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Etihad Stadium
Manchester City 
v Reading
Saturday, 3pm December 22nd 2012
Premier League
By Phil Rutter
(Reading fan)

Despite being rock bottom in the league and half expecting a cricket score in favour of the home side, this was a fixture that I had been looking forward to for some time.  I had seen the impressive stadium from the train on several occasions, while travelling to other grounds, but I had never actually been there.  I even avoided the workís Christmas drink, the night before, so that I didnít feel awful for the trip.

I went by train, arriving at Manchester Piccadilly at around 11am.  The weather was grim, in fact it never stopped raining all day. The city was full of soaked Christmas shoppers. Iím sure that there are numerous pubs in the centre, but to the stranger, they werenít really obvious. I headed through the shopping centre and found the Printworks. Here there were several bars and restaurants and I had a drink and some lunch in a Lloyds Bar/Wetherspoons pub.

Getting to the ground was easy. I walked back towards the station and turned down Dulcie Street. From here, the ground was signposted as Sportcity all the way there. Unless you have a real aversion to walking, I would recommend getting there by foot. After the final whistle, I stayed back to applaud the Reading players and still made the half-five train. I passed two pubs on the way; one shut, the other up for sale with a ĎHome Fans Onlyí sign at the door. 

Donít expect to find much to do enroute to the Etihad. The stadium is in a residential area, consisting mostly of post-war housing. There is an athletics stadium, with covered seating, adjacent to the much larger football ground. Outside the ground are several outdoor bars selling both alcohol and food. I decided to go into the ground early and have a few beers on the concourse while watching the Wigan v Arsenal game on TV. Unfortunately, the match was not being shown.  The screens had only something called CityTV, where you could watch Tevez and Balotelli struggling to wrap up Christmas presents. Before getting through the turnstiles, away fans were given a full head to toe body search. Reading fans are hardly a notorious bunch and this seemed rather over the top.

The food was the usually overpriced stuff; for example £3.50 for a pie.  John Smiths was on offer at £3.40 a pint.  The loos were fine and coped even at half time, though admittedly we didnít fill our allocated area.

I paid £40 for a ticket in the lower tier behind the goal. The stand was not steep enough for a really good view and if people stood, it could be difficult for kids and shorter fans to see properly. I reckon the upper tier would a better option if available to the visiting supporter. If you are in a seat in the first five rows or so and it is raining, youíll probably get wet. I was on the end of a row, close to the City fans, to my left. Rows of three empty seats and a human fence of stewards, one on every step, separated us.  here were even more stewards stood next to the home fans and police on standby to the rear. It seemed a bit like a throwback to the hooligan days of the eighties. 

At kick-off, the Reading fans sat down to watch the game. This really riled the City fans, who presumably hoped we would remain standing, to be more easily baited. The stewards sat when we sat and stood, when we occasionally got excited and stood up. At times they displayed some strange manoeuvres and on 75 minutes, they all suddenly left their seats in unison, with military precision.  I was surprised by the venom hurled at us by some of the home fans.  It was neither a tense nor aggressive fixture and there is little rivalry between the two clubs. I got the impression that the stewards would not hesitate to throw out a visiting fan who responded and I avoided even glancing across to the baiting home fans. It should be said that they were in a small minority and most of them were fine.  hey struggled to get many songs going and the atmosphere was honestly, worse than Wigan. Rarely did any songs ripple around that ground as I had expected to happen.

The game was hardly a classic, which perhaps accounted for some of the lack of atmosphere. City were the best team, but Reading, with players behind the ball, nearly held out for a point.  An injury time header from Gareth Barry really ruined my day. The home fans that had not already left, finally had something to cheer. The wet weather and the score didnít help matters, but the whole experience was a bit of a let down.  It was a visit to supposedly one of Europeís top clubs, but it just didnít feel that way.


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