Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Why City's win is good for Manchester

Vincent Kompany beats Chris Smalling in the air to score what could be Manchester City's most important ever goal.

On 14th May 2011, Manchester United drew 1-1 with Blackburn Rovers to win an unprecedented 19th league title - one more than local rivals Liverpool. Later that day, Manchester City beat Stoke City 1-0 to win the FA Cup - ending a 35 year run without a major trophy. Two weeks later United lost 3-1 to Pep Guardiola's Barcelona in the final of the Champions League, the final game of a season in which Manchester City had broken into the Premiership's top four for the first time (Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool having dominated the league in 1998, 2004, 2006-2009) and Manchester United were widely considered part of a European top three (along with Barcelona and Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid).

As Premier League champions and Champions League finalists, the balance of power was still firmly with United but there was a growing sense of inevitability that this was about to change. Expectations had been high ever since City were taken over by Sheik Mansour's Abu Dhabi United Group in September 2008. High profile signings followed:

  • Robinho for £32.5m from Real Madrid in September 2008.
  • Nigel De Jong for £18m from Hamburg in January 2009.
  • Carlos Tevez from Manchester United in July 2009.
  • Yaya Toure for £24m from Barcelona in July 2010.
  • David Silva from Valencia in July 2010.
  • Mario Balotelli for €22m from Inter Milan in August 2010.
  • Edin Dzeko for £27m from Wolfsburg in January 2011.
  • Sergio Aguerro for £38m from Atletico Madrid in July 2011.
  • Samir Nasri for £25m from Arsenal in August 2011.

Mark Hughes was ruthlessly replaced by Roberto Mancini in December 2009, City's ambitions having been best reflected with chairman Gary Cook's infamous quote from back in August 2008 ['Richard Dunne doesn't exactly roll off the tongue in Beijing'] about the relationship between modern football and globalisation. In July 2011 the City of Manchester Stadium was renamed 'the Etihad'.

Red or blue - a map of Greater Manchester showing which parts of the region support United and which support City.
The balance of power really began to shift when United were beaten 6-1 at home on 23rd October, a memorable day for City fans, but there were lots more twists and turns in store for the champions and the contenders who've been battling each other for the top spot throughout the season. Steven Pienaar's equaliser for Everton in their 4-4 draw with United on 22nd April meant that City needed a win to go top on goal difference with two matches left to play. The 30th April derby was dubbed the most important game in the Premier League's 20 year history. The fact that City won 1-0 in a close game makes Vincent Kompany's winning goal all the more momentous. In a split second the balance of power shifted dramatically, watched on TV by a global audience of around 650 million.

As a United fan I was disappointed with the result [If you were born in 1984, grew up in Prestwich and went to a Catholic school, then the chances are you're a red.] - but as someone who feels passionately about Manchester and its history, I can't help thinking that this was the best thing that could have happened for the city itself (as opposed to City with a capital C). Vincent Kompany was right when he said that the Manchester derby is the most important match in the world after El Classico. [Although perhaps the Milan derby edges the others in terms of the history of the two clubs.] City's win comes at an important time for Manchester, as it prepares to open the National Football Museum in Urbis, which it's hoped will become a major tourist attraction. Manchester is a football city. [If Chelsea win the Champions League this year, hardly anyone in London will bat an eyelid.] Footballing success brings benefits to the city in terms of extra investment, regardless of whether it's United or City who win. At the moment it's arguably more important for City to be successful because of the investments they're making, both in the team and in the local sports infrastructure, and in terms of Manchester's global brand as a city with not one but two of the top clubs in world football.

The National Football Museum is relocating to Manchester's iconic Urbis building, where it will open on 6th July.

