I admire Manchester City, begrudgingly. Despite their billions of pounds and the fact they’ve annoyed fans of the top teams by coming out of nowhere, their success clearly means a lot to the employees inside the club that were more used to dark days at the small football league stadiums as recently as the late 90s. This was clearly a big deal, there was a lot of effort put in and the press officers were constantly buzzing around asking anyone and everyone what they thought of the day.
Presenter Jacey Normand spoke to Head of Football Gavin Makel, the founder of the original 1988 women’s team Neil Mather, a few more people from City and the FA and finally Patrick Vieira whilst Manuel Pellegrini regretted accepting one photograph request as he became swamped by City fans looking for a photo opp.
Then the team took to the stage. The link with the men’s team was obvious, identical kit, identical sponsor but slightly longer hair. Although one of them could have been Martin Demichelis. The star players had been confirmed. Karen Bardsley, Jill Scott, Toni Duggan and Steph Houghton had all put pen to paper but it was nice to see a few faces I recognised from freezing cold at Farsley Celtic to watch the Leeds United Ladies Team.
From there it was goodbye to the warmth of the Mancunian to the cold, rainy pitch side for the squad photo before the team took a training session for the girls teams at the Regional Athletics Stadium. As a Manchester United fan I couldn’t help but feel a small tingle of jealousy as I thought about the effort City had put in to their launch and the depressing fact United seem no longer interested in the women’s game.
I didn’t dally on the thought for long, getting back to the warmth of the stadium was a larger priority. The players came back in dribs and drabs, putting off media commitments until they’d had a well earned (and well needed) cuppa! It was no surprise that the media scrum got under way just after 3pm and come 5.30pm four players remained. Bardsley, Houghton, Duggan & Scott! BT were set up on stage to do TV interviews, BBC’s Dan Walker was downstairs to do 5Live interviews whilst Sky Sports were down the corridor.
It all became quite frustrating as every time a big name became vacant for a chat they were whisked off to do live TV/Radio interviews. Eventually I grabbed Jill Scott over a cup of tea to discuss the new squad, Toni Duggan followed before a long wait for Karen Bardsley & Steph Houghton who was busy enjoying a laugh with the BT Sport crew.
During my wait a few things grabbed my attention. Firstly, a huge poster on the wall that simply read “93:20” a well-known reference to any City but unfortunately all too familiar to a disappointed United fan. Second was the attitude of the players. Even the internationals that I’d spoke to seemed taken aback by the media interest in the City re-launch. It’s true, I didn’t expect anything like the attention it got when I was there. BT, Sky & the Beeb scrambling for interviews, you’d think it was the men’s team.
I managed to grab my final chat with Steph as she had five minutes before she too disappeared down the corridor that never ended for her Sky interview and even she couldn’t believe the attention. This is a woman who played (and scored) in front of 70,000 fans at Wembley in her home Olympics.
The day finished off with an all too familiar rush to the tram in the pouring rain as I took stock of the day and tried to get out of the blue half of Manchester as quick as I could!