Manchester City’s dominance is disrupting football fandom

And so, on May 14, 2024, modern Premier League football reached its logical next step: Tottenham Hotspur fans protesting their team against Manchester City because they would rather lose than rival Arsenal win the title.

First of all, this is in no way a criticism of the fans who chose to do this. That’s completely their choice and for anyone who suggested what they did it was irrational: well, have you met a football fan? There is also an extent to which this would have happened in any era, given the intrinsic schadenfreude that has always been to the football fan experience.

But while much of the talk on this topic before the game focused on the good and bad of wanting your team to lose, that may have been missing the point a bit.

Instead of telling fans how to feel, perhaps we should reflect on how we’ve ended up in a situation where celebrating the misfortunes of rivals is pretty much the most most team fans can aspire to each season. Yes, laughing at your rivals has always been an important part of being a football fan, but it becomes a problem when that’s pretty much the only part of being a football fan.

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City, cheered on by their own fans and many Spurs fans, defeated Tottenham 2-0 on Tuesday. They are likely to win their fourth Premier League title in a row on Sunday. No team in English football history has won four consecutive titles.

This is an unprecedented period of dominance and in that context it is not surprising that supporters of other clubs must find their enjoyment in whatever way they can.

And it’s not just about the Premier League; City also tend to lift the domestic trophies. In the last ten years, only seven English clubs have won a major trophy (the Premier League, the domestic cup or one of the three European cups). In the previous decade (2005 to 2014), that number was 10. From 1995 to 2004 there were also 10, and from 1985 to 1994 it was 13.

Essentially it is becoming increasingly difficult for non-elite clubs to win anything, let alone the Premier League. Although it is an honorable mention for Watford, who almost added to that total of seven when they reached the FA Cup final in 2019… a final they lost 6-0 to Manchester City.

Ruben Dias, Stefan Ortega, Manchester Cit

Manchester City’s Ruben Dias celebrates with teammate Stefan Ortega at the end of Tuesday’s match (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Spurs, a much bigger club than Watford and a member of the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’, have not won a trophy for 16 years. City can’t be blamed for that – they only emerged as a major force a few years later – but that was the context for the strange situation that developed in the build-up to Tuesday’s match and then festered throughout the match.

Spurs head coach Ange Postecoglou was annoyed by the pre-match discourse, saying he would never understand if he didn’t want your team to win, and was furious about it afterwards.

“Of course it does,” Postecoglou said when asked if the strange, subdued atmosphere affected the players against City. “It is what it is. I can’t dictate what people do. They can express themselves in any way they want. But yes, when we have late winners in competitions it’s because the crowd helped us.”

The Spurs fans were not hostile to their own team and many cheered as normal, but it was a very different atmosphere to a standard big match and the City goals were followed by chants about Arsenal.

A small number of supporters celebrated City’s ‘Poznan’ celebration after taking the lead, with some wearing Tottenham’s old light blue away kit to show where their loyalties lay. Video footage emerged of Postecoglou arguing with a supporter on Tuesday night, who was said to be celebrating one of the City goals. On Saturday, on the way back from the 2-1 win over Burnley, some Spurs fans sang the city anthem ‘Blue Moon’.

The stranger thing about all this is not how much Spurs fans wanted to revel in Arsenal’s setback – that’s entirely expected – but how little feeling City are generating from rival fans. As the dominant team in English football, you would expect them to inspire a mixture of hatred and grudging admiration. Like Manchester United and Liverpool once did. Instead, there is a general sense of numbness towards City, or often even appreciation for the useful role they play in denying teams that fans of rival clubs actually care about.

If you take a step back, the situation is strange. A league that prides itself on its competitiveness will almost certainly have been won by the same team for the past four years, and six of the past seven, on Sunday. Oh, and that same team is facing 115 charges for alleged breaches of Premier League rules (which they deny).

But is that team hated or even disliked? No not really. No one really has the energy or can think of an alternative. City winning the league is fair what is happening. Being bothered by it would be like being irritated by the color of the sky, or complaining that there are only seven days in the week.

James Madd

Tottenham players show their frustration during their 2-0 defeat to City (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

It’s such a strange situation that there will inevitably be collateral damage from time to time for people new to it. Like Postecoglou on Tuesday, who was furious at what he sees as a parochial, small-town mentality from those inside and outside the club who preferred self-sabotage to progress against City.

“I think the last 48 hours have revealed to me that the fundamentals are quite fragile, mate,” he said, before adding emphatically: “What other people, how they want to feel and what their priorities are, is up to them of no importance. me.”

Postecoglou desperately wants to compete with City, but with Pep Guardiola at the helm and the current owner, how realistic is that? As Arsenal and Liverpool have discovered, you can do the right things but still almost always fall short. So the general feeling is: go for it, but in the meantime, fans of most clubs will take their kicks when they can get them.

In the local rivalry psychodrama, it was almost forgotten that Spurs would have had a decent chance of qualifying for the Champions League had they beaten City on Tuesday night. But even that prospect has left many fans cold in recent months, with many feeling there is little point in qualifying for a competition you have no real chance of winning.

And so on to the final day of the Premier League season, which will of course be full of hype, even though everyone knows the chance of much drama is minimal.

There was genuine laughter in the press room on Tuesday evening as Sky Sports attempted to magnify the final round of play and the potential for an exciting finish. City last lost in the competition in December and, apart from games against their title rivals Arsenal and Liverpool, have dropped two Premier League points in 2024.

Their record-breaking fourth title will be largely met with indifference by the rest of the country. Aside from the relief Spurs fans feel that Arsenal didn’t win the title; how Everton and other supporters felt two years ago when Liverpool were denied by City on the final day.

Those emotions are about as good as it gets for most supporters in 2024, and while it once was to some extent, it never quite was.

(Top photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)