Monday 28 August 2023

‘Richer than God’ - did David Conn call it right about Man City and football in 2012?


The only time I ever really get the time to properly read books is on holiday. I can’t dip in and out, I need to be engrossed. I usually take a few with me and then work my way through them. I wrote this on a short recuperation break in Opio, southern France. 

A decade ago, someone bought me Richer than God. A book looking at the rise of Manchester City under the oil rich Shieks of Abu Dhabi. It’s written by respected journalist David Conn. Conn grew up a City fan in Manchester, also playing the game for fun. I think his former Guardian colleague Kevin McCarra (rip), a mate of mine may have given me the book. Kevin was a friend and a football writer at the Guardian. Knowing I was a City fan and blogger, it was the sort of book he’d recommend. It not only looks at City, but explores his relationship with the club from his time as a child in the 70’s visiting Maine Road.

He also explains how he fell out of love with City, as he realised that for the owners, it was a business and the fans took no part in their machinations. Another thread is the decline of Manchester as an industrial power and the efforts of the council to live with the constraints of Thatcherism. It also explores the bleak early years of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition.

The book ends with City’s triumph in 2011/12 with the Aguero moment. As a City fan, the book is harrowing. The reminder of the years of abject failure, the awful owners, the false dawns, the discarded talents, the broken dreams. Some of the revelations about the ineptitude of previous owners are beyond belief. When Abu Dhabi took over, City didn’t even have an HR department. 

Eleven years on, UEFA and Premier League investigations, the decline of United, the regeneration of Manchester, which is now a very different City to the 70’s and is vibrant and confident. The decline of United in acrimony.  At the time of

Writing United were still the top club in England. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the mess that they’ve become. Whilst everyone expects the Glaziers to eventually go and the ship to be steadied, what if they end up with a forward with Franny scenario?

As to City, the owners have surely answered most of the questions about their long term commitment. I genuinely think most City fans would prefer a system where clubs were all fan owned and any well managed team stood a chance of honours. I do however also think they recognise the reality of World football. Most City fans see the corruption of UEFA and FIFA and do not see them is fit to arbitrate on anything. They see the hypocrisy of other clubs, campaigning against City whilst planning European super leagues. I think most City fans take the view that in a very imperfect world we have the best owners we could hope for.

David also talks of his love of playing. I played five a side until recently, when an injury put paid to it. For me the rise of facilities such as Powerleague, where you can play on decent floodlit pitches all year round was a godsend. I totally get the comments he made about grassroots football, which I’ve been saying for years on this blog. As a shareholder and season ticket holder of Hadley FC, I love non league football. Watching Hadley has become a big part of my life.

Where I have to disagree with David is on falling out of love with City. I still feel sick when they loose and elated when they win. Like most gnarled old City fans, I’m just waiting for the FA to demote us, the owners to leave and a new wilderness era as Utd once again reign supreme. The feeling that it will all go wrong is always there.

In truth though, that is not the real threat to City or the Premier League. Globalism is. The recent advent of the Saudi League, where good players are being siphoned off is one of the warnings of a change in the wind. Whilst the Champions League is the premier club competition, the dominance of European football is assured, but I don’t believe that is as secure as we believe. I could see a situation where the oil rich nations set up a rival global league and greedy clubs jump ship.This is the payoff of global ownership.

And finally a few words about David’s social commentary. That is of its time. The coalition ended, we got Brexit and Boris. To me the coalition was like getting a splinter and Brexit and Boris were the progression to Sepsis.It is hard to feel positive about the U.K. with a failing NHS, and a failed political system. I don’t think David’s most dire predictions of 2012 could sum up the mess we are in.

I’m glad I stuck with City, it’s been about the only good thing in the country in the last 13 years

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