Eyes struggling to open, banging headache and a bedroom filled with the smell of takeaway food and stale beer. It was mid-afternoon in Atherton and I was recovering from a heavy night following another Collieries win. I scrambled for my mobile to see the time when I noticed I had a number of texts. These ranged from “How are you feeling after last neet?” to”I’ve got you a ticket for Manchester City EDS v Borussia Monchengladbach.”
That’s nice, I thought, before I turned over and went back to sleep for another three hours.
The latter text had arrived from Rob McKay, Manchester City season ticket holder and West Didsbury & Chorlton club secretary. City were apparently giving away free tickets to club members, with a maximum of six per person. In Rob’s usual selfless manner he sorted his mates out with tickets, meaning that a night out with him, Matt and Aaron was soon on the cards.
Not only could I get to see a proper European Hipster side in Borussia Monchengladbach but it also gave me the opportunity to visit one of the newest grounds in the country. The Academy Stadium only opened in January when the Manchester City EDS (posh name for a reserve side) beat Schalke 5-1 in typically cold weather, with a blizzard acting as a curtain raiser.
The Academy Stadium forms part of the impressive and ever expanding Etihad Campus which is slowly turning into a metropolis. The ambitious plans to regenerate wasteland around the Etihad Stadium seemed slightly ambitious when they were released in 2011, but four years on the extra training facilities and Academy Stadium are very impressive and fit seamlessly into the area.
“We are building a structure for the future, not just a team of all-stars” was the outlandish statement from owner Sheikh Mansour in 2008. This was at the same time I saw an average Manchester City lose 2-1 at Wigan Athletic, who now find themselves in League One. It was also a time when their in form player was Stephen Ireland, followed on paper at least, by recent signing Robinho.
There were glimpses of the future of Manchester City that afternoon in Wigan. Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany were starting in one of their first matches for the club, while a young Joe Hart was flirting with a regular first team spot following the departure of Andreas Isaksson. Players have been and gone since then. Ched Evans for example was City’s substitute that afternoon, replacing Robinho in an attempt to salvage a point from the game. So much has changed.
The club are now amongst the biggest in the world. They have sister clubs in America, Australia and Japan and there seems to be no stopping. Even the Etihad Stadium has been expanded, opening it’s brand new South Stand last week meaning the ground now holds 55,097.
While many will criticise Manchester City, saying that they have bought their way to success and better infrastructure, they also need to realise the contribution they have given to the local area. Before the arrival of the Commonwealth Games in 2002, this part of the city was a brownfield site in much need of some inspiration and development. Yes, Manchester City Council have given them a helping hand, but the last few years have seen the football club carry on this great work.
City studied 70 different facilities across all sports in Europe, the USA and Australia, and went through 19 different designs before settling on this one. More than 450 academy players use the facilities every week, with on-site educational facilities. To add to the community feel of the Campus, there is also a high school and a college.
So, with all of Manchester City’s teams now using facilities at the Etihad Campus, what happens to Platt Lane and Carrington? Platt Lane has now been taken over by Manchester Metropolitan University and is still used by Manchester Premier Division side Manchester Gregorians, while Carrington has been passed on to League One side Bury.
I had seen the Academy Stadium gradually being built over the last year, so I was really looking forward to finally visiting the place. I finished work and caught the 15:45 train to Manchester Victoria from Atherton. As I ran down the station steps at Atherton, NWCFL committee member Clipper was chuckling to himself with his wife. I had the last laugh when they got off at Salford and realised they had left their umbrella on the bench at Atherton.
Matt was still at home in Salford when I arrived in Manchester while Rob and Aaron were both still at work. I was a bit lost on my own. Over the last couple of months while I have been at home, I have been used to always being with somebody, but it was time to fend for myself once again. Did I go and waste some time in the Football Museum, or did I go to the pub?
Mazing through the roadworks and new tramlines that are being constructed, I waded through the mud and puddles to the Oyster Bar. I had missed my Taddy Lager in recent weeks, so thoroughly enjoyed having a pint of it until Matt arrived. From there, we walked up to Shudehill and to Bar Fringe on Swan Street. Full of different Belgian beers, there were scenes of jubilation when we found out they had a lot of Jupiler in the fridge.
It had been a year since Matt and I had fallen in love with the drink when we were in Belgium so we had a few bottles during our stint in Fringe. Soon Aaron joined us, before we left for a change of scene. It was a lot busier in Wetherspoons in the Printworks where Rob and his Dad were already on the famous West Didsbury drink of Krombacher. Cans of Sweet Action were being flogged for just 99p a can before they become discontinued; good times.
This was where my evening took a turn for the worst. Having downed two cans of Sweet Action we headed out to Shudehill to catch the Metrolink up to the Etihad Campus. Naturally, I assumed that getting on the next tram to Piccadilly would provide us with more services to the correct side of the network. My companions had other ideas.
“That’s the wrong tram!” shouted Aaron as I hopped on a service to Piccadilly. As I turned around to see him, I slipped and whacked my knee on the floor. Unable to move due to pain and laughter, I was lying on the floor as the doors shut behind me. So not only had I hurt myself, but I was now on the wrong tram and I had the embarrassing moment of travelling at slow speed past a host of onlookers who were still stood on the platform.
