Those of you who know me will know two crucial facts. I follow Wigan Athletic when I’m not occupied with duties at Atherton Collieries or at Bolton Wanderers matches… and I came extremely close to being called Uwe Gibbons – of course after the man of the moment himself, Uwe Rosler. A conflict of interests or just an extremely confused teenage boy? Neither. I wanted reigning FA Cup champions Wigan to win.
My Dad is a Manchester City fan. Always has been, despite his first house as a boy being on Railway Road (which backs on to the Stretford End at Old Trafford). His first match saw his Uncle drag him along to Maine Road after he was asked who he supported. Not sure whether to say “City” or “United” he picked the blue side, much to the disappointment of my Grandad who is a red. Sitting by the corner flag at the match against Aston Villa, Mike Summerbee ruffled his hair as he prepared to take a corner and the rest is history.
There’s a video of me somewhere at the Neu Camp in 1999 being asked who the best team in the world are, to which I shout at the top of my voice “City!”. Then on the flipside I’ve been watching Wigan Athletic since 2002 when they were in League One… and I go to college a stones throw away from The DW Stadium. I was backing Wigan for the afternoon.
West Didsbury & Chorlton and Manchester City fan Rob McKay is a season ticket holder at The Etihad and when he asked me if I wanted to go to the match I took him up on the offer. My response was immediate and I didn’t even check what date it was on… not knowing it was my sister’s birthday. I did feel guilty, but Wigan had only scored twice at Manchester City in their history and I could sense that they were going to double this figure. So why was Rob so willing to let his ticket go for the visit of the mighty Latics? He was off to Barcelona to watch City in the Champions League just three days later and couldn’t make the match; fair enough.
It was a jam packed weekend of football for me. On Saturday I covered Harrogate Town v Solihull Moors for the Non-League Paper. Sunday it was Manchester City and then I was back down to earth with a bump on the Monday night as I watched Nelson thrash Oldham Boro 6-0 at Alder House in Atherton.
On the morning of the match I could strategically catch a lift “into town” without having to use the delightful Northern Rail service from Atherton as my Mum was off shopping. I still couldn’t find my railcard which had been missing since my exploits in Berlin and I refused to pay an extra pound. The sun was shining and The Courteeners were playing in the car; I could tell instantly that it was going to be a good day.
I got out of the car at Piccadilly and met Matt outside. There were Wigan fans everywhere and quite a lot of them were being subjected to heavy handedness from the local bouncers. I fail to see why. Keen to escape any rioting or possible arrest ourselves we decided to cross the road and join in the anti-fracking protest which was taking place in the middle of Piccadilly Gardens.
The idyllic noises of Salfordians shouting “Frack off Peel Holdings” bellowed around the concrete mess which Manchester Council have constructed in recent years whilst various whistles made samba-like tune which wouldn’t be out of place at the World Cup in Brazil.
Wanting to make the most of the inclement weather which had finally hit the North West we opted to stroll down to the newly renamed Etihad Campus. It reminded me of the rugby league Magic Weekend which took place at the stadium in 2011. Both the Saturday and Sunday saw temperatures hit 30 degrees. Okay, so it wasn’t as hot and I wouldn’t turn purple this time, but there was still the possibility of doing a conga line around the stadium with hundreds of pissed up Wiganers.
The last time I had seen a football match at The Etihad was when City took on Bayern Munich in their inaugural campaign in the UEFA Champions League. Since then, much has changed. A Metrolink line has been built and I have turned 18, meaning I can legally drink in pubs before matches. Going to matches with Matt has made me realise that visiting pubs is part of the cultural experience which we both love. He dragged me to The Corner Shop pub which he has visited on his travels with Swansea City.
I was a bit sceptical at first as we walked down the streets of Beswick which would look comfortable in an episode of Shameless. There was an abandoned ASDA trolley which contained the remnants from a great night out – four empty Special Brew cans. Despite my snobbery and initial doubts I loved The Corner Shop as I strolled in with my Manchester City shirt on. It was quite dark inside the pub, with two overhead projectors beaming the Sheffield United v Charlton Athletic match on to the walls. Boddingtons was on the tap and pies were being served, it was all we could have asked for.
