Smelling of barbecues is okay but going home smelling of burger vans is not so good. Once they get the ventilation right under the giant canopies – filled with greasy smoke by kick-off – the new Manchester City FC fan zone will be just right.
The idea of a space for fans to congregate, have a pint, meet up before the game and watch past derby highlights on a big screen outside the ground is a surprisingly novel one in this country. Normally such outdoor entertainment areas are found at World Cups as overflow from the main event. City hopes the space will be used not just for home games but as a venue in its own right for non-footballing occasions.
The £3m development, named City Square, has been a whirlwind project, designed by architects BDP in two weeks and built in six over the summer. There are posh burgers and chips, bars, a giant screen, toilets and plenty of picnic bench seating arranged in a horseshoe of three canopied structures around the existing club shop. The amount of fans using the area before and after the game last night for the first time – the bars were open for half an hour after the game but closed at 10.30pm, presumably licenced in favour of local residents – proved the concept has worked.
Returning to City Square after the Blues' thumping of Liverpool 3-0, the screen gave way to a presenter on stage organising win-a-ticket competitions. He then roved around with a cameraman for ten minutes chatting to elated fans and sampling a few songs from those in the bars, broadcast on another big screen on the side of the club shop. No lads, you're not on telly, you''re on a big screen opposite you, that's it. It felt a tad like trying to replicate the forced fun of a Sky Sports promo.
One could ask what the pubs and burger vans around Eastlands think of such corporate competition at the ground but the debate about money taking over the game is at least a decade late. The City Square experiment looks like a winner, as fans seemed to agree overnight. Shades of Blue commented on the Blue Moon forum this morning:
I went last night, It was class watching the derby games with a pint outside- the screens are first class, the atmosphere was great too, the club have got it spot on and in time this will grow and grow, even my dad was impressed and he's usually happy with a cheap pint in a pub in town. The food looked great as well but did not get the chance to taste it, will do next time. plenty of singing too, I think they will need outdoor heaters like at the xmas markets in the winter though.
Indeed, if only the Sheikh could deliver us some warmth in August.