PA The Pep Guardiola mural on a house facing City's stadium has a purpose far beyond football.

'Fraggle Rock, a father's tears and Lesley the Viking' - A weekend at Manchester City

The42 visited the Premier League champions to watch Ireland’s Gavin Bazunu face Erling Haaland up close with Southampton. But that was only part of the story.

THE MAN IN glasses looking slightly bewildered has a passing resemblance to the late football agent Mino Raiola.

There are yellow rims on his circular frames and ‘Man City’ is emblazoned across the bright blue, oversized hoodie.

It’s hard to miss at 8.30 on this, quite frankly, manky Friday morning in Manchester’s Piccadilly train station.

Turns out the man’s name is Marlot, he is from just outside Charleroi in Belgium, and with him are his two sons, Diego (15) and Noe (17).

This is their first time in Manchester, and they are here to watch City.

Southampton are the visitors this weekend. The 16th place team in the Premier League, who are the only club not to keep a clean sheet so far this season, bidding to stop Pep Guardiola’s relentless champions going top of the table above Arsenal.

Erling Haaland will be feasting on his father’s homemade lasagne tonight – a new routine that has emerged since he arrived from Borussia Dortmund and began his incredible run of scoring 19 times in all competitions.

IMG_6215 Marlot (centre) with his sons Diego (right) and Noe.

At 3pm tomorrow the Norwegian machine will be on the hunt again. Ireland’s No.1 goalkeeper, Gavin Bazunu, will be Southampton’s last, most vulnerable line of defence.

“I used to watch Liverpool,” Marlot reveals. “But Diego is such a huge fan of Manchester City and we look at the matches on television together. His dream is to see them at least one time. This is a gift for him, and his brother has come too so he can discover the club.”

A father’s love shines through.

“Haaland is the GOAT,” Diego, wearing a top with 93:20 on the front to signify the time at which Sergio Aguero scored to win their first Premier League title in 2012, whispers. “But Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva are my favourites.”

He then switches to French, with Marlot translating. “He loves City because of Guardiola and the type of play he has put in place. The imagination and the animation on the field.”

He’s in an army of devotees on that front.

Another one is sitting on the 11.35am tram that passes St Peter Square – the glorious Midland Hotel and the city’s Central Library dominating the area – heading in the direction of the sprawling Etihad Campus a little over a mile east of town.

That is where the club’s 55,000-capacity stadium is linked by a bridge to the £200 million City Football Academy, part of the masterplan which has come to fruition under the ownership of Abu Dhabi.

Brian Barry-Murphy stares out of the steamy, rain-soaked windows untroubled, without so much as a second glance from anyone else.

In his navy woolly hat and grey hoodie he could well just be another one of the late-morning shoppers heading to the ASDA supermarket that is on the other side of a dual carriageway.

manchester-city-v-club-brugge-uefa-youth-league-group-a-academy-stadium PA Brian Barry-Murphy. PA

But Barry-Murphy is a reminder that while there are currently no Ireland players in the squad – Shay Given the most recent international to feature for the first-team in competitive action back in 2011 – there is a prominent, respected coach shaping part of the club’s future.

The 44-year-old Cork native, son of Leeside legend Jimmy Barry-Murphy, has been in charge of the Elite Development Squad (the final link between academy graduate and bona-fide first-teamer) since leaving his job as Rochdale manager last summer.

That is when his paths last crossed with The42, chatting on a high-stool at a bar while members of his coaching staff played snooker over his shoulder in the local cricket-cum-social club which the League One club rented for its training premises.

“This is a whole different world,” he laughs.

When he was the main man at Rochdale media commitments were done at his leisure. Things work differently now, but there is still time for small talk standing in the middle of a busy road waiting for the gap in cars to sprint to the other side.

It continues, speaking of his hope to return home soon to see family, before swiping his way into the building to begin his work.

Guardiola will soon continue his away from the training pitch, fulfilling his pre-match media duties.

manchester-city-v-southampton-premier-league-etihad-stadium PA Pep Guardiola during Saturday's game. PA

Thirty-seven questions follow in a press conference lasting 26 minutes. Nineteen relate to Haaland, with the Catalan asked his thoughts on a range of subjects.

Is it a shame for football fans that he would not be going to the World Cup with Norway.

Is lasagne a suitable pre-match meal?

Will he smash the record of 34 goals in a Premier League season?

Is he the biggest star under his guidance since Messi?

How does he deal with all the attention?

That last inquiry elicits a telling response. “We are fortunate. The guys who are here accept it perfectly… Others wouldn’t… It’s just about this game. Just go to the game and help to win the game with your mates.”

Guardiola’s Gospel.

Manchester City Exposed Chapter 1: Bending the Rules to the Tune of Millions – Der Spiegel, 2018.

Amnesty criticises Manchester City over ‘sportswashing’ – Human rights group attacks club’s sponsorship deal with Emirates firm – The Guardian, 2018

Manchester City and Premier League Wage Secret Fight Over Cost Controls – New York Times, May 2021

City fans like Adam Prince are not stupid, they’re well aware of the club’s ownership and its critics. The 36-year-old engineer has just finished an early-morning shift in the buildings of the Manchester Civil Justice Centre off Deansgate when we meet for a coffee before 9am.

Later it will be thronged with traffic, shoppers and workers, but now the main thoroughfare is sleeping like the rest of the city.

Everything is geared around 3pm this afternoon.

“To see where we have come from to now, the players we have and the football we are watching, for me as a fan I don’t think about that other stuff. That’s the truth,” he admits.

“You know it’s there, of course you do, but to see where City are now is incredible. I had Niall Quinn jerseys when I was a kid, now we have someone like Haaland. I have never seen anything like him before.”

IMG_6279 City fan Adam Prince.

For Prince, City – like every football club the world over – is about family and maintaining the kind of deep, complex bonds that can easily wither.

He goes to the match with his father, Russell, brother-in-law and two nephews. Their five season tickets are together in a row in the Colin Bell Stand just to the left of the away dug out.

“It’s the only time I really see them all. Dad works away so this is the time we have. My nephews live in Stockport, they only know us doing well and winning things. I kind of feel both sides of it because I started going when it was the old Maine Road and Dad would bring us when he could.

When we did actually win the league it’s probably one of the only times I saw him cry. He was bawling, that was so emotional. The timing of all this, it’s great to share those moments with him.”

He also gets to share those moments, on occasion, with his wife, Amy, whose family would be of the Red persuasion, just like almost everyone else he grew up with in Sale Moor.

“But she’s more of neutral now,” he laughs. “She was at the derby last weekend (City won 6-3) with me and she was very calm, she didn’t cheer. Her Dad still won’t like to hear that, or her brother.

“She knows what it means to her Dad, and to me. She goes to Old Trafford with them sometimes too, probably just to please us all.”

Their seats at the Etihad are now surrounded by the Tunnel Club, a luxurious executive package that offers fine dining, access to the side of the pitch when the players warm up as well as an up close view from the moment they leave the home dressing room.

“A lot of fans who used to sit in those seats had to move for them,” Prince explains. “They weren’t happy, a lot of people weren’t happy.
There is stuff like that happening and some will just say it’s all part of progress, I suppose.

“It is so much different to before and I’m laughing because I remember being a kid going to Maine Road, down the Kippax, and you’d hear the shouts when you were queuing up, you’d turn around and see lads hurdling the turnstiles jibbing in. The same ones that were probably getting paid to watch the cars around the corner.”

Anthony Mannion was one of those kids – albeit from a different time in the late 1980s and early 90s – when he would leave his terrace on Henbury Street two minutes from Maine Road.

“We all had our own areas to cover. We had our road, Henbury, we had the one over on Markington too. It would be 20 pence for locals and a fiver for Londoners. We could earn a fortune when Tottenham or whoever came,” he recalls.

“Going home at the age of 10, 11 or 12 with 80 quid. Then we’d be in the Jibbers End at Maine Road. The turnstiles would only go up to the hips so it was an easy run and jump. And the stewards, they wouldn’t do anything.

