The 2000s: This Week 2004-05

Continuing the weekly series on Manchester City’s seasons from 1999-2000 through to 2008-09. Each week I’ll be publishing here the story of a different season of that remarkable ten-year period. Today we have a 2,200 word article on the 2004-05 season (below).

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Starting Monday: The 2000s

Starting on Monday is a new weekly series on Manchester City’s seasons from 1999-2000 through to 2008-09. Each week I’ll be publishing an article here telling the story of a different season of that remarkable ten-year period. The series will start on Monday with an 8,800 word article on 1999-2000 and will end with the 2008-09 season. There will be a new season each week, following on chronologically.

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This series will be for subscribers to my website. It costs £20 a year to access everything on the site since creation in December 2020. That includes articles, history talks, videos, interviews & more. There’s also a monthly option below.

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MCFC & LFC: Attendance Malarky

For some reason whenever Manchester City and Liverpool are due to meet at the Etihad there’s quite a lot of nonsense said about attendances so I thought I’d best get some analysis done and post it here. It’s always nice to post the facts not the fiction, so here goes (some of this may surprise those who only listen to the negativity about Etihad crowds and the positivity about Anfield attendances, not the facts).

The general criticism City get is often about ’empty seats’. No club can boast that every single season ticket holder or fan who has bought a ticket attends every game for which they’ve bought the ticket, so inevitably there are ’empty seats’ at most games for all clubs. Family tragedy, illness, emergency, work commitments, travel problems etc. all contribute to missing fans. As we don’t have a system whereby you have to get a note from a family member to pass on to the club’s manager (it seems some think you do need to get permission!) if you’re going to miss a game it is impossible to have an accurate record of who simply cannot be bothered to attend, rather than a specific reason that stops them attending.

Personally, I think it’s all nonsense and I’d much rather focus on tickets sold as that is something that can be compared. So, here are some facts based on attendances at Anfield and the Etihad since City’s new stadium was built in 2003:

Since 2003 City have attracted a higher average attendance than Liverpool in all but 5 seasons. Some will say ‘ah, but the Etihad’s capacity has been larger than Anfield for most of that time’ and that is true, but that’s only significant if Anfield is a sell out every game. So it’s also worth looking at those seasons to see if Liverpool attendances show a full stadium or not.

Well, Anfield was not full every game. In fact Liverpool’s lowest home League crowd of the season has been lower than City’s in every season except five since 2003. Add to that that City’s lowest PL crowd at the Etihad since 2003 is higher than three of Liverpool’s home PL attendances. The four lowest individual League crowds experienced at either Anfield or the Etihad since 2003 are:

34,663 Liverpool v Portsmouth, 17/3/04 (ended the season 4th)

35,064 Liverpool v Portsmouth, 14/12/04 (ended the season 5th & Champions League winners)

35,400 Liverpool v Bolton, 1/1/11 (ended the season 6th)

35,776 City v Fulham, 18/11/06 (ended the season 14th)

That 34,663 Liverpool crowd was some 10,699 below capacity. Had the crowd been 44,163 (still less than season’s highest of 44,374) that would have added another 500 to Liverpool’s average attendance that season.

Away allocations and segregation impact on whether a stadium is full of course, but we can assume that an away allocation is approximately 3,000 for Premier League games. As Anfield’s stated capacity in 2003 was 45,362 (it was reported as 45,522 by 2010), it is fair to assume that the actual maximum number of tickets available to Liverpool fans is about 42,100. So any crowd less than that figure is not a sell out (assuming zero away fans – of course there could be a full away allocation and spaces elsewhere but for the purpose of this let us give Liverpool the benefit of the doubt and assume there are zero away fans).

In 2003-04 there were 6 League games at Anfield that attracted less than 42,100. As we’ve already seen Liverpool’s average could have increased by 500 had their lowest crowd been closer to the season’s highest, so imagine what the increase would have been had all these games been full.

That pattern is repeated in other seasons. In 2004-05 the average crowd at City was less than Liverpool’s stated capacity, and that season Anfield again officially had over 10,000 empty seats for their lowest League crowd of the season. Had they filled Anfield every game then they’d have attracted a higher average than City, but they didn’t.

In 2010-11 there were 6 games attracting less than 42,100 at Anfield with the lowest again officially having over 10,000 empty seats.

