Thursday, February 6, 2014

ODE TO THE SHEEP SHEARING DAYS

Cort McMurray takes a look at how perceptions of the Blues are changing and how we need to change with them:


Yesterday, I watched the Super Bowl.  I am not a fan of NFL football – it’s a brutal, pointless, mind numbingly dull game, an opinion that has nothing to do with my miserable and failed career as a Little League offensive tackle, I promise --  but I’m an American. The Super Bowl in America is like Christmas in Britain: even if you don’t believe in it, you put up the decorations.

Part way through the game, a brutal, pointless and mind-numblingly dull evisceration of the Denver Broncos by the Seattle Seahawks, the cameras flashed on celebrities in the crowd, witnessing the spectacle. There was Kevin Costner, wearing a black turtleneck with what appeared to be a gray shawl, looking dour and imperial, like Dame Judith Anderson with a manly haircut. There was Hugh Jackman, fashionably unshaven and jovial. 

And there was Paul McCartney.  

No longer one of the Four Lads Who Shook The World, Super Bowl Paul is wrinkled and jowly, his hair dyed an unnatural orange, glumly gumming a slice of pizza while a young woman I can only assume is his personal nurse stands by with his heart pills and diabetes medication.

This depressed me no end, this silent, sober reminder that nothing in our uncertain world is constant. Bright brilliant youth slumps into high trousered dotage. Things fall apart. Everything changes. I want the Paul of my childhood, jamming with the band on London rooftops and shearing sheep on the Mull of Kintyre. I want Paul the way he used to be.

Paul, Linda and a young Alan Kernaghan
Which brings me to the Premier League.

City’s recent rise to prominence, fueled by Chilean strategy, a United Nations of talent and several shipping containers of Abu Dhabian cash, has prompted much comment, most of it scathingly negative. It’s not mere criticism. Let’s face it, some things that have happened in the club’s last decade – City’s brief, uncomfortable association with a southeast Asian strongman, for starters – have been worthy of criticism. This more recent vitriol is beyond criticism. It’s ad hominem and angry and frequently scatological. And surpassingly ignorant.

It boils down to this: “City have always been A Certain Type of Club. How dare they change?” City aren't that club, anymore, no matter what twitchy Internet posters want. The change is confusing and uncomfortable, and it’s hardly happening only to City.  Just like seeing a septuagenarian Sir Paul forces everyone to consider their own mortality, a rampant, world class Manchester City forces fans of other clubs to recognize the fundamental changes happening throughout the Premier League: Twenty years ago, English football clubs were mostly managed by Englishmen, and mostly stocked with Englishmen, and mostly owned by Englishmen. They were essentially Mom and Pop operations, where even the biggest, most successful clubs had their shirts sponsored by the local newspaper or an automobile glass repair outfit.

Today, foreign tactics and foreign players dominate, fueled by scads of foreign money. It’s different. For some, it’s uncomfortable. That doesn’t alter the facts: the League isn’t Mom and Pop anymore; it’s a sophisticated cartel of multinational entertainment conglomerates, dealing in staggering amounts of money and exerting its influence in a dizzying number of countries. That may rankle the northern sensibilities of your typical Newcastle supporter, but it doesn’t change the reality.

Manchester City’s chief offence seems to be that, unlike, say, Cardiff City, or Hull City, it had the great good fortune to get foreign ownership who understands the supporters’ connection to their club, and actively works to both “grow the brand,” and nurture good feelings in the City community. That’s what generates the viciousness, the bitterness and the rancor: the change happened and other clubs got stuck with carpetbaggers and confidence men. And we got lucky. 

There have been missteps – Gary Cook was a mistake, and tossing over Umbro for the fleshpots of Niketown strikes a false note – but they have been few and fairly minor.  The Impeccable Sheiks seem genuinely committed to protecting and preserving City’s unique flavor. There have been no uncomfortable ad campaigns, in which the Starting Eleven was made to tout fried chicken, no outrageous replacement of team colors, no crest changes, aimed at improving souvenir sales in the crucial Asian markets. It’s a newer, bigger, brighter Manchester City, but it’s still City.  The Family Mansour has done right by the club and its supporters.

They have also positioned City beautifully to take a place on the international stage. Their “City in the Community” project has built soccer academies in underprivileged neighborhoods from Los Angeles to Miami, quietly establishing bastions of City supporters across North America, and their heavy investment in the MLS club New York City FC automatically makes the United States’s economic capital the club’s second home. Humanitarian efforts have raised City’s profile in Africa and Asia.  And of course, they play an inventive, exciting, deeply entertaining brand of football. While the London clubs bicker and snipe like the intermarried potentates of fading 16th century monarchies and the rotting empire in Salford slowly descends into mob rule and madness, City’s brain trust is quietly, competently gaining strength and influence.
Not tonight, City are playing

All of this is hard to take for the people who want everything to stay the same.  This is even true for City supporters. You cannot be City if you don’t love the underdog, don’t have a heart tuned to the irony of it all, don’t appreciate that sooner or later, Life will break your heart.  That is who we are. Winning trophies will not change that. But we aren’t in Moss Side anymore. Those days, those wonderful days, have gone.  Different days await.  If Maine Road was Our First Love, all scraped knees and grade school gangle, The Etihad is Our Grown-Up Romance: a tad frosty perhaps, but dazzling with sophistication and endless, elegant curves. It’s like we went away to University, and ended up dating a young Catherine Deneuve. Out of our league? Maybe.   

But how do you say no to a young Catherine Deneuve?


2 comments:

  1. "If Maine Road was Our First Love,............., The Etihad is Our Grown-Up Romance: a tad frosty perhaps, but dazzling with sophistication and endless, elegant curves. It’s like we went away to University, and ended up dating a young Catherine Deneuve."
    Great stuff. You don't get lines like this in the other city blogs. brilliant summation. keep it up.

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