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Oct 12, 2013

Adding to the ranks in sky blue

Glory-hunters.

A term that cuts to the quick of any died-in-the-wool, seen-it-all-before supporters in English football. These beasts, little understood and parodied left, right and centre, can now been spotted clustering at many Premier League grounds to whoop at Jonjo Shelvey's shiny suit and gaze in awe at Danny Welbeck's delicately crafted barnet. Little is really known about these shy animals, who gather self-consciously behind their cameras and grin nervously in front of signs that bellow "Welcome to White Hart Lane", "Balti Pie and Chips" and "Keep off the Grass".

Once inside the ground, they can often be spotted on big nights, packing the front rows and gaping in awe at the springing majesty of our Premier League thoroughbreds. We may make fun of them, because they were not following our club when we lost to Halifax in the mud that time or were never there in the rain on the open away end at Huddersfield when we won but got chased all the way back to the railway station, but they are here now and they pay their hard-earned cash to join us in the comfortable surrounds of 2013.

- Mooney: Happy New Year's Day!

In many different ways, they are very welcome indeed to our odd little microcosm of wretchedly overcooked burgers and silly hats. For I have uncovered evidence to prove that they are human like the rest of us and that they want to be loved like the rest of us. Some may not be so very fussy about which team or which megastar they see cavorting about. Some may appear to be a little confused about historical traditions and the correct way to wear a half-and-half scarf (tied around your ankle as you walk the plank is in fact the only accepted form in tribal Manchester), but they form part of the reason your club can afford to keep that very same Shelvey in best quality marmot fur slippers and boa constrictor underpants. As these prancing princes enter the field of play, shining and magnificent in their top designer kits, flashbulbs popping and an audience from five continents gasping at them, one struggles to think what a visitor from Mars might make of all this modern flim-flammery.

Or indeed a visitor from 1970s Manchester.

For Manchester in the 1970s was a very different place than today. Its football landscape was couched in the same scarlet and sky blue hues; the great northern industrial edifices were still buffeted by the Irish Sea gales and lashed by unforgiving rain and sleet. The pitches, however, at a great open Maine Road and a totally unreconstructed old Trafford, with its quaint white picket fences and its dangerously packed paddocks, were inhabited by a very different breed of folk. There were Brians and Martins, Paddys and Daves, Peters and Colins instead of today's rich swathe of Pablos and Chicharitos. Mud ran and sloshed where today a green baize fit for snooker awaits our cosmopolitan heroes. The crowd (us!) wore piles of denim and tied scarves to its measly wrists and later turned to expensive casual wear, bedecked in Italian tennis tops and high quality German trainers.

It was quite a scene. A kind of Vitas Gerulaitus meets Adi Dassler for a quick punch-up. And punch-ups there were. The terraces heaved to swaying mobs and golf-ball throwing lunatics. Maine Road and the old heaving mass of the Kippax, the swaying worshipers on the Stretford End at Old Trafford, home to the fanatics, the casuals, the spotty kids and the loudmouths. No plush seat alongside a polite family of four from Bedfordhsire in those steaming, primeval days of gore.

Football has changed, in many ways for the better, in one or two for the worse. Manchester City's announcement of new and exciting development plans for the Etihad will take the capacity above 60,000 and will take the stadium so far beyond the level of our old home at Maine Road, that it might as well have inhabited not only another century, but another planet too. Some of us, brought up on the gaping terraces of a windy afternoon few people in their right mind were interested in, against Oxford or Luton or Coventry, still have to blink at the sight of 47,000 shining faces watching the Blues every week; at the sight of the bejewelled princes of Bayern and Real bestriding the trimmed Manchester turf.

But they are here, they are real and they are due to keep coming -- more frequently and in greater numbers as the club that stumbled out of the darkness a decade or so ago continues to grow into a contender on the European stage. From Barnsley to the Bernabeu has a great sound to it and describes exactly what has happened to City supporters in real time.

The ambitious stadium plans unveiled last week will open up this grand old club to even more interested newcomers. They may bring their cameras. They may bring their friends, their workmates and their mothers-in-law. They may take time to understand our odd accents and ways, our traditions and our gripes. But these attempts at understanding must be reciprocal, for they are a sign of the health of this club and the growth that has taken place over the last few short years. Manchester City has changed and, although some of us older ones may grumble about modern football and its strange ways, there is certainly no going back now.