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Why the castigation of Manchester City fans is a witch-hunt too far

The retelling of Twitter beefs is as boring and self-absorbed as reciting a dream. Everyone has them – Twitter beefs and dreams – and nobody wants to hear yours.

This is why I’ve never done so before in print and never will again but the events of this past week demands an exception is made. Before I do so however, perhaps a quick introduction is necessary.

I am a Manchester City supporter who is fortunate enough to write about football for a living and on any random day I may focus my attention on Tottenham or Jose Mourinho or Vigil Van Dijk but twice a week I get to write for different publications exclusively about the club I adore and typically this output is positive in nature. The reasons for this are two-fold in that firstly I believe, by and large, Manchester City do not receive favourable coverage that is proportionate to that enjoyed by their top six rivals. You may disagree with that assessment but I’m hardly screaming ‘agenda’ here and more so that opinion is my prerogative to own. So I seek to readdress that imbalance in a tiny, teeny way.

The second reason for the positivity sounds flippant but is undeniable: on the pitch there is really not a great deal to be critical of at present.

Before we move on, regrettably it is also pertinent to state that I have never knowingly killed a living thing in my life (though for full disclosure I once accidentally stunned a fly when shooing it from my kitchen with a tea-towel and I’m uncertain if it pulled through). I am staunchly left-wing in my politics. I’ve been told on many occasions that I’m too nice for my own good and we all know in that context ‘nice’ is code for ‘soft’. I’m a cryer basically, at films and bad things occurring in life and I would place my social conscience alongside another man’s and expect it to tally. My name is Ste and I’m pleased to meet you.

These past few days I’ve been told that my ‘mind is sick’ and that my outlook is so ‘repulsive’ to a stranger ‘it’s actually stomach churning’. I’ve been called a coward on two separate occasions. I’ve been accused of being a PR stooge.

Well so what, you may respond. This is Twitter after all, the hysterical – but rarely in a funny way – exaggerated landscape where reasoned debate goes to die. Such extreme language is commonplace there. Only these charges were not put to me by a randomer with anger-management issues and a union jack as his avi. One of the two who called me a coward – or ‘craven’ which amounts to the same thing – was a well-known TalkSport journalist. The guy who I made sick to his stomach was an award winning sports journalist.

My crime? My crime was to refuse to condemn Manchester City. I refused to turn my back on the club that I have supported since I was a boy.

We all know why this has come to pass. The series of recent Der Spiegel drops may well have anti-climaxed with a number of inconsequential accusations that could so easily apply to any football club but they began with an expose revealing that City had artificially inflated sponsorship deals in an attempt to circumnavigate FFP rulings.

This led to widespread criticism and appalment from the rest of football and within that vortex of castigation jumped in those who have long found the human rights record of Manchester City’s owners – based in Abu Dhabi – to be highly questionable.  Thus the term ‘sportswashing’ has re-entered the lexicon, the insinuation being that vast fortunes have been poured into the club since the 2008 takeover in order to improve their image to western eyes when set against violations committed in their homeland and Yemen.

There are some deeply concerning truths here. Truths that don’t sit right with any right-minded individual.

There is also though the irrefutable claim that presently it is open season on Manchester City with attacks coming swiftly and from all quarters including of course from journalists and rival fans alike that have long held a deep resentment at City’s rise. It has felt co-ordinated. It has certainly felt personal, with Blues – entirely legitimately – wondering why, from nowhere their club that is currently top of the league and breaking up the established elite while playing some truly incredible football is suddenly being painted as the sole wrong in a thoroughly corrupt sport and a thoroughly unsavoury world.

By saying so, by speaking out, by defending their club they too have found themselves targeted. In an article for the Times last week Matthew Syed disgracefully compared City fans to ‘vicious rats’ for having the temerity to not immediately burn their season tickets at the first out-breaking of what can be perceived to be a witch-hunt.

What about the phones you all use? City fans have enquired. That’s whataboutery, disown your club has come the truculent reply. What about the clothes you wear? What about the countless clubs saddled with owners who take, take, take from the fans instead of investing and making wild dreams manifest? What about the Qatar World Cup in four years’ time? Will you be doing your job and reporting on the matches out there? Or will you boycott under protest; resign from your position and walk away from the sport that’s embedded in your bones? Whataboutery, whataboutery, whataboutery is the response.

It is not whataboutery to query why only City have suddenly been held up to such moral and ethical scrutiny. It is the exposing of hypocrisy.

Furthermore, it is a human reaction to the bizarre binary (il)logic that implies that if you continue to go to the game, and cheer on a sumptuous David Silva pass, and celebrate a goal from the club that has resided in your heart for longer than the affection of wives and pets and bands all put together: if you continue to do this then you are condoning genocide.

We’re in unchartered territory here. Genuinely. Never before when a club has come under the spotlight for wrongdoing in any capacity have the fans been expected to walk away from that club in protest. Usually it’s the owners who get the flak and the supporters get the sympathy only in this instance sympathy is hardly applicable towards a fan-base experiencing their greatest of days.

So instead of being left out of it we’ve been lumped in. We’re seen as a single entity, the club, the owners, and the fans and that entity amounts to the enemy of football it seems. That’s fine. It’s incredibly unfair but that’s fine. Bring it on.

But if you’re going to hurl hysterical barbs our way at least do so with some understanding, an understanding that can only come from listening to the only people who can explain. Which is us.

So here it is; the great unpalatable truth. It is perfectly possible to be impossibly grateful to our owners while simultaneously being disgusted to the marrow at atrocities being committed in the UAE and beyond. Just like it’s perfectly possible to remain contracted to a mobile phone company despite knowing the origins of that phone. Just like it’s perfectly possible to cheer on England in Qatar in 2022 despite knowing what has taken place in order for those stadiums to be built.

If you wish to eradicate those complications and moral dichotomies that inhabit all of our lives then be my guest. But don’t begin and end with Manchester City.

And in the meantime I will look at myself in the mirror each morning and see what is really there. A good man, who on occasion cries at the news, and a Blue.

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Article title: Why the castigation of Manchester City fans is a witch-hunt too far

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