I wrote the main posts for this site back in June and August 2011 because I wanted to explore the history of Manchester. The city's narrative is often reduced to (1) the world's first industrial city, former centre of the cotton industry; (2) gained prominence for its music scene in the 1980s (and gun crime in the 1990s); (3) failed Olympic bids in 1990 and 1993 followed by IRA bomb in 1996 laid the groundworks for extensive urban regeneration; (4) successful football team, one of the most globally recognised brands. People from abroad always associate the city mainly with the football team, sometimes with its industrial and musical heritage but are rarely aware of the Peterloo Massacre, the birth of inter-city rail travel, the suffragettes, Ernest Rutherford's discovery of the atomic nucleus, the first computer with stored memory, Coronation Street or the Gay Village.

I'm a big fan of the historian Niall Ferguson - in Empire, he urged his readers to admire or take pride in Britain's impact on the rest of the world [similarly, I would urge mine to take pride in Manchester's]. This site is named The Ascent of Manchester as a tongue-in-cheek homage to Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man but I got the idea from reading the afterword of Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money in August 2009. In Civilisation, Ferguson identifies six 'killer apps' which helped the West conquer the rest of the world - he then challenges his readers to come up with other 'killer apps' that could make the top six. In imagining the history of Manchester as a series of twelve key events (following on from Ford Madox Brown's Manchester Murals), I would also challenge readers to agree/disagree with me on the events which should make the final twelve. Would you for example include the first episode of Coronation Street in 1960 in place of the first performance of Shelagh Delaney's 'A Taste of Honey' in 1958? Perhaps you think the opening of the Hacienda in 1982 is more significant for the history of the city than the release of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures in 1979? Do you think the IRA bomb of 1996 had a bigger impact on the city than the failed Olympic bid of 1993? I had to think long and hard about the final twelve but here they are:

1. The Peterloo Massacre (1819)
2. The opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (1830)
3. The abolition of the Corn Laws (1846)
4. Abraham Lincoln addresses the working people of Manchester (1863)
5. The opening of the Manchester Ship Canal (1894)
6. Ernest Rutherford discovers the atomic nucleus (1909)
7. L.S. Lowry paints Coming from the Mill (1930)
8. The first successful running of the Small-Scale Experimental Machine (1948)
9. The first performance of Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey (1958)
10. Manchester United become the first English club to win the European Cup (1968)
11. Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures is released on Factory Records (1979)
12. Manchester bids for the Olympics (1993)

*I should point out that whilst I've spent a long time researching the history of the city, the posts were written in a hurry and may need to be revised and expanded. For example, I feel I haven't written enough about the fact that in 1965 bands from Manchester had three successive number one singles in America - Freddie and the Dreamers' 'I'm Telling You Now'; Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders' 'Game of Love'; and Herman's Hermits' 'Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter' (which is not to mention the success the Hollies also achieved in America).

Manchester is an amazing city and I would encourage anyone to visit and invest in the area. The Museum of Science and Industry, the National Football Museum, the People's History Museum, CUBE (the Centre for the Urban Built Environment), the Manchester Art Gallery, the Lowry Centre, Old Trafford, the Etihad Stadium, the Beetham Tower, the Royal Exchange, the Gay Village, Chinatown, the Curry Mile, Spinningfields, the Arndale Centre, the Trafford Centre... all are worth visiting. The Virgin Pendolino service allows you to make the journey up from London Euston in just over two hours. Manchester Airport is one of the busiest in Europe and hosts the Airbus A380. Manchester University continues to go from strength to strength. The re-formation of the Stone Roses and their huge homecoming gigs at Heaton Park (planned for June 2012) have focused attention on the city's proud musical heritage. Films 24 Hour Party People (2002), Closer (2007) and Looking for Eric (2009) all capture something important about the city and its people. This site is about the history of the city but it's important to realise that the city has incredible potential for future development. As David Ottewell pointed out recently (in the context of the ongoing MediaCity BBC relocation debate), 'to attack Manchester as some sort of backwater is as ludicrous as attacking Berlin, Brussels or Milan' - a sentiment this site thoroughly applauds and Vincent Kompany's winning goal reflects.

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