I’m going to lay my cards on the table. I’m a West Brom fan. So is my daughter.
There are two reasons why she follows the same team as me.
It was 2011 and we were playing Liverpool at our home ground, the Hawthorns. It was my daughter’s first match and we won 2-1. The crowd was rocking.
What happened afterwards was the icing. We hung around outside the ground. Four West Brom players emerged. They smiled, shook our hands and autographed my daughter’s match programme.
She now plays for her school under-18 football team. She’s 12 this week. And I’m a proud dad.
Contrast that with Vietnam’s experience of Manchester City playing in Hanoi at the end of July. Rather than endearing themselves to the Vietnamese public, the blue side of Manchester are now hated. Not a good position to be in when you’re contemplating setting up an academy.
It started with the Ministry of Culture website, Kenh 14, getting a reporter to interview the players in their hotel. Except for David Silva and Edin Dzeko, who were mildly friendly, the interviewer was ignored.
Watch the video and you’ll see. Worst of the lot were Raheem Sterling and Sami Nasri. Rude doesn’t describe their behaviour. Maybe bunch of c**ks is better. As one person is my office cried out when he saw the video, f**king arseholes.
The video went viral.
This was followed by another YouTube video. Claiming that Manchester City xem thuong or looked down on the Vietnamese audience, a nameless fan was so disgusted by the players’ behaviour that he doused the 10 tickets he’d purchased to the match with petrol. He then burnt them on screen. The tickets cost VND600,000 (US$27.50) each. As the British press was so happy to point out, in Vietnam VND6 million is the equivalent of a month’s salary.
The video also went viral.
That Vietnam lost the match 8-1 was irrelevant. When Arsenal played here two years ago, the London team won 7-1. But thanks to a couple of incidents, most noticeably that of the ‘running man’, they endeared themselves to the fans.
Like the rest of Southeast Asia, Vietnam is obsessed with football. Arsenal helped to cement this.
Yet Manchester City have done just the opposite.
Not only have the ‘noisy neighbours’ alienated 90 million Vietnamese, but they have tarnished the reputation of the English Premier League. Look on social media in Vietnam and many Manchester City fans are swapping light blue for dark — they now support Chelsea. Others are saying they now prefer La Liga.
The blue side of Manchester made two unforgiveable mistakes. If a country hosts your team, as Vietnam did, then treat them with the respect and reverence that they deserve. It doesn’t matter how much you earn, you are no better or worse than anyone else on this planet.
But more importantly, without fans there is no such thing as football.
While the West Brom players of 2011 remembered that, the Manchester City players of 2015 completely forgot. My team gained a new fan. Man City lost 90 million.