Some Manchester City fans just don’t want to let their old ground go and spent a few hundred quid at auction to make sure they never have to, as Helen Duff reports
Though the wake for Maine Road was held on the last day of the season, the will reading had to wait until high summer. On a scorching Sunday morning in July, Manchester City fans converged for one final time on the stadium that had served their team through 80 turbulent years – to bid for its fixtures and fittings. The auction spelled a temporary change of emphasis for City, from eager anticipation of the future (this was the week in which an excited Kevin Keegan had taken custody of the keys to the club’s sparkling new 48,000-seat stadium) to bittersweet retrospection.
Sombre thoughts were uppermost at the start of the day, with a minute’s silence held in memory of Marc-Vivien Foé, before the auctioneer took his place on the overgrown pitch, tapped his microphone, raised his gavel and addressed a crowd of around 1,000 seated in the Main Stand. And so to business. Just about every vestige and trapping of Maine Road that hadn’t been spirited away following the final game in May was up for grabs as a sentimental keepsake. Bidders might not have been given an option on the kitchen sink, but they were offered both a basin from the gents toilets in the Main Stand (hot tap missing, in need of Vim – went for £45) and the enamel boot-bath from the home dressing room (highest bid: £310). Prized memorabilia on offer included the boardroom table (fetched £460), the gates from the players’ tunnel (£40), the front doors to the stadium (£600), a mahogany treatment table dating from the 1930s (£130), the City squad’s dressing-room door (£190) and the door to the manager’s office (£70 – and not, as those who recall the exciting days of Alan Ball/Steve Coppell/Frank Clark might have expected, revolving).
Some of the stadium signs being auctioned had amusing appeal as domestic decorations (what home wouldn’t benefit from a “THANK YOU FOR NOT USING FOUL AND ABUSIVE LANGUAGE”warning? Yours for £60) but others were practical only if you fancied naming your house “CENTRE SEATS 26 – 41”. Contenders for the least useful lot of the day included a plaque bearing the legend “ANYONE FOUND ALLOWING DOGS TO FOUL THE PAVED AREA AROUND THIS FOOTBALL GROUND WILL BE PROSECUTED JB HALFORD SECRETARY” and a replica City shirt slightly larger than the average roof, but both found loving homes (selling for £80 and £950 respectively). Turnstiles went for as little as £150 (plus £140 removal costs) and as much as £625 – the latter for an 1890s antique which had put in 30 years’ service at City’s Hyde Road ground before Maine Road was even constructed. Then again, as one bidding fan was heard to comment in a barbed mutter: “We’ve got goalkeepers older than that.”
Predictions that the club’s pre- eminent celebrity supporters, Noel and Liam, would be in attendance waggling wads proved unfounded; according to the auctioneers Smith Hodgkinson, no dealings were had with the Gallaghers. Nor were there any signs of the Blues’ other famous fans: Stuart Hall, Bernard Manning, Jennifer Lopez (if you believe the rumours). There were, however, 630 registered bidders who bought more than 700 lots during the seven-plus hours of the auction, generating £40,000 on the day. Final takings are expected to top £100,000 once the sale of Maine Road’s larger items – including floodlights, scoreboard and main banks of seating – has been completed by industry tender. All money raised is being donated to community projects in Manchester’s Moss Side district: a parting gift to the neighbourhood City called home for generations.
But what was the steal of the day? A penalty spot due to have been auctioned off was withdrawn from the sale (having been damaged in an unspecified accident) as was the tactics board from the home dressing room (insert your own cruel joke here), but one lucky punter did go home with the players’ ping-pong table for a tenner.
Proof – if it were needed – that City fans are masochists came with the fact that a display board documenting the club’s resurgence between 1998 and 2000 sold for less (£25) than one detailing the misery of the preceding period (£35) and, although there were no takers for 25 of the 26 colour televisions in the auction, the final lot – a framed oil painting of legendary goalkeeper Joe Corrigan – fetched an impressive £725.
Which just left time to lock up, leave a note out for the milkman and turn eyes and ambitions eastwards, towards the City of Manchester stadium.
From WSC 199 September 2003. What was happening this month