Manchester City came under fire for their poor attendance against Fulham at the weekend.
It’s something of a long-running joke that the Etihad Stadium’s stands can look a little thin on the ground and rival supporters are always ready to pounce when incriminating pictures emerge.
And that was most certainly the case when large sections of the newly-christened ‘Emptyhad’ were snapped during the Citizen’s 4-0 win over their Championship opposition.
Naturally, the observations quickly made national headlines and manager Pep Guardiola was quizzed on the fact ‘only’ 39,223 came to watch the FA Cup fourth round tie.
“Today was not full – I don’t know why,” the Spaniard admitted to BBC Sport. “Now we have three days to prepare [to play] against United. Hopefully our fans can come and make our stadium full.”
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City’s supporters’ club speaks out
However, those comments haven’t sat well with City’s official supporters’ club, whose general secretary – Kevin Parker – launched a passionate response to on Monday.
“I was disappointed and don’t see what Pep is trying to achieve,” Parker explained. “He’s playing into the hands of the ‘Emptyhad’ critics. It really peeves me.
“We feel unjustifiably criticised by other clubs, so for our manager to have a go at us as well makes it worse. I’d suggest he’s not in touch with the financial reality facing football fans.
‘This will alienate Man City fans’
“Pep has to accept that this is a working class group of supporters who spend a lot of their money on football, so stop beating us up about it.
“Questioning the loyalty of City fans who went 35 years without a trophy – supporting them through lots of thin times – is not for me.
“It was 1pm on a Sunday, not the easiest to get to and live on terrestrial television.
“Fans have purchased tickets for both the League Cup semi-final and the Real Madrid tie. While the match was well-priced, it wasn’t a season-ticket game so fans had to dip into their pockets.
“I absolutely love Pep, he’s the best thing to ever happen to the club from a football point of view. But this sort of thing will alienate fans who work very hard to buy tickets.
“The fans who attend are always singing for Pep, always behind the team. There’s no negativity, no booing or singling out of players.”
Guardiola reacts to the comments
Guardiola himself responded to the letter by saying: “Never was it my intention to offend them, they are part of us. I want to see the Etihad full, with people enjoying the games together. But of course I understand it’s difficult for the people.”
GIVEMESPORT’s Kobe Tong says
Look, this self-retaliation isn’t a good look for City and I’ll be the first person to admit that the mere premise of it amused me. However, Kevin really has a point here.
We’ve been talking about fixture congestion for what feels like eons, so it’s only natural that fans are going to have to cut back on which games they intend for the sake of their wallets.
Not everybody can afford to attend every single match and if you’re financially forced to restrain which games you attend, of course you’re going to prioritise the bigger fixtures.
You never know with football, but you can certainly forgive fans for looking at ‘Fulham (H)’ and assume City would steamroll to victory without blinking an eye.
That’s not to criticise Guardiola, by the way, because I don’t think for a minute that he was poking the hornet’s nest, rather that fans on social media were getting a little trigger-happy with their keyboards.
Perhaps it would be wise not to throw the term ‘Emptyhad’ around needlessly unless you, like many of these City fans, also understand the financial pressures of supporting your club in person.
Empty seats at the Etihad are more a symptom of the modern game as opposed to City specifically… besides, they filly their stadium more than Manchester United in the Premier League.