Football: City's Maine Road to nowhere

Football: Another season of slumming among the League's lower orders already faces Royle's retinue

THE MANCHESTER City fans turned to the away support and chorused: "Who the **** are you?" Standard terrace banter, except they genuinely did not know who Gillingham, their visitors on Saturday, were. As a Gills fan said afterwards: "They kept asking us: "Where is Gillingham? They had no idea."

This, then, is the cold reality of Manchester City's descent. While Manchester United leave today for a Champions' League tie in Barcelona, their neighbours are now playing teams they have barely heard of. And to make it worse, they cannot beat them.

Gillingham, who are actually two places above City in the Nationwide League's Second Division, gained a goalless draw on their Maine Road League debut and, though they needed a little fortune at times, just deserved it.

The result left City in seventh place, on the fringe of the play-off places but 11 points behind the runaway leaders Fulham and Stoke, who occupy the automatic promotion spots. A second season of slumming beckons already.

This is not what their supporters envisaged when they were relegated in a blaze of defiance last May. The final-day 5-2 win at Stoke was supposed to presage a glorious tour of football's lower division outposts, with the likes of Gillingham being swept away. Instead City have won just four homes games out of 10 and have lost at Wycombe and Lincoln, the bottom two clubs.

"I see two teams at every club," Joe Royle, the City manager, said.

"Whenever I go to see future opponents play I don't see much to trouble me, but then they come to Maine Road and are galvanised. Or we go there and it's the biggest gate of the season and they're galvanised. Everyone plays better against us. They're used to playing in front of three or four thousand then they come here with 26,000, it's like all their holidays have come at once."

Tony Pulis, the Gillingham manager, confirmed that the away dressing- room had been buzzing before the game with a nervous energy rarely experienced in the provincial repertory of the Nationwide. "Their problem is every match they play is a cup final," he added of City.

That is just one of City's problems. Another is that they do not possess the resources to match their profile. "The big spenders in this division are Fulham and Wigan," Royle said. "That sounds strange from a Man City manager but our spending's been minimal, about pounds 380,000 this season."

Fulham are backed by the Harrods' owner Mohamed Al Fayed, Wigan by the millionaire proprietor of the JJB sports shop chain, Dave Whelan. City, however, have been unable to attract similar support, their latest chairman, David Bernstein, informed the recent AGM. Having spent pounds 31m on players in the past five years, there is nothing left.

The club still generates a huge income by the standards of the division, helped by the gates which still top 26,000, but have had expenses to match.

When Royle arrived in February there were 53 players on the staff, many earning wages agreed when the club was still in the Premiership. It cost pounds 250,000, for example, to pay off Nigel Clough.

The situation is unlikely to be helped by the unexpected resignation yesterday of Mike Turner, the chief executive, after just 18 months at Maine Road. Not that clubs like Gillingham, who narrowly survived both bankruptcy and relegation to the Conference four years ago, are likely to be sympathetic.

Fortunately for City, Royle has experience of working successfully on a tight budget from his days at Oldham.

In nine months, Royle has moved 28 players out and brought seven in, a sum he hopes to add to this week with the purchase of either Aberdeen's Craig Hignett, Everton's Michael Branch, or both. With a new formation being developed as well consistency is, naturally, hard to achieve.

"You don't turn from a losing team to a winning team overnight," Royle said, "but that's what we have to do. Though I'd like to bring in a couple more [players] to nail it down, what we now have is good enough for this division and I expect us to get stronger as the season goes on. When I first came here I thought we had dishonest players but they are an honest team now with good characters."

There was certainly no lack of endeavour but it needed guile as well as sweat to beat a Gillingham side which was equally committed. A crowd still pining for Gheorghi Kinkladze had to settle for Craig Russell's wing-play which, though enterprising, merely played into the heads of Gillingham's big central defence.

At times City played well with Gary Mason, rescued from the depths of third-team football by Royle, frequently involved. The busy Shaun Goater could have scored twice in the opening 15 minutes, hitting the post after rounding Jim Stannard then seeing the goalkeeper make a brilliant reaction save to his point-blank header. After the break Andy Morrison had a thumping header cleared off the line by Nicky Southall while Russell and Mason missed good chances. But there were boos from the crowd at the end of both halves, the crowd jeered the persevering Tony Vaughan, and after- match comment on the local radio phone-in ended with the description "abysmal".

That was harsh on City but the support is not yet ready to be consider a club such as Gillingham - which although an experienced, well-organised team, has never been out of the lower divisions and won its sole honour, the Fourth Division championship, 35 years ago - as an equal. Nor, in truth, did the men of Kent feel as such. They sang: "You're not famous any more." But the presence of 2,700 travelling fans, half the average home gate, underlined City's attraction.

The only other time these teams met, in the FA Cup in 1908, Gillingham were called New Brompton and in the Southern League; City were headed for third place in the old First Division. Ancient history but, as the stadium emptied on Saturday, City's fifth place in the top flight six years ago seemed just as distant.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker