Manchester Renowned, and Redrawn, by Its Soccer
MANCHESTER, England — It is what Gary Neville sees from the roof terrace of his hotel that gives him a sense that something is happening. Not the immediate view to his right of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand at Old Trafford, with the words “Manchester United” — the club Neville supported, represented and captained — emblazoned in neon red. Neville points, instead, to the view on his distant left.
“There are cranes,” Neville said, scanning the skyline of Manchester and Salford, sister cities so contiguous that their boundaries have melted. “When you see cranes, you know that means things are moving. Now, when I look out, I see a lot of cranes. The city feels alive.”
This weekend, of course, it is positively pulsing. Hotel Football, the stylish establishment Neville and several of his former United teammates opened across the street from Old Trafford last year, is sold out. In fact, there are just a handful of rooms remaining across the city. Tens of thousands of people have descended on Manchester for Saturday’s meeting of Manchester United and Manchester City.
Derby day always acts as an adrenaline shot, but this edition is particularly energizing. If United and City’s matching flawless starts to the Premier League season were not enough, then the slew of subplots — particularly the first meeting on English soil between City’s new manager, Pep Guardiola, and his United rival, José Mourinho, soccer’s repelling poles — have turned the game into a must-see event.
Both coaches have tried to play down the tension, Guardiola positively sputtering when he was told they represented a Premier League version of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. “The question of the rivalry is something the media talk about,” he said. “We can’t control it.”
Both, though, know they are fighting a losing battle. The talk, this week, has been of little other than their shared history, the long-running feud that caught fire while Guardiola was at Barcelona and Mourinho at Real Madrid and that is now expected to ignite the Premier League.
But there is another story to this derby, one that casts the clubs not in frenzied opposition but in accidental unison. It may not feel like it, but it is this story that matters more to the city.Continue reading the main story
Manchester’s name has always carried certain connotations. To Victorians, it was “famed and feared” as the world’s first great industrial city, according to the disc jockey and journalist Dave Haslam. It was here that Friedrich Engels found inspiration for “The Communist Manifesto.”
In the 1960s, the soap opera “Coronation Street” depicted Manchester as a place of cloth caps and cobbled streets, and by the late 1970s, as the city’s industries disappeared and bands like the Smiths and Joy Division documented the bleakness, the music writer Paul Morley believed it a “very boring place to be.”
Modern portraits tend to be no more flattering. The turn of the century was accompanied by a rise in gang violence, and a new generation of television painted a darker, 21st-century vision of Manchester: broken windows, hooded youths and hopelessness.
This Manchester — tough, desolate — still exists, but it is not the only Manchester.
During the past 20 years, the city’s authorities have led a physical regeneration, symbolized by the canopy of glass towers that sprang up after a bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army destroyed much of the city center in 1996. The revival of the spirit, though, has come from elsewhere.
Music led the way, with the so-called Madchester era of the late 1980s — centered on the Hacienda nightclub, and bands like Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses — turning the city’s public image on its head. Abandoned buildings became nightclubs and bars, and a cottage industry of record shops and independent labels flourished in their wake. Music gave the city its confidence back.Continue reading the main story
“All Manchester is missing is a beach,” the Stone Roses’ Ian Brown once said.
Two decades later, the process is the same, but the engine is different. Sports is Manchester’s driving cultural force.
“Since the mid-1990s, it has become an increasingly important part of what is special about Manchester,” said Richard Leese, the leader of the Manchester City Council. The city is home to British Cycling’s so-called Medal Factory; its role in recent Olympic successes is such that Manchester will host one of two parades celebrating Britain’s Olympians. Leese’s pride is evident, but it is soccer, he said, that has had the most impact.
“The rivalry between the clubs has enhanced the international consciousness of the city as a whole,” he said. “Manchester is the third-most-visited city in Britain. The single biggest draw is football. In most parts of the world, people have heard of Manchester. Without football, that would not have been the case.”
As well as boosting tourism, the combination of City and United serves to advertise Manchester abroad. Both clubs have played their part in turning that into investment. United hosted events while on tour in China this summer to attract businesses to the city, and City, 13 percent owned by a Chinese consortium, welcomed that country’s soccer-mad president, Xi Jinping, to its training facility last year. That, in turn, attracts others.Continue reading the main story
“It opens the door,” in Leese’s words.
Hotel Football, opened 18 months ago by Neville and several of his former teammates from United’s famed class of ’92, was partly financed by foreign investment. It is proof, too, of how Manchester is seeking to leverage its sporting fame.
“Football capital of the world is a difficult claim,” Neville said.
He does believe, however, that with a soccer-themed hotel and Britain’s National Football Museum, the sport is part of the fabric of Manchester in a way rarely seen elsewhere.
That has an impact in the broader cityscape, just as music did in the 1980s. Neville points to the explosion of bars and restaurants in recent years as a consequence of the boom in investment. Some of them — San Carlo, Wing’s — have won fame as regular haunts of players; others, like Tapeo, part-owned by United midfielder Juan Mata, are supported by them more directly.
“It feels like a genuine second city to London now,” Neville said.
It is around City’s home in the east of the city, though, that the difference soccer has made is most visible, most tangible.
“All of the area was heavily polluted,” said Pete Bradshaw, the club’s director of estate management. “The stadium itself is built on a mine shaft. There were wireworks, steelworks, dye makers, chemical plants.”
By the 1980s, Bradshaw said, “all of that had gone,” taking jobs and much of the local population with it.
It was, for many years, a forgotten part of the city. Hundreds of millions of dollars from Abu Dhabi, through City, changed all that.
As well as the stadium, the club has built its state-of-the-art training and academy facilities here, but the biggest difference is in the community. City’s investments have also brought a school, a college, a leisure center, a library. There are new housing developments, and access to health care.
Bradshaw, a veteran of the regeneration programs of the 1990s, is adamant that “it would not have been possible without the club, not on this scale.”
The work is not yet finished. Cranes dot the skyline here, too, just as they do on the enemy territory over at Old Trafford. Things are happening. Soccer has brought the city to life.
Continue reading the main story