Pep Guardiola has issued a plea to fans: please, come to matches. In doing so, he ignited a row – and revived a myth.
Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.
One story every day to make sense of the world of football.
Today, the “Emptyhad” myth.
Manchester City beat Red Bull Leipzig, 6-3 in the Champions League last week.
So you’d think, their boss, Pep Guardiola, would have been satisfied with that.
But you’d be wrong.
In his post match comments, he implored more fans to come to the next home fixture.
“So I would say in the last three games we have played here, we have scored 16 goals. So…I would like to come more people next game on Saturday. We need more people next Saturday, please.”Pep Guardiola
It sparked a huge row.
Supporters were disappointed, but Pep refused to apologise and even made reference to quitting.
The truth is it’s only the Manchester City Champions League games that have lots of empty seats.
So where has this “Emptyhad” story come from?
There’s a joke that started after Manchester City’s stadium was renamed.
Back in 2003, City left their ground at Maine Road in Moss Side, a tough, mostly poor area of Manchester. They moved to what was then called the City of Manchester stadium.
“When you look at the games and go to the games there are empty seats…and not because people…you know some people have got a season ticket and they just…they can’t go on that day, d’ya know what I mean?”
“But why are there empty seats?”
“I don’t know! I don’t know”
“So Maine Road or Etihad?”
“Maine Road. I played there with Oasis, where I grew up on the Kippax watching…learning how to sing on the Kippax, you know.”Noel Gallagher and Gary Neville, Sky Sports
Overnight, their capacity had grown to an extra 20,000 seats.
Five years later, in 2008, Abu Dhabi Royal Family member Sheikh Mansour purchased the club. Reports at the time suggested the family was worth one trillion dollars.
Then, they were swimming in the glitz and glamour of the Champions League.
So they instantly jumped from being outside English football’s elite group of clubs, to being one of the richest in the world, yet they regularly played in a stadium that was roughly two-thirds full for Champions League fixtures.
Because, the truth is they still struggled to fill those seats.
“Will you ever see City win the Champions League?
“Er…it’s a f…I’m not really that bothered. It’s a funny thing. There is a lot of apathy around the stadium about the Champions League…”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. If you’re asking me would I rather City win the league or the Champions League, I’d say every time the league.”Noel Gallagher and Gary Neville, Sky Sports
Shortly after the stadium was renamed the Etihad in 2011, rival fans had coined the name “The Emptyhad”, and it had stuck.
It’s unfortunately very catchy isn’t it?
Which brings me back to Pep Guardiola.
In making his comments about a forthcoming Premier League game, Guardiola inadvertently perpetuated that “Emptyhad” joke that rival fans take great pleasure in making.
But the question really is, is there still any truth in the Emptyhad?
After the Leipzig game and those comments from Pep, Manchester City fans responded with their highest league attendance of the season so far.
The stadium was almost 96% full to watch City draw against Southampton.
In fact, the Etihad has been almost full for all three league games so far this season. It holds just over 55,000 people.
And since 2015, that’s been the norm for City. They’ve been pretty much full for most league fixtures.
“Our stadium is called the Etihad, and a bit of football tribalism means that it’s well known as the Emptyhad. But the reality is that our support is very very good. And Pep was suggesting that we needed to fill the stadium for the game on Saturday against er…Southampton when in reality, the attendances for Premier League games at City…is always capacity.”Sky Sports News
So when Pep went on camera and urged people to turn up for a league fixture, his focus was on the wrong competition.
Before Covid hit, Manchester City averaged only 37 and a half thousand fans in their home Champions League fixtures.
They could work towards following the examples of other clubs who have successfully increased attendances with incentives such as free tickets for school children.
Until they do, they’ll continue to see roughly 17 and a half thousand empty seats.
So yes, the atmosphere won’t be great.
It doesn’t look good on TV.
And it won’t do anything to stop those “Emptyhad” jibes either.
Pep says that after five years with City he understands the club.
But after making that call for more fans to attend and drawing more attention to the empty seats… does he really?
Today’s episode was written by me, Chloe Beresford, and produced by Nimo Omer.