I was present at the Etihad on Saturday night for the latest Soccer Aid fundraiser. It was my first experience of attending Soccer Aid, although I have watched it each year on television of course. It was also the first time it was staged at the Etihad after previously being held at Old Trafford, Wembley and Stamford Bridge.
It was a great event and it was wonderful to see some highly successful former Premier League players like Pablo Zabaleta and Wayne Rooney on the same pitch as entertainers, musicians and reality stars.
Inevitably the crowd was also mixed with many regular football attendees present together with others who came to perhaps their first match as they were fans of one of the celebrities, or maybe they simply wanted to support the charity appeal. It actually created a good atmosphere with certain stars getting great support. The Manchester rapper Aitch was certainly popular, as was singer YUNGBLUD, YouTuber Chunkz and singer Olly Murs.
Due to chance I ended up in a great place to see the Rest of the World players as they arrived at the stadium and you could see the delight on the faces of many of the players as they arrived at the Etihad. Line of Duty’s Martin Compston seemed to be taking in every moment – as he did during the game.
Obviously, the quality of football varied but it was great entertainment. I thought singer James Bay played well. Chelcee Grimes seemed to set up Lee Mack for significant attempts on three occasions – a couple of which Mack fluffed – and she did some of the work before Mack finally scored. The other goals were both scored by Love Island’s Kem Cetinay and the Rest of the World won 3-0.
There are videos and match reports out there so I won’t go through any of that but I do want to say that it was a somewhat surreal experience at times. Most will know that ITV did a Masked Singer like reveal for the Soccer Aid mascot. Before the second half started his head was removed to chants from the crowd of ‘Take it off’ and it turned out it was entertainer Stephen Mulhern. He then played a few minutes in costume (without costme head) and it did seem odd seeing footballers like Paul Scholes in the same team as a costumed sidekick to Ant & Dec. However the majority of children – and many adults – in the stadium loved the pantomime of it all and his name was chanted at times.
For me the whole night was about raising funds and providing some entertainment. It wasn’t meant to be a major clash between two of the world’s strongest footballing teams and, for those reasons, I think anything that adds to the entertainment value of those in the stadium is fine.
When we watch these things we want to see if the former footballers have still got it; whether that reality star or the people who talk about the game really can play; whether the comedian is doing it for laughs and so on.
At the end of the game the players did a lap of honour and by the end of it YUNGBLUD and Olly Murs had given away their shorts to fans. Earlier, during the match, there was a great moment when Aitch was substituted for Max Whitlock. Aitch took off his shirt and handed it to a boy in the stands. He then signed it for the lad and the boy was delighted. He put on the shirt and Aitch took his place on the bench. Within only a few minutes Mo Farrar had to come off through injury and they decided to send Aitch back on. He shouted across to the lad to give him back his shirt but fortunately another shirt appeared and Aitch could get on the pitch. It was one of those typical testimonial style moments.
Soccer Aid is of course a worthy charity and can be supported via donations here:
Congratulations and thanks to everyone involved. This was a nice, positive and well supported event. Important work too!
On a personal level I thought the Etihad stadium looked fantastic on the night and it certainly added to the occasion. Hopefully, Soccer Aid will return there next year. As well as the entertainers on the pitch there were also several ‘faces’ in the stands including, a few rows behind me, Shaun Ryder. It was great to see the event supported in this way.
On Saturday May 29 2021 I attended the Champions League final in Porto. Despite the result (a 1-0 victory by Chelsea) it was a wonderful experience and so I’ve decided to post here my story of the weekend. I know every one of us who attended had a different experience but I hope this gives those who were unfortunately not able to be there a taste of what the trip was like.
If you did attend and would like to talk about your experiences then please post them as comments to this piece or participate in the City Voices project and submit your memories. See this page for details:
Porto 2021 was always going to be a historical moment in the history of Manchester City but, because of Covid and the worldwide situation, it was one of the most challenging finals to stage, participate in and attend. All of us who travelled to Porto had to have numerous covid tests (and I have seen on the Bluemoon forum that some fans on various official and unofficial flights have received news that they need to isolate– I feel for anyone on there in this situation).
Fans travelling on the official day trip were told that if they took a Covid PCR test after 1pm on Thursday that should see them through for the journey out, stadium entry and return journey as a test had to be performed for each of these within 72 hours. I was flying out on Friday and returning on Sunday so initially I arranged for my PCR test to occur after 1pm with a company called Dam. At the time of booking they guaranteed that the result would be with me before midnight on the day of the test so that seemed fine but then, on the Bluemoon forum, fans were talking about a change in Dam’s level of service which meant results were no longer guaranteed that same day. Instead 24 hours was being stated by Dam, though when I discussed this with their helpline even the 24 hours could not be guaranteed. Panic followed!
I eventually moved my test to Wednesday afternoon and booked another via the Official Supporters Club offer with Blindspot which I intended dropping off at Bar Pop on Friday morning on my way to Manchester airport.
