Manchester City ‘Who are You?’: Roker Park veteran says our time’s up

Craig McGinty: fond memories of Benno and Marco

Where would Sunderland fit into a spoof list of films that have won or been nominated for Oscars?

Some fun has been had on this very subject by the people at Leicester’s Gone With the Wins (sadly for us, a sequence than came to a halt earlier this week) and poor Bob Bradley remembered as An American in Swansea.

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David Moyes’s Lads might qualify for their own version of this year’s best-film winner  – La La Land, sorry Moonlighting – since they must have been up to something away from work to explain their wretched under-achievement in the day jobs. And then we see that Suicide Squad won best make-up and hair styling (you honestly couldn’t make up some of our play, or Ndong’s hair for that matter).

Which leads us to Craig McGinty*, a Sunderland-educated Manchester City fan without whose expertise on websites Salut! Sunderland would never have been created. Back in 2008, Craig was the fist City supporter to grace our Who are You? series. It seemed about time to ask him back …

Salut! Sunderland: you were the first City supporter to grace this feature, way back ahead of a 2-1 win for you at our place in 2008. I recall you were lucky that day. But describe the transformation since then that makes Sunday’s game an away banker for most?

Craig McGinty: how times have changed at Manchester City. Having spent the vast majority of my adult life experiencing just one cup victory, when I was six, we’ve now gone on to cups, league titles and regular attendance of the Champions League. It truly is a world away from the old “cups for cock-ups” we were so well know for.

Do you ever miss the days when a blue didn’t always pass to a blue and you played at Maine Road?

The gentle, graceful arc of Jamie Pollock’s cushioned header over his own goalkeeper to nestle in the net and condemn City to relegation was just one of the finest examples of controlled, possession football that graced Maine Road. Do I still miss that? Not so much nowadays.

We are still prone to some generous defending, but at the moment we seem to have the firepower to get us out of these situations. But to compare the teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s to that of today, you would wonder if they are playing the same game.

Sven was manager when we last me on these pages. Happy with those who have followed, and now Guardiola, or do you feel the frequent managerial changes have been absurd?

I have to smile when you talk of “frequent managerial changes” remember this is a club that had four managers before Christmas from the start of the 1996 season [crikey, you’re right: Alan Ball, Asa Hartford, Steve Coppell and Phil Neal, still leaving time before the end of the year for Frank CLark, appointed Ded 29 – Ed]. To see managers actually fulfil their allotted contract is quite something for most City fans.

But it must be nice to be able to lord it over United?

I’ve been on the end of many a United fan’s comments when younger, but now that has all changed. It was painful seeing them do so well, but I think deep down most City fans recognised the quality of the football, it was the fans that were the problem.

It is now a bit of a relief to be able to concentrate on watching and taking in how City play, without having to look through my fingers covering my eyes and having to prepare a get-out excuse for workmates, as was so often necessary in the past.

Jake: ‘one I made earlier – we were more upbeat in those days’

Since you have a Sunderland connection, tell us about it now – and also whether you still look out for our results.

My time with Sunderland goes back to the days of the polytechnic, I was there from 1988 to 1991 and regularly visited Roker Park, usually we stood in the Clock Stand paddock. It was the days of Eric Gates and Marco Gabbiadini, with Gary Bennett at the back and Paul Bracewell in midfield, making for entertaining, competitive games. I did enjoy the whole atmosphere of going and watching Sunderland games.

Now though I get the feeling that Sunderland are experiencing the difficult times that City once faced before 2008, with internal strife and trouble being reflected on the pitch. For too long Sunderland has been playing chicken with the relegation trap door and I fear it is going to snap shut on them this year.

Name this season’s top four

Chelsea, City, Arsenal and Manchester United.

And, painful as it is likely to be for us, the bottom three?

Sadly Sunderland seem set to fall, struggling to score and conceding too many is unfortunately relegation form. Alongside them will be Crystal Palace and Hull, again they are shipping too many goals.

Jake: ‘if only he could scare opponents!’

Is David Silva, among so many great players, as good as it gets in the Premier League? Who else do you credit with the best moments of City’s current form?

Must admit David Silva is one of the best players to have pulled on a City shirt. I remember watching Georgi Kinkladze and the magnetic touch he had over the ball, but he was in a team that just highlighted the difference in the talent he possessed. Silva is similar with the tight control, not maybe the real dribbling skills of Kinkladze, but they could both find a team mate in a sand storm.

The difference now is that Silva is in a team that has players ready to anticipate the pass. Kinkladze would be passing to players still rubbing sand out of their eyes.

I also enjoy watching Kevin De Bruyne and his ability to curl a cross in, or find a runner, who at the moment often seems to be Raheem Sterling, who has also advanced and progressed in recent months – hopefully to someone who can not only help City but who I think will also provide an impact when in an England shirt.

And where are you weak. Everyone except Pep says in goal – is Pickford a man you’d like to see at the Etihad? – but there are issues in outfield defence too, aren’t there?I have been impressed with Jordan Pickford, but can he pass the ball [one of his greatest attributes, I’d say – Ed]? That seems to be the main requirement for a goalkeeper in Pep Guardiola’s training manual. It has been interesting to see the players try and play from the back, sometimes it can spring an attack, but at the moment we just seem to give the ball up around the half way line.

