Manchester City may be developing as a global brand, but their ‘City in the Community’ programme is ensuring the club continues to be at the heart of the local area.
Hundreds of City fans braved the elements at the Etihad earlier this month to take part in City in the Community’s ‘Santa Stroll’ and ‘Santa Dash’ in aid of charity.
Alex Williams, former MCFC player and City in the Community Ambassador, took some time out of events on the day to talk to MM about how important the scheme is to the club and its fans.
“We’ve always been known as a community club and everything we try and do is to encapsulate local people getting involved,” the Manchester-born Williams said.
“It’s superb the commitment of the City fans to support the Santa Stroll and the Santa Dash, it’s immense.
SKY HIGH: Man City fans and their pets embrace the annual Santa Stroll which only enhances the club’s burgeoning community reputation
“This is the sixth year we’ve been running the event now and they come in their droves. The weather’s always against us but they show their commitment to a fantastic charity.
“Unfortunately one thing we can’t change or have any influence on is the Manchester weather!”
The Santa Stroll is just an example of the extensive work City in the Community does to nurture the relationship between fans and their football club.
The scheme, on the cusp of its 30th year, uses the power of football to tackle pressing social issues in Manchester around the five core themes of crime prevention, inclusion, physical and mental health, employability and education.
“We’ve moved a long way from the old community scheme which started way back in 1986,” the 54-year-old Williams said.
“We talk to groups in the local community to make sure what we’re doing is what they want to do, as well as providing what the club wants.
“That includes helping young children and those with various disabilities, and the Santa stroll is a great activity to get families involved.
“They want to see they have an opportunity to come into this fantastic facility.”
Those involved with City in the Community are not resting on their laurels however, and the scheme is looking to continue to push to be the best it can be, and has many features in which it prides itself.
“We always want things to be bigger and better but first and foremost we want to put a quality product on,” former City star Williams said.
“One of the things I’m most proud about with City in the Community is that everyone that works within the organisation is totally committed to providing a quality product to the local people.
“The staff aren’t just coming on board to do the job, they’re doing it with pride and passion and the people they work with see that.
“It’s not a token effort we really are committed to the local people of greater Manchester.”
FANTASTIC FACILITY: Getting families involved is high on City’s priority list
It’s not only the fans that the City in the Community project caters for, and it ensures links are kept with former players, from before the days of international superstars like Sergio Aguero and David Silva, such as the likes of Moss Side native Williams.
“Over the years we’ve had ex-players like Paul Lake, Andy Morrison and Michael Brown (who started Sunday’s Santa stroll) helping us out,” the City ambassador said.
“It’s great to have the contact with former players and we need to take them on the journey with us because the heritage of the football club is very important to itself.
“We need to ensure everything we do there are opportunities for former and current players to get involved.”
Williams was goalkeeper in the PFA team of the season for division two when Manchester City won promotion in 1984, and he is aware how different life is at City now.
“It’s been massive the change,” said Williams, who made 125 appearances for City.
“First of all I think the commitment from the owner Sheik Mansour and the leadership team has been excellent, they want to ensure City in the Community achieves fantastic work in the local community.
“But also the commitment from the club has been tremendous. They ensure the players are integrated in different departments within the football club.
“Everything we do is a football club thing driven by City in the Community, not just a standalone project, which is really important. “
Despite the synergy between City in the Community and the rest of Man City, there is one instance in which the project draws a line with its influence at the club.
“It was a disappointing result against Stoke, I hope that it was no reflection that the Santa stroll was the day after and the lad’s minds were on that! I don’t think somehow,” Williams joked.