between 1996 & 2003?
You can enter the competition via a host of social media by using the #MCFCLegendsTour & stating the number of games Jeff played.
Please send your answers via:
www.readbutneverred.com – comments section
On Twitter @ReadButNeverRed using #MCFCLegendsTour
On Facebook https://www.facebook.com/readbutneverred
The competition closes at midnight on December 15th with the winner being drawn at random by a designated representative from Manchester City FC
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu