x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Popularity of Manchester City stretches far beyond England

His studies led him across this Manchester City, plummeted from the Premier League and ricocheting around lower divisions, famously to the third tier for 1998/99.

Jassim al Fardan, Husein al Fardan and Ahmed al Hamadi react to the action on a TV screen as they and about hundred other fans gather to watch the Manchester United v Manchester City game.
Jassim al Fardan, Husein al Fardan and Ahmed al Hamadi react to the action on a TV screen as they and about hundred other fans gather to watch the Manchester United v Manchester City game.

If you haven't been to Nebraska, well, neither have most earthlings.

Nebraska sits almost smack amid the vast United States, 1.8 million people in an area 340 kilometres wide by 690km long, a population density ranked 43rd among 50 states. It has open space, farms, people who like open space and farms, a huge flagship university in the capital (Lincoln) and a pleasant largest city (Omaha, roughly 400,000).

To reach Nebraska from here, you would have to fly until you had iguana skin, reach New York and still have another three-hour flight to go.

In a country isolated by oceans and insouciance, Nebraska does not figure to have too many people who would grow up to feel profound gratefulness toward Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed.

But then, the world keeps shrinking even when you think it might be done shrinking.

So in Omaha, there is a man who as a 14-year-old kid in 1997 had a feeling known to occur among 14 year olds. "I had become bored and wanted something different," he wrote in an email.

With the sport landscape just around him then and forever dominated by University of Nebraska American football, as big in Nebraska as anything ever was anywhere (don't even try to argue), this 14 year old went channel-surfing.

"It was around that time that I discovered a weekly Premier League highlights show on Fox Sports World," Matthew Semisch wrote. "I think it was about an hour long each week, and gave you the goals and other flashpoints from all of that week's games."

Then he did what some 14 year olds here and there do: homework. His studies led him across this Manchester City, plummeted from the Premier League and ricocheting around lower divisions, famously to the third tier for 1998/99.

"I went down there" to choose a club, he wrote, "because, considering where I live, I was going to be following English football the hard way anyway, so for some reason it made sense to me to support a club that wasn't going to be entirely easy to support, either."

By now, he owns a City scarf, City home and away shirts from most years, City coffee mug, City flag, City calendar, various City season DVDs and a framed panoramic view of the beloved old Maine Road ground, all items that do not proliferate in Nebraska. He saw two City home matches last season, a pilgrimage that does not proliferate in Nebraska.

"I do have a life outside City, I swear," he writes truthfully, given his intellectual curiosity and ready knowledge of matters from American football to world politics to ice hockey to music.

So on the momentous Monday night just lived, he watched, per usual, at home, from Nebraska.

"I kind of teetered between quiet confidence and overwhelming nervousness, and during the game, the butterflies didn't go away until the final whistle." He calls it "slightly embarrassing" but says he "caught my hands shaking on several occasions until Kompany scored".

That would be Vincent Kompany, but then, you knew that.

Now, he speaks of a debate among City fans over the sweetness of the 2011 FA Cup title versus the 2011/12 league sweep of Manchester United that restored City atop the league. For now, it's the FA Cup - "Until then, as a City fan, I'd lived a trophy-less existence, and there are City fans who are older than me who hadn't seen us win anything, either" - but a potential league title might just do some supplanting. And so, a kid from Nebraska comes to appreciate a Deputy Prime Minister from the UAE.

It's some planet we inhabit.

"I think all City fans that know where the club has been are grateful that he has put in the sort of investment he has," Matthew wrote.

"From our perspective, the club is almost unrecognisable next to where it used to be in so many ways in the darker times" and even in some of the less-dark times.

Continuing: " ... and a lot of credit goes to Sheikh Mansour for helping to implement changes at the club on all sorts of levels. I think a lot of City's success in the past handful of years has been a product of changes in the culture and the club, and Sheikh Mansour and [the chairman] Khaldoon Al Mubarak have made themselves essential there."

Headlong into a new century, think of all the kids in all the various Nebraskas who might have become attached to City through televisions on a rousing Monday night. And think of one fan from the unobtrusive middle of a vast, distant country, yet whose puckish Facebook update went: "Am I seriously limiting my number of potential soul mates if I insist that my first child's middle names be Vincent and Kompany?"

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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