The Dam test came back on Thursday, meaning I could fly out, and I dropped off the second test at Bar Pop on my way to the airport. There were a few issues at Dam with the booking but eventually everything was sorted. The Supporters Club/Blindspot test and drop off went really well (though the Day 2 return test result has still not arrived – we’re on Day 5 at the moment) and I am grateful to those involved for sorting this all out. You did an excellent job at short notice and in a pressured environment. Thanks.
After leaving Bar Pop I travelled to the airport, making a detour to take a look at Maine Road and surrounding areas. Somehow it seemed appropriate that this journey to the most significant European final the club has ever been involved with should include a brief look at the site of so many wonderful moments over the decades. I saw my first European match at Maine Road (which also staged the first European Cup game ever played in England as well!) in the early 70s.
At the airport everything went smoothly and I was delighted when I realised that I would be flying out on the Etihad Manchester City plane. I had received an invitation from the club (for which I will be eternally grateful and I know how lucky I am) and to experience that flight, while seeking to chronicle this landmark historical moment, added enormously to the occasion. Thanks to those involved (you know who you are. Thanks).
The flight included several former players, officials and key figures in the club’s development. Knowing City’s history, personalities, and key moments I recognise that it was no mean feat to have some of these on the same flight. It was remarkable that City remembered and acknowledged the contribution made by these people, which included Chris Bird, Garry Cook, Paul Dickov, Brian Horton, Francis Lee, Andy Morrison, Ian Niven, Dennis Tueart and Alex Williams. Others, including Pablo Zabaleta joined the group in Porto and stayed at the same hotel.
Once in Porto it was great to see so many City fans in and around the city, especially the historic area near the river. Over the weekend I bumped into several friends and faces from my City-supporting life including Jon Bell (Colin’s son), Howard Burr (and other Reddish Blues), Geoff Homer, Will Perry, John Stapleton, Kate Themen (one of the original Manchester City Women/Ladies players who played with my wife back in the late 80s and she was a drummer with The Fall), Dave Wallace, Steve Welch and of course lots of City staff.
On Friday night I was invited to a club event which saw most of the official party board boats at the riverside for a cruise. We had to walk through many crowds of Blues to board the boats and it was great to see and hear fans bursting into song whenever they saw Morrison, Dickov, Zabaleta and other members of the group.
The boats then dropped us off at a venue where City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak made a brilliant, heartfelt speech about his journey with Manchester City, recalling the moment he was asked by HH Sheikh Mansour to become chairman and his first day in Manchester when he was taken to Carrington, Platt Lane and the stadium. He talked with real passion for the club, its people and the fans. He recognised the history of the club and the journey that we’ve been on paying particular attention to some of the people who had helped along the way, including many of the officials and former officials in the room, as well as fans of course.
There was also a speech by CEO Ferran Soriano about the development of the City Football Group and a video was played about the Champions League journey over the last decade.
DJ Yoda put together an excellent mix of City related music, videos etc. including the recent footage of Pep and his cigar (if you don’t know what I mean do a few internet searches, it will soon appear). It was a definite highlight and something that added a bit of humour to the event too.
Saturday was of course match day. I spent some time in the City Fanzone, where I chatted to a few longstanding Blues I know, but also time around the city. Close to the bars at the historic centre there was a small group of local musicians going around playing City chants/songs such as ‘Singing the Blues’ and Blue Moon. Fans were joining in and it seemed quite bizarre hearing these musicians belt out most of the words to ‘Singing the Blues’, hoping to engage a few fans. A little later, as I wandered further down the river I spotted the same musicians doing similar with Chelsea chants/songs – you’ve got to admire their entrepreneurial skills! I can imagine them on the night the final was moved to Porto rushing to the internet to seek out MCFC & CFC songs. They must have made a few Euros from us all.
The entire atmosphere, as far as I could see and experienced, was positive with City and Chelsea fans enjoying being there. Personally, this was my first trip outside of England and Wales since November 2019 (when I talked at a film festival in St Gallen about the Bert Trautmann film I was a consultant on and then met up with a few Blues in Zurich). It was great to be outside of the UK and wonderful to finally get to see other human beings and to share an experience with fellow City fans.
I loved the way former players like Paul Dickov, Andy Morrison, Pablo Zabaleta and Shay Given were spotted by fans who, without fail, would burst into a chant or song about them. Some were mobbed too of course. At one point, I saw a group of fans opposite our hotel do an impromptu Poznan which I know was loved by the former players and staff who saw it.
Porto seemed like a fairly normal environment. Obviously, like all those attending I tried to ensure I kept to the usual social distancing rules and wore my face mask etc. but this was not always possible, especially when queuing to get into the stadium. I know others were on crowded buses too.
In comparison with the League Cup final at Wembley, it did feel as if UEFA had picked the wrong stadium. Looking around the venue it also made me realise how fantastic the Etihad Stadium is. We take it for granted but our facilities are considerably better than the majority of venues.
If we consider all the extra requirements placed on fans then UEFA definitely picked the wrong stadium and it seems so obvious, particularly with some of the stories coming from Chelsea and City fans about being told to isolate on their return, that the final should have been held in the UK.
