x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Are you Manchester City's top fan?

Competition is expected to be tight in an online contest to find the UAE's most loyal and passionate followers of the club.

Man City fans are being asked to send in stories, pictures or videos to prove their loyalty.
Man City fans are being asked to send in stories, pictures or videos to prove their loyalty.

Abu Dhabi // The search is on for the UAE's biggest Manchester City fan.

The club, owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, is launching the City SuperFan competition to find its most passionate follower.

Fans are being asked to send in stories, pictures or videos to prove their loyalty. Entries can be anything from match memories to photographs with the players or other supporters.

Five winners will be the guests of honour at the UAE premiere of Blue Moon Rising, a film following the ups and downs of five City fans during last year's season.

Competition is likely to be tight. On being told about the online contest, Darren Ball, the chairman of Abu Dhabi Blues, the UAE's Man City fan club, said: "You've probably found him already - there's no need to run it."

Mr Ball could certainly be in with a shout. He has the club's crest tattooed on his arm and claims his blood runs blue.

He will be up against Mohammed Ajmal Bhatti, a Dubai-based fan who reckons himself one of the "top five" in the country. He says his entire life revolves around the Premier League's fixture list.

"I used to live within spitting distance of Maine Road and grew up a Man City fan," he said. "My 15-year-old boy and I put on our shirts for every game. We flew to Manchester to watch the derby on a one-day trip."

There are plenty of others. While the official Abu Dhabi and Dubai supporters' clubs have only 250 members between them, fans suspect there may be many more supporters than that.

While UAE City fans used to be mostly expatriate Britons, that has changed - and that, according to the club's chairman, Khaldoon al Mubarak, was very much part of the plan.

He said last year that when Sheikh Mansour bought the club in August 2008, it was with an ambition to turn it into "almost a cult" in the region.

"I am very confident that over the next two seasons we will be very big in the Middle East," he said in June 2009.

So far, it seems to be working. "A lot of locals joined the fan club when Sheikh Mansour bought the club," said Mr Ball.

"It is becoming more popular to be a Man City fan. If you go to the Al Jazira matches you'll see the Man City logo. The interest has increased."

Mr Bhatti, however, is no johnny-come-lately. The 44-year-old says he has been loyal for 30 years, through more times of turbulence than triumph.

He remembers going to see the club when they hit rock bottom, playing in the third tier of the English league.

"We are renowned for being the losers and failures of football which makes us more diehard than anything else," he said.

"There's more to being a City fan. It is a lifestyle. You have to accept it. It is a part of you."

Mr Ball, a fan since 1972, those tough times bred loyalty. "We were used to losing," he said. "Nowadays, we have come to expect to win a game and, when you watch the fans when we lose against someone like Chelsea, you can see the disappointment on their faces."

Patrick Vieira, a midfielder for Man City and former World Cup winner for France, said he knew what it meant to have a solid fan base.

"The more fans we have, the better for the club and if we are well-known internationally, players will be more familiar with our club before they join," he said.

The competition closes on November 1. Fans can submit their entries to www.manchestercityfc.ae/Fans/Bluemoon-Rising-Competition

 

eharnan@thenational.ae