Of course City have also had over 10,000 empty seats for some games, though not since 24/8/2008 when 36,635 watched City v West Ham at a time when there were rumours of players’ wages not being paid and even the existence of the club was in doubt.

Anfield last officially had over 10,000 empty seats for a Premier League game in 2011 for the visit of Bolton.

Over the last decade both clubs have tended to enjoy capacity crowds for every game, subject to away allocations and segregation, but that is definitely not true for either club prior to that. I find it ridiculous that City receive so much inaccurate reporting of crowds when actual official figures paint a different picture.

Some will try to make out that official figures are incorrect but of course these things are audited and, in any case, when rival fans criticise City they tend to imply its attendances in recent years that are inaccurate. Yet when comparing Liverpool and City’s crowds it is clear that City were attracting better crowds than Liverpool twenty years ago and that Liverpool’s lowest official crowds were lower than City’s.

Oh, it’s all a load of codswallop. Those who attend games know the truth and the facts and evidence paint a picture somewhat different to those ‘Emptyhad’ and ‘Anfield’s always been full’ jibes aimed at City fans.

Pearce’s Blues

On this day (19 March) in 2005 Stuart Pearce managed Manchester City for the first time following the resignation of Kevin Keegan.  The game with Spurs ended in a 2-1 defeat with Reyna scoring for City at White Hart Lane. Pearce’s side went unbeaten for the rest of the season after this match.

Kevin Keegan Resigns; Stuart Pearce Becomes Manchester City Manager

Manchester City suffered a 1-0 home defeat by Bolton Wanderers on this day (7 March) in 2005 and this game ultimately led to a significant change to the then 12th placed Blues.  Years later, in an interview I did with him the City chairman John Wardle told me that Kevin Keegan, the City manager, took him to one side:  “There were nine games left and Kevin said ‘John, I can’t do any more for you’.  I didn’t believe him.  I thought it was a joke at first but with Kevin you knew when he was being serious.  He said ‘I know when I’m done and it’s only right that you put somebody else in’.  I sat there shell-shocked.  He said that if I wanted him to recommend someone he would.  He then recommended Stuart Pearce. 

“Stuart had already left Carrington and we had to call him back.  I spoke with him, then Kevin talked with him.  It was like a handover.  Kevin packed his bags and left.  We never saw him again at the training ground.  That’s Kevin.  Once he makes a decision to move on, he moves on.  Obviously, it stunned me on the day but I have to stress that I cannot speak highly enough about Kevin Keegan.  He’s a real football person and he also cares about people.”  

Keegan was hugely popular with fans and they recognised that he had been responsible for the second stage in City’s redevelopment following the disastrous mid-nineties.  They also felt that the departure of Nicolas Anelka in January was a sign that financial issues were having a severe impact on the Club.  The player was sold for a reported £7m to Fenerbahce.  At the time this was City’s record sale.  

It is fair to say that Keegan’s time brought a great deal of pride back to the Club.  Director Dennis Tueart felt that bringing Keegan in during 2002 was absolutely the right move for the Club. He told me:  “I knew he wouldn’t stay for years and years because I knew him.  He said to me in 1975 that he would never stay anywhere longer than about five years.  People told us he wouldn’t stay but I said if he can have control for a couple of years and get us out of this division then that’s fine.  That’s what we needed.  Let’s manage first things first and get out of this division.  If we can’t do that then what hope? So it was no surprise to me when he eventually left us.”

Former City and England captain Stuart Pearce guided the Blues through the final nine games of 2004-05, taking over on this day (11th March) in 2005.  Apart from a 2-1 defeat in his first game, the Blues were unbeaten until the end of the season.  This run included victories over Liverpool (1-0), Birmingham (3-0), Portsmouth (2-0) and Villa (2-1).  As a result Stuart Pearce was named the Barclays Premiership Manager of the Month for April.  The Club announced he was the first City manager to win the award since the birth of the Premier League.  That was not true – Alan Ball had, of course, previously won the award in 1995-96.

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Delia’s Day

On this day (28 February) in 2005 goals from Robbie Fowler (2) and Antoine Sibierski gave Manchester City a 3-2 victory at Norwich City, but the most newsworthy part of the night came when Norwich’s Delia Smith went on to the pitch at half time to encourage the home fans to make a bit of noise.  

She memorably called out: “A message for the best football supporters in the world: We need a twelfth man here. Where are you? Where are you? Let’s be having you! Come on!”

