Published on April 25th, 2014 | by Ian Cheeseman1
“Chelsea have taken away my butterflies” – Ian Cheeseman
I can’t wait for Sunday’s trip to Crystal Palace, I love watching football and Manchester City games in particular; but you knew that already didn’t you! I’ve been watching City, home and away, since the 1970s. I’ve never lost my obsessive passion for attending games, that boy-ish excitement that builds up towards kick-off almost feels as fresh to me now as it did when I attended my first game at Maine Road on 15th April 1970, a 5-1 win against Schalke 04 in the European Cup Winners Cup semi-final. If you include youth team, reserves and friendlies I’m not far off 2000 games now, and I still love every match.
In some ways nothing has changed, in other ways it’s completely different. I used to feel a tightness in the stomach or butterflies, but that’s not always the case these days. Maybe some of that is down to getting older, but some of the tension has been taken out of some games by the modern way we look at football.
Squad rotation plays a part, as does the PR spin, that goes hand in hand with squad rotation; you know the one that suggests that “this game’s not our priority” or “our best players can’t play in every game, so they’re being rested today”. I understand the science, I understand that the speed of the game has changed, the sport I love is much faster, the athletes are more highly tuned and modern pitches (as smooth as they are) are firmer and don’t cushion the joints as well. I get all that, but it also means there are games now where some of that excited anxiety is taken away.
“Maybe we should not have done so well in the Capital One Cup”, I’ve heard some fans suggest, because those extra games have over stretched the City athletes. What a sad comment on the modern game, whether it’s true or not.
It used to be simpler, when football was about winning every game and when all competitions that were entered, were treated equally.
When I saw City win the League Cup in 1976, I had no sense of this being “only the League Cup”, certainly not to the extent of modern thinking.
Last time out, City beat West Brom, thanks to goals from the three Argentinians Zabaleta, Aguero and Demichelis. It was a relatively straightforward win. Were West Brom saving themselves for bigger games to come in their Premier League survival battle?
A couple of years ago, Mick McCarthy, a no-nonsense Yorkshireman (despite which country he represented Internationally) decided to change his Wolves team, en masse, for a game at Old Trafford because he believed his team couldn’t win the game. He prioritised the next Wolves fixture, which was more winnable in his opinion. Worse than what he did, many people understood and justified that decision.
West Brom may have looked at their remaining fixtures in a similar way. The difference is that the Baggies wouldn’t want to admit that, in 2014, because of the bad PR they might get. I’m not saying they did or didn’t but that bit of doubt takes the butterflies away for me.
On Sunday, Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho might well rest his first eleven, for a highly significant game at Liverpool, because his, and the club’s, priority is the Champions League. Understandable? If your answer to that question is yes, you’ve bought into the modern culture of “resting players” and “prioritising games” – but not me.
There are no rules to stop Chelsea from effectively handing that game to a highly motivated Liverpool, but it feels unethical to me.
I will head to Selhurst Park on Sunday excited to be going to watch another City game. I’ll be excited to spend a day with my co-commentator, friend and fountain of all football knowledge Fred Eyre. I’ll be excited to commentate on the whole game on BBC Radio Manchester (95.1FM and on DAB) as I always am. I love the process, the challenge, the buzz of being the eyes of City fans who’re not able to be at the game. I’ll enjoy the trip back too, and when I eventually fall into bed at about 1.30 am after “coming down” from a 17 hour day, on the road and in the press box, I’ll sleep very deeply, after a great day, win or lose.
During the game, though, unless something strange and unpredicted happens at Anfield, I won’t have that gut-wrenching anxiety of anticipation, because as a competition, the Premier League is over as a sporting competition, because pragmatism, and prioritising means that Sunday is just fixture fulfilment for Chelsea.
It’s true to say that If City had won at Anfield a couple of weeks ago, Chelsea’s team selection at Liverpool wouldn’t have mattered, but in the situation City are in, it does.
Would I want to be anywhere else on Sunday though? Of course not.
If you missed Blue Tuesday (which was transmitted on Wednesday this week, due to a schedule change brought about by the departure of the Man United manager) fear not – you can download it as a podcast. You’ll find it (every week) at BBC.co.uk/radiomanchester – this week I was joined by Andy Morrison and Niall Quinn, to discuss how injuries have effected City’s season. It’s well worth a listen, even though I say so myself!
If you can’t get to Selhurst Park on Sunday, there’s full match commentary, all the build up and post-match phone in with Fred Eyre from 3pm.
– Ian Cheeseman