“I eat, sleep, breathe Manchester City,” Bernard Halford said. It is scarcely an exaggeration. Just the second Life President in the club’s history joined his beloved Blues as club secretary in 1972. City had around 40 employees then. It is about 700 now. Halford has witnessed change and growth. It has accelerated in the last decade.
He remembers the catalytic evening in 2008, as Sheikh Mansour’s takeover of City became public knowledge. “We signed Robinho on deadline day,” he recalled. “At that time you faxed things [to the FA] and I was sending papers through at 10 to 12 because it all had to be done by 12. The fans were driving around the Etihad all beeping their horns.”
The Brazilian marked the beginning of a new era. “It was £32 million (Dh152.6m),” Halford added. “If someone had said in 2004-05 or any time up to the takeover that Manchester City was going to spend £32m on a player, you would have thought we would have to buy two teams for that. It was a mammoth thing.”
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He has seen transformation on and off the field. The Etihad Campus has brought a regeneration of east Manchester which Halford believes was much needed.
“This area was one of the most deprived in the country, Ancoats and Beswick and Bradford, with the poor standard of living and people out of work,” Halford said. “The Sheikh hasn’t just built a football team; he has made this area unbelievable”
Halford has focused on both the local and global impact of City’s success. “It used to be that Manchester United sold more shirts here in Manchester,” he explained. “I used to drive to work at Maine Road and count the shirts, how many were United and how many were City, as I was stopped at traffic lights. Now I go to schools and I see City shirts wherever I go.
“When we are on television, you get 500, 600, 700 million people watching Manchester City. Now, wherever we go in the world now, Manchester City’s name is with people.”
Halford is a survivor of the fallow period, the 35-year wait for a trophy that was ended in 2011, and the austerity era.
“You go through the traumas, now the City fans are actually seeing the best players in the world.
“I have got to have a business hat on at times as secretary but then you are a fan as well so you are mixing the two so for me it was like bread from heaven that we could bring players of that stature and ability to the club. It is utopia from a City perspective.”
Halford is 76 now. He first went to Maine Road as an eight-year-old. He remembers sitting on the terraces, buying a ticket for 1p to try and win the matchball. A better prize came later in life. Halford thinks back to the 2011 FA Cup final.
“On the day of the match, I get told, if we win the Cup, I am going up to receive it. The only person, other than a player or a manager, to lift the Cup at Wembley. I was 69 years old and I lifted the FA Cup with 90,000 people at Wembley. Can you imagine? I remember sitting watching Stanley Matthews [win it] in 1953. Fifty-eight years later, it’s Alice In Wonderland.”
And yet, he feels, it is very real. He remembers his first conversations with City’s new regime. Their promises have come true.
“What I was told was going to happen has happened,” he said. “It is growing bigger all the time.”