BLOG: English soccer team's rise parallels Cards

Posted at 1:20 PM, May 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-12 16:20:26-04

Last weekend, toward the end of an incredible vacation in the UK, I got to experience my second-ever English soccer game when my favorite team, Manchester City, took on visiting Arsenal.

As we approached Manchester's Etihad Stadium on a perfect 78-degree day, my English friend and fellow City fan pointed out something I never expected to see in England, much less at a soccer game: a fan wearing a black t-shirt that read "Arizona Cardinals" across the chest.

Like the Cardinals, Manchester City has finally shed its decades-old culture of mediocrity

As far as I could tell, it was only piece of sports apparel worn among the 60,000 people at the stadium that was not Manchester City- or Arsenal-related. 

I didn't get a chance to ask the man where he's from or why he was wearing the shirt. Nonetheless, seeing Cardinals gear outside a soccer stadium over 5,000 miles from Glendale reminded me why I became a fan of Manchester City a decade ago: Their history is similar to that of the Cards.

For most of their history, which includes 29 years in the Valley, the Cardinals have been mediocre at best. They advanced to the playoffs just once during their first 20 seasons in AZ, and during that time, they often played the role of stepchild to other teams that play in the western U.S., including their former division rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.

Manchester City fans have long understood that pain. Their club has been mediocre or worse for much of its history, serving as an afterthought to England's most heralded club, Manchester United, which plays just five miles down the road.

United is the Dallas Cowboys of Western Europe: You love them or you hate them. There is no middle ground.

But thanks to new ownership (which has included a massive infusion of cash), City has recently turned the tables. In 2012, they edged out United to win their first league championship in 44 years (in one of the most incredible finishes to a soccer match you'll ever see), and they won another title just two years later.

If City earns a win or draw in their final game of the season this weekend, they'll finish ahead of United in the Premier League standings for the third straight year -- a feat that was unfathomable when I began rooting for the Blues.

With that said, City fans aren't happy with how the 2015-16 season has gone, as their team is looking at a likely fourth- or fifth-place finish in the 20-team Premier League. But the fact that such a finish is now considered a failure is the ultimate sign that City's culture has changed.

The same can be said of the culture in Glendale, where mediocrity is no longer acceptable.

The Cardinals didn't have a single 10-win season or division championship during their first two decades in AZ. They've had four 10-win campaigns since 2009, including a franchise-record 13 victories last year, and they've earnred three division crowns since 2008.

The Cardinals have had four 10-win seasons since 2009

Team president Michael Bidwill, general manager Steve Keim and, most recently, coach Bruce Arians have done for the Cardinals what new ownership has done for City: They've made the club successful, fun, and even fashionable. The decades-old loser label seems to have been shed for good.

The only thing missing for the Cards, of course, is a world championship -- something they haven't earned since 1947 when they played in Chicago. But coming off an NFC Championship Game appearance and an impressive offseason, many believe 2016 will finally be the year the Birdgang breaks through.

Of course, we long-time Arizona sports fans are skeptical. Here in the desert, we get to celebrate the occasional division title or conference championship appearance, but world titles are reserved for fans in other cities.

But as long-suffering Manchester City fans have recently learned: In sports, nothing lasts forever, and anything is possible.

The man wearing the Cardinals shirt outside Etihad Stadium is proof of that.