I was fortunate enough to be part of the Global City video that Manchester City and Etihad Airways recently filmed in Johannesburg. This was a lot of fun, and for a Citizen like me– a really special experience! I was even luckier when I got a Skype call from Robert Michaels from Big Balls Media – who produced the global videos, the call I thought would just be about the video, but instead turned into something much, much more! I was invited as a guest of Etihad and the club at attend the Arsenal game at the Etihad Stadium! I’d never been to a live English Premier League game, let alone been able to attend a game at the Etihad! I was obviously massively excited!
I wasn’t traveling alone though, as Leeto who was also part of the documentary joined me as a guest of the City Group for the game. We met each other for the first time at the airport, and started our adventure from there! There was of course some stress getting everything ready for the trip as my Visa only arrived on the morning of the trip! A bit rushed but once it was all sorted getting onto Etihad was wonderfully relaxing. They upgraded us to Business Class for the trip, meaning that all the stress of the day disappeared very, very quickly!
We travelled via Abu Dhabi to Manchester. Really wonderful trip, it was of course a long trip, but Etihad made sure to make sure we felt comfortable and completely at home over our entire journey. We stopped over at the very impressive Abu Dhabi airport, looking at what they’re building as the new airport – it’s going to be quite the experience stopping through in Abu Dhabi! We met our first fellow City fan on the flight into Manchester, Aditya from India! The global fans team was just starting to assemble… Unknown to us was that all 10 of us were on the flight!
When we landed we were greeted by Rob Michaels and the Big Balls Media team! What a surprise! Marvyn from Manchester City was also there to greet us. Really special seeing them at the start of our adventure! We then met the rest of group – Joosuc and Shindong from South Korea, Riza and Anggita from Jakarta, Aditya and Abhishek from India and Rasim and his son Faisal from Abu Dhabi. Really fantastic group of people, it is quite wonderful how we are all connected from all around the world through our love for a football club. We next went to our hotel just to shower and freshen up for dinner, and relax before a busy Saturday would start our incredible weekend’s experience! It was really fun walking the streets of Manchester on the Friday evening though, really striking city – with architecture that told lots of stories! Definitely will be back to explore the city more!
Saturday morning we got picked up and taken through to the National Football Museum in Manchester. Before we got inside we were met by some local Manchurians in a remarkable City car! They were such great people, really enjoy getting to know them and what they taught me about the City and the way City are part of the city itself. We then got taken on a music tour of the city, which was fascinating! It is quite different when you think of a City in terms of how it influenced the world musically. Makes one want to go off and get all the bands and reminisce with them. Even spending a morning exploring, there was still a lot to see, I think we saw just a glimpse of what the city has to offer.
The afternoon was a return to football, with a real highlight for us coming – the tour of the Etihad Campus and Etihad Stadium! We got the extremely special opportunity to see the Etihad Campus, where the teams train and where they’ve based their academy from as well. The whole complex is fascinating and wonderful to see how much the club has invested into the community. There are plans afoot to build housing and a hospital on the land around the area that before was derelict. What is interesting is that the club is one of a few that has their training centre next to their stadium, like City does. We were surprised with City jerseys with our names on at our next stop, and given the opportunity to have a kick about on one of the training pitches! Really fun experience that!
Next we got to cross the bridge to the actual stadium! Seeing the stadium rise up in front of you is majestic. It was somewhat surreal for me seeing the stadium for the first time, it’s even bigger and more imposing that you realise. I couldn’t wait to see more! We got to see visit the changing rooms which were set up ready for Sunday’s game; see the field pitch side – it was magnificent! We were then taken up to the Etihad box for dinner. Really incredible day, finished off wonderfully by the amazing people from Etihad!
We rested knowing that the next morning we’d be seeing our heroes in action against the Gunners! 3rd playing 4th, it would be a massive game! We went through to the stadium quite early, at 11h00 to explore and take everything in. The team also used the chance to get some filming done as well. It was delightful seeing all the little moments, like seeing the player’s bus arrive. Brilliant atmosphere to be part of! Just seeing the players was amazing! We got our tickets and saw we were a few rows to the front of the pitch, magnificent seats, amongst the fans! For me it’s always much more special being with the fans, and soaking in the atmosphere than being in a box. Especially football, there’s something about being part of a fan group like that. Learning new chants, entire section of the stadium standing at once to cheer – pretty damn special!
The game was wonderful to watch, City creating the better chances and attacked from the first kick of the ball. Aguero scored a fantastic early goal, but a needless corner led to a Giroud equaliser from the corner. We carried on attacking and came close a few more times. At half time we were tied 1-1 with the Arsenal. We had another surprise for us at half time, and we were taken for a trip around the stadium, and found ourselves in the middle of the stadium about to go pitch side in front of a packed Etihad! That sounds was mind blowing, really unforgettable moment!
The second half kicked off and it was mostly City on the front foot leading to an excellent Kevin De Bruyne goal. Unfortunately on a rare Arsenal attack a quick one two between Giroud and Sanchez led to an excellent Sanchez goal. Game grinded out to a 2-2 draw. Even though Bony managed to hit the post late on! Disappointing not to win, but great game to watch! We stayed for the farewells, especially our Charming Man, Pellegrini. He has been at the helm of City for 3 seasons, and we’ve won 3 trophies and made the semi-finals in the Champions League for the first time in that time. We are no doubt improved over the three years. Pep coming in is massive though, and definitely an upgrade on Pellegrini, but was nice being able to be part of the crowd that said goodbye to him.
We finished off with a few interviews outside the stadium, but our trip was basically done. A magnificent weekend had come to a close. New reasons were found to support the club I support, and I’ve made some amazing new friends from all around the world. Make no mistakes football unites us as fans. It crosses languages and religions. This trip showed that to me. We travelled back to Johannesburg on another amazing Etihad flight with unforgettable memories. Manchester I’ll be back, thank you to Manchester City and Etihad Airlines for giving me the most remarkable weekend of my life!