Adventures in Football #68: Etihad Stadium (Manchester City)
NOVEMBER 9, 2022
MANCHESTER CITY vs. CHELSEA (Carabao Cup)
Technically this stadium is called the City of Manchester stadium, but you rarely ever hear it called that and I doubt Etihad are planning on ending the sponsorship of the stadium any time soon, so we’ll go with the sponsor’s name. The Etihad opened in August 2003, costing well over £100M to build. It was originally constructed as part of Manchester’s 2002 Commonwealth Games hosting duties. Which explains why it’s surrounded by other venues.
It’s hard to remember but Man City hadn’t been a successful commodity in the years leading up to the take-over and indeed when the stadium was being planned City were struggling. In 1998 they were plying their trade in the third tier of English football. They went straight back up to the second tier (beating Gillingham on penalties, it sounds so ridiculous now) and were runners up in the second tier in 2000 thus returning to the Premier League in 2000. Only to be immediately relegated and have to fight back again in 2002.
So, while the Etihad was being constructed, Man City were in a mess. The 2002/03 season, the last at Maine Road, was a success though and they finished in P9. A sign of things to come. The Abu Dhabi based take-over followed in 2008 and the naming rights for the stadium came into play in 2011. The city owns the stadium but have leased it to Man City FC for 200 years!
Normally on these things I’d go over the lack of success the team has had in recent years, but I can’t do that with Man City so instead we’ll look at what a rollercoaster ride it’s been being a City fan over the years. Dipping into the third tier in the late 90s is a low point but they’ve been out of the top flight on ten occasions in all since getting promoted in 1899. During my youth, in the 80s, they spent more time in Division 1/2 (currently Championship) than the top division. Prior to the takeover years they’d won two top flight titles in 1937 and 1968. Their seven second tier titles is a joint record. They’d also won four FA Cups (now six) and two League Cups (now astonishingly up to eight). This is a trophy Nu Man City seem to care a lot about.
Onto the game day and we’re off to Manchester in the afternoon. The idea is to get parked up, grab some food and take a leisurely stroll to the ground. It’s handy not being in work. Speaking of work, I need to get some work trousers, so we pop into Primark to get the cheap kind. Primark now has this weird rail of football shirts. They’re from all over the place. I’m not convinced they’re legitimate but they all cost £35. After the hell of queueing in Primark is done, we head into the Crafty Pig. I’m on a diet and the menu reminds me that pubs don’t really cater to people looking to lose weight. I end up with BBQ chicken and chips, which is decent. Maria has a Pizza Cone, which is literally pizza in a cone with chips piled into it. It’s a terrible idea.
Hipster bullshit out of the way we stroll over to the ground. It’s about 30 minutes’ walk from the centre of Manchester and greatly preferable to the trams, which are packed. One goes past us, and you couldn’t even squeeze a supermodel into one of the spaces.
It’s an easy enough walk and you basically just follow the flow of people. Police presence is quite light, which is a surprise, but it turns out these two teams don’t have much beef. I don’t know if you can make it out from the above picture, but Maria bought a half and half scarf. I mean, she does support Chelsea so it kinda makes sense but it’s a goddawful looking thing. She’s not alone either and I see quite a lot of them. Mostly sported by tourists who make up a big chunk of the crowd. On our way in I notice a load of people getting mark pictures with the Etihad Stadium sign in the background.
Like this clown. Pfft. I wasn’t expecting it, Maria asked me to turn around and when I did, she snapped the picture. There are a lot of Asian fans here and they’re all taking pictures and getting those 50-50 scarfs. It’s interesting that middle eastern involvement in the running of Man City has led to an increase in Asian supporters. It’s probably the most diverse crowd I’ve seen at the football. When we get to the ground there’s a hubbub (I don’t think I’ve ever used that word before) due to the team coach arriving shortly. We hang out around that area, and they have an announcer detailing who’s getting off the bus. This is different to any other ground I’ve been to in that respect.
The whole outside the ground experience is on another level. They’ve got stalls galore, outdoor bars, fan zones, statues, a huge club shop. The fan experience here is very impressive. I’ve not seen anything on this level elsewhere. Arsenal was similar but it just felt like…. less.
Speaking of statues, we spotted Dave Silva and took a picture with him. We were waiting patiently for an opportunity to go in front but there were too many people. Anyway, this angle is fine, and you can see Maria’s 50-50 scarf in all its glory.
This shows some of the outdoors area from the stadium. You can see the organisation in the queuing process, the food options, the shop and that massive tent is an outdoor bar. It’s a cracking set up they’ve got, and they process people effortlessly but also, they have that Etihad Airways charm about them. I encountered some really useful stewards. Firstly, at the gate where I don’t understand how a phone ticket works. The girl on the gate happily shows me. It helps there’s no queue behind me. The sign showing the phone over the gate is confusing though. It suggests holding the phone against the reader, like a contactless payment, but it’s actually just a ticket that you scan same as everywhere, but it just sits in your Google wallet instead of attached to an email. I suppose that makes it more secure.
And up we go. Having scanned in we head around and around these things up to the third deck. It beats the shit out of stairs and, dare I say it Wembley, a whopping great big escalator.
This fella over here is the Academy Stadium, which looks very tidy. The whole setup is extremely professional and what Man City have built around the Etihad is very impressive.
Up in the heavens we have ourselves a concourse. I dig the sloping roof where it runs under the seats. I did have a quick glance at beer options, but it was Asahi. That was it. I’m guessing it’s the official beer of the Etihad or something. I didn’t walk around up here too much because we came up right next to our block but based on the two ‘bars’ I saw, the choice was lame. They were playing Oasis on the concourse, because of course they were.
We walk out into Block 301 and what a cracking view this is. Part of groundhopping is learning that big stadiums afford great views from higher up. This is just about perfect. We’re sat in a corner right at the end of this part of the stand so we’re next to a wall. And there’s a nail sticking out of it!
One of the richest clubs in the world leaves a nail sticking out of a wall, I honestly can’t believe it. We managed to flatten it off but surely they’ve got someone who checks on this sort of thing. Staggering really. The seats were ok. They’re not very wide (a St Marys issue reoccurring) but the legroom is fine until inevitably the girl in front leaned right back and headbutted my knee. The steward up here was lovely though. I can’t fault the people who work here.
Latest in the string of weirdness is a camera on the pre-match DJ. What a strange flex this is! I took a photo to demonstrate how close we are to the one corner video screen, which came in handy for watching replays, which demonstrated how shit Christian Pulisic is in ways live action can never truly do.
Speaking of weirdness, what the fuck is this supposed to be? Apparently, this is “Moonchester”. His partner in crime is “Moonbeam” and get this… “Hailing from the planet Blue Moon, Moonbeam is the ever-faithful companion of Moonchester”. For starters, “Blue Moon” isn’t a planet. It’s the moon but blue. Also, they have to say companion because girlfriend implies they’re boning. They are. Dirty unimaginable alien sex.
Here’s the little pervert’s mug shot. If that’s not weird enough for you, the cult of Citygroup had this fucking thing up their sleeves.
Oh, it’s not, I hear you grown. Yes, it’s an actual blue moon. Presumably the home planet of the weird alien mascots. So, the mascots are out with this blow-up monstrosity. They pull it out into the middle of the pitch and then there’s a laser show with an opera singer.
Then they set the stadium on fire.
Then they announce the team, and every player has their own flag with their name on it.
Wasn’t kidding about the opera singer, that’s him in the spotlight.
This went on for a while. If you like smoke and lasers and stuff it was certainly different. They probably did a better job of this than the FA did of the opening ceremony at the women’s Euros where they fired off way too much pyro.
We get a bit more action from the fans in the form of flags and this banner. Then the game is underway and both teams are playing in blue.
COME ON YOU BLUES! The opening 20 minutes is a demonstration of Pep’s Man City being outstanding on the football. The passing is unreal and seeing it live makes it feel more real. It’s a little sad that the crowd, made up mostly of tourists like myself, are very quiet and get drowned out by the visiting Chelsea supporters. It’s probably the quietest crowd in a ground this size I’ve heard. You can hear the sound of chatter as people talk amongst themselves but that’s it. Chelsea on the other hand bring the atmosphere, although they do focus their chants almost entirely on City’s lack of European Cups. I wonder what they’ll chant if City win it this year?
For those wondering how attendance was for this game; it was pretty full. People were clearly attracted to this game because of City’s lower prices for cup games and the possibility of playing another elite side in the process. The result is a full stadium and thankfully a very entertaining end to end game of football. The first half is scoreless but both teams had great chances. City were missing Haaland, and it showed. Jack Grealish was outstanding for them though. Chelsea had a couple of great chances and if Pulisic could actually shoot they’d have won the game.
In the second half I was praying for a City collapse so Haaland and de Bruyne would get on but instead Riyad Mahrez, who was mostly rubbish, curled a free kick in for 1-0 and then his shot fell to Julian Alvarez with the goal at his mercy and it was all over. Mahrez had a quiet game but scored and assisted in a 2-0 win. Grealish, who was everywhere and had a great game, no goal involvements. Stats mean nothing. The game showed the importance of Erling Haaland to Man City. Without his focal point the team created tonnes but had no cutting edge. It did remind us that City can win without Haaland though. Simply overwhelming teams by passing them to death. Like with the Champion’s League final they could have gotten caught out here though.
Time for a quick selfie as people pile out and it’s off to the M6, where we’d sit in a terrible traffic jam for over an hour after the game. That wasn’t anything to do with the club, or even the city though, so it won’t affect the scores. Speaking of which, here they are!
Surprisingly bad. The half of the stadium we were in didn’t make a peep. All the noise was down the other end. The vast majority of it coming from the visiting Chelsea fans. For a big club and a big stadium this was probably the weakest crowd support I’ve heard, and I’ve been to West Ham. **½
The cup rate of £25 a ticket is reasonable. For that I got to see a competitive game featuring some of the world’s finest players in a state-of-the-art ground. ****
I’m not likely to see a better football team than Man City this season. They are a pleasure to watch knock the ball around. Regardless of who’s on the field. ****
EASE OF ACCESS
The Etihad is closer to the city centre than Old Trafford, which alone puts a massive release on trams, trains and other public transport. They were still packed but a lot of people just walked the 30 minutes back into Manchester and the traffic on the way out of the city was fine. ***
A combination of praise and criticism here. A lot of what Man City are doing seems forced and fake. For all the history the club possesses they’ve leaned heavily into their recent history and success since the take-over. It almost feels like it’s a new club, establishing a new fanbase and working towards future generations. The traditional fans priced out, pushed aside and not part of the modern clubs global plans. The sheer number of tourists reflects this. **
Man City fans will be happy to learn they outscored Man Utd thanks to Old Trafford’s congestion issues and the expense involved in being a Utd fan. Where Utd (and Arsenal) are far superior is in building their history into the stadium. Seeing as Man City has a less exciting history, it’s easy to see why they’ve done what they’ve done here but it is palpable that the stadium and club is designed with new fans in mind. That said, it’s a very good ground, bar random nails sticking out of walls. They fall into this season’s table between Rotherham and Cambridge. Rotherham, another new ground, edging them on accessibility while Cambridge was a lovely old dump and right up my alley.