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Ian Cheeseman: Forever Blue

While Manchester City’s first team squad has been recharging and picking up more personal awards in Abu Dhabi and Dubai during their winter break, a lot has been happening off the field.

Last week saw the conclusion of the UEFA/City investigation of the fan experience at the Champions League Final in Istanbul. The main complaint from those who were lucky enough to be in Turkey, for the showpiece final, was the chaos around transport to and from the Ataturk Stadium, which was about 25km from the City centre. UEFA suggested that the shuttle buses would take about an hour to make that journey.

In reality, some of the overcrowded minibuses took nearly two and a half hours. There were similar problems after the game and many other issues that were encountered by fans, like lack of refreshments which included water in a hot and humid environment.

The fan committee “City Matters”, which is an elected group which represents all parts of the City family of supporters, gathered personal stories and submitted them to UEFA/City. After six months, which included meetings with senior officials at the club and UEFA, finally there was a conclusion. City Matters wanted to release a joint statement apologising for the distress the poor experience and lack of planning had caused. While City and UEFA were happy to acknowledge the problems and apologise to City Matters, they wouldn’t publicly release a joint statement.

Mark Todd, who represents disabled supporters on the City Matters committee gave me his reaction, “It’s quite a weak organisation that won’t publicly admit when it’s got something wrong and we see that all the time, just look at the news at the moment. An organisation like UEFA should be strong enough and well run enough to be able to say they got it wrong, especially when they’ve said it to our faces in the meeting.”

That story only increases the perception that match going fans are becoming less and less important in modern day football.

We’re all aware that the huge amounts of money paid by TV companies to cover top level football out weighs the income clubs receive from ticket money, meaning that fixtures are moved around to suit TV schedules rather that the practicalities of fans getting to games. This Friday City are at Tottenham in the FA Cup and nine thousand Blues will make the journey to North London, which the authorities would argue shows that it’s not inconvenient at all.

I’ll be on my way down south at about 10 o’clock Friday morning and because of the late finish I’ve reluctantly booked into a hotel on Friday night, which all increases the cost of the trip. By the time I arrive home on Saturday afternoon/evening I’ll have been away for two days to watch a game that will have been live on terrestrial TV. It’s madness really, but I won’t be the only one.

If that game is drawn, City’s fixture at Brentford, the following weekend, will move to 8pm Saturday evening from Monday at 8pm, with just five days notice. I can’t plan my second trip to London in a week until after this Friday’s game. There will be many others in the same position as me. Why have match going fans become so unimportant? While I’ve been giving personal examples of the inconvenience TV scheduling cause, just remember that even local Spurs and Brentford fans have too rearrange work and personal commitments to attend these games. There will be even more televised fixtures next season so this situation is only going to get worse.

Anyway, despite the hurdles, I’ll be at Spurs and Brentford watching the World Champions trying to match their achievements of last season, because It’s Great to be a Blue!

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