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Opinion

‘Whatever happens on the pitch, let us never become like Manchester City fans’

5 days ago
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NOT for the first time this season, I found myself sneaking into the home end during our 5-0 defeat to Manchester City.

Exiled to the Midlands, I have had to make do with a handful of games every season since giving up my season ticket in 2005.

With two avid NUFC-supporting teenage sons it is increasingly difficult to get enough tickets for us all in the away end.

So just like at West Ham a few weeks ago, I dropped off my boys to join the masses among the travelling contingent (I managed to get two tickets for them to use) and off I went to make use of my newly purchased £30 Manchester City membership (it was at least free to become a West Ham member) and £45 match ticket.

I have to say, it was among the most painful 90 minutes I can recall at an away game, since my first trip on the road as a 12-year-old to a crumbling Molineux in 1990.

Not because of the scoreline – like most Newcastle supporters I was half expecting a drubbing and so it panned out.
And not because I could only look on enviously as our packed out supporters sang their hearts out from start to finish; in fact there’s something curiously pleasurable about being able to experience from the home fans’ perspective just how incredible our travelling support is.

No, the reason it was so painful was because of the calibre of company I was having to keep.

Manchester City fans have become everything they have despised about their Manchester United rivals for generations.

You name it and they had it in abundance – entitlement, smugness and just a general vile looking down upon everything and anyone that isn’t “in their league”. As a group of supporters they have well and truly forgotten their heritage.

At different points the supporters around me expressed their frustration at the otherwise excellent Raheem Sterling for over-running the ball, and Gabriel Jesus for not hitting the target with that shot across the face of our goal.

World class players who City’s better players of a bygone era – maybe a Georgi Kinkladze or a Paul Lake – would have longed to play alongside, now chastised for minor imperfections in otherwise outstanding performances.

Perhaps the worst moment of City blinkeredness came from the chap to my left after Joao Cancelo volleyed over when the match was scoreless. “Story of our season!” he angrily complained to his friend as the ball sailed over.

Story of their season! A team top of the league, runners up in the League Cup and narrowly missing out on a Champions League final, apparently defined by a half chance being missed by a full-back who did brilliantly to get there in the first place… do me a favour.

Perhaps it is little surprise that many Manchester City fans have no grasp of their provenance. When you walk around the Etihad Stadium you are reminded of their post-Sheikh success, statues of David Silva and Vincent Kompany, commemorations of Sergio Aguero’s stoppage time title-winning goal.

They are rightly proud of the last 14 years, just as we would be. However, what about the century or so before that? I did spot an image of Dennis Tueart scoring that goal against us, no doubt if I’d searched long enough I might have found reference to Colin Bell somewhere (I hope), maybe even Franny Lee.

However, what about the cult heroes during the darker days? I think back to the excellent Wor Flags banner at St James Park a few weeks ago paying homage to David Kelly’s goal against Portsmouth back in the old Second Division. Where are City’s tributes to Richard Dunne or Shaun Goater?

I truly believe I know more about Manchester City’s heritage than the majority of supporters I was sat with. How many of them remember the vitriol their club’s followers felt towards Peter Swales in the same way we wanted to see the back of Mike Ashley? Few, I should think.

And what really disappointed me was this: I thought Manchester City fans were just like us. Fervent in their support but long-suffering (until the Sheikh came along). They’ve been the only team among the so-called ‘Big Six’ that I’ve enjoyed watching in recent years. I believed their supporters were finally getting the success they deserved.

Now I’m doubting they deserve any of it.

We all know that Liverpool and Manchester United supporters have an in-built belief that they are entitled to success. I don’t like it any more than I like the fact half their “fans” have never even been near Anfield or Old Trafford, but I do at least partially get it.

Their smugness has been achieved over half a century of high expectations and self-belief, for a lot of that time having had the top class team to go with it. Even many of Liverpool’s and Manchester United’s older supporters have been born into that; they know no different.

However, City’s haven’t, and that’s why I expected much better.

As the new kid on the block in terms of the rich stakes, our supporters need to learn from that.

I actually don’t think we have it in our DNA to go the way they have. We love to see the underdog come good too much – just look at the way we’ve taken to Joelinton in the last few months, just as 30 years ago we made a folk hero of Pavel Srnicek when he stopped punching the ball and learned how to catch.

We still sing the names of Liam and Andy O’Brien, and I understand from my sister, who was at the recent win at Norwich, that half the players in living memory were name-checked during the chanting at Carrow Road.

Many of us can also remember the pitchside busking of Harry Palmer – perhaps not of the finest musical merit but successful in reviving the Terry Hibbett chant more than a decade after his final game for the club.

Add in the fact that it has been a challenge to get a ticket at St James Park, and certainly away games, even in the darker days, and it suggests we’re not going to create the same capacity for Johnny-come-latelies as City’s resurgence evidently has.

Even the crowd growth that happened overnight when Kevin Keegan arrived in 1992 wasn’t exactly a response to the glory days – we were in the midst of a Second Division relegation battle at the time.

However, if our wealth does pay dividends with on-field success, if we find ourselves in 3-5 years competing for honours, and if we even reach the stage where success is expected by the media rather than just hoped for by the supporters, we must always hold on to where we’ve been first.

For someone of my particular vintage, that means remembering the gut-wrenching moments too – from Marco Gabbiadini’s clincher in the play-off defeat against Sunderland, to Jim Dobbin’s fine strike for Grimsby to end our 11-game winning run, as well as the 4-3 defeats to Liverpool, the Cup Final no-shows, the obscurity of the post-Robson period and the pain and loss of the Ashley era.

If we keep remembering how bad it felt during the dark times, then if we are fortunate enough to finally have some success around the corner, we can enjoy it with a bit of dignity and class.

While I dearly hope one day our trophy cabinet is just like theirs, as supporters we must never, ever become like Manchester City fans.

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