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MacKenna On Monday: Manchester City’s Name Is Mud

On 22 October 1984, in a Dunnes Stores on Dublin’s Henry Street, a random and baffled customer was put through a minor and mild inconvenience. Yet this was a moment that would soon become seminal in an Irish humanitarianism sphere that more and more is about back-slapping rather than any actual do-gooding, certainly from an official state stance.

Mary Manning was a 21-year-old cashier on the tills that day. Mass unemployment and a marginal income tax rate for unmarried industrial workers hitting 68.5 per cent meant that those in the rat trap were told to be thankful, and to both put up and shut up. And still she picked up a grapefruit, looked at the label, and refused to scan it. A product of South Africa, Manning instead told a frustrated and then irate manager that not only would she not sell it, she wouldn’t be involved in the sale of any other products coming from the apartheid state.

Her status, her age, her job, and her miserable country, gave her every excuse to do nothing and carry on regardless.

She refused to let that stop her though. Others, elsewhere, had it worse, so this mattered more.

Sport in Ireland back then had no excuses, however, it often did the opposite. There had been protests in 1970 when South Africa were invited to sell their racist wares on a rugby tour and, come 1981, the IRFU broke the blockade and smashed morality as they undertook a seven-match junket to a frankly evil nation. It was far from just rugby either as, sandwiched in between, Se├ín Kelly and Pat McQuaid headed off to the Rapport Toer – a race sponsored by an Afrikaans newspaper, pushed heavily by their vile government, and created basically to bust sanctions.

For shame.

At least you’d think that would have been the response.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JULY 03: Manchester City's new Manager Pep Guardiola is unveiled during a media day at the Etihad campus on July 3, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

While many of those athletes were lazily and easily chalked down as heroes in spite of their decisions and actions, on went Manning with hers. Soon, 10 of her colleagues had joined her with all of them suspended, and they turned to the picket line with little initial support.

So it carried on for close to three years and they were only returned to their jobs when the government stepped in and agreed to implement a ban on all South African goods until the apartheid regime was brought down. It wasn’t that Manning had won, as that’s a narrow outlook. Instead, a tiny chisel had been taken to a huge granite wall in the name of basic humanity.

What’s this to do with modern sport, you might rightly ask?

Well, everything and nothing in equal amounts.

That depends on your decency and morality.

* * *

Maybe it’s an inability to think for themselves.

Maybe it’s a laziness to think for themselves instead.

But all week, a chunk of Manchester City supporters have shunted the now treble celebrations to the side and been on the defensive. We wouldn’t ever generalise around an entire fan base, yet there’s been enough making enough noise to make this notable. What’s also notable is just what they’ve been standing up for and it’s brought about a grim realisation. Had the Chinese government owned the club in 1989 and pumped in the handful of millions needed to take over then, some might have even urged the tank to drive over the Tiananmen protester.

That’s where we are at. That’s the level.

In many cases, their decency and morality has been sold off for success.

Just as the very fabric of their club was sold out from underneath them.

Heroes traded for ghosts.

Manchester Derby

To deal with such a section of their supporters is an interesting and head-banging experience, for while debate is fluid, they retort with the rigidness of bargain-basement online-learnt replies. It usually begins and often ends with deflection by pointing fingers at Liverpool over everything from the lack of a domestic title to those killed in the Heysel disaster. From there it’s on to British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United States war machine, and then back to Standard Chartered and their Liverpool links. All these are terrible in their own right, but they don’t change the fact the boardroom at the Etihad is also a war room and they don’t sever that horrific direct link.

Bring that up though and they’ll likely suggest that anyone who writes about City must include detailed analysis of every wrong in human history as otherwise, it is hypocrisy. These people would’ve hammered Woodward and Bernstein for their lack of Vietnam comment.

Then there are those who go the few extra yards too. In recent days for daring to mention what the UN have said are likely war crimes, messages have been about mass graves in Tuam, paedophilia in the church, and Eamon de Valera signing condolences for Hitler.

