Saturday, December 23, 2023

DESERT DISPATCH

Mike Hammond has followed City home and away since the early 80s and made it to Jeddah to see history made. Here are his impressions of five days in the Desert Kingdom:



I understand that we all live in our own bubble and our reality is our reality alone so this can only be my observations of Saudi Arabia. 

My reality ahead of this journey was one of utter ignorance. Obviously, like most people in the UK, I had read and heard about life in the Kingdom. The brutal Kashoggi murder, the Newcastle/sportswashing articles, the Jordan Henderson scorn and the awarding of the World Cup. 


It’s hard to know how balanced those articles have been as I had no reality to cross check & there are very few pro-Saudi articles in the British media. Having said all that I think I broadly took the view as presented. 


If I could sum it all up it would be along the lines of the DM sent to me after last night's final that this country is a brutal dictatorship with appalling human rights suppressions. 


So how does one tally all of that with the experience as an individual traveller? 


You can’t. I’m a privileged westerner, with all the associated rights and freedoms that go along with that luxury, and I’m not a threat to the state. So, in essence, I’m free to do whatever I want. 

First impressions are, of course, the airport, which is hugely impressive and efficient, in stark contrast to any in the UK. The immigration process was stress-free and we were welcomed from the start. I’ll be honest: there’s almost nothing to do here. It’s not a tourist city. The number 3 thing to do on TripAdvisor is a walk down a path & number 4 is to look at a flag pole


I should say that they DO have an indoor zoo which is drawing some admiring glances on the tourist trail. Amongst its attractions are lemurs, monkeys and dogs. Dogs. In a zoo. 


It’s also in a state of mass rebuilding. In the day it is, to be kind, a total shithole. But at night it’s like you’ve been transported to a magical place. It looks AMAZING! You can’t see the crap and the derelict buildings and everything is beautifully spot-lit & looks shiny and new. 


Luckily for my travelling mates and me, our body clock was skewed heavily to the night. Plus, there’s no reason to wake up early unless you want to watch some PrimeMutton videos - which luckily I did. 


Normally on a ‘City away’ quite a lot of time is spent boozing. And I won’t lie, some of the great cafes we went too over here would have been mega with a gin and tonic or a pint. But it wasn’t an option so our drink of choice was an Oreo Milkshake. You can drink a surprising amount of these it turns out. 


The best thing about Jeddah, though, is the people. You’ll never meet a friendlier, more inquisitive, more accommodating group of people anywhere in the world. It’s truly astonishing how friendly they are. Every single person, even people you walk past in the street. 


The second best is the food. Saudi is a nation of immigration and you can get food from all over the world. Our highlight was a Bangladeshi cafe that produced the best curry I’ve ever had. We were treated like kings & after a huge lunch the bill for 5 of us was about £25 in total. 


So what else? Well when we checked in at our hotel, the concierge took one look at Liam and I and asked would we want to share one big bed or a twin room. I was genuinely flabbergasted that this was even suggested. What a few days away! 


Public transport is non-existent so all travel is by car. Even relatively short journeys. UBERs are plentiful and cheap, which is great because it’s impossible to cross the roads here. They’re all 4 lanes each way and the driving is a joke. It made Istanbul look disciplined. 


Clothing? We were happily wandering about in shorts and t-shirts. And if you’re by the pool swimwear is, of course, fine. Bikinis absolutely fine for women as well. Again, not what I was led to believe. 


So, a World Cup in a decade. The locals were pretty sure that well before then alcohol will be allowed in the kingdom. My assumption is public transport to and from the stadiums will all be in place by then too. The stadium itself was magnificent. Beautiful on the outside and amazing on the inside. Great atmosphere, comfortable and loads of concession stands etc. and again, the people. They are football mad. Boys, girls, men and women all watching. All going mental. 


Arriving in Jeddah, I’m embarrassed to say, I genuinely thought it would be like something from the dark ages. The reality, my reality, is of a friendly country, modernising at an incredible rate. And by modernising I don’t necessarily mean Westernising (although places like Maccies AKA ‘the office’ and Nando’s are all over), they are proud of their religion, culture and history. 


And why shouldn’t they be?





