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Ian Cheeseman: Forever Blue

After a two week break in the Premier League, which seemed utterly pointless because the vast majority of International games were friendlies, City resumed with one of the biggest games of the season, so far, against one of their title rivals Arsenal.

Before the match, manager Pep Guardiola and key midfielder Rodri asked the fans to create an intimidating atmosphere, to help them to beat the Gunners. Presumably they’re unaware of the direction the club are going in these days, with an ever-increasing number of “bucket list” customers who are attracted to the club purely because of the amazing current success and the World famous players they have on the pitch these days.

Before kickoff, the club orchestrated the unveiling of a huge banner, as the teams entered the field. It said, “I’ll follow you everywhere” across two tiers and the whole length of the East Stand. I’m sure the football tourists, who were in that stand, wouldn’t have been happy that their photo op of the players coming out was ruined.

Meanwhile, behind the goal in the South Stand, where the most vociferous supporters are generally based, the fan’s revealed their own banner which read, “Record profits but record prices, stop exploiting our loyalty”, protesting about ticket price increases. It was quickly taken down by stewards because, “it covered the advertising”.

Is it any wonder that the atmosphere, that Guardiola and Rodri had hoped, for was underwhelming? The customers that modern football craves, who are prepared to pay higher one-off ticket prices and always include a visit to the merchandise outlets before the game, are non-partisan. They’re not bothered who wins. Some of the lifelong fans are disgruntled about being undervalued, constantly having their view blocked by the selfie obsessed.

They’re put off attending because of increasing parking restrictions and ever increasing costs of parking. They are finding it hard getting to and from the game due to an under supply of public transport. I know many who have either given up or are considering becoming armchair fans. They’ll be replaced by more football tourists.

Things will get even more challenging when the new Co-op Live Arena potentially adds another 20K people to the transport and parking problems. The club is building an extension which will add another 6K to capacity, plus a hotel. That is bound to add even more to these issues.

On the field, the game between City and Arsenal was a stalemate. There were very few shots on goal by either team and most people I spoke to, as they headed home, felt flat. City have ambitions to repeat their amazing Treble success of last season. They have big challenges to come. The day before the game I was sat just a couple of yards away from the five trophies, proudly on display at the Official Supporters Club 75th anniversary dinner, that Pep’s team won in 2023. Will they repeat that amazing feat?

As I write this, City face Aston Villa on Wednesday and have trips to Crystal Palace in the Premier League, Real Madrid in the Champions League and an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley against Chelsea on the horizon. The Blues are only three points behind Liverpool in the title race with nine games to go.

In so many ways, it feels like City are at the cross roads both on and off the field. Still hovering in the background are the 115 Premier League charges that the club is strenuously denying. No-one is certain how that will end, just as no-one knows which trophies, if any, City will win this season. The coming months are going to be fascinating. One way and another, on and off the field, it feels like big changes are coming. One constant remains though, It’s Great to be a Blue!

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