However, people only deflect when they know something is terribly wrong. There’s a tiny sliver of solace and some far away hope to cling to in that.

Fanaticism by the very definition of the word isn’t something to be proud of. It clouds judgment, locks out logic, creates hate and extremism. Sport is no different except too often we perceive and treat the fanatic here as if they’re needed for both their passion and money.

Team Sky and doping. Munster and hypocrisy. Dublin and money. On it goes.

All mostly get a pass.

That’s just sport sadly, but this cannot be treated in the same frustrating way.

That’s because for some that lust after City, they take the very same defensive, entrenched and abusive attitude into the realm of child starvation and mass murder, all in the name of winning at a game and lifting aloft silverware. Would other clubs do similar? Probably but that’s speculation when what’s needed right now is more people to become aware of and appalled by the existing reality.

What those pushing the club are involved with is evil on an industrial scale, with that club being used to create key links to key people to further business and political interests. That no doubt stings with each and every fan of City, but that’s no reason to put their hands over their ears and scream like spoilt kids. After all, should true supporters not rail against actions that damage the reputation of what they support? Should they not be outraged as what they love dearly is being dragged roughly through the dirt before their eyes?

Of course but, even for those that admit to what’s happening, there’s one more barrier.

“What can we do?” is a common question some ask of others, but never themselves.

Perhaps as a starting point, they should read up on a 21-year-old cashier in a miserable country in 1984. No one expects that sort of heroism, however, we do expect some sort of criticism. Acceptance follows admission and at that point, decency and morality might actually kick in.

After all, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.


Manchester City’s name is mud.

So much so that what’s happened may not and should never wash away.

Amidst this, the club of today is also a control freak and that isn’t surprising as the attitude and arrogance from the boardroom drips down to those expected to enforce propaganda.

When word of some upcoming negative coverage makes its way to those firefighting the truth in their PR department, they’ve been known to regularly get in touch swiftly. One journalist was called into their offices to talk after he published the facts and was asked to give them a “head’s up” in future. He said no way. Others though are more easily swayed and bought.

This is a weak strain of how Abu Dhabi does its business. And make no mistake, Abu Dhabi is all of modern Manchester City, even if all of modern Manchester City isn’t Abu Dhabi.

It’s why the dictator and Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Zayed, installed his most trusted man Khaldoon al Mubarak as chairman there to keep an eye on the investment. Interestingly crucial people also say he plays a vital role in both Yemen and now in their expansion into Libya. It’s also why his half-brother Mansour bin Zayed is down as owner but sources say nothing big gets the go-ahead in Abu Dhabi and this Manchester City without his going upstairs.

And it’s why the club’s key PR man Simon Pearce pops up in leaked emails conversing with former US secretary of defence Jim Mattis and retired Australian general Mike Hindmarsh who is heavily involved in Abu Dhabi’s strategy in Yemen. There they discuss trying to stop reporting of atrocities getting out, as well trying to bring media to sanitised sites to show a very different version. In those emails, Al Mubarak is eventually included as well.

The reality of that war they are talking about though is this. Independent observers have pointed the finger at Abu Dhabi and their ambitions as being the most brutal actors in the savagery. They’ve tied the Emirate to a network of secret prisons that use rape and torture, they’ve tied it to infamous “death squads” they pay with plastic bags full of cash, they’ve tied it in part to the blockade that was responsible for 50,000 starved children last year, and the United Nations have even straight up said they may well be responsible for war crimes.

That’s some set-up to have pushing your club to the top.

Worse, that’s some set-up to give a pass because of trophies, as if in Jonestown gulping Flavor Aid. Yet down the line, when people look back, legacy will come into this and all we’ll able to talk about is how Manchester City became what it is, and how fans allowed it to.

At the weekend they captured a domestic treble and talked about winning.

It’s a strange and tragic use of that word. Rather than tar them with it, we hope they think about it.

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Author: Ewan MacKenna

One of the country's top sports journalists, and a recipient of Irish Sports Journalist of the Year.