“Sure we knew them all cause they drank in St Crispin’s or the Parkside – ‘Mannion ye p***k, you’ll get me sacked’… Ah give over! Come on the blues, I’m getting emotional now.”

IMG_6290 Anthony Mannion meets The42 in Fallowfield, not far from the old Maine Road.

His Nana, Lily Walker, who emigrated from Kildare, was always a welcome recipient of some of that Cockney bounty when he would return. His younger cousin Phillip, who lived four minutes away on Horton Road – Maine Road practically splitting their homes – was never in with a chance of getting any loose change.

“He’s a Red. A dirty Red. I hate United,” Mannion bellows with a laugh. “He’s gone AWOL since the derby last week. We were terrorised in school by United fans. Not anymore.”

It’s just after 10am when the first gulp of Carling is taken. The local Wetherspoon’s, across the road from Fallowfield’s old train station, is the venue.

The Friendship Inn across the road is not yet open, likewise St Kentigern’s Irish Social Club further along on Wilbraham Road which is closer to the old Maine Road.

So many of the pubs and old local businesses have shut, some have been replaced, the shifting demographics of the area another factor once City left in 2003.

“Crispin’s is gone, it’s an Aldi, the old Parkside [pub] is flats. There’s only the Claremont left, and I’m barred!” Mannion adds.

“Football was everything for us growing up. We’d play everywhere and anywhere. When we had a curfew in place around our roads between 7pm and 7am because of the shootings and the gangs, we’d still get out to play, the police would make us go in.”

soccer-fa-barclaycard-premiership-manchester-city-v-southampton EMPICS Sport City fans leave Maine Road for the last time in May 2003, ironically against last weekend's visitors Southampton. EMPICS Sport

A reminder that not everything from a bygone era is remembered through rose-tinted glasses.

It’s only a few hours until kick-off at the Etihad but Mannion is not prepping for a day on the lash to watch England’s champions. He has finished work as a store’s technician in the nearby Manchester University, while he also worked as a porter on the stroke ward of the Manchester Royal Infirmary when Aguero scored that goal, the time of which Diego from Belgium had on his top.

“I still get goose pimples just thinking about that moment, I was running up and down the ward like a lunatic. I rang my boss and said I had to leave because we had a family emergency. Thirty minutes later I was swinging off a flag post in town.”

These days his wife and three daughters – Avie (15), Amelia (8) and Amy (3) – take up his weekends. He’s in his early 40s and, apparently, slowing down.

“I’ll always watch it but I haven’t got that same oomph to go,” he says.

“At Maine Road we could do what we wanted, it was like Fraggle Rock and we were Captain Cavemen. Never in my lifetime did I think we would win anything. I remember f***ing Barry Conlon,” Mannion adds of the Drogheda native. “He was 24 and not a blade of hair on his head. Like me now. I’m faster now than he was then, and I have arthritis in my knee.

“But do ye know, f***ing hell, just talking about that and the team we have now. F***ing right I still miss it. I will go back.”

Some tales of woe and stories of the sanitation of the modern Premier League are endless. Still, good people and communities endure.

English football – even at the very top – does not operate in a vacuum completely separate to the outside world.

Owners, players, executives are the one per cent. Those on the coalface are the other 99 who help to keep even a flicker of the spirit alive.

IMG_6295 Claire and her son, Ted, on the tram heading to the ground.

That, of course, is a simplistic way of trying to reason why a sport that has become the plaything for capricious billionaires, oligarchs, lecherous capitalists and State ownership still holds an allure, in a year when we must try to comprehend that the World Cup will take place over November and December in a country that prosecutes homosexuals.

The tram coming through Piccadilly Gardens just before 11am will reach the Etihad Stadium stop 16 minutes later.

Ten-year-old Ted is determined to soak in every second of the stadium he has been to twice before.

“You don’t want to stop off and get some food here first,” his mother, Claire, asks.

“Can we just go straight there, please,” he replies.