A lot of people in the media both then and in the years that have followed, criticised Delia but the truth is that she was exhibiting the type of passion and fervour for her club that many of us want to see. Maybe the manner was a bit too much but how great would it be if those in charge of our clubs could demonstrate similar passion?

Goalscoring Nationalities

Prior to this weekend’s game with Spurs, Manchester City have had players from 41 different nations score for the Blues in the Premier League. Can you remember them all? The following 1200 word article tells the story…

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Attendance Differences

I’ve been doing quite a bit of research into attendance figures this week and thought I’d share a couple of findings which may surprise some. There has been a lot of talk in recent years about certain clubs having ‘empty seats’ and I think many Manchester City fans will remember the Manchester Evening News feature where a young journalist used a red highlighter to circle every empty seat he saw at a particular game. This was challenged by fans, including myself, who questioned the time the image he utilised had been taken and the purpose of the article.

Since then fans of rival clubs have often pointed their finger at City and accused the club of having ‘empty seats’ at every game and so I’ve decided to look at the last 30 years and compare each top flight team. Obviously, I could compare average attendances and leave it at that, but as so many people talk about ‘empty seats’ I’ve decided to take a different approach and look at the difference between the highest crowd for each club in a season and that club’s average attendance. I’ve taken the highest attendance as this gets over any potential issue with the reported capacity of a ground.  

The average attendance for each club is inevitably lower than the highest crowd and with away support typically being about 3,000, any difference of a few hundred between the figures could simply be additional segregation for high profile games or maybe away allocations not selling out. Once we get into the thousands then that would suggest the home allocations have not sold out.

Comparing the highest crowd with the average may not necessarily be the best way to compare clubs but it does give an indication of how full a stadium is or not, so it fits with those who obsess about ‘empty seats’.

As well as comparing those figures I’ve also compared the highest crowd with the lowest crowd for each club. The difference between these attendances shows how many ‘empty seats’ (to use that awful phrase) a club has for certain games each season.

Okay, so what does all this show?  Well, I’ll be explaining more in another article soon but a few headlines to include here that may surprise some fans are:

  • Manchester City have generally had one of the ‘fuller’ stadia over the last 30 years since the Premier League was established, even during seasons when the Blues were out of the top division.
  • In 2000-01 (a relegation season for City) the difference between City’s highest crowd and average attendance was 571 and the difference between their highest and lowest crowds was 2576. At Liverpool the equivalent differences were 1,107 and 6,332, meaning that typically there were about twice as many ‘empty seats’ at Anfield than at City and that the worst attended League fixture at Anfield had 6,332 less people at it than their best. At Everton the differences were even greater: 6,130 between highest and average with 12,590 the difference between the highest and lowest attended games. Aston Villa’s figures were even more extreme.
  • In 1998-99 (City’s only season in the third tier) some games were, quite frankly, poorly attended when compared with the best in the Premier League but remember this was the 3rd tier. Those crowds were extraordinary for that league. City fans often believe the ground sold out every week but sadly it didn’t and the difference between City’s best crowd and worst attendance was 8,180, which seems excessive. However, comparing this to the Premier League clubs of the era or today’s giants shows that some had even greater differences. For example, Aston Villa (9,682 difference), Everton (9,828), Leeds (10,243), Liverpool (8,833), Wolves (9,109) and so on. Ultimately, City’s figures in the third tier were absolutely astounding compared to some of those clubs who were in the Premier League or 2nd tier.
  • In 2004-05 the difference between City’s highest and lowest attendances was 4,768. Aston Villa’s was 11,281; Everton’s was 8,146; Leeds’ was 9,911; Leicester was 8,982; Liverpool’s was 9,160 etc.

These are just a few examples of attendance analysis I’m currently performing and there is so much more to say. Often fans of some clubs will say that the capacity of their stadium limits attendances and there is obviously truth in that, but if a club’s lowest attendance is almost 9,000 lower than their best (as with Liverpool in 2004-05) then the capacity of the stadium is not an issue on that day. A few hundred and it’s an issue, but almost 9,000?  

Watch this space for more information over the coming months. The whole ‘empty seats’ accusations are ridiculous and statistics show that all clubs have experienced this phenomenon on occasion during the Premier League era.

Bradley’s First

On this day (6 December) in 2004 Bradley Wright-Phillips marked his first League appearance with an 80th minute goal for Manchester City against Middlesbrough. I won’t bother mentioning the final score but you can watch highlights of the game here if you want: