Where were you when the great media war of 2019 took place? Did you watch from afar as the same six or seven journalists took turns writing the same three articles on repeat over and over again about how English football was under threat from the unlimited petro-dollars at Pep Guardiola’s disposal?
Or were you battling in the trenches, getting your 19-tweet-long threads written about how a producer at Sky Sports is actually totally devoid of credibility because it turns out his cousin’s best mate owns a small business which sells Liverpool merchandise?
It was a long and difficult war. We tried our best to defend ourselves but the barrage of negative articles kept on coming and coming, culminating in the nuclear blast that was Rob Harris asking Pep Guardiola, in the immediate aftermath of an FA Cup victory which secured a historic domestic treble, whether or not he had taken bungs from Abu Dhabi like Mancini had done six or seven years before him.
The fallout was incredible. It turned out that The Independent is 30% owned by a Saudi Sultan. It turned out that Rob Harris was a regular on Saudi news networks. Suddenly the moral house of cards had just had the Two of Diamonds plucked from the very foundation of the house, bringing it all tumbling down and making everybody look very silly indeed.
Sometimes you win a war by retaliation, constantly firing back at every article written with refutations and counter-arguments until the opposition sees things from your point of view (just kidding, you never, ever win the media war this way). Sometimes you just win the war by slowly backing away and refusing to acknowledge that there ever was a war and just hope that everybody forgets it happened at all.
You know what they say; war… war never changes.
The pinnacle of the great media war of 2019 took place just after that previously mentioned FA Cup win, leading me to write this absolute masterpiece of an article. It was easy to get lost in the negativity because, quite frankly, nobody was better at promoting this negativity than City fans.
Of course, it’s impossible to deny that the volume of noise surrounding the club, whether it was human rights violations taking place thousands of miles away or sponsors paying an amount of money that a journalist in The Guardian didn’t think was correct in their opinion, had reached a massive crescendo around this time. As the club peaked, so did the desire to discredit it because, frankly, City had done it the wrong way. Not like Liverpool and United, who did it the right way.
So from that summer onwards, I vowed that I wouldn’t find myself getting bogged down in the swamp that was mainstream media Manchester City coverage. It’s honestly something I would implore many City fans to do, though I realise that trying to persuade anybody to do this is a bit like pissing into Storm Eunice.
Nowadays, I don’t really see much of the painfully blatant negative stuff. This is primarily as a result of making a conscious effort not to engage with articles which I know are obviously not written for City fans’ enjoyment (and let’s be honest, you can tell exactly which articles those are just by the headline alone) and also by curating my Twitter feed to ensure that the regulars who would share these articles, and constantly be enraged by the content, were no longer appearing on my feed at all.
We all look at the 17th time that the “Manchester City are a sign that money is ruining football” article has been written by the same couple of journalists and we all wonder, what on earth is he doing that again for? The answer is very simple – clicks.
The terrible beauty of these kind of negative articles is that it encapsulates almost the entirety of the big six audience. A positive article about the next up-and-coming Liverpool player to have higher potential than Kylian Mbappé doesn’t have much scope for readership outside of the scouse audience. Something talking about how great the process is under Mikel Arteta might get some interested clicks from others, but Manchester United fans certainly don’t care about reading anything positive about Arsenal.
But those are the positive articles. Let’s be honest, very few positive articles are written for a general audience, particularly when it comes to the top six sides. If a fan of any big six club, you probably aren’t reading very many positive articles about the other five. That’s tribalism, baby.
Bring negativity into the equation, however, and you suddenly flip the script. Whereas you were once reeling in only the Arsenal fans and a few others with a positive Arsenal piece, you’re now bringing in the audiences of local rivals, Chelsea and Spurs, as well as United, Liverpool and City, with a negative piece about Arsenal. Everybody wants to read about how badly their fellow big six clubs are doing because it makes them feel secure in their own support of their big six club. “My multi-billion-pound entity is better than your multi-billion-pound entity”, they shout on the playgrounds.