The decision to stage the game at Porto was made exceptionally late and, because of this, both clubs were unable to prepare in the way they would have liked. I am aware from City personnel of the short notice they received about tickets, travel and so many other logistical areas. I can only admire the work they have done and the efforts they made to ensure they could get fans to the final and back again. Inevitably, there will be some who had issues (I’m aware of the delays to flight 12 which, from what I hear, has created a sort of Dunkirk spirit amongst those involved) but I do think the ordinary staff and management at City deserve praise for all they did.
As I arrived at the stadium on the coach, which had been delayed due to a traffic accident, we saw Jeremy Clarkson rushing down towards the turnstiles.
Security seemed tight and men and women were separated into different queues with somewhat zealous security types objecting to many, many items. Inflatable bananas, lipsticks, perfumes and many other items were cast aside before intrusive searches were performed (it reminded me of Leeds away back in 1983!). After security we got into the ground with about fifteen minutes to spare.
The Marshmello video was shown; the UEFA anthem was played (City fans started booing it and the volume seemed to be turned up to drown out the booing!); fireworks went off and then we were ready.
The game itself… Ah, I think we all know how we feel about that. I was on a coach going to the ground, close to a couple of former players when the team news came through. I read it out to those around me and one of the former players immediately asked about Fernandinho. He described how things would go and predicted the result immediately. Sad to say, he called it spot on. He wasn’t the only one of course.
The segregation in some areas of the ground seemed somewhat questionable. I was in level one on the side opposite the tunnel, close to the corner. On both sides at that level there seemed to be alternate Chelsea then City blocks. The block I was in was close to the main Chelsea end (to our right as we looked at the pitch) and there was another Chelseablock to our left. The same seemed to occur in the opposite stand. Why UEFA did this I don’t know but common sensewould say that these blocks should’ve had all Chelsea closest to Chelsea fans and all City closest to City fans with genuine neutral blocks in the middle (like Wembley does for major finals).
There were no major issues where I sat but we did feel somewhat drowned out by celebrating Chelsea fans from the moment the goal was scored.
At the end of the game Fernandinho came over to the section I was in; climbed over the barriers and hugged his son. Understandably, they were both emotional and the sight of a player searching for his son so that he could comfort him really got to me. As a parent seeing your child upset is one of the hardest things to experience and I loved how in this moment Fernandinho was not a footballer, he was a dad. Other players, including Ederson and Kyle Walker also came over to console family members.
I think we all saw how emotional our team was, especially Sergio. Like all fans I wish his City journey had ended with Champions League success.
As soon as it seemed right I left the stadium, went to my coach and waited to travel back to the city centre. I was invited back to a post-game event where the mood was understandably and appropriately muted. Wingman (Nigel Clucas), who had worked hard in the fanzone earlier in the day, got the mood spot on by playing The Smiths ‘Heaven knows I’m Miserable Now’; The Cure ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and similar songs. Wingman did an excellent job that day and must have been exhausted.
The next morning we boarded our coaches and headed back to the airport. Both check in and security were somewhat time-consuming but, to be fair, many staff at the airport had probably been overworked for much of the night.
Compared to Porto, security at Manchester airport seemed a doddle (so long as the correct documentation had been completed beforehand) and within minutes of arriving at security I was on my way home.
Since then I have performed my Day 2 covid test, as required, and sent that off. Now, on day 5, I am still waiting for the results. From many Blues I’ve heard from it does seem like this part of the process is failing and may be something the Government needs to address if they expect UK residents to do these tests when they return from holiday overseas over the coming months.
There’s been the news that Portugal has now been removed from the UK Government’s green list. The cynic would say that the decision to stage the final in Porto influenced the decision to make Portugal a green list country in the first place. For me I don’t know what political decisions have been made and how they’ve been influenced but it does seem somewhat odd. Of course, we all know that logically a final between two English clubs which would see in excess of 12,000 travelling from the UK in the middle of a pandemic should have been staged in the UK. UEFA can say all it wants about fans being at the heart of the game but the bottom line was that the final was staged outside of the UK for the benefit of UEFA officials, sponsors and their friends. If they really wanted to help fans it would have been staged in the UK.
Ah well… Politics, hey?
So Chelsea won the trophy and while the result was a painful one for City fans it must be stressed that Chelsea are one of Europe’s elite and have now won more European trophies than Manchester United. In fact they are the second most successful British club in Europe after Liverpool and, like City, they won a major European trophy BEFORE Liverpool, Juventus and many other clubs. Chelsea’s fans, like City, have seen some dark days (most notably in the 80s) and we should all remember that their development, since the investment, is a few years ahead of City’s. If their achievements in Europe are an indicator of progress then clearly City are not too far behind.
Finally, I know this has been a lengthy piece but I just wanted to throw a few thoughts, memories and comments down. If you’re one of the people who managed to get to Porto I hope you managed to enjoy it despite the result. I was extremely fortunate this year (this is the first time I have ever been a guest of any football club for an away fixture and I know how lucky I was – I will never forget it).
Here’s to the next major final featuring Manchester City who, let’s face it, have won more trophies in 2020-21 than any other English club and have been incredible champions. It could be argued that the ONLY club that stopped them from winning all four major trophies was Chelsea (though Leicester may have in the FA Cup final of course) and they are the European champions.