They set off from Hull a couple of hours previously. “He made sure I woke up in time,” Claire smiles. “I made us some breakfast and we came in the car. It’s a birthday present, the last couple of times we’ve been were for birthdays too.”

Ted is wearing his City kit – Haaland 9 on the back, of course – and his favourite illuminous Nike Astro boots.

“I love football. I love playing and watching. And Kevin de Bruyne. City have fantastic players. Not like United, they’re rubbish.”

This is a treat for Ted, who was happy to accept his trip on a day when his local side, Hull City, were not playing. He has a season ticket for the Championship club and gets his regular fix of live football there.

IMG_6296 Mother and son head to the match hand in hand.

Cork’s Sean McLoughlin is a favourite player, but for the kind of reasons that sound less acerbic from a 10-year-old. “I like him because he sits near me on the bench and I have got his autograph.”

Cynicism has no place in his thoughts.

By 11.30 the City Square is still setting up. There will be live music with local musicians, a Q&A with Olympian Iwan Thomas, and a Maths challenge between random fans in honour of new signing Manuel Akanji, who has impressed with his ability to do sums in his head as much as stepping into Guardiola’s defence.

It is hard not to think of Anthony Mannion cringing at the thought. Others will – and do – lap it up. What was it Adam Prince said earlier about progress?

Over by the main reception at the Colin Bell Stand, the build up to the players’ arrival begins with a DJ set and double act involving two middle-aged City fans recalling last week’s crushing derby win over United, or ‘the rags’ as one of them labels their cross-city rivals.

Fans are implored to check out the video the club’s production team have put together for social media. “You will watch it over and over and over again.”

It’s at this point the police patrol asks for The42 to drop our bag so the sniffer dog can give it a once over. Anyone else with a backpack standing in the vicinity is asked to do the same.

IMG_6316 Lee Wakeham, owner of H.M. Pasties.

Back at City Square, the Summerbee Bar (sponsored by Japanese lager Ashai) is a nod to club legend Mike Summerbee, who won the league and FA Cup in the late 1960s. They’re still testing the taps before thirsty punters arrive while, directly opposite, Lee Wakeham is prepping his pies and pasties for the first rush.
H.M. Pasties is the business he set up five years ago, and the line across the top of his stall speaks for itself. “Creating employment for people with criminal convictions.”

Having been released from prison himself in 1999, he found the support of a trusting and understanding employer was crucial to reintegrating to society.

“That’s what we’re trying to do now. We want to bridge the gap for those who want to work but are not ready,” he explains.

“So they will come and spend time in our bakery initially, 12 to 18 months and little by little give more and more responsibility without as much pressure.

Often you will find people come out and then lose a job they have got because their life might still be chaotic and they are not able to deal with the pressures. So if we can help with some patience to develop them that’s what we will do.”

Wakeham currently has eight employees, but the hope is to expand. “City have really pushed this with us, they came to us and wanted to be involved. The dream one day is to have our pies on sale inside the stadium. That would totally change the business and we could employ up to 20 people then.”

Over on the opposite side of the stadium, the Maine Road Chippy, with Danny’s Hair Design next door, is the first port of call for four Norfolk Blues, father and sons John and Johnny, and Gary and Louie, who are famished after their trek that began three and a half hours earlier.

It’s the journey they make for every home game, in John and Gary’s case stretching back to the early 1970s.

“It used to be a trip that took five hours in John’s white mini,” Gary recalls.

Arduous trips before don’t now hold quite as much trepidation given that on days like this the result is virtually a foregone conclusion.

Naturally, circling a ground almost three hours before kick-off, you are not going to get a true sense of the local hardcore support.

The closet pub to the ground is Mary Ds, an easy stroll to the nearest turnstile, while a swag seller says to head towards Councillor Street six or seven minutes further down the with directions to another, The Corner Shop, among the rows of various council houses, flats and maisonettes directly opposite City’s home.

IMG_6329 Mary Ds pub (left) around the corner from the Etihad.

