Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

The diehard Manchester City fans having a ball in the desert

Paul Radley discovers Manchester City fans in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are enjoying the high life for a change.
Darren Ball, centre, and his sons, Aidan, left, and Declan, are huge Manchester City fans.
Darren Ball, centre, and his sons, Aidan, left, and Declan, are huge Manchester City fans.

Even in their moment of glory, that mob from up the road did their best to spoil the party for Manchester City supporters.

As the live band were tuned out, and the football commentary piped in, it was the United match which was given priority.

Not that you would find too many exiled City fans grumbling as their team took the field last night. It would have taken more than that to ruin the mood.

These are heady times. There was the Champions League music coming out of the plasma screens, for a start.

Playing Napoli at home on a Wednesday night. A Wednesday night! Only the best teams get to play in Europe on a Wednesday night.

Only glory-hunters wearing red go out to watch matches on a Wednesday night. And even Manchester United, playing Benfica on the neighbouring TVs, were wearing blue, seemingly to mark the occasion of City's champions League debut.

It is not supposed to be like this. Being a blue from Manchester is supposed to be about suffering, general self-loathing and a sharp sense of gallows humour.

Those who remember the bleak days have earned their moment in the sun, but real City fans do not feel a sense of entitlement, according to Darren Ball, the founder of the Abu Dhabi Blues supporters club.

"The point is, if Sheikh Mansour loses interest and we go back to square one in the Third Division, we will still be City fans at the end of the day," he says.

"We know where we come from. We have the outlook that things are looking up at the moment, so we will take it while we can.

"We are all City fans who like to come together and have always consoled each other for supporting a rubbish club. Now we get to share the joy together instead."

The 38-year-old Mancunian moved to the capital in the week the Abu Dhabi United Group completed the takeover of the club, back in September 2008.

Perfect timing, then, to set up a supporters club. He had previous. In the past he set up similar groups in New York and Rotterdam, with mixed success. "There was only four or five of us in Rotterdam, and two of them lived in Germany, so it wasn't too beneficial," he says.

His Abu Dhabi club, whose home away from the Etihad Stadium last night was the NRG sports cafe, is not solely exiled Mancunians.

Along the way they have picked up one Thai expatriate - a Sky Blue convert during the Thaksin Shinawatra era - and a variety of Arab nationals, too.

It might be easy for the long-suffering die-hards to be sniffy about the jonny-come-latelys who have picked a cash-rich City as their team, rather than the previous underachieving one.

Ball is happy to have them on board - the more the merrier - but he has observed that the newbies do not expect the same thing from the spectator experience.

"For one match there was about nine Arab fans with us, which was impressive - at least because they like City and sit there in their City shirts," he says.

"We were all constantly cheering City and celebrating when they scored, then when Chelsea scored they all jumped up as well.

"The rest of us weren't sure they were quite understanding the concept of it all. We hope they are starting to get the gist of it now."

The Dubai version of the City supporters' club predates its Abu Dhabi sibling. Last night around 30 of them congregated at the Byblos Hotel in Tecom, their official home, to watch the Napoli game.

Even though they had to listen to the soundtrack from the United game, City shirts massively outnumbered everyone else.

There was one person in the room wearing Benfica red, a couple of others in various guises of United kits, and then a corner full of City devotees.

Much like Ball (who says, "if you can find a bigger City fan than me, they must be very sad") the creator of the Dubai branch, Mark Lynch, has earned his passage to Champions League football.

"I watched us in the Premier League when it had just started, then after back-to-back relegations we were going to grounds like Tranmere Rovers, York City and Macclesfield Town," Lynch says.

"They were good days out, but it was not where you want to be. Now just seems a million light years away from those days. It has just been transformed, and it is very, very exciting."

pradley@thenational.ae


Follow The National Sport on @SprtNationalUAE & Paul Radley on @PaulRadley


Updated: September 15, 2011 04:00 AM

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