I alighted the tram at Market Street and caught up with everybody else a few moments later. I was careful this time; I didn’t slip. My problems didn’t stop there though, as when we arrived at the Etihad Campus I got out of my seat to get off the tram only to be pulled back as apparently it was the wrong stop. I clearly did no research ahead of my journey and didn’t realise the nearest stop was the Velopark.
Crossing over the road, the only turnstile in operation was directly next to the Metrolink stop. No sooner had I stepped in the ground I was told off for taking photographs by the fluorescent nazi’s who were out in full force for this minor event in the world of Manchester City. “I know all about copyright licensing, I’m not taking any photographs of the match. They’re all of the stadium and for personal use!” I shouted as two of them approached me.
There was no beer on sale at the ground, with the only thing available to purchase being hotdogs for a reasonable price of £4.50*. I was going off Manchester City a little by this stage. I limped off in disgust wearing my Dad’s Manchester City third shirt from 1991. At least we think the shirt is from 1991, there doesn’t really seem to be much of a trace of the shirt on the internet.
Just one stand was open for the match, with us lot opting to sit in the middle close to an onlooking Manuel Pellegrini. The EDS side are largely changed for this campaign so the first team manager was given one of the first chances to see his reserve side competitively. Having won the inaugural International Premier League Cup last campaign, City will compete against Sunderland, Athletic Bilbao and Borussia Monchengladbach this season.
The German side took the lead on nine minutes with a goal that came from nowhere. A long ball was pumped forward and knocked down to Michel Leider who volleyed the ball into the bottom left hand corner from outside the area past Anders Gunn.
Minutes later, Monchengladbach should have doubled their lead when Gianluca Rizzo burst through and found himself one on one with Gunn. With time and space he went to curl the ball around the advancing keeper but it flew just wide of the right hand post.
Manchester City were level on 20 minutes when they scored from a free kick. It was chipped in by Besant Celina and headed back across goal by David Faupala to Ellis Plummer who hammered the ball through Martin Kompalla’s legs.
Half time arrived and it gave me an opportunity to stretch my legs for the first time since my accident on the Metrolink. Unfortunately, as only one side of the ground was open there wasn’t really anywhere that I could wander around. Pondering what I should do, I found myself next to a member of staff from the St John’s Ambulance. Now, I had been fortunate in my short – but yet traumatic – life as I had only ever needed to seek assistance from this service once. In short, I threw up at Disney On Ice at the Manchester Arena when I was a lot younger.
Limping over to the lad who was obviously still in training, I informed him that I had slipped on the Metrolink and showed him my swollen knee. Of course, he could only see the outline of the bump as I had my super skinny jeans on… simply because I could. He dug through his large bag of medical supplies and handed me one of those crap chemical ice packs, which I continued to clutch to my knee for the remainder of the match.
As the heavens opened in true Mancunian style, Faupala found himself through on goal but his effort hit the side netting from an ever increasing tight angle.
The game opened up more in the second half and became end to end counter attacking football. Patrick Vieira’s young side played some nice stuff and were unlucky not to take the lead on 50 minutes before Steffan Nkansah was denied by Gunn up at the other end.
Brandon Barker was brought on by Vieira and he brought more energy into the game as it began to lose momentum. His winding runs were effective but a resilient Monchengladbach defence managed to keep him at bay.
The visitors had one last go at claiming all three points when Nkansah was replaced by Joshua Holtby; younger brother of former Tottenham midfielder Lewis.
In the end, the game finished 1-1 and it was probably a fair reflection. City’s next game came just a week later when they were beaten 1-0 by Sunderland in the same competition.
We left on the final whistle and headed over to the Metrolink station to catch the next service back to Manchester. Shudehill was our destination and the scene of my earlier accident. Matt and I were now the sole survivors on our long evening out in Manchester and we headed back to Wetherspoons to fill time before my train home.
Of course, there would be one final problem. My train turned out to be a bus replacement service so it was nearly midnight by the time I hobbled back home in Atherton.
The Academy Stadium is a great location for football. It’s hard to believe that this area of Manchester was once set to become the countries largest casino. I will probably be back here for some other weird and wonderful European matches in the future, but won’t be in a rush to return. It is a fantastic facility but the lack of things to do when spectating there, and the feeling of being penned into one stand doesn’t really appeal to me.
It was a bit strange that the following week Manchester City drew Monchengladbach in the Champions League. That of course means that in a couple of months time, the first teams will be battling it out over the bridge in front of nearly 60,000 people.
Another tick, and it didn’t cost me anything to get in so thanks a lot to Rob for that.
Manchester City: Gunn, Horsfield, Plummer (Humphreys 64), Bryan, Smith-Brown, Evans (c), Garcia, Celina, Intima (Nemane 80), Ambrose (Barker 62), Faupala. Unused subs: Haug, Tattum, Maffeo, Oliver
Borussia Monchengladbach: Kompalla, Berauer, Hotzweiler, Knipping, Kraus (Rodriguez 63), Lenz (Holtby 79), Lieder (Mohr 69), Ndenge, Nkansah, Rizzo, Sezer. Unused subs: Moritz, Mero, Sarr
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 18 miles
- ADMISSION: Free
- PROGRAMME PRICE: N/A