Guardiola has most of his defence coming to the end of their contracts at the end of this season, so he will have a lot of work to do because we don’t seem to have many options at full-back. And maybe with a full season under the coaching of Guardiola the likes of Stones and Otamendi will come good, but that might be a little too optimistic.

Sunderland: If our time is up, why? Or is there some way out of it? Plus any other lingering thoughts about the club, the city, the fans, the region, Moyes?

The parallels between Sunderland and the dodgy days of City are sadly familiar. When we slipped down to the old third division the problems off the field were clearly having an impact on the running of the team. It seems that Sunderland face ever tightening finances, despite television money pouring in, making it increasingly difficult to compete with others in the Premier League.

And I’m not sure if David Moyes turned up at another club as their new manager the fans would be singing his praises. Is he really what is required for a forward thinking club, or just another British manager in the same mould as Pardew, Bruce and Allardyce?

On the whole, is a lot of money going to a tiny number of clubs good or bad for the game?

Sadly the game has become dominated by money, but the days of a youth team playing together and coming through to win cups and a league title are just cartoon stories really. I suppose the closest we’ve come to that type of tale is Leicester last year, but the excitement of games is still there, and it wasn’t that long ago that a league title was won in practically the last minute of the season. Agueroooooooooo!

What have been your own best moments as a supporter?

I am still getting used to competing in FA cup competitions beyond the third round and checking the gap to the top, not the number of points needed to escape relegation. I still get a message from a friend when City hit 40 points to say we are safe this season.

But games like the 2011 league winning match against QPR are what being a fan is all about, but I also remember the crazy antics of the Gillingham Playoff Final in 1999, when we were on our knees with a couple of minutes to go yet somehow turned it around.

And worst?

The first 88 minutes of the Gillingham game were not good, but stumbling to the likes of Bury and Port Valve when in the third division were dark days, and the general malaise that infiltrated the club in the dark days, despite the humour and honesty of the 25 to 30 thousand fans that turned up to watch some turgid displays.

Best players you’ve seen or wish you’d been old enough to see in City colours?

Silva and Kinkladze are most probably the most talented footballers I’ve seen in City shirts. I was still a little too young for the days of Colin Bell and Francis Lee. It was also good to see the likes of Nicolas Anelka in a City shirt, despite his attitude problems he was a class goal scorer.

There was also the Brazilian Elano, who had a lovely range of passes as well as a shot like a mule that he used to great effect in striking a blinding free kick beyond Shay Given in Newcastle’s goal.

I also had a soft spot for his countryman Robinho, who summed up the crazy days of the big money take over. His ability to beat a man was great to watch, but like all good things they come to an end and things were tightened up with the arrival of Roberto Mancini.

And who, honestly, should have been allowed nowhere near the shirt?

I think in only very rare instances do players not play, I’m thinking of when City played at Middlesborough and got beat 8-1, they are usually being asked to play in a way that doesn’t suit or they are no longer comfortable with what’s happening around them.

I remember when City full-back Richard Edghill got a terrible amount of stick for a number of games, his form suffered and it only got worse. But it was at a time when the club was struggling both on the pitch and behind the scenes, so sadly he took the brunt of the anger and frustration.

Diving: every club has players who do it – and try it with on other forms of cheating. Still worth pursuing and, if so, how?

I think players try and flex the rules, regardless of the level the game is being played. So let the referees do their job and if they think it is a dive then book them, but I think in the vast majority of cases they get it right.

Best ref, worst ref?

I don’t think there are good or bad referees, they are just different and part of the game is working out what type of ref you are playing with. I don’t think their job is helped by managers criticising them, because I am a firm believer in things balancing out over a full season and sadly managers quickly clam up when they know a decision has gone their way, instead of admitting the fact.

China’s threat to Europe’s clubs, taking their finest. The biter bit or something that needs urgent action to stop?

Football is just a business in the end, you can’t stop other clubs wherever they might be buying players and investing in their own game. You can differentiate and, being in France as I am, that is what the Premier League enjoys having spoken to people here, it is the pace, the excitement and the skill levels that make it different to other leagues in Europe and further afield.

Craig: ‘don’t try this at home’

As you say, you’re in France. How will you keep tabs and what will be the score?

The old days of hoping the weather is clear and that the radio signal will travel are long gone, so like many people I will be getting updates through Twitter, listening to the radio online, and most probably watching video captures of any goals within a minute or two of them going in. Sadly the days of queuing up for a Pink produced by the Manchester Evening News with a match report, league tables and local sports news have disappeared..

Jake wants answers …

* Craig McGinty on himself: I am living in one of the deepest, darkest corners of south west France writing about the area and working on various websites. Somehow I am still playing for the local football team, in their second team, but the back is beginning to creak a little. My support of Manchester City goes back to my grandparents, and despite the success of recent years the shadow of a ‘typical City’ performance still hangs over me and I’d imagine many other fans.

Interview: Colin Randall

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