Although Boddingtons is no longer made in Manchester it only made sense to indulge in a couple of pints before heading over to the ground. Just as I was ordering at the bar I was spotted by Wigan fan Megan (who I work with at Stoke City and go to college with). The look of horror on her face as she saw me wearing a City shirt made me think she’d never speak to me again, but I doubt it surprised her. I was hoping I could go the day without being spotted in a City shirt, but after that moment I didn’t care. Everybody knows I’m strange. Even Jake Humprey questioned me on why I was wearing a City shirt.
Jake, well known of course for his stint on CBBC, and more recently his Formula 1 coverage on the BBC replied to Matt when he exclaimed that he was a “lost Swansea City fan”. Jake seemed like a lovely bloke and soon joked that he was a “lost Norwich City fan”. I kind of killed the moment when I mentioned that I was a Bolton fan.
I had a photograph with the face of BT Sport just as Jason Roberts and Steve McManaman walked past. Roberts; who I used to watch play for Wigan looked far superior to his mate Steve who played 94 times for Real Madrid. We were pretty star struck and when we saw Frank Gallagher himself before Ian Cheeseman started playing a tambourine I was pretty sure that we’d had too much to drink. But no, it was all real. BBC Manchester’s very own Ian Cheeseman WAS on the stage outside the ground playing the tambourine. All we needed was Jack Dearden on bass and Ian Burke on his kazoo and we’d have had a full band.
I somehow thought the match was a 15:00 kick off and was perplexed when Matt dragged me to The Summerbee Bar at 14:45. I know he’s a fast drinker, but I was a bit concerned that we’d be cutting it short. It was only when I looked at the matchday programme that I realised I had totally cocked up and decided myself to have another pint of bitter in the glorious sunshine.
It was soon time to enter the ground. I’ve always been a critic of The Etihad, but credit to the owners, who have put a lot of time and effort into making the place a colourful representation of how all Premier League grounds should be. Everywhere was well designed and fans were socialising much like they were at Hertha Berlin when we went the previous month.
Desperately hoping that we didn’t have to scale up the iconic spirals at the stadium I glanced towards the ticket and my deepest fears were confirmed. I sat in the second tier a couple of times when Juventus and Red Bull Salzburg played at Eastlands, but I had never ventured into the third tier before. It was enough to send me dizzy. I did however get a good view of the other stadium which is being built at the moment and will soon play host to U21 matches – taking them away from Ewen Fields in Hyde.
The concourse was decked with memorabilia and was more than aesthetically pleasing. Bolton Wanderers have tried emulating the fantastic designs which are on show at City in the last couple of years, but to no avail. It will never be topped.
Taking our seats, we appeared to be in the only section of the stadium that was basking in sunshine. It made viewing slightly awkward, but who cared? It felt like summer was finally on it’s way! Four members of the 1976 League Cup winning side in Joe Corrigan, Tommy Booth, Tony Book and Peter Barnes led the two sides out in possession of the League Cup after City had defeated Sunderland at Wembley the previous week.
Manchester City had gone all continental on us and strolled out in their white tracksuit jackets whilst Wigan kept it plain and simple in their black and gold away kit. It was Premier League against Championship. Yaye Toure against Emerson Boyce, surely there was only going to be one winner. Well, who in the right frame of mind would write off current FA Cup champions Wigan? After all, they did beat City 1-0 in the final last season with that now famous Ben Watson goal.
Uwe Rosler emotionally came down the tunnel and received a standing ovation from everybody in the ground. There he was, the man I was so nearly named after. It would have been brilliant to be called Uwe Gibbons, then again, I wouldn’t be the only Uwe in Wigan at the moment. Rosler loves the City fans and he maintains that they helped him overcome his battle with cancer a few years ago. Maybe it was written that he’d win in front of his favourite set of fans.
In an interview with The Mirror, Rosler talked about his bond with the Manchester City fans.
“My mobile phone began to ring as I came out of a listless sleep. With wires in my arm, I was in my hospital bed recovering from the latest dose of chemotherapy and I barely had the strength to lift the handset.
“I picked it up and saw the name of an old friend from Manchester, Mark Buckley, displayed on the screen.
“He said, ‘Uwe, can you hear it? Listen to this…’
“He held his phone at arm’s length and I realised my friend was calling from the City of Manchester Stadium. The City fans were singing my name, and I could hear it echoing around the ground.
