Richer Than God: Manchester City, Modern Football and Growing Up, By David Conn

The problem with sky-blue thinking ...

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The Independent Culture

To be in the Etihad Stadium at 4.53pm on Sunday 13 May 2012 was to witness utter transcendental joy. Sergio Aguero had just scored one of the most dramatic goals in the history of English football and, in doing so, yanked the Premier League trophy away from Manchester City's cross-town rivals, United, with seconds to spare.

City's progression from third-division laughing stock to champions has taken more than a decade. But that story is not the core of David Conn's book – even if, with a rushed chapter on May's events, it's quick to capitalise on City's success. Conn, a journalist who grew up in Prestwich, is a City fan, and Richer Than God follows his time on the terraces. But we get more than the fan's perspective: City's unlikely turnaround acts as a prism through which to see a game that's changed beyond recognition.

We follow Conn as he turns from terrace diehard to hardened cynic – a change which stems from his meeting men such as the player-turned-businessman Francis Lee. Conn was among the fans who welcomed Lee as Manchester City's saviour in the mid-Nineties, only to discover that, like others attaching themselves to English teams, Lee was determined to turn this local club into a profitable PLC.

A lawyer-turned-writer, Conn brings an investigator's eye to the murky world of football finance. He's the leading practitioner of a sports journalism that explains to fans the vagaries of leveraged buyouts, and has documented a period that's seen Manchester United's vast profits flipped into huge debts, and too many clubs, from Portsmouth and Leeds to Rangers, fall into a financial quagmire.

Richer than God acknowledges that City's owner, Sheikh Mansour, has been a good influence. But Conn wonders constantly whether having the world's richest team ply its trade in one of the country's poorest areas is a fitting legacy for a club founded by a vicar's daughter to give Manchester's urban poor some exercise. Instead, as a model, Conn looks at FC United, the new club formed as a co-op by United fans after their former club's hostile takeover by Malcolm Glazer.

City fans ought to devour Conn's story of their club, and, for those interested in the current state of English football, it's equally indispensable.