This article is a piece that I had originally written for our German football-blog right after my return from Manchester. Since it has gathered so much feedback, the “halbangst”-team decided to publish a translated, slightly modified version in order to share the experience with City-fans and other supporters:
It was a deserved victory for Manchester City against Borussia Mönchengladbach. While the visitors had shone with fast passing football in the first half, the Blues clearly outplayed Gladbach in the last half an hour with the likes of Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Bony bringing in their pace. However, it was a great Champions League performance, and thus I was left with a slight feeling of disappointment when I was staring at Joe Hart’s goal in front of me, lost in my thoughts, minutes before the final whistle.
But, more than mere disappointment, I was experiencing feelings like pity, some anger and even disgust: Coming to the Etihad (I had been made aware of the expression “Emptihad” beforehand) for the match was nothing but a glance into the grotesque face of cut-throat capitalism steamrolling over football. It must be avoided at all costs that home matches like these forecast the future of Bundesliga football – a visit to the stadium as an emotionless event of consumption under the pretence of ever-so-needed security and safety. Sit down, don’t move, sip your Coke and then get out as fast as you can. “The City shop is now open again” – An evening with a football business that has nothing in common with a “club” anymore.
Ticketing from hell and a graveyard atmopshere
For starters: ticket orders outside of the designated away support section (nearly impossible to get if you’re not affiliated with a Gladbach fanclub) had been systematically cancelled – you don’t get to watch football if you have the wrong passport or home address. Additonally, the eligibility rules on City’s ticket portal changed on the day the tickets went on sale, two hours after the start one needed member points to purchase tickets for the Gladbach match. Manchester City officials must have realised what was happening; Gladbach supporters were snatching up seats everywhere, and the club quickly reacted. Once inside, restrictions and rules everywhere (the ban on smoking and alcoholic drinks is a given): no lighters. no scarfs. no football strips. no standing. no celebrating. City has the chance to go top of the CL-group and ten minutes before kick-off, the stadium is empty, and nowhere near being sold-out (I am aware of the habit to finish the pint in the pub and turn up just for the game, but I am pretty certain this wasn’t the motivation for many, many home supporters). They might have been busy buying City-toothpaste or Joe Hart-shampoo.
The match begins, and nothing happens. About 95 percent of home supporters in the Etihad simply watch what’ll happen, quietly. Well, we’ve all heard, read and witnessed this lack of support in the new era of Premier League football, and the existence of designated “singing sections” is quite telling. What is really odd though is the fact that these singing blocks are situated right next to the away supporters. Again, face to face with the large Gladbach crowd is the only part of the stadium, where traditional “fan support” seems to have survived, or is rather tolerated (the Etihad being one of several British grounds with this setup, it is still very weird though). As for the support, it was very, very subdued. Ten minutes into the game my adorable City supporting neighbour in the seat next to me apologised for the lack of chants, or simply manpower of active supporters. She was giving it everything she had along with her friend, but you don’t get very far in a 50,000 seater ground with that. Hence me spotting her texting a friend “this feels like an away match for us”, just when the impressive three sections full of Gladbach supporters had once more set out to a strong-voiced chant. As a reminder: I was among the “active supporters”, the “singing section”. That’s when I felt pity for the Blues around me.
Everybody loves the sheikh
These scences were overarched by a banner installed by club officials to thank sheikh Mansour – quite ironic given the drama of a smothered football crowd unfolding underneath. The match went its way, and another pathetic moment came after City had just turned the match around with three goals in six minutes, as the few hundred “active” home supporters couldn’t help it but to intone “you’re not singing anymore” towards the Gladbach crowd, which had utterly dominated the chants at the Etihad stadium for the past 85 minutes. The same Citizens who had spent most of the game staring at the away support, filming with dropped jaws. How much envy, how many hurt feelings must have been let loose in that moment for the “singing section”, amidst an ocean of silently consuming followers? The worst part came after the match, when several “witness reports” were coming in while enjoying our pints: Gladbach supporters in the “home”, aka the normal stands, had been insulted, denounced by City-fans to the stewards who were asked to “remove” the Germans from the stands. For cheering a goal of their team they came to see. How far must a person be alienated from the sport football to act this way? Only you wouldn’t have gotten an answer to this question as the stadium was emptied three minutes after kick-off. On the pitch: All employees players gone bar Joe Hart. Well at least the “City store” was open again, as announced throughout the stadium.
You might say “well, that’s modern football”, or even “but safety is priority, I’m there with my family”. Sure, but that’s not what this is all about. All that safety-secure-talk is nothing but a smokescreen for the underlying aspiration to control and form “consumers” at all costs for the business franchise Manchester City FC. If it had been about safety, there should have been a pat down at the entrance for at least some supporters. That didn’t happen. Furthermore, the idea to place the away support literally next to the singing section, separated by a wonky IKEA-looking small fence, is simply ludicrous. Some of my cynical friends suspected later that evening this might have been set up on purpose: any frictions between the two camps could easily be used for a call for “more safety”. They have a point there.
Celebrate a goal? Leave the stadium!
We left Manchester with two images: the numerous Gladbach supporters, celebrating their club and the huge hospitality of the many pubs (and many City-supporters in these places!) on one hand; on the other, a sinister precursor of what football in the Bundesliga might look like ten years from now, but hopefully never will. Any corrosion of the “50+1”-rule of the Bundesliga, which ensures no investor will hold the majority over the club’s board and maintains a voice for the club’s supporters, would inevitably push German clubs down this road that leads to the Etihad stadium. It’s a simple story: an owner throws in triple digit millions, the money coming out of the ticket sales becomes irrelevant. Thus there’s no need in many cases for the investor to care about fan culture, especially if it goes against his profit and the more expensive, “sedated” seats in the stadium are preferred. As evidenced by hospitality packages, including dinners, hotels, souvenirs and so on for the newly acquired “fans” from Asia or the US. Much more convenient than an opinionated Citizen from the Maine Road days. Even if this seems only the worst case scenario and highly unlikely in the case of Borussia Mönchengladbach, as the current club officials are well aware of the tradition and values of the supporters here, this will happen in other stadiums in Germany as soon as investors are through the door.
If you don’t want to sit in a “well-behaved” stand one day, facing a “Nordkurve” in silence and witnessing the removal of a, say, Hannover supporter due to “goal celebration” in the stands, you should remember evenings like the one involving Gladbach at the Etihad stadium in terms of fan support.