As a Manchester City supporter it has genuinely now become the norm to watch my club’s away games in Europe – and occasionally at home if I cannot attend – on BTSport, Sky or ITV and know full well that the pundits and station involved want us to fail.
In the build up to the game there will be digs galore from leading bookmakers on social media and the BBC who childishly troll to pander to the larger fanbases of United and Liverpool by taking cheap potshots at our money or supposed lack of support.
Prior to kick-off a plethora of United legends will reluctantly and grumpily discuss a club they actively hate. They give the impression they would rather be anywhere else at that moment and I can assure you the feeling is reciprocated.
The game begins and the co-commentator – whether it be Owen or McManaman – will persistently gripe about our performance from the first whistle, uttering every cliché in the book. The fans don’t seem up for it. The team are merely individuals and lack spirit. The manager has one eye on the exit. Unless we impose ourselves from the off and score early it is one negative after another.
Should we triumph we head back to the studio where the same United legends look positively pissed off at the result and begin a studied analysis on how the opponents didn’t turn up.
I am 41 year old so – barring our post-Heysel ban in the eighties – I can recall watching British sides in Europe on the box for over three decades. I am therefore attuned to how these games are covered. Bags of patriotism and positivity and celebration with the television network assuming that the majority of viewers will be urging on the domestic side. We see this partisanship in every other sport too: the British boxer, the British Olympian, the British anyone unashamedly lauded to the rafters in their efforts against foreign opposition.
So watching my club take on the best of Europe on television these past few seasons has been a very strange experience indeed. It feels like you’ve arrived late to a fantastic party you’ve heard others witter excitedly about only to find a bunch of hungover middle-aged men glaring at you for trailing dogshit through the house.
If you are not a supporter of Manchester City you may well be scoffing at the above. Every fanbase believes their club gets a raw deal in the media. It amounts to paranoia.
Well if so let’s break it down and look at the evidence from this week alone and beyond that please take my word that this is nothing new. As stated at the top this is now the norm.
Ahead of City’s first ever Champions League quarter-final against the might of PSG, Ibra and all, the BBC decided to preview this from the angle of scorn and mockery by concentrating on the money aspect. A fascinating encounter featuring the last remaining English hope was reduced to ‘El Cashico’ in an embarrassing video you can see here. The Guardian followed suit with a video of their own where they described our wealth as ‘obscene’. It is worth remembering here that according to Forbes Manchester United are the third most valuable club in the world behind the two Spanish giants of Barca and Real. Can you imagine for a split second a similar gauche approach being taken should the red half of Manchester be preparing for a Champions League quarter final? Of course not.
The BBC preceded their puerile video with this tweet.
This was a lie. A stonewall fabrication. The game was a sell-out at the time the tweet was put out.
For transparency it should be noted that City had struggled to fill every seat. But that was not down to apathy, far from it. It was largely due to an initial protest at the steep increase to £60 a ticket for the game, the fans taking a stand against ticket pricing in the modern era where essentially we’re being slapped in the face following years of loyal attendance. I recall Liverpool supporters receiving widespread support from the media on this very same matter.
Now we come to BTSport and my how they surpassed themselves this time. As has become common practice for any televised City game they filled their punditry seats with former Manchester United players who spent the evening routinely hating on us. The argument goes that City haven’t yet produced household names who can discuss their former club but should anyone from BT Sport be reading his let me be absolutely clear on this issue – we are not expecting you to invite on ex-City greats who may not be universally known. We simply ask that you employ very well-known former players from Arsenal, Chelsea, even Liverpool, who don’t have every reason to desperately want us to lose. If you must pander to the multitude of United viewers – and it seems that you must – why not simply show a quick clip of Solskjaer scoring against Bayern at the top of the show. It would be weird but really, as long as it was then OUR night, we’d be fine with that. Because it was our night. Not theirs. They have enjoyed hundreds of their own in the past.
In the event Rio Ferdinand mumbled inarticulately on a club he only knows through bias. Here is a player who had a coin thrown at his face in a recent derby. Here is a man who regularly tweets snidey comments on City. Here is a man who is joined by Frenchman David Ginola making it basically an extension of Canal+ on a British network as the last remaining English side takes on the French champions. Weird, weird weird.
Seriously?!? I was asking 2 United legends…that's why it was hard. No bias. At ease… https://t.co/VSYmNMTgdh
— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) April 13, 2016
Things got even more surreal later on when Paul Scholes joined the panel. Presenter Jake Humphrey says these words – “Now we’ve quite rightly criticised Manchester City numerous times this season so we should quite rightly praise them as hard as it is”. As hard as it is. Humphrey defended his comment by stating that he was gesturing to Scholes and Ferdinand when he said this. It’s a candid admission because it then begs the question if it is so hard for these pundits to be objective and if they do lack the professional integrity of a Gary Neville say who can leave his bias at the studio door then why…are…they…there?
Extending on Scholes for a moment: regardless of which channel why has he become the go-to pundit for all City games? He offers very little beyond open spite and petty digs and if this is what television companies are now after I look forward to seeing Emmanuel Adebayor cover future Arsenal games and Robbie Fowler becoming a regular fixture at Old Trafford. Oh this strategy is just for City is it? Righto.
This was a momentous and memorable night for City fans yet those not in attendance were forced to watch – and pay for it – in the company of inadequate pundits who are in every possible way hated foes.
There is a very obvious reason why you, I, and anyone else choose not to watch a big game for your club in the supporter’s bar of your local rival. With City and BTSport for this and every other season Blues are forced to pay through the nose for this very treat.
It hardly got better during the game either with co-commentator Steve McManaman – who is widely loathed by blues and evidently revels in the unpopularity – unleashing a bizarre tirade five minutes in about the lack of atmosphere and attendance. The game, as already stated, was a sell-out and it can only be assumed the wum was referring to a splattering of empty seats in the corporate section. Sadly that is a reflection on modern football, not Manchester City. Sadly McManaman was probably fully aware of this fact.
Compare and contrast the negativity, untruths, and general snidiness of this coverage to what Liverpool were afforded on the very same channel the following evening. From the very start of the programme that showed the supporters excitedly enter Anfield to a full five minutes given to their pre-match song – filmed with such reverence you’d be forgiven for thinking this was LFC TV – to footage of legends and every club mythology celebrated this was a festival of positivity and whole-hearted support. Even when the Reds conceded two first half goals the compliments just kept on coming with the two commentators focusing on how well Liverpool were playing and just how hard they were trying. Klopp meanwhile was given a free pass.
If City had conceded two to PSG in their first half McManaman would have exploded in spite, the wages of the players and supposed failings of Pelligrini would have been mentioned on repeat, while the cackling from the studio would have been so loud it would have made it to the screen.
You may think that the subsequent second half miracle justified this giddy acclaim but at this point the miracle remained its dictionary definition. At this point Liverpool were being out-played, out-classed and out-thought.
Yet on it continued, the gushing encouragement with BTSport determined to join the fans in being Liverpool’s twelfth man.
I can only imagine what that must be like watching as a Red. As a City fan I have only ever encountered the direct opposite.
To BTSport, Sky and ITV I say only this. You’ve had your fun at our expense, you have kicked us about, taken an incalculable amount of snidy potshots, and been a downer on us from one game to the next. But enough is enough now. We deserve the same amount of respect you afford to every other English club in Europe. That’s all we want. No more, no less.
Next up lies a semi-final with Real Madrid. It is an extraordinary and mind-blowing fixture for any Blue who could never have dreamed of such heights during our prolonged and painful dark days.
I would like to watch the away game on an English channel and believe just for an instant that they actually want us to win.