“They were willing me to beat the cancer and they had not given up on me.
“I ended the call and smiled for the first time in a long while. It was exactly what I needed.
“I had my wife, sons, family and close friends helping me. Now I had 46,000 Mancunians willing me back to health.
“With that kind of backing, how could I possibly fail?
“It was incredibly uplifting. I can’t express how much that meant.
“If I had a bond to the club [before], it became unbreakable at that moment and it’s something I’ll never forget.
Wigan had sold out their allocation and took up both tiers in the South Stand which is due to be expanded substantially soon. Along with the stadium expansion, the Family Stand which is opposite will also be expanded to keep The Etihad remaining symmetrical – phew!
There was talk of City resting some of their key players in anticipation of their trip to Barcelona in three days time. Regardless of this, the starting line-up still featured the likes of Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo and Yaya Toure whilst the bench contained David Silva and Edin Dzeko.
Wigan had the first opportunity of the match after just two minutes when James Perch shot just over the bar. A few moments later and Perch was involved again when he set Marc Antoine-Fortune free in the area.
City’s first chance only arrived on 22 minutes when Jesus Navas connected with a cross from Yaya Toure. Ivan Ramis almost put the ball past Scott Carson in the Wigan goal but the stopper who returned from injury for this fixture dealt with it well.
Aguero, Nasri and Negredo were then involved again as City looked to break the deadlock. It wasn’t to be though as the Latics took a shock lead just before the half hour mark. Marc Antoine-Fortune got the better of the much criticised Martin Demichelis before he was hauled down in the area. Jordi Gomez (who I still don’t rate as a penalty taker) stepped up and slotted the ball calmly past the huge imposing figure of Costel Pantilimon.
The sides went in for half time and you sensed Manuel Pellegrini would have to change his sides attitude in the second half if they were to progress into the semi-finals.
Nothing much happened at half time. Two women played a football related game to win tickets to see One Direction and I fell asleep, until I was awoken by the clapping when the two teams emerged back on to the field of play.
Straight from the restart Wigan were on the front foot again, and they soon doubled their lead after yet more slack defending from City. James McArthur surged down the left hand side before punting a low ball across the face of goal. Gael Clichy dallied and failed to deal with the danger, allowing James Perch to stab the ball home with an outstretched leg.
A minute later and it was nearly 3-0 when Fortune found himself through on goal. He tapped the ball past Pantilimon only to see it hit the post. It wouldn’t have mattered though as the linesman waved for offside.
Pellegrini then made his changes. All three at once. Navas, Negredo and Toure were replaced by Dzeko, Milner and Silva. They made an immediate impact as Wigan sat back on their 2-0 lead.
Dzeko came close to pulling a goal back when he headed Clichy’s cross on to the crossbar before Aguero then recorded the home sides first shot on target from the edge of the area.
Samir Nasri deservedly scored when he volleyed in a corner from the edge of the box into the bottom right hand corner. Suddenly, The Etihad became a theatre of noise and Wigan fans began to fear the worst. Micah Richards was centimetres away from equalising just two minutes later when he curled an effort in from 25 yards out.
Five minutes added time was signalled as Fortune broke through one-on-one with Pantilimon. He could have sealed the match for Latics, but it was a poor effort and a corner resulted. Wigan held out and recorded one of the more memorable FA Cup upsets of recent times.
I think I was the only person smiling in the home end come the final whistle. I don’t think I’d ever seen Wigan win away from home – bar when they travel to The Reebok and I support the Wanderers. ‘Oasis – Wonderwall’ was blasting out around The Etihad, but nobody wanted to sing.
That wasn’t the story down at the brand new Metrolink Station though, where the workers were in a happier mood. I suspect they were probably Manchester United fans as they allowed fans to sing songs down their megaphones. You’ve not lived until you’ve heard the Toure song done via megaphone at a Metrolink Station.
So, okay, I admit it. The Etihad is one of my favourite stadiums. It used to be boring, but since money has been injected it is one of the leading sports settings in the country. I’d definitely choose to go to a match at City over Old Trafford and that never used to be the case. Well done Sheikh Mansour. You may go against my ethics when it comes to football, but at least you look after your fans!
A huge thanks to Rob for the tickets!
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 18.4 miles
- ADMISSION: Free
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £3