EXTRACT: The Difference Between Success & History

This is an extract from Howard Hockin’s book This Is How It Felt To Be City

The Difference Between Success & History

It’s gone beyond tedious now, even beyond parody. The criticisms of Manchester City’s spending was boring two years ago. Now it resembles the pathetic ramblings of a drunken spurned lover. Or a frustrated Harry Redknapp counting down the hours until he can manage his beloved England.
And what’s most tedious of all? Well it’s the claim that City have no history. I can’t count how many times I have heard this said. And I think some people are so utterly stupid they actually believe what they say.
Javier Maschereno joined in with the stupidity a couple of years ago, claiming Manchester City had no history, a similar refrain to many on twitter incredulous last week that Sergio Aguero could choose City over someone like Liverpool. Atletico Madrid offered to match City’s wages, but hey, he clearly moved for the money.
“You can buy players, but you cannot buy history,” said Mascherano. Yawn.

For the record, Manchester City beat Liverpool into being by twelve years, to the FA Cup by 61 years, to the League Cup by 11 years and to a European trophy by three years.

Notts County, Preston North End, and even City have histories longer than many countries.

Here’s a summary of that non-existent history. Manchester City were founded in 1880 as St. Mark’s (West Gorton) – they became Ardwick Association Football Club in 1887 and Manchester City in 1894. Cit y gained their first honours by winning the Second Division in 1899; with it came promotion to the highest level in English football, the First Division. They went on to claim their first major honour on 23 April 1904, beating Bolton Wanderers 1–0 at Crystal Palace to win the FA Cup; City narrowly missed out on a League and Cup double that season after finishing runners-up in the League. In the seasons following the FA Cup triumph, the club was dogged by allegations of financial irregularities, culminating in the suspension of seventeen players in 1906, including captain Billy Meredith, who subsequently moved across town to Manchester United. A fire at Hyde Road destroyed the main stand in 1920, and in 1923 the club moved to their new purpose-built stadium at Maine Road in Moss Side, the same year that Wembley Stadium opened.
They have won the top league in 1936-37 and in 1967-8, and have been runners-up three times. They have won what is now the Championship seven times, the FA Cup five times, the League Cup twice, and the European Cup Winners’ Cup once. And so on….

Notts County meanwhile are the oldest of all the clubs in the world that are now professional, having been formed in 1862.
County pre-dated the Football Association and initially played a game of its own devising, rather than association football. At the time of its formation, Notts County, like most sports teams, were considered to be a “gentlemen-only” club. Notts County are considered to be one of the pioneers of the modern game and are the oldest of the world’s professional association football clubs (there are older professional clubs in other codes of football, and Sheffield F.C., an amateur club founded in 1857, are the oldest club now playing association football).

The club initially played at Park Hollow in the grounds of the old Nottingham Castle. In December 1864, the decision was made to play games against outside opposition, and it was decided that the club needed to find a bigger venue. After playing at several grounds, The Magpies settled at Trent Bridge Cricket Ground in 1883. In November 1872, the Notts County full-back Ernest Greenhalgh played for England against Scotland in the first-ever international match, thereby becoming the club’s first international player.  In 1888, Notts County, along with eleven other football clubs, became a founding member of The Football League. On 25 March 1891, Notts County reached the FA Cup final for the first time…and, well I could continue like this for the next few hours.

If you look REALLY hard, can you see a bit of a history there. Of course, Notts County haven’t won the Premier League or the Champions League, or even been in the top league since football began (1992), so it’s not a real history in the eyes of some. So if they were to be taken over by a billionaire, and started splashing the cash, would you begrudge them the right?

What fans who don’t like upstarts spending money and disrupting the status quo mean is not that the likes of City don’t have history, as they clearly do (and a relegation battle is as much a part of a club’s history as a league title), but that they don’t have a history of success, in recent times alone, and thus haven’t earned the right to buy loads of expensive players.

So the argument is: win things, stay in the Champions league, and expand your global fan base – this is how the fans of the existing top four of the last decade or so have decided it should be done. God forbid if anyone else should try a different way.
But where is the dividing line when fans pass judgement on whether are teams are doing things the right way? What are the minimum requirements to spend lots of money and buy some of the best players in the world? Current league champions? European champions within last few years? Five trophies within last decade? Really successful twenty-five years ago so therefore got more “history” and prestige?
Let’s say £20m per trophy. Only fair that if you win something, you should be able to widen the gap between yourself and your competitors. No other sport in the world allows this, but apparently football has a different perception of right and wrong.

You should only be able to spend what you earn will be the comeback – but who decided it was acceptable for successful teams to earn so much more than everyone else? Why, the successful teams did of course. Of course now that City are raising revenue and announcing sponsorship deals, and thus will be spending what they earn, that has been deemed unacceptable too. But if you think the figure for City is inflated, save some ire for Real Madrid, who have signed a deal earning 5 million euros per year JUST for advertising around the pitch. Beat that City.

It’s a similar level of stupidity to the argument to claims that modern football with its upstarts flashing the cash, with its big wages, sponsorship deals, stadium naming rights and detachment from reality has somehow removed the soul from football. What actions remove the “soul” from your club? You know, that fabricated, nonsensical thing that a club doesn’t actually have. If you do believe in such things as souls (I don’t), then within a football club it is contained within each individual fan – until they leave, the soul remains.

Last night I watched a documentary on the Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna. When Senna crashed his car and died at Imola in 1994, as the helicopter carried him away from the track, Jeremy Clarkson commented (in a rare moment of sensitivity) that it really illustrated Senna‘s soul departing. A nation mourned over a lost soul. It has never mourned over the name of a stadium or the wages of a football player.

Fans will always live in the past. Hope that your team’s glorious European campaign of 25 years ago, or 15 years ago, or even 5 years ago is enough to attract the cream of world football, and recapture those glory days. But I would wager that footballers are more interested in the future, about creating their own history, and finishing their career and having something to show for it. Mascherano was right that you can’t buy a history – because the history for every club in England, for every club in the world, is already there. And you can’t buy what you already have.

written by Howard Hockin

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One comment on “EXTRACT: The Difference Between Success & History
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