Canal Street Blues: A community for all

Manchester takes pride in its heritage – none more so than in its footballing grandeur.

Home to two of world football’s true heavyweights, ‘the beautiful game’ forms an important backbone of the city’s identity.

But from the New Union bar, one of the city’s first openly gay pubs, to today’s world-famous annual Pride festival, a renowned LGBTQ+ community is also woven into Manchester’s very fabric.

Launching its first Pride celebration in 1985 as a charity event for those with HIV and AIDS, Canal Street has been at the forefront of that progression.

Named after the famous area of the city, Canal Street Blues, Manchester City’s official LGBTQ+ Supporters Club, marries together two of the Northern Powerhouse’s focal points of identity: football and its gay community.

And with LGBTQ+ History Month running across February, the importance of both celebrating and reflecting on that proud heritage takes on a particular significance.

Officially formed in January 2014, CSB was one of the first of its kind to come into official existence, alongside fellow trailblazers in Arsenal’s ‘Gay Gooners’, Tottenham’s ‘Proud Lilywhites’ and Norwich’s ‘Proud Canaries’. 

And from that initial spark, a small-scale operation has continually grown, with over 100 members now part of the community. 

In 2019, Canal Street’s Bar Pop played host to the four trophies that Pep Guardiola’s men won in our historic 2018/19 campaign, while CSB members were also interviewed at half-time in City’s Premier League match with Arsenal, which fell on the weekend of Manchester’s Pride celebrations in August 2021. 

From pre-match meetups in Ancoats and on Canal Street through to virtual calls and messaging groups, CSB’s overriding ethos is to be a community where there’s only one entry requirement: a love for Manchester City. 

“I grew up in Moss Side and have been going to watch City now for nearly 30 years, which has flown by really,” committee member Anthony Greenridge explains. 

“I joined CSB about a year after they’d initially formed. I was literally just walking back from a game and met John Brown, who’d set the group up, and another member. 

“We just got talking, you know like you do with anyone, and they said they were going off to Canal Street for a drink - I’d never heard of the group at this point, but ever since then I’ve been a member. 

“It meant a great deal (to join the group) because it could be difficult growing up. 

“Everybody knows Canal Street, (but) I’m from an Afro-Caribbean background and it was always quite difficult for me not knowing how I was going to be received, not only from a family perspective but also from friends. 

“I was slightly worried about how I was going to be accepted but to have that safe place I guess is fantastic, and we’re growing massively. 

“We offer a really fun, vibrant but safe place for people to enjoy other people’s company who are likeminded, and I can’t stress that enough. 

“It’s a place they to make friends with people and if to be able to talk to people about whatever might be bothering you, or if people aren’t quite ready to come out to family and friends yet and want that place to be able to dip their toe in, we’d be an ideal place for people to do that.” 

“Canal Street Blues isn't just for those who are part of the community, it's for families, friends and allies as well."
David Alvarado, CSB Chair

Anita Clarke joined at a similar time to Anthony having noticed a CSB banner at the Etihad Stadium, also witnessing the group’s continual evolution into what it has become today. 

However, her association with Manchester City goes beyond an unwavering support for the Club she loves. 

“Initially, I just answered an advert in the paper that City had put out. We went down to training, I think two or three turned up initially, but it just grew and grew,” reflects Anita. 

The year was 1988, and Manchester City – under the guidance of Neil Mather – were looking to form our first ever Women’s team. 

Despite initially trialling as an outfield player, Clarke would eventually end up between the sticks when the team found themselves without a goalkeeper. She’d continue as City’s number one until the late 1990s and has since gone on to represent both the Club and England in walking football alongside several of her former teammates. 

But for all of the exciting opportunities that Anita’s enjoyed, she still insists that becoming a member of CSB has added a new dimension to her time following City. 

“For me, it’s the fact that we meet before the match, we all walk down together, I don’t have to ‘pretend’ if that makes sense”, she explains. 

“It’s just accepted that we’re there for the one thing we have in common other than being part of the LGBTQ+ community: Manchester City. 

“That’s the common ground, it doesn’t matter what or who we are, and I think more and more people are recognising that we’re there because we support City, that’s it, end of. 

“I do (feel it’s enhanced my experience), before I was a little bit fearful of coming to the match.

“But for me the experience of going to the matches with the group, I’m relaxed, I can go and have a laugh and enjoy myself. I’m very proud to be a member of CSB, it means a lot to me.” 

“I’m Manchester born and bred, a massively proud Mancunian and it feels good that you can marry all the different parts of your life together, whether it’s your identity, your Club or your city.”
David Alvarado, CSB Chair

Those matchday meetups remain a key part of the group’s activity, with members making the journey over to Lisbon for City’s recent Champions League clash with Sporting CP. 

Anthony was part of the group who travelled to the Portuguese capital and explains what being a part of the group has added to his matchday experience. 

He joked: “I’ve always said that following City home and away is about the day out particularly when you’ve watched them for so long and we’ve not always been that good! 

“So it’s been great to meet up with them, we just all get together and have a good time, a few drinks, banter, talk about the game and things like that. 

“I think there were about 12 of us in Lisbon - that was fantastic, it was like blues on tour! That was really good fun, we had such a good time, and all met pre-match on Tuesday in Lisbon’s main square and went from there really.”

“We want to be a group that does what it says on the tin, to tell the community that you can be City fans and maybe even encourage those who are reluctant City fans,” CSB chair David Alvarado continues.

“In the past it might’ve been judged in the community: ‘you can’t be gay and be a football fan, that’s a bit weird’, but we don’t want that, we want people to know that if you want to be a City fan, it doesn’t matter who you are.” 

Indeed, one of the key messages that Alvarado is keen to reiterate is that CSB welcomes members from all walks of life, not just those who specifically identify with the LGBTQ+ community.

A season ticket holder since 1993, Alvarado is extremely proud of the work CSB has done in working alongside the Club to break stereotypes and help bridge the gap between the LGBTQ+ community and football. 

“It’s not just for those who are part of the community, it's families, friends and allies as well. 

“We’re all just City fans, it doesn’t matter, we all cheer as loud as anyone else, we’re all as passionate.

“We’ve got the new generation of fans as well which is what we’re trying to encourage, we’ve got people popping up all the time saying they’re delighted to find us, it's really good to see. 

“Manchester is a massive LGBT community, renowned throughout the country certainly but also throughout Europe and the world. 

“It’s not just about being proud of who you are, but also our city and the culture, so it’s great that the Club reflect that and want to take it forward. 

“I’m Manchester born and bred, a massively proud Mancunian and it feels good that you can marry all the different parts of your life together, whether it’s your identity, your Club or your city.” 

CSB and groups of their ilk have taken significant steps on that journey over the past decade, not only offering an outlet to the community but also celebrating the similarities that we all share as Manchester City supporters. 

Both the group, and the street that it’s named after, has always pushed to promote a tolerance and acceptance of everyone irrespective of their background or identity. 

It’s often said that a Club should reflect its community and, in Manchester City’s case, that’s a local area that you can be truly proud to be a part of.