Thursday, 14 May 2015

Etihad experience – v QPR.

I don’t often do a ‘match-day experience’ piece but then again I don’t often go to the ground so early…nor do I go into City Square these days. But I did both last Sunday…and so I am.

The journey

Although I almost always walk home – a journey that takes about 30 minutes or so – I decided to walk there too on this occasion for a bit more exercise (hardly a marathon I know...). I’d arranged to me my mate outside the bar area in the 'fan zone' at 11:45am (for the 1:30pm KO) and so set off at 11:10am.

It took slightly less time than I thought, I thought to myself, as I approached the stadium’s outer area but then remembered that it was mostly downhill TO the ground. Decent day; reasonably warm and fairly sunny.

The arrival

I was a little early and, a-hem, my mate isn’t exactly renowned for his timekeeping skills and so I parked myself on a concrete bench on the East-Stand-side for a brief rest and slurp of what I like to call…Lagerzade. I’ll leave that one to your imagination…

So a few minutes past the agreed time I made my way to what is the FAR side of the stadium for us and into City Square. Booming over the speakers there was already ‘stage activity’ and this was in the form of Peter Barnes and Tommy Booth being interviewed. For the brief part that I managed to watch before it ended it seemed quite funny.

So I joined the 15 or so others in a queue outside the “Summerbee” & “Star Bar” bar area and physically ‘jumped’ as my mate appeared behind me within seconds! I don’t think he’d be insulted to read that, should he do so; he’s aware of his own often-late nature I’m sure. Needless to say he was pretty much on time!

Not long afterwards and at 12-noon the short queue began to move in…and that’s where the carnage began.

Now apart from the very rare occasion (and for just 45 minutes or so), I’ve basically not been to City Square since about the winter of 2012 / 2013. But one consistent praise that I used to heap on ‘the whole package’ was that the bar area, at least, was SO efficiently run.

Specifically there was a rather imposing chap who used to keep the Star Bar, at least, ticking along very nicely indeed - a large amount of fans crammed in the area there might always have been but the limited queues used to flow quite quickly indeed. Speedy & friendly service; beer tasted pretty good and every member of staff understood English! This was, of course, in sharp comparison to the bars inside the ground at the time; my area at least where all of the opposite applied.

But – and regular readers might recall me touching on this in the past every so often – I stopped going to City Square simply because of the crazy prices being charged for beer & food by Manchester City; prices that I have been savage in my criticism of every time I received an e-mailed survey from the club or otherwise get the opportunity. Prices for food and drink that aren’t THAT far off Wembley prices; prices that for a ‘special day out’ / one-off game that you don’t mind TOO much paying for but for an ‘ordinary game’ in Manchester is an utter joke…just not a very funny one.

I have to be utterly desperate to buy food at the Etihad these days – even then nothing more than a few chips to ‘fill a hole’ – and, basically, haven’t gone to any of the food venues at the ground in the last 8 years or so; preferring to take my own, FAR cheaper, pre-warmed pie etc…as well as the afore mention, adapted bottle of “refreshment” or two.

But back to the impeding chaos…

The bars here, like most in and around the ground, have about 4 or 5 ‘queuing points’ and what happened next was like being on a secret-camera prank show. Firstly, the nearest of the two tills at our ‘our end’ of the bar decided that it didn’t want to work and this then caused considerable backlog of customers. But we waited.

Then, just as the customers in front of us has placed their order; their (and soon-to-be mine) drink of choice had ran out in the pumps. Another fella not-too-far away then asked for an alternative and three-quarters of the way through the-pulling-of this pint the chap told him, “That’s not what I asked for mate”.

I turned to my mate, rolled my eyes and was ABOUT to suggest that we shuffle along to the other end and try our luck there. However, just as I was about to engage my vocal chords I noticed they too had their till upside down looking for, apparently, a ‘reset button’. It was my mate who then took the initiative and suggest we try the Summerbee bar at the opposite end.

So we went to the slightly less busy, right-hand-side of THIS bar and as we were stood behind just one customer…they too ran out of the beer; the same brand that I was about to request as it spluttered foam all over the shop! I began to laugh at the farce of it all.

But it didn’t end there.

As we shuffled to our left, the now-apparent computer virus had spread and we were treated to another show of ‘flip the till’. Just as my mate and I looked at each other – by now convinced that this was one, elaborate ‘set up’ - to the far left of this bar we were beckoned over by a free member of staff. As I approached I said, “Please tell me that you have a beer pump that works” and before she could enquire about what I was on about, I explained that this was now our 4th or 5th attempt to purchase a beverage; explaining also that none of the tills and very few pumps were working at the other bar.

I don’t know if he was on holiday or had since left in the years that I had not attended the bars at City Square; but there was no ‘imposing chap’ supervisor and the ensuing pandemonium was there for all to see…and endure.

So pints-in-hand we stood at one of the tables and began to chat about all thing footy and non-footy alike.

Now I did say that I’d not been to City Square on a regular basis, at least, since the winter of 2012 / 2013. Put another way…about 6-months after THAT game and THAT goal against QPR on a certain last home game of the season.

And so I had forgotten – but was very soon about to be reminded – that City and their City-Square entertainment staff used to get kids to regularly scream as loud and for as long and their little throats and lungs would allow them, the name, Aguerooooooooooooooo… in the style of Martin Tyler. The idea being, if you didn’t know and it wasn’t obvious, that the longest shout without drawing breath would win (something).

So just as my mate and I was sparking up pre-match conversation, over the already-loud presenter voice that was booming across half of East Manchester; sure enough the same painfully loud calls of our Argentinean’s name began…and continued for 5 or 6 deafening minutes! I sounded like a right ol’ Victor Meldrew as I explained, “Christ! You’d think they’d have gotten over this by now! Whatever next…the best impression of Bert Trautmann’s broken neck (God rest his soul)?

However, it was my older and considerably calmer mate who did in fact point out that perhaps it was because we were playing QPR and, therefore, were simply paying homage to that particular fixture / great moment in our history. Fair enough…but it was still bloody annoying though.

Then the band started and although they were decent, that was the end of any conversation where you didn’t have to scream at each other to be heard.

Moving on in…

So that was it. Both of us had-had enough after just one pint and we moved into the stadium; sitting in the much calmer and easier-to-get-served bar near to where our seats are located.

How times have changed. I used to regularly meet up with friends in City Square, spend a considerable amount on easy-to-get beer and be served by better-organised staff than you’d get on the inside of the stadium.

One recent bad experience with the bar doesn’t make for an overall downturn in standards of course but that – along with the hideous din of the many & very efficient speakers around the place – made for an irritating time of it, as opposed to being the no-doubt-intended great ‘fan zone experience’.

It all looks very good – and some of it is – but it’s not ‘all that’…and way too expensive as I say.

Inside was a picture of calmness; with staff stood around waiting to serve fans…but I suppose it was 12:40pm for a 1:30pm KO on a Sunday. And although on this bar inside the stadium they still seem to struggle in general when all fans are in place, they have improved considerably over the last year.

Once sat inside we could really start chatting about the impending game whilst, at the same time, guffawing out load at one or two things.

One occurrence – although this may not translate quite as well in writing – involved a chap in a wheelchair (please bare with me).

We’d been chatting for a few moments with ‘pint in hand’ when in the peripheral vision of the both of us we saw a lad walking at some considerable pace pushing a chap in a wheelchair.

All of a sudden – and in one smooth movement – he let go of the wheelchair and did a sharp 90-degree left turn to the bar; appearing to allow the chair and poor bloke sat in it to carry on down the concourse at pace! It was though he had been taken by surprise at the sudden and welcoming appearance of a bar and had lost all sense of his main task-in-hand!

It was probably only a brief second and no more BUT, for that split second; it didn’t look like the wheelchair-bound fella was aware that his helper had released him! However, it very soon became apparent that ‘all was well’ as he ‘took charge’ over both the direction & pace of his chair the rest of the way along. Phew…

But we looked at each other as if to say, “Did you think what I thought then”, and we both burst out laughing for a good 2 minutes.

I hope that did come across as intended…

See…much better time of it when you can hear each other.

Before we took our seats we moved onto what we (or at least I) thought the result would be. I told my mate that I had predicted a home win and that there was a chance, at least, of a big scoreline too.

But I added a note of caution that if we turned up expecting to win with little effort – or QPR scored first goal and then ‘clammed up’ too tight for us to open them up – it could be very different. I ended with the line, “It could be 0-0, 0-1 or 7-0 for us”.

So we moved up the small set of steps and into our seats and it was only 4-minutes that Aguero had us all jumping for joy. It was nearly another half-hour before we added a second but goals started to fly-in either side of the break.

As we edged closer and closer and closer to my 3rd predicted score, there was an added edge of excitement for me and my mate to a point to the already-joyous atmosphere of a massacre. But although we had chances after we’d reached an impressive 6-0, that was to be the final score.

I was impressed by both the often-slick moves AND the desire shown by our lads.

Homeward bound…

We left the ground and went our separate ways once we’d reached Alan Turing Way as my mate had a gig to go to and then an early start the following day. I walked home…via my local pub.

The Etihad is a very fine stadium Indeed and it will only get better when the South Stand is finished and then, two seasons later, the North Stand likewise.

But when the new North Stand encroaches onto - and then all but destroys – the City Square area; I hope, if it’s relocated (possibly on the current waste ground / car park of the East-Stand-side?) that they improve in several ways the, yes quite impressive, current set up. I’m sure they will.

I don’t wish to sound like a ungrateful, moaning so-and-so and, as I say, it’s not all bad and the club is the envy of so many for what they’ve done for the fans. But I just wanted to give those City fans who are reading this from all corners of the globe and / or who can’t make it to Manchester to watch City a flavour of what it’s like from the point of view of a fan who has been going for many years. I hope you found it slightly interesting and amusing too of course.

Welsh assistance!

Although they’re ‘up next’ for us – what GREAT result the following day! Arsenal 0-1 Swansea City if you weren’t aware. Basically…2nd place is now in our hands, starting this coming Sunday at the Liberty Stadium and ending the following Sunday at home to Southampton…where I probably WON’T be going to City Square beforehand.

No comments:

Post a Comment