Leaving Maine Road 16 Years ago was a step in the dark for Manchester City.
The promise that was sold to the Manchester City fans was a move to a state of the art new Stadium over at Eastlands which had been built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games would provide the platform of stability to allow our Club to grow.
Initially it did seem like that, as the much heralded new dawn was mourned by many at the departure from the spiritual home of Maine Road. It was all any of us had really ever known and our affection for it’s passing was significant. Many fans were genuinely moved and some did not make the transition, choosing to remain in Moss Side.
The last League match at Maine Road turned out to be a drab affair on 11 May 2003 as City faced Southampton. The ground was full and celebrations were planned as soon as the final whistle was sounded, but in a glorious typical City moment we lost the match 1:0. Our time at Maine Road petered out somewhat as Badly Drawn Boy sang songs and we romanticised about times past.
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Of course much of that was the problem. The Maine Road I remembered as a boy and spent so much time in whilst growing up had already gone. Standing in the large Kippax Stand which ran the length of the pitch, mostly towards the top left had been the times I remembered watching City. During those times in the 1980s and 1990s the action on the pitch was somewhat dire but the humour in the throng of the crowd and the belonging was what mattered.
Yet times changed, the laws of the game changed and the great standing areas of the ground were no longer allowed. Redevelopment of Maine Road came in fits and starts from this time, but it was the demolition of the Kippax Stand in 1994 when I always felt the heart of the ground was lost. The New Kippax Stand opened with it’s seating and facilities but it never really fitted in to the rest of the Stadium.
The huge height of the new stand dwarfed the surroundings and made our Maine Road look like something from Blackburn rather than the ‘Wembley of the North’ as had been originally intended by the architects back in the 1920’s. If anything the changes only served to emphasise how the rest of the ground was becoming somewhat neglected. It was these mounting repair costs which helped to cement the idea of moving to the City of Manchester Stadium.
Maine Road is a huge part of our history for we played 1753 competitive games there and only lost 399! Not a bad return by any stretch of the imagination. However uncomfortable many of us found the move to the new Stadium, it has been an integral part of the emergence of our Club into being a global force. Without it we may not have attracted the transformational investment which has changed our history for ever.
It has helped all of us to cope with the loss of Maine Road, that the Etihad has ushered in some marvellous moments, the like of which we never thought we would see. Consequently, I consider the Etihad our spiritual home nowadays, although that transition has taken me many years to fully accept.
To think we left Maine Road some 16 years ago seems hard to believe. The performances during the last 10 years have helped to blur out much of that time as we are lucky enough to live currently in the undoubted golden age of Manchester City. With each passing year there are fewer fans from previous eras left with us and we are left with increasingly blue tinted visions of the past.
But it is to the future we must look and the coming victories and trophies which will define us. City fans know more than most that tomorrow is more important than yesterday. Maine Road was an important stepping stone for our great Club on its journey from St Marks to where we are now and ultimately, beyond.