‘Power, corruption and lies’: The story behind Man City fans’ anti-UEFA protest

Manchester City fans organisation The 1894 Group have unveiled a huge display targeting UEFA’s top dogs this morning in Heaton Park.

With their club’s appeal against a two-year ban from European football being heard next week, the group felt now is the time to deliver a message from their supporters to the football world.

The largest banner measuring 42m x 20m depicts UEFA’s adjudicatory panel as The Muppets, showing some of its characters looking towards the ‘UEFA meeting agenda’ with ‘stop Man City’ written on it.

The three smaller banners read ‘POWER, CORRUPTION AND LIES’ and the other two say ‘UEFA MAFIA – CORRUPTING FOOTBALL SINCE 1954’ and ‘FFP – WHERE WERE YOU WHEN WE WERE SH*T’.

Speaking before the unveiling, The 1894 Group’s communications officer Dante Friend said: “The fans have entrusted us to get a message across to the widest possible audience and this allows us to do it even though we’re not allowed inside the stadium for the games.

“There’s been lots of issues about the way UEFA have treated the fans, but this is about the way they’ve treated the club. 

PROTEST: The banner was unveiled by the group at Heaton Park this morning. Credit: jhanson_drone_photography

“The message we want to send to Uefa is that Financial Fair Play (FFP) was just created to try and protect the elite and that we know they simply don’t want the new kids on the block, City, to be part of their club.

“City’s owners have probably found loopholes which annoy UEFA, but they’re being punished for investing in their own club, in jobs, in their own area.  

“They’ve been great owners unlike the Glazers who have saddled United with debt and even Liverpool failed FFP, which has now been conveniently swept under the carpet.”

The display was originally planned for the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie against Real Madrid on Tuesday, March 17, but the Covid-19 crisis meant the game was postponed and the display thrown into doubt. 

Here’s the story behind its creation and how it went from being planned to be smuggled into the UEFA-controlled Etihad Stadium on matchday to it being revealed in the city’s most iconic park

When Man City were handed their ban for breaching FFP rules on February 14, the club’s hierarchy immediately denied all wrongdoing. The Champions League first leg in Madrid was on the horizon, and Friend noticed supporters wanted to make their voices heard.

He said: “The fan base was strongly unified around the time of the ban being announced with the vast majority backing the club’s handling of the crisis. The feeling was that it was us against the world.

“On various forums you’d see posts about the tie with Madrid. Certainly before the win in Spain a section of fans were intent on making a point. 

“Ideas like golf balls being thrown onto the pitch before half time were discussed, with the idea being that delays to the half finishing would’ve impacted on TV advertising. 

“Some fans we knew were also buying large quantities of whistles to whistle down the anthem but also to disrupt the flow of the game and the spectacle and some were going absolutely ballistic on social media.

“We really did feel like people wanted to do something.”

ROW: Many Man City fans feel angered by their two-year ban from European competition. Credit: Getty Images

Some supporters contacted The 1894 Group to suggest they take action, so they set up a GoFundMe page two days after the ban was announced.

Supporters backed the group in their droves, and they were overwhelmed with donations, meaning they could start to ‘think big’ about their display.

Friend said: “We expected to raise perhaps a couple of grand but that was surpassed within a few hours.

“There were large donations and small donations, they all counted, and what was striking was the number of individual donations which clearly showed the depth of feeling around the ban and the repercussions that would have for the club if it were to be upheld.

“We increased the target amount again and again we surpassed it.

“Everyone who wanted to donate will have donated in that first three or four days because it provided a way for City fans to channel their feelings into something positive and to get the message out to a worldwide audience about how they felt.”

It raised over £8,000 in just three days, so then the group discussed ideas on how to spend it with donors and their nine key decision makers.

It became clear to them that plenty of fans had very different ideas on what should and shouldn’t be included on the display, and they found it difficult to find a message that pleased everyone.

“A few people wanted a straightforward ‘F**K UEFA’, but others who contributed didn’t want that either, and they wanted subtlety. In the end we went with our own idea after many days of talking it through,” Friend added.

Work on the largest display in the group’s seven-year history began before the Champions League first leg in Madrid. But the group had to keep it all under wraps from the club and the supporters to make sure their plans weren’t foiled.

LOADED: Fans donated over £8,000 in three days to give the group the firepower to spread their message

The 44-year-old said: “The banner was hand-painted at first and then we had to get that image digitally enhanced, which took three to four days.

Then we had to make it such high resolution that it could be seen from the other end of the stadium, and that was important because people from all over the stadium contributed.

The whole production process including printing was completed even though we had to work to such tight deadlines.

The group’s communications officer said: “We felt it was quite a hard-hitting display, but it’s quite a humorous one at the same time, so we think it’s punchy and encapsulates what City fans really feel about the suits at Uefa.”

The money raised covered the whole cost of the final display with ‘a little bit’ left over for the future.

They had other ideas for the protest too, but City’s 2-1 victory away at Real Madrid in the first leg created a clear vision for what they felt was required from the group in that second game.

Friend explained: “We had to decide on a display and start production on it in advance of the first leg result. Of course, it was fantastic to win 2-1, but we’d planned for all outcomes.

“We realised the display we’ve got was something that could be used whether we won the first leg or lost the first leg. And it’s even something we might be able to use again depending on what’s going on with UEFA in future.

“So rather than us say or do something that sounded bitter or say that we’ve lost as a fanbase, it’s actually something that says you’re the problem, we’re not, then everybody can make up their own mind about why they’re doing this to us.

“So that’s the theme really. Not to show anger but to have a humorous dig at UEFA.

“Once we’d won in Madrid, we couldn’t wait for the game because we thought ‘that atmosphere is going to be unbelievable’. Ramos isn’t playing, and we’re going to get over the line and win the tie.”

VOCAL: The 1894 Group march towards Wembley for Man City’s Emirates FA Cup semi-final vs Arsenal in 2017. Credit: The 1894 Group

The 1894 Group knew that with such strong messages, they had to hide their plans from UEFA and Man City officials who were due to meet on the day before the game.

If either of those parties found out the extent of the protest, UEFA, who control the stadium on matchdays, could have bumped up security to block it from entering the stadium.

Friend said: “Normally [UEFA and City] both know about three or four weeks in advance what we’re going to put on a banner because we need access to tier two to drop it down to tier one. 

“But if it’s something that’s a bit of a contentious message, like a safe standing display, VAR, or ticket prices, we don’t tell them about it just in case they employ extra security measures.”

They wouldn’t be able to sneak the display into the ground prior to the game, so they planned to take it through the stadium entrances on the night, risking being blocked by City and UEFA officials. 

The communications officer said: “If we had faced resistance getting it inside, we would have had to go public with that fact and risk a stand off.

“We’d like to think the club would have listened to what the fans instructed us to do. For us it was City v Uefa not City v the fans but we’ll never truly know what would have happened.

TEAMWORK: The 1894 Group usually tell the club about their display plans

“A large scale display may have risked huge fines or stand closures, but the depth of feeling was so strong that we think the club should have allowed the fans to express themselves.

“They would have certainly known the fans were raising thousands themselves to make a very public point.”

The display was completed in time for the game, but the incoming Covid-19 crisis loomed, and it dawned on the group that their biggest display so far might never reach the Etihad Stadium.

“They felt the Champions League game between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid ‘didn’t feel right’, so when their game against Real Madrid was postponed on March 12, they weren’t surprised.

Friend said: “By the time the game was cancelled, there was more resignation than disappointment.

“The situation in Spain, and Madrid in particular, meant that it was only a matter of time before the tie was pulled, and regardless of what we felt or had hoped for, people were dying.”

So the group’s plans were foiled, and on what would have been matchday, they updated fans via social media that they planned to go ahead with the display at a future date.

They had to leave it folded up and out of the public eye until the right time, and The 1894 Group believe that time is now.

Friend said: “Realistically this is the only time we can do it because it’s relevant now with the appeal. It gives us another opportunity to carry the City fans’ thoughts forward.

“I think they’d like to say something publicly to the people with a vendetta against our club.”

POSTPONED: The 1894 Group posted on social media to say they intended to unveil the display in future. Credit: The 1894 Group
The group have unveiled the display close to the CAS hearing to attract as much attention to their message as possible.

However, Friend said finding somewhere to reveal such a large display during the nation’s lockdown has been difficult, and they’d even contacted a number of locations in the north west to use their tiered seating.

He explained: “The issue has been finding somewhere where we can unveil it because it was designed to be seen in a stadium and look great from a distance. That means it’s difficult to show the perspective of the display and photographs might not be able to do it justice. 

“Obviously, we can’t do it in the [Etihad] stadium and finding a location to unveil it in Manchester has been problematic given the size of it and the restrictions around social distancing.
“Now lockdown rules have changed, we’re in a time where we can be in bigger groups. We’ve got a number of people who live in the same households, so we’ll put groups together and then you’ve got enough people to get the display out.”

It’s been nearly four months since The 1894 Group’s idea was hatched for an anti-UEFA protest, but they could never have imagined the twists and turns that led to Friday’s unveiling.

It’s not been seen in the way the group or its donors envisaged, but they hope it still sends their message of discontent across Europe at a time when their beloved club and the continent’s football governing body are set to go head-to-head in the courtroom.

City fans, what are your thoughts on The 1894 Group’s anti-UEFA display? Join the discussion by commenting below…

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