On Thursday, the relationship between Manchester City supporters and UEFA hit a ludicrous nadir. European football’s governing body confirmed that the club had been reported to them because the fans booed the Champions League anthem on Wednesday night. That was prior to the Blues 2-1 victory over Sevilla.
To really understand why the anthem was booed, you need to understand some of the things that have gone on between City and UEFA in recent years.
Kick Tardiness Out Of Football
The problems go back as far as 2012 and two separate incidents in the Europa League, both involving City. When the club took on FC Porto in Estádio do Dragão, Mario Balotelli was racially abused by the home supporters. UEFA found Porto to be guilty of the offence and so they took action; they fined the Portuguese club €20,000. That was an annoyingly paltry fee that suggested that UEFA weren’t exactly taking the problem of racism in football all that seriously.
That was nothing compared to what followed. In the next round of games, City took on Sporting Lisbon. Following the half-time break in the away fixture, City dawdled a little too much before making their way back onto the pitch. They were found guilty of entering the field “up to 60 seconds” later than they were due. Their punishment? A €30,000 fine. The only conclusion any person could reasonably draw from this was that UEFA deemed tardiness to be 50% worse than racism. That didn’t exactly enamour City fans to the governing body.
Financial Fair Play
Let’s do the short version shall we? Ok, so there’s been loads of money sloshing around football for years; filthy amounts of money. Obscene prices have been paid for men to kick footballs for decades. There’s been a few murmurs about how wrong it all is but, generally, everybody just kind of accepted it. Certainly, nobody at the top end of the sport tried to regulate against it. Not even when Roman Abramovich purchased Chelsea and started spending unprecedented amounts of dosh.
Then, in 2008, Manchester City were bought by an insanely rich Arab family and suddenly the money was perceived as dirty. Breaking transfer records became ‘obscene’ and, in a bizarre twist, fans and pundits began to distinguish between the old guard and the nouveau riche.
Enter Michel Platini, the head of UEFA, with his grand ideas to make football fair again. His plan for Financial Fair Play essentially boiled down to clubs only being able to spend against their incomings, basically pulling up the draw bridge on any ‘unfashionable’ club that might have fancied actually trying to win things in the modern game. A cynic might suggest that this was mostly based around pandering to the old guard, keeping the status quo and all that. I couldn’t possibly say that though, obviously.
Fast-forward to 2014 and, just as UEFA seemed to want, Manchester City (and PSG) breached the FFP rules. A conditional £49m fine and a Champions League squad restriction ensued. The rights and wrongs of that were debated at the time. What does still rankle is that, in September of that year, UEFA announced that the Blues’ fine would be divided between the other Champions League clubs. Guess how that decision was reached? The other clubs voted for it! That was beyond scandalous, and our own Alex Timperley brilliantly dissected it at the time.
The Moscow Farce
On the 21st October 2014 City travelled to Moscow for a game in the Champions League group stage. This fixture was meant to be played ‘behind closed doors’ as a punishment to the Russian club for repeated offences, including racist chanting.
Some City fans had already paid for Russian visas as well as travel and accommodation before the decision was announced. Despite City having done nothing wrong and facing no punitive measures for anything, these supporters were not allowed to enter the stadium. Despite this being UEFA’s doing, the governing body refused to reimburse the supporters who were now significantly out of pocket through no fault of their own.
To add insult to injury, 650 CSKA fans made their way into the stadium on press passes and by other foul means, there by making the punishment pointless.
The Present Day
All of this means that, for the last year, whenever City compete in the Champions League, their fans express their anger and dissatisfaction with UEFA by booing during the Champions League anthem. This is a perfectly legitimate use of freedom of expression. You may think it’s petty, you may not wish to engage in it yourself, but what is damn sure is that there is nothing wrong with the supporters doing this.
Is there anything offensive in this act? Absolutely not. It is certainly disrespectful to UEFA but, well, that is exactly the point. A large number of City supporters want to show their disgust with a body that has wronged them at every turn in recent years. This isn’t a cry of “AGENDA! AGENDA!” or a persecution complex. This is a group of supporters angered and frustrated by the repeated failure of one of the principal governing bodies of their sport to act fairly or properly in their application of rules or just human decency.
By announcing that City were being investigated for their fans’ actions in registering their discontent, UEFA have brought shame and ridicule upon themselves. Their relationship with our club is now a complete farce; the damage is probably irreparable.
Written by Richard Burns