However, with the negative articles usually comes a sacrifice. If you write a negative piece about Arsenal, you’re probably going to alienate the Arsenal fanbase. If you write a negative piece about Liverpool, your media outlet is getting boycotted for generations to come. If you write a negative piece about City, however, well…
City are different. We’re the nouveau riche of the big six. Even more nouveau than Chelsea. We are therefore inherently the most disliked of them. Anything negative about us, particularly when it comes to affirming the insecurities of those fans by assuring them that City didn’t do it fairly, is a guaranteed goldmine for clicks amongst the fanbases of all five of the remaining big six clubs. It also comes with the bonus of getting a decent amount of readership from City fans themselves.
If Twitter is anything to go by, there’s a swathe of City fans who are desperate for articles like this. Always on the lookout for the next article to offend them and more than willing to give it plenty of retweets when it does. There is no greater marketing agency in the world for these kinds of articles with a negative City slant than City fans themselves.
Now, to deny that such articles exist would be ridiculous. We all know they do. I don’t personally read them because I quite like my sanity but I can’t say they’re not there at all. Yet this is not the entirety of the media.
David Mooney recently did a thread on Twitter about this very thing in the aftermath of an article in The Athletic from Adam Crafton about City’s sponsorship deals, whether they are considered related-third-party transactions or not and what this can mean for the likes of Newcastle, who will obviously be tapping into this Middle-Eastern market to boost their own income.
This prompted me to do a thread of my own, in which I very much agreed with David before going on a bit of a wild tangent.
The point is that the media is very much what you make it to be. As David correctly points out, there’s no shortage of great content out there. Even just taking The Athletic as an example, as everybody is still reeling from the idea that Adam Crafton, a man who’s written articles about ownerships and financial situations at multiple clubs across the Premier League, daring to look at Manchester City this time. Sam Lee is the go-to journalist on all things City and has been for a long time. His are one of the few works that I genuinely read as much as I can.
Across the rest of The Athletic, if you stay away from the James Pearce's of the world who are just fluffing up Liverpool fans before their nights in alone in front of their computer screens, you’ve got a varied array of stories both for Manchester City and beyond. Plenty of it is informative and genuinely worth reading.
Elsewhere there are plenty of journalists who, even if you don’t agree with everything they say, write great stuff. Jack Gaughan is another top City reporter over at the Daily Mail, Jonathan Smith at Goal is another. Looking away from City there’s great work to be found if you’re willing to look for it and not just happy to take whatever your Twitter followers serve up to you.
Failing that? Well, just stay right here. Fan media is where it’s at nowadays. Whether it’s here at the City Xtra website or over with Jordan and Lewis at City Xtra’s YouTube channel. There’s Esteemed Kompany, Maine Road Ramble, 9320Pod, City Report, a whole raft of fan media covering YouTube, podcasting and written media. Who knows the club better than fans? Most mainstream journalists who aren’t actually paid to cover City full time couldn’t tell you half the stuff that your average fan could about the club.
There’s still a place for mainstream media – the access and the contacts they have within the game make a lot of their work difficult to replicate as fan media. However, fan media is almost certainly going to eclipse it soon enough. Amongst some fanbases, it already has. Liverpool, United and Arsenal have fan channels on YouTube with hundreds of thousands of subscribers and are often seen as the main source of news for their club.
If you want to sit there and think that the mainstream media is all bad then, fine, it’s a view you’re entitled to but it’s not one that I think is based in reality. There’s undoubtedly some individuals whose bodies of work you could look at and make a solid case (if not a guaranteed case) that they’re biased against City in some way, but to say that represents “the media” as a whole is incredibly reductive.
Football media is what you make of it. If you want it to be an anti-City circlejerk then you can probably convince yourself that's exactly what it is if you only engage with that kind of content. If you look beyond the negativity, however, you’ll find some top articles and great writers. Like this article written by me, Joe Butterfield.
You can follow Joe on Twitter here: @joebutters


By faress

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