Manchester City: a First Class Club with a First Class Atmosphere?
Fair play to Manchester City, Carlos Tevez, and manager Mark Hughes for a fluid performance against West Ham United at Eastlands on Monday evening. Their 3-1 victory inched the Blues ever closer to the pinnacle of the Premier League table, as City are now only three points away from pole position. Tevez not only showed his quality in front of goal, but the striker also exhibited grace towards his former fan base after scoring before West Ham’s supporters. The Argentine front man held his hands apologetically in the air towards the Hammer faithful in response to his controversial stay in east London. This rare act of humility is a stark contrast to Emmanuel Adebayor’s disgraceful celebration in front of his old employers two weeks prior. Credit to Hughes for pulling all of these big personalities together and allowing City to play free-flowing and adventurous football. Yet despite all of these positive remarks, there is one glaring deficiency with the Blue Moon match day experience.
When approaching the City of Manchester Stadium the modern architecture and luxurious amenities appear suitable for one of the world’s wealthiest football clubs. Yet it was not all that long ago that this same side was playing in a historic and dilapidated ground. Before the likes of Thaskin Shinawatra and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Manchester City were a club mired in tumult and volatility. Nevertheless, this was part of City’s charm, and the supporters never abandoned the side – even when the Blues tumbled down the English football pyramid to League One.
While yesterday’s Premier League action against West Ham United was spirited, the change in atmosphere at Eastlands is disturbing when contrasted against the club’s time at Maine Road. Now I know what you are all thinking; this is just another bland article about ‘true’ fans being priced out of the game and the soulless nature of big-money football. Much has been made of the latter, and telling that story again would do little to stimulate conversation.
Instead I would like to focus on the physical configuration of contemporary football and how new stadiums are negatively impacting England’s national past time. Last week I watched Man City take on Fulham in the Carling Cup at Eastlands and was amazed at how different the atmosphere was from Maine Road. Yes, this was a Carling Cup match. Typically the least important competition for Premier League sides, the League Cup holds neither the prestige of the FA Cup nor the glitz of the Premier League.
Nevertheless, every fixture maintained an electric atmosphere amid the grittiness of Maine Road, and this attribute was noticeably absent at Eastlands. I am not having a go at City supporters. They are one of the best sets of fans in Europe and deserve their due. Rather, the way in which Manchester City Football Club has arranged the stadium seating has ruined the club’s famed atmosphere. Traditionally, each football ground has a stronghold of their most vociferous supporters behind a particular goal. These Kop ends are etched into the history of the English game. Anfield will forever be associated with the Spion Kop, Villa Park with the Holte End, and Chelsea with the Shed End.
At Maine Road the word “Kippax” held a powerful connotation with City supporters and away fans alike. Unlike most clubs that build their Kops at the end of the pitch, the Kippax was a massive stand that ran parallel to the touchline. It was undeniably intimidating, and housed some of the most passionate football fans in the sport’s history. The Kippax could generate an overwhelming amount of noise that promptly quieted any away support. Moss Side was an incredibly dodgy place to visit, and Maine Road was the crown jewel of this notorious district.
Obviously the new-look City has been rebranded for the financially booming Premier League. Hillsborough and the Taylor Report changed the manner in which fans of the English game observed football forever. However, many of the top grounds in the country retained their atmospheres even after the tragic events of April 15, 1989. Maine Road was among these venues, begging the question, what exactly changed when the Blues relocated to Eastlands?
The answer is startlingly simple. Rather than reestablishing the girth and reputation of the Kippax stand, City opted for new age stadium configuration. If you go to Eastlands today to take in a match you will find that there is no traditional Kop end. Instead the supporters that grew up on the Kippax have been relocated to the corner section between the Colin Bell Stand and the North Stand. This leaves City’s most energetic fans sandwiched against the main stand and the opposing side’s supporters. Instead of the cross-pitch banter that takes place between two sets of fans in most grounds, Eastlands creates an indiscernible din from the northwest corner. Additionally, the security of this setting is questionable, as during high-profile encounters both sets of supporters attempt to get at one another across the police line. This has proven to be problematic in the Manchester derby and against the likes of PSG in the UEFA Cup.
Unfortunately this type of maneuver is becoming too common with new English stadiums, as grounds like the Riverside, Pride Park, and the Stadium of Light are now devoid of a traditional English atmosphere. These grounds lack a proper Kop setting, and while fan bases at these clubs (particularly City) are strong, the charm associated with Maine Road or Roker Park is gone. In its place is a synthetic style of match day experience that provides little sustenance for those of use that remember the rusty roof over the Kippax.