Manchester City of 2019 are barely recognisable from the team of 1999. Twice on the bounce relegations are something fans could barely imagine nowadays.
In 1999 City were in the Football League Second Division, or for those of you young enough to not have a clue what VHS is – League 1. Joe Royle, who had made 99 appearances for City in the 70s was the manager, tasked with getting City into the First Division, or Championship as it is now known.
The ground wasn’t the behemoth that is the Etihad Campus, but instead Maine Road. Tucked away down terraced streets in the much-maligned Moss Side area of the city. Rather than the enormity that stands now in East Manchester, it was mish-mashed, expanded at different times, with four stands that didn’t match at all. The stadium isn’t there anymore, in its stead after a lengthy planning permission battle is some new build housing, with little evidence of what had gone before it, with the exception of road names Blue Moon Way and Citizens Place. However, I’m sure most city fans remember the iconic roof of the Kippax and the temporary stand which was not set up to deal with the west Manchester weather at all.
It may be rose-tinted glasses, but the last few seasons of the Maine Road days were the best days to be a city fan. The season culminating in a Wembley penalty shootout against Gillingham, two promotions on the bounce only to go straight back down, and winning the first Manchester Derby in my lifetime.
Many weekends spent in my dad’s golf, putting up with his bizarre taste in music, to watch city put 6 past Sheffield Wednesday, or indeed lose 4-0 to West Bromwich Albion defined my early teens.
We had inflatable bananas, and away fans didn’t sing “Where were you when you where Sh*t” they sang “City are a Massive Club” which had more versions than I care to remember but the one referencing Curly Watts as a celebrity fan was by far and away the best.
The move from Moss Side to Beswick to Eastlands or the City of Manchester stadium (it wasn’t the Etihad in those days) saw an unremarkable season, despite a strong start and hammering Bolton 6-2, we had tailed off by November and had little to talk about with the exception of another win in the Manchester Derby.
And so entered Stuart Pearce as manager and a long run of wilderness years for Manchester City, finishing a few places out of the relegation zone ever season, players like Samaras, Joey Barton and Sylvain Distin were on the books. It’s hard to see now that a midfielder in the side would moon the home fans while playing at Goodison Park, but that happened.
Eventually, money arrived, out went Mark Hughes and in came Mancini, out went mid-table finishes and into the Champions League spots, the big four of Chelsea, United, Liverpool and Arsenal now all see City as the team to beat. The exciting moments are not winning penalty shootouts for promotion but winning the Premier League in injury time and becoming the first team to pick up 100 points.
Out are the hard Psycho tackles which simply wouldn’t stand in today’s game, and in the remarkable touch of De Bruyne. No more feeding the goat and in with Aguero’s devastating accuracy. Veteran players are no longer the likes of Hamann, and now the likes of Kompany. Keegan’s determination would be no match for Pep’s tactical brilliance.
City have gone from noisy neighbours to one of the best teams in Europe in an incredibly short space of time (via an enormous cash injection). There is no denying that they are an absolute joy to watch, and when the wheels get turning they are incredible, the balls you think have been overhit have someone waiting at the end of it who has it in control and on the floor in one touch, carving up the defences of good teams, (lest we forget we beat Liverpool 5-1 last season) and utterly destroying lesser opposition as some of this season’s scorelines have shown.
I may be alone in this opinion, but I miss the difficult years. With City’s dominance is the expectation that they will win every single game, 15 years ago when you expect to lose everything, winning a game would cause utter delirium, especially if it happened to fall against a certain team based in Stretford. If you lost you weren’t disappointed because you expected to, you’d just sing “MCFC OK” even louder. Now I find myself feeling slightly put out that City might not win the Premier League for a season.
It’s been a remarkable 20 years for English football, let alone for Manchester City. Filled with both agony and ecstasy, and complain though I might about not enjoying their success as much as I should, I look forward to seeing what they do in the next 20 years.