It’s en route that scores of fans are circling around a mural of Pep Guardiola on the side of a house on the corner of Viking Close.

“A perfectionist? That’s part of my job,” is the quote beside the City manager’s face. Red paint stains the grass beneath after graffiti was washed away. A large white sheet is also there as the clean-up operation continues.

A friendly face approaches to explain more about the mural. She then points to a lady holding a purple collection tin, but who seems more intent on speaking to everyone who approaches than shaking it for money.

The lady’s name is Lesley, and the mural was produced on her home.

She was approached by a MurWalls and a housing provider in the city to let them use her house, with City then selling photos of the artwork – signed by Guardiola – in the club shop with all money then being reinvested in the local community.

Lesley agreed but also wanted to get PAPYRUS involved, a charity set up for the prevention of suicide in young people.

“My son-in-law took his own life nine years ago,” she explains. “It’s difficult to get backing and sponsors for charities like this because people don’t want to speak about it. They shy away.

“I want to try and stop it in young men. There were 5,583 registered suicides (confirmed by figures) last year. Young men and young women, I want to do something to try and help.

“I know City want to come and see me. I would love for them to give me a room at the club as a drop in centre for young men and ladies who are in trouble, or who know people who need help.

IMG_6326 Lesley is a pillar of her community on Viking Close.

“The mental health services in this country, for people in this area, they can’t get appointments. They go in and there are three-month waits. Do you think people will wait?

“I’m just trying to raise as much awareness as I can to get through to so many of these young lads,” Lesley continues.

“There was a young lad who came to me recently whose uncle died, he has no one to talk to, no one to care for him. Another lad, no older than 13, he came up with a friend to the house here, he pulled up his sleeves for me and he had scars up both his arms there from self harming. Only a baby.

I said to him like I have said to everybody here, come and see me, come to the house, if you need to talk and can’t get in anywhere, my door is there, everyone knows it now. Come and knock in. I don’t care what time it is, what day it is, whenever it is you need someone to talk to I am here.

“All this isn’t about just collecting money, it’s about talking and helping each other, trying to be there for them and give whatever support is needed so they know they are not alone.”

So, everything is geared toward 3pm but it does not revolve around it.

Even when kick-off nears and the Etihad begins to fill up, stories from those away from the pitch enthral.

Brian Tierney is one of the first to welcome The42 into the press room, instantly asking what part of Dublin we are from – not whether it’s ‘southern or northern Ireland’.

Turns out he is from Cabra, grew up playing hurling and soccer on The Bogies, and emigrated to Manchester to work in one of the old textile factories when he was 16.

Some 52 years later he is now retired, lives a 10-minute walk away from the stadium in Beswick and the job at City provides an escape. During the week he also lends his time driving schoolchildren with disabilities.

IMG_6335 From the Bogies to Beswick: Cabra man Brian Tierney greets The42 outside the media room.

Within minutes of conversation elements of his old Dublin accent resurface. He is hoping Gavin Bazunu can have a good game but, of course, he wants his club to win.

Within barely 60 seconds it becomes clear that the Dub on the pitch is going to have a busy afternoon. He makes a stunning save from a Riyad Mahrez volley and then collects Phil Foden’s tame rebound.

A sigh of relief.

“Unlucky Philip,” one almost maternal supporter can be heard shouting in support of the club’s academy graduate.

City fans come in expectation these days and Haaland’s 19 goals prior to today only add another layer to the demand. Kind of like going to a Mickey Flanagan stand-up gig waiting for him to do the ‘out out’ bit.

So, when the striker bears down one on one with Bazunu and hits the post in the 14th minute there is a sense of disappointment that he hasn’t started the ball rolling on a fourth consecutive hat-trick on home turf.

He grabs the ball afterwards, throws it back to the former Shamrock Rovers man and shakes his head in disgust at the miss.

He stalks the Southampton defence during those plentiful moments of careful City build-up play, springing into life when he knows the final pass or cross will come.

manchester-city-v-southampton-premier-league-etihad-stadium PA Gavin Bazunu denies Haaland. PA

It’s Joao Cancelo who starts what will turn into a 4-0 rout in the 20th minute, turning James Ward Prowse inside out on the left side of the box before drilling low and hard beyond Bazunu.

