The first football game I ever went to was Manchester City vs Reading in 2007. Back then, the Etihad Stadium was named Eastlands, Stuart Pearce was in charge, and Manchester City were a shadow of the team they are today. Typically, Reading scored two late goals and City lost.
Two takeovers later – one by the controversial former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the other (more significantly) by the Abu Dhabi United Group of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan – the club has come full circle and now the threat of Championship football has been firmly replaced by the prospect of winning the Champions League.
The latter takeover hasn’t just transformed the clubs fortunes on the field though, it has also completely transformed the area around the stadium. The area that has since been redeveloped into the Etihad Campus – at an estimated cost of £200 million – was formerly disused brownfield sites and a scrapyard.
Having been raised just down the road from the Etihad Stadium, I have seen just how far the area has come. When I recently drove through the area, the changes are frankly immense and to see the future plans, it looks to be a case of more of the same. Further to the self-development of the club, Manchester City have recently announced a joint initiative with Manchester City Council which will see over £1 billion invested into East Manchester with aim of redeveloping it and providing over 830 new houses.
Compare this to the other side of the Mancunian Way – where Manchester United are based – there is simply no comparison, and it got me thinking. Why don’t more clubs do more for their local communities?
The recent announcement of the record £5.14 billion TV deal for the Premier League means money isn’t too much of a problem for clubs in that division, and in a time of council cutbacks and personal austerity, should clubs see this as an opportunity to give a little something back? I’m not saying they are under any moral obligation to do so – at the end of the day they are businesses – but could it be in their interest to do so? After all if there was no prospect of profit, Manchester City wouldn’t be investing.
Obviously not all football clubs have the financial capabilities to regenerate a community. Oldham Athletic for example can just about afford to build a fourth stand for their stadium, however investment doesn’t just have to be financial. Clubs could create links with local schools for example. P.E lessons could allow club trainers or coaches to come in and pass on their knowledge to aid development, while scouts could have first pick of players from the school football team, which could help them enter (semi)professional football away from the pressure of coming through an academy.
The opportunity to give back to the community, profit, and alleviate the pressure from our creaking public services might just be a viable option that benefits all parties involved. It seems like a lifetime ago, but David Cameron ran the 2010 Election campaign on the concept of the ‘Big Society’. Like many others, I still haven’t found a bona fide definition of what the policy actually is, but utilising a football club as a catalyst to improve the local communities seems to me the very embodiment of the term.
The project happening around the Etihad Stadium helps guide the local community towards the ideals of the ‘Big Society, such as, support for enterprises, charities and co-ops , whilst also encouraging people to take an active role in their community.
Could it be worth a try, or is it another idea destined to be kicked into the long grass?
By Daniel Dean, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.