Manchester City’s relationship with the media: Do the tinfoil hat brigade have a point?

Although Manchester City’s 9-0 demolition job of Burton Albion almost two weeks ago set the English record for cup semi-final goals in a single match, the most common opinion following the game was that the number of people who were in the ground to watch it happen wasn’t high enough. Never mind the cost of ticket prices or the fact that this game was the third played at the Etihad in less than a week, ‘quality’ pundits took to Twitter to condemn the club for not selling out the match. Match of the Day’s Gary Lineker jumped in early, as Kevin de Bruyne opened the scoring after five minutes. 

Lineker can hold on to the defence that his joke was in good taste – which it was. It linked the sheer quality of City’s attack and the poor attendance for what was in actuality a low-priority game. Lineker was, however, a little quieter when only 45,000 fans watched his former side Spurs play Chelsea in a half-empty Wembley.

Fellow pundit and ex-pro Jamie Carragher simply can’t hang on to the same excuse. The former Liverpool man was jibed on twitter about Jurgen Klopp’s team selection in their FA Cup third round tie with Wolves. In response, the – and I can’t stress this part enough – nearly 41-year-old man – who is a professional football analyst, bitterly replied with an attack on City’s crowd figures.

This didn’t come long after he retweeted an article pressing to stop the mocking of football fans in poverty. Oh dear, Jamie. 

Not only does it again expose Carragher’s innate childish nature, the tweet arguably speaks about the English media and their attitude towards Manchester City and their fortunes in the last decade. When Manchester United played Burton last season in the same competition, not many picked up on the 22,000 empty seats inside Old Trafford. This is the type of behaviour that drives many Blues fans to hypothesise the existence of an anti-City bias.

Yes, every team has their theories. Everyone thinks that it’s their team against the world, like when Arsenal are given an away draw in the FA cup, or Mo Salah is denied his seventh penalty of the game just before half time. Before, during, and after every game, fans in the Etihad can be heard complaining that the FA, the match officials, Sky TV, and everyone else in the football world are against them, but we’re not the only ones who say it. 

However, it’s undeniable that the manner in which the Blues have found their way to the top of the football pyramid has left a sour taste in the mouths of many “old-school” football pundits. We bought our way up, there’s no doubt about that. So it’s fair to unsurprising to see that, as a result, any failure to live up to expectations comes with massive criticism of the club’s owners, managers, players, and for some reason, fans. 

The most prevalent and fair response to this, if true, is that the majority of English football fans support Manchester United, Liverpool, or another top Premier League team. Therefore, broadcasters such as Sky and BT cater more heavily to those audiences. Consider the pundits that both producers market the most heavily – Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher, Rio Ferdinand – all of them circulate punditry that centres on these teams.

In recent months, the archetypal example of this prejudice is Raheem Sterling. The aftermath of his machine gun tattoo awakened large parts of the football world to the implicit and chronic bias towards the club and its players. Sterling’s comment that newspapers “fuel racism” in football, and Sky’s manipulation of his reasoning for the gun that implied he was involved in gun violence as a child, both highlighted the questionable reporting of race in football, and provoked the question of what the outcome would have been if, say, Sadio Mane had done the same thing?Chelsea FC v Manchester City - Premier League

Add into the mix the aforementioned issue of money. City have spent a lot of money, but so have their fellow top sides. The chat about spending has died down in recent years, owing both to the club’s achievements and to other teams, even the clubs who have “earned their success”, spending big in the summer transfer market. Go back two or three years to 2016/17, back when Claudio Bravo and Aleksander Kolarov were leading us into a push for a 3rd place finish. All the talk was about the cost of the team, even when Paul Pogba was bought for a record fee across town the summer before. When City lost a couple of games, just as their peers did, it was a crisis, not a temporary dip in form.

These days, City fans still carry a chip on their shoulder towards the media. I asked for fans to vote via Twitter on whether or not they thought the papers were biased against them. Naturally, the votes were overwhelmingly cast by City fans who thought there was clear prejudice against their club.  Only 3% of the votes were from City fans who disagreed. Just 1 in 24 City fans believed they were fairly treated. 

And, to perhaps confirm what I said about every team feeling like this, the verdict from fans of other clubs was the opposite. The percentage of non-City fans who thought there was no bias was double that of non-City fans who thought that we are unfairly treated by the media.

What those numbers mean depends on your own view of the situation. Nonetheless, if you look back on the coverage of City over the last decade or so, a pattern does seem to emerge. Whether or not you can extrapolate a clear and systematic bias from all that is up for interpretation. 

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