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“The spectacle suffers”: Lessons from the Community Shield boycott

The 2023-24 season kicked-off this weekend and with it the traditional Community Shield curtain-raiser. There was some controversy ahead of the Wembley fixture this year, however, after Manchester City fans criticised the FA and broadcasters over the late kick-off time.

Here the club’s atmosphere group, 1894, explain the notable impact that scheduling decision had and why traditional supporters chose to stay away…

Full time in the community shield and Manchester City vs Arsenal goes to penalties. Ruben Dias gesticulates passionately to the City end to lift the volume: nothing. Not a peep back.

Manchester City, who have just won the treble and who are wanting to become a global brand, have forgotten to do the basics, they have forgotten to stand up for their most loyal supporters.

A planned boycott by regulars went ahead and it meant that 31,000 at the City end watched the game mainly in silence whilst the Arsenal end was a wall of noise throughout.

City fans had asked the club to intervene and secure at minimum a 3pm kick off to help them travel. The club has become richer but the fans haven’t, and getting home earlier for a game that fans could decide to pick and choose whether or not to attend was the message the legacy fans wanted the club to take on board and relay to the FA and to ITV.

Some say that the club can’t set the agenda on kick off times. This isn’t true. Being the treble winners they were a major stakeholder in the fixture, and the club themselves have already used the Player Care Agreement to demand that our upcoming home game – against Newcastle United – kicks off at 8pm on a Saturday night, another time unsympathetic to both sets of supporters.

That appeal for the Community Shield was ignored, and when it became apparent that only a small percentage of season card holders were intending to attend the game (perhaps in the region of 10%) the club employed a very generous sales criteria.

Anyone could buy 4 tickets per membership. Effectively general sale from day 3 of the sales window, where sales went from just over 3,000 in two days, to approaching 30,000 in a matter of hours.

Ctiy’s players came off the field on Sunday not understanding why the City end was so quiet, after all they had just won the treble. The lack of any chanting at all was apparently the talk of the players’ journey back to Luton airport.

Organisers of the boycott had written to City’s chief operating officer and to the club’s PR department to inform them this was nothing against the players or the manager, but that fans had to take this up now because no-one else was going to do it for them.

The media team responded to us by saying that the playing staff would be informed, but the indicators are that this clearly wasn’t the case.

“Legacy fans” stayed away in their thousands.

And whilst it gave some ‘Cityzens’ matchday members a chance to see the team play, where they may not have otherwise been able to, the fact the club made it four tickets per person rather than one meant that they couldn’t have been sure themselves who got the tickets – a tactic that was surely solely designed to stop a boycott succeeding, and to put the brakes on any fan power building at a time when the club are looking to increase revenues still further.

It’s now clear there were thousands of neutrals and Arsenal fans in the City end, according to reports from matchgoing Blues, which caused pockets of trouble – something that fan segregation through ticketing is purposely there to avoid. It is a miracle there weren’t more incidents from the club’s unprecedented ticketing policy against our current biggest rivals in the league.

It’s extremely important right now at City, with a whole host of supporter’s issues arising. More tickets are being made available through corporate packages for home matches, obscure away allocations seem to have more corporates than ever, and there’s a new hotel being built in Etihad Stadium’s north stand so the club can market tickets and travel as a package.

As we all know, football matches need two sets of vocal fans to create a spectacle. This is a massive lesson for the club that they cannot replace legacy fans with just anyone.

The spectacle suffers, the atmosphere suffers, and so does the team. At Burnley away on Friday the City support will no doubt be back to its best, and the team will know that we’re with them just as much as we always are.

1894 welcomes all new fans to the Manchester City family, there is no division here from us. It’s clear that the issues “legacy fans” are raising – in this instance kick off times – will become important to casual fans too as some of them also become regulars. Then it’s everyone’s battle.

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