Two minutes later and when Southampton manage to venture into City’s half for a meagre counter attack that comes to nothing, Guardiola drops to his hunkers seemingly expecting the worst.

Such loss of control almost an affront.

manchester-city-v-southampton-premier-league-etihad-stadium PA Haaland eventually finds the net through Bazunu's legs. PA

The tempo momentarily dips before Bernardo Silva forces an error at the back by closing down quickly and forcing a clearance out of play.

Guardiola springs from the bench and applauds continuously until it’s replicated by those in the stands.

They adhere.

Foden’s delightfully deft dink over Bazunu in the 32nd minute kills the game. The pass from De Bruyne also ensures that the Belgian now holds the record for assists by a City player in the Premier League.

He overtakes David Silva, one of three players to have a statue outside the ground – the others are Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero – and thoughts turn to husband and wife Matt and Tyra from Denver, Colorado, who have taken their two kids, eight-year-old Crosby and 10-year-old Kennedy out of school for a few days to go on a week-long holiday to see their team.

IMG_6313 Parents Matt and Lyra travelled from Denver, Colorado with daughter Kennedy and son Crosby.

“We had to leave our Labrador, Yaya, at home,” Tyra explained before kick-off.

Crosby sports a blonde ponytail in honour of Haaland. “He used to have a Jack [Grealish] haircut with the band but it’s Haaland now,” she explains.

The £100 million man still has a place in the hearts though. “I love Jackie,” Kennedy beams.

We are in City’s golden age and Guardiola, in his seventh season, has a fifth title in his sights.

Mahrez’s third goal on 49 minutes is a left-footed volley with the outside of his foot. Haaland, having scuffed one near-post shot and being stopped in his tracks by Bazunu when he smothers the ball in another one-on-one, nets his 20th goal of the season on 65 minutes.

Southampton defenders Mohammed Salisu and Armel Bella-Kotchap end up on their backsides colliding trying to close down the Norwegian.

After the ball fizzes through Bazunu’s legs he picks himself up quickly and then grips a beleaguered Bella-Kotchap off the floor and flings him back into the position as if he were a general rallying a weary soldier for the final stages of a battle that was long lost.

And yet still there is time for Guardiola to slump on a Gatorade cooler in despair when Ederson clips a careless pass out of play in the 87th minute.

As soon as the final whistle goes Wonderwall from Oasis blares out.

Players from both sides filter through the mixed zone around the corner from the dressing room afterwards.

Some fans from the Tunnel Club are invited out to wait with jerseys to have signed.

Bernardo Silva, Rodri, Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias are among some of the big hitters who draw excited gasps, signing jerseys and posing for photos.

IMG_6381 Joao Cancelo signs autographs for members of the Tunnel Club, which is located behind the sponsors' board.

An elderly gentleman in a suit walks by and leaves without a request for an autograph – Mike Summerbee heads for the exit.

Bazunu follows soon after and politely, sheepishly declines a request to chat after seeing four goals flash by him.

There are still plenty of fans milling about outside, among them a family of three from Skerries in Dublin. Husband and wife Derry and Ann-Marie have brought young son Finn to the match, all content with the four-goal show.

Niall Quinn and Italia 90 was Derry’s introduction to football.

Ann-Marie admits to growing up in the 1990s as an ABU (Anyone But United) because of her dislike for Ryan Giggs, so when she met her future husband that shared bond only added to the attraction.

IMG_6387 Derry, Finn and Ann-Marie from Dublin.

As they wait for their lift back to the city centre, various Ubers and black cabs vie for fares. Plenty decide to walk.

Heading back in the direction of Viking Close, not as many are stopping to take photos of the Guardiola mural as they instead turn to getting on with the rest of their weekend.

It’s just before 6pm, darkness has not yet descended and cleaning work is still being carried out on the side of Lesley’s house.

Her front door is open.

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