Pep Guardiola has taken a huge risk in fuelling unfair Man City empty seats narrative

Manchester City had just recorded a resounding 6-3 win over RB Leipzig and there were plenty of talking points to get stuck into.

Jack Grealish had marked his Champions League debut with a goal and an assist, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden were back in action, City’s defensive fragility had reared its ugly head – the list was endless.

So why on earth were we left talking about empty seats? In fairness, it’s a topic that pops up after European games with frustrating regularity. City fans are used to it by now, but what they aren’t used to is their own manager stoking the fire.

“I would like more people to come to the next game on Saturday”, Pep Guardiola said to BT Sport after City got their European campaign off to a thumping start.

“We will need the people next Saturday, please, because we will be tired. I invite all our people to come next Saturday, 3pm, and watch the game.”

While there’s no doubt that Guardiola made those comments in good faith, to put such a focus on an issue that is such a sore point for both the club and supporters was careless at best. To feed the empty seat rhetoric took the gloss off an otherwise very enjoyable night.

There are two elements to unpack here: attendances and ticket prices.

Jack Grealish notched a goal and an assist on his Champions League debut

Having been a City fan since 2004, I thankfully never had to experience the slog of the third division or the anxiety of not knowing if my club would exist when I woke up the next morning. But I did see some pretty mediocre times, including a season where we scored 11 goals at home all season. 11. All season.

I’ve always known that City’s fanbase is smaller than the likes of Manchester United’s and Liverpool’s. Is there anything wrong with that? We come from a city that’s home to the biggest sports brand in the world, a club that for a generation was the team most kids on the playground chose to support.

That being said, even during the dark days of the 90s at Maine Road, City had a solid supporter base of circa 35,000 that turned up pretty much every week. Supplement that with Premier League status in the 2000s, then the takeover and the inevitable tourists that entail (which I have no problem with whatsoever) and you’re pretty close to a full 55,000 capacity Etihad Stadium.

In 2018/19, the last full season of unrestricted attendances, City averaged a home crowd of 54,130. Only Tottenham, West Ham, Arsenal and United managed higher. I’d say that’s pretty good.

Of course, we all know that that number drops significantly for Champions League and cup games. 38,000 attended the Leipzig game on Wednesday – if away fans had been present that figure would have been more like 42,000 – but again, is that really that bad given the context?

Champions League games are notoriously difficult to get to given the midweek European schedule. Then there’s the extra cost involved (cup games are not covered by season tickets), the debacle involving the non-transferable nature of Cup Scheme tickets (City back-tracked at the last minute for the Leipzig game) and the fact there’s still a global pandemic going on. Was it any surprise the Etihad wasn’t packed to the rafters?

A crowd of roughly 38,000 saw City defeat RB Leipzig 6-3

That brings me on to ticket prices. City don’t often get their ticketing policies right, but they’ve got Champions League tickets spot on. For the clash with Leipzig, the majority of adult tickets were available in the £20-£30 region, and through a partnership with UniDays, students in Manchester could snag tickets for as little as £12.50. Given the below-average attendance, you can imagine the reaction this drew.

The scorn and ridicule expressed by rival fans and even some media figures begs the question: what do you actually want? The ‘twenty’s plenty’ movement a few years ago succeeded in its aim to have away tickets capped, albeit at £30. Protests against the European Super League earlier this year looked to be a watershed moment, a uniting of the clans against the corporate greed of modern football.

Oh, but what’s that? City are trying to flog tickets on the cheap to fill their empty ground? Lol! Emptyhad!

Football fans need to make up their minds – you either want cheaper tickets, or you don’t. You either have full stadiums that have a significant number of ‘tourists’, or you don’t.

What Pep said post-match wasn’t objectively bad, but it was an insensitive, needless broaching of an increasingly sensitive issue. It also smelt of entitlement.

In fairness to the City boss, he’s since said his comments have been misinterpreted, claiming he was in fact simply inviting City fans to come and enjoy the game. However, anyone waiting for an apology from the Catalan coach will be waiting a long time.

This team has given thousands of people so much joy in recent years, playing the best football we’ve ever seen and winning a shedload of trophies along the way. But we, the fans, don’t owe them anything.

Fan Brands – Man City

You may notice this piece of writing has been produced by a name you’re not familiar with on our regular Manchester City content.

That is because we are expanding our horizons and starting to bring even more to you from a whole host of different voices. We have appointed a whole host of people who – like our journalists – care deeply about what’s happening at Etihad Stadium – but sit in the stands rather than the press box.

We want to give you raw, authentic fan voices about the big issues at Man City – which is why the story you have read today might sit on Manchester Evening News for now, and is part of the MEN family, but is not representative of those who work there full time.

Keep your eyes peeled for more info on where you can read more from this author in the future. But in the meantime, we hope you enjoy what they have written.

If circumstances, whatever they might be, dictate that we can’t attend what will be the umpteenth midweek cup game of the season, then stuff whatever the Twitter universe has to say. We can handle that.

But what we don’t need at the club is friendly fire, and it remains to be seen whether Pep’s relationship with the fans will suffer as a result.

Do you think Pep was wrong to comment on fan attendance? Follow our new City Fan Brands Writer Alex Brotherton on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.