Tuesday 12 December 2017

Manchester clubs move swiftly to appease fans following China cancellation

Manchester United fans at the team hotel after the match was called off with Manchester City
Manchester United fans at the team hotel after the match was called off with Manchester City
Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho watches his players during training

Jack de Menezes

Manchester United and Manchester City fans who travelled more than 5,000 miles for the pre-season derby in Beijing, only to see it cancelled, will get a full ticket refund and a thank you video from the club’s players in return of spending thousands of pounds to travel to China.

One of the most eagerly anticipated pre-season friendlies was abandoned on Monday morning after the pitch at the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing was heavily damaged by torrential rain. The cancellation meant that fans will have to wait until 10 September for the first Premier League clash between Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, with the respective United and City managers set to lock horns once again.

Relevant Sports, the organisers of the International Champions Cup that both club were participating in, issued a statement on Monday to apologise to fans who had spent a lot of money on either getting to China or attending the match itself, with tickets costing between £60 and £300 for the match.

"As the leading pre-season tournament globally, International Champions Cup is committed to delivering safe and professional match conditions for the world’s best footballers, that in turn delivers great entertainment for fans. The extreme weather leading up to the match in Beijing has damaged the National Stadium playing surface to an extent that leaves it in an unplayable condition,” tournament spokesman Patrick Murphy said.

"We have collectively made this cancellation decision in the interest of player safety and concerns over the players' subsequent ability to put on a display for the fans that meets the quality standard of the International Champions Cup.

"We thank all parties who contributed to the planned staging of this match, in particular the tens of thousands of fans who committed to purchasing tickets. An appropriate refund policy will be put in place by our local partners for those fans."

A full statement added: “To acknowledge the support of fans, players of Manchester City and Manchester United will record and distribute a thank you video for fans in China before departing Beijing.”

Despite the goodwill gesture, British supporters who have made the trip halfway around the world are unlikely to be satisfied with the outcome given flights will have cost close to £1,000, with accommodation costs pushing the outlay well beyond the four-figure mark.

However, pictures from the Bird’s Nest Stadium did show that the pitch was in a terrible condition, having been relayed weeks ago only for patches to be washed away by torrential rain in the Chinese capital.

United will now return home on Monday to continue with their pre-season plans, with the squad set to move on to Sweden to face Galatasaray in Gothenburg on Saturday before remaining games against Everton and Leicester City – the second of which is the Community Shield match at Wembley.

City meanwhile fly on the Shenzhen where they take on Borussia Dortmund, who beat Manchester United 4-1 on Friday, in their only International Champions Cup match in China. As a result of the cancellation, there will not be a winner for the Chinese segment of the competition.

"It's extremely disappointing not to be able to play the game in this amazing stadium but the recent torrential rain would have caused problems anywhere in the world and has left the pitch unplayable,” said United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.

“We know our fans in China will, like the players and staff, be saddened by the cancellation of the match but I am sure they appreciate that the player safety has to be the top priority. I am sure we will return to the Bird's Nest in the future to give them the chance to see the team in action."

City captain Vincent Kompany thanked fans for their passionate support out in China – though strangely claimed that everything out there is “greater than life itself” – and admitted that the players are just as disappointed that the game will not go ahead, even though the centre-back was unlikely to play as he continues to recover from the surgery he had on his groin and thigh that kept him out of Euro 2016.

“It’s sad for us, it’s sad for our fans,” Kompany said. “Obviously it’s disappointing because we’ve looked forward to playing a derby in Beijing for a very long time, we had the groundsman working for 10 days but the conditions were just too dangerous for the players. It’s sad to call it off but mainly we want to thank all the fans for their passion, for the way they’ve received us in Beijing since we’ve been here.

Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho will have to wait to lock horns
Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho will have to wait to lock horns

“We’re moving on the Shenzhen now to play Borussia Dortmund so it’s not finished for us in China but obviously it’s a big disappointment for us.

“There’s things in life that you don’t control and as we say in Manchester ‘we just get on with it’. I think it builds up for the next time we come here that’ll be an even bigger event but in the meantime like I said we just have to get on with it.

“It’s been a special experience and everything in China has been greater than life itself almost. It’s been truly a unique experience and it’s hard to put into words how it feels when a big event like this is not happening, but I do feel it’s not the last time we come to Beijing and if we’re patient like Chinese people are then good things will come around and we’ll be here again.”

City chief executive Ferran Soriano added: “We are very disappointed not to be able to play for our supporters here in Beijing. The players have been working hard in training to prepare for an exciting derby. We know how much everyone was looking forward to the game, but we understand that this bad weather is beyond anyone’s control, and that the rain has made it totally unsafe to play on this pitch. It has been a pleasure and an honour to experience such a warm welcome from the people and supporters here in Beijing, and we remain committed to playing here in the future."

Fans who have purchased tickets to the cancelled match can seek a refund directly from their original point of purchase (no higher than face value at the time the ticket was originally purchased). Further details will be released in due course on the local Chinese tournament website, www.internationalchampionscup.cn.

(© Independent News Service)

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