City’s 20 days of defiance, appreciation and sadness
Songs of defiance, actions speaking louder than words and a mutual appreciation society forged between supporters, players and Pep Guardiola – it’s fair to say the last 20 days away from the ‘empty seats at home’ haven’t been too shabby for an under siege Manchester City.
On the pitch, three wins and two draws from five consecutive road trips, have kept City well in contention for the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.
Off the pitch, the unveiling of plans to expand the Etihad Stadium for a ‘...best in class fan experience and year round entertainment and leisure destination...’ speaks volumes for the confidence within the Club, that City will beat the Premier League over Financial Fair Play allegations and charges.
On the one hand Khaldoon & Co will develop one of the finest facilities in the world of football and entertainment, whilst simultaneously tearing down the Premier League’s deeply flawed and corrupt house of cards.
The public consultation process – welcoming feedback on proposals to boost the Etihad capacity to well over 60,000 – is a clear and unequivocal statement by City. It intends remaining as a Premier League powerhouse for countless Blue Moons to come.
Plans are centred on an expanded North Stand with one larger single upper tier – hopefully hosting a safe standing area – for the creation of a much vaunted ‘Sky Blue Wall’ of noise and colour.
Guardiola is on record saying how much he loves City’s travelling support – very much in evidence as he and the team have walked over to the away sections at Arsenal, Forest, Leipzig, Bournemouth and Bristol City – applauding, thanking and even blowing kisses at the boisterous, exuberant and non-stop singing Blues.
A bit more of the same at every home game certainly wouldn’t go amiss both now and in the future.
With typical City tongue-in-cheek, self deprecating humour, the supporters are singing new songs in respect of the alleged FFP charges. There’s the easily adapted, ‘We’ll score when we want...’ now playing as, ‘We’ll cheat when we want...’ but by far the funnier is dedicated to Roberto Mancini.
To the tune of ‘Volare’ the lyrics are now sung as, ‘He came from Italy, we paid him secretly, Mancini oh, oh, oh, oh...’ Terrific tunes from the terraces complemented by the now standard booing of the Premier League’s ‘anthem’ before every game.
It’s perhaps a perverse validation of the Club’s innocence that the repugnant LaLiga President, Javier Tebas has today, piped up his perennial protests against City. He claims the Premier League’s reputation and credibility is at stake in how it handles the investigation against City.
Judging by Tebas’ reputation for dodgy deals, he’s in good company throwing his weight behind the dubious practices of those running the game in England. But of course, that’s all set to end with the introduction of an Independent Regulator – a move much favoured by Manchester City, but not by their rivals.
One wonders why?
Rumours have abounded for a number of weeks in respect of certain high profile games being manipulated via VAR, in order to achieve a ‘levelling up’ among the teams contesting the Premier League title.
Incriminating material is supposed to exist and the names of a number of officials have been circulating but, when it comes to exposing the manipulation of games or outright match-fixing, there’s a world of difference between allegations and innuendo and hard, tangible evidence.
There are also libel laws in the UK, which make it most unwise to start naming names without the requisite evidence. Let’s see what the future holds in respect of any revelations.
In terms of the recent past, the euphoria of City’s superb win at Arsenal was dampened by the frustrating 1-1 draw at Forest. Three points and 36% possession at The Emirates was downgraded to a solitary point, derived from 73% keeping the ball and 23 shots at the Forest goal.
A highly creditable 1-1 Champions League draw at an RB Leipzig team that had only lost one of their previous 19 games, was tarnished by two major decisions.
What appeared to be a blatant last minute handball by Leipzig defender Benjamin Henrichs wasn’t even checked by VAR. Dutch referee Serdar Gozubuynuk couldn’t blow the final whistle quickly enough, thereby denying City a certain penalty.
City could and should have put the match – if not the overall tie – to bed when they completely dominated the first half. A Josko Gvardiol headed equaliser in the 70th minute wasn’t without controversy.
Presumably the highly rated Croatian defender doesn’t suffer from dandruff, since he only required Ruben Dias’ head and shoulders to bring RBL level. Would a City goal have been allowed to stand had the roles been reversed?
Convincing wins at Bournemouth and Bristol City saw the re-emergence of Pep’s ‘Diamond’ – Phil Foden – after the Stockport Iniesta finally shook off a niggling ankle injury.
A three-goal return and plenty of sharp attacking play is just the sort of boost City need as they strive to chase down Arsenal and progress in the two cup competitions.
Given the rare opportunity to broadcast live football, the ITV commentary team excelled themselves by mentioning the ‘£340m cost of City’s bench’, less than 90 seconds into the pre-match coverage.
It’s laughable in as much as figures released this week show that Liverpool have overtaken City in the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ wage table, while Man United splashed out the most in salaries - £384m in 2021-22.
You can be sure Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and Martin Tyler will be quoting such fiscal nuggets on the Sky Sports commentary, when the Scousers play the Carabao Cup World Champions of the Universe on Sunday. Perhaps not!
The 3-0 FA Cup blitz of a plucky Bristol City, also saw talisman Kevin De Bruyne back in the starting XI, topped off by an exquisite finish for the final goal.
The victory sets up the return of another City legend – Vincent Kompany – who will bring his Championship high flyers, Burnley, to City for a quarter final tie.
When asked today if Kompany will one day replace him at City, Pep replied: “Vincent Kompany’s destiny is already written in the stars...it is going to happen...sooner or later he will be manager of Manchester City.”
Captain Fantastic will receive a rapturous reception from a packed Etihad Stadium – almost as warm as his last deed as a City player when he lifted the FA Cup after City walloped Watford 6-0 at Wembley in 2019.
Applause of a different kind will break out in the 6th minute of the game against Newcastle tomorrow, as the wider City Family pay tribute to Milly-Rose Stirrup, a sky blue angel who died last month at the age of just six-and-a-half years old.
A beautiful little blue, Milly-Rose fell ill with what is believed to have been a 24-hour sickness bug which escalated with frightening speed. She became critically ill and developed Sepsis – a life-threatening condition where the body has an extreme reaction to an infection.
Within 10 hours of the onset of Sepsis, Milly-Rose’s heart stopped and she died at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital on February 16th.
Born into a family of Blues – her Daddy, Shaun, Mummy, Pip, Uncle Liam and Grandad, Kieron – Milly-Rose was always destined to support City .
Shaun and Pip said: “She was a massive City fan. Milly-Rose loved the Club and was head over heels for Phil Foden. She said when she grew up she wanted to marry him.
“We’re just empty – there are no words – but having an opportunity to tell the wider City family about Milly-Rose, and how special she was, is a small comfort.
“She was such a special little girl who touched the hearts of hundreds of people in her short life – she really did light up any room she was in.”
At 12.36 hrs on Saturday March 4th, Milly-Rose Stirrup will touch the hearts of 54,000 fans in the Etihad Stadium and millions of TV viewing football fans around the world.
Here’s hoping Phil and the team can create some Sky Blue Heaven on Earth and bring some solace to Milly-Rose’s devastated family and friends.
Fly high little one.
By David Walker
Our love, thoughts and deepest condolences go to Shaun, Pip, Liam, Kieron and all of Milly-Rose’s family and friends. You’re not standing alone – you’ll see, hear and know that to be true at a place we all call home.
Twitter: @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu