Why criticism of Man City’s empty seats at FA Cup semi-final is tone deaf and out of touch – Alex Brotherton

All told, Easter Saturday was a pretty disastrous day for Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s side put in an abysmal first-half performance in the FA Cup semi-final, so it came as no surprise that they were ripped apart by a rampant Liverpool at Wembley.

The game got off to an irreparable start even before a ball was kicked when a minority of City supporters interrupted the minute’s silence held to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. The disrespect toward the 97 football fans who lost their lives that day, their families and all those associated with Liverpool, was a shameful disgrace.

Yet, according to some, neither was the biggest City talking point of the day. Rather, it was, once again, City fans’ attendance.

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There were undoubtedly fewer City fans at Wembley than their Liverpool counterparts. The huge City flag that covered three blocks of seats of the top tier of the City ended made that immediately obvious. Due to their superior numbers, and their side’s superior performance, Liverpool fans made such a racket that you’d be forgiven for thinking the game was being held at Anfield.

Like many City fans, it baffles me why so many people care so much about City’s attendances. Whether it be counting empty blue seats at the Etihad Stadium to criticizing fans who have made a 400-mile round trip to London, some people clearly have nothing better to concern themselves with.

It was even labeled by some a “disgrace”. Here is a list of things that are more deserving of condemnation.

As MEN Sport reported last month, there were no direct train services between the North West and London for the entirety of the Bank Holiday weekend, meaning that City fans were faced with the prospect of multi-connection journeys costing upwards of £100.

Driving down to Wembley is always an option – it’s only an eight-hour round trip! – but with the price of petroleum currently the most expensive on record, it is less than appealing. Oh, and inflation is at its highest in decades, the cost of living is soaring and families are struggling to heat their homes and feed themselves.

Then there’s the fact that this was City’s 21st trip to Wembley in the past decade, and it came in a month when the Blues twice played in Madrid. For those that are forced to pick and choose their away trips, the cup semi-final was always going to lose out. Not committing to an expensive weekend in the capital is by no means a “disgrace”.

Of course, Liverpool fans faced these very challenges themselves, and they sold out their allocation. Therefore it’s time to admit something: City don’t have a huge fanbase, and there’s no shame in admitting that.

There were plenty of Liverpool fans who made the trek down from Merseyside, but there were also likely many who live in London and were able to make the short trip to the stadium. The same can be said of Manchester United, while the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal have supporters all over the world.

City do not. The Blues have a relatively small – roughly around 30,000 – core supporter base that goes to every home game and as many days away as they can afford. Owing to the recency of their success and the years spent in the wilderness before that, City do not have legions of fans spread across the country ready to snap up tickets as soon as season-ticket holders pass on them.

That means that when City go the distance in the Champions League, and expensive away trips come thick and fast, most fans have to compromise. As has been the case for many years, it’s just not financially feasible, especially now, to follow your football team – especially for a fanbase largely made up of working-class fans.

But, it’s easier to point and laugh at a flag than point at and criticize those who make attending the nation’s sport, and putting food on the table, a luxury. Which says more about those who do than any absent City fan.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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