Thursday, December 14, 2023

RUNNERS AND RIDERS

City go into Monday's Champions League knockout round draw with the following possible opponents (in bold via Mancity.com):


Of these sides, City have played PSG the most, 7 times in all, followed by 4 each against Napoli, Porto and FC Copenhagen. 

City's first encounter with the Parisiens dates back to 2008, a meandering odyssey of a European campaign that took in the Faroe Islands, Denmark three times and a weird lop-sided 5-team group format that saw some teams played at home only, others away only. PSG were only played in Manchester that season, hence the uneven total of games played against the French champions (7). An uninspiring 0-0 draw was perhaps predictable with City's attack featuring Jo, Darius Vassell and Daniel Sturridge. PSG hit back with their own non-scoring attack of Chelsea failure Mateja Kežman, with another ageing ex-Pensioner Claude Makélélé prompting in midfield.

The inevitable Jo

Since then, City's record against the French is good (4 wins, a draw and a defeat) and there is nothing to see from this season's PSG side that would offer reasons for fear if drawn against them at this stage. They came through a tough group featuring Newcastle, Milan and Dortmund, but escaped by the skin of their teeth in a tight finish.

A tie against Napoli would have been unwanted last season, but this year's form has been soft and Inter would now provide a sterner challenge and a repeat of last year's final. Napoli were City's first-ever Champions League opponents in 2011 and the record against them is Played 4, Won 2 Drawn 1 Lost 1.
It was during the superb 4-2 win at the San Paolo in 2017 that Sergio Aguero broke the City scoring record. 

Aguero celebrates in the San Paolo


Last year's final is the only time City have played Inter, while the other possible Italian opponents, Lazio, have never been faced in European competition. They did provide City's opposition for the annual Thomas Cook preseason trophy match in August 2004, however, being well beaten 3-1 by a City side for whom Nicolas Anelka scored after 30 seconds.


Anelka nets the early opener against Lazio in 2004

City have played Porto and Copenhagen four times each in Europe, meaning neither opponent would be an unknown quantity and neither venue a new one for travelling fans. The first trip to Porto for the 2011 Europa League round of 32 match was a memorable one for many Blues fans, taking in a wonderful sunny day by the banks of the River Douro, followed by a great City win at the Dragao. A 4-0 tonking in the return game, coupled with more recent Champions League encounters means City's balance against the Portuguese is also a positive one: Played 4, won 3, drawn 1.

City fans gather at the Cais da Ribeira in Porto on the day of the 2011 match (2-1)


Copenhagen provided City's opposition last season in the group stages (5-0 and 0-0) and in the same Europa League campaign that saw City face PSG for the first time (2-1 and 2-2) meaning they are one of the most scored-against City opponents in European football with a total of 9 conceded in the four matches played so far. Their manager Stale Solbakken has also gone down in history as the first to start bleating about City's finances and the club's standing in what he considered the Greater Scheme of Things. (see below

Extract from City in Europe

Which leaves us with PSV Eindhoven, possibly the favourite choice amongst travelling fans, as it would be easy to get to and also represents a potential first-time opponent. PSV provided City with summer opposition during the infamous Sittard Tournament of 1993, when the Blues faced local side Fortuna, Bobby Robson's Sporting and PSV in a four-team group. The match with PSV ended 1-1 and was won by City on penalties. This correspondent missed the goal by Gary Flitcroft as the queue for chips was long and slow. 


A rainy night against Copenhagen. Richard Dunne is first to the ball.


You can read in detail about all of these games in City in Europe, From Allison to Guardiola, in all good bookshops now! City in Europe: From Allison to Guardiola:... by Curtis, Simon (amazon.co.uk)



Saturday, December 9, 2023

THE WAY WE WERE: LUTON TOWN AWAY

Danny Wilson's penalty sails past Andy Dibble at Kenilworth Road


It is the 1989-90 season and things, as was the custom in those days, are in a considerable state of flux.

Luton, with their away-fans ban and irretrievably bouncy artificial pitch are the most hated team in the league, while City, with 40 consecutive away games under the belt without a single win, are by far the league's most popular visitors. 

How times change.

Two weeks after handing Nottingham Forest a win in his infamous "loss of concentration" (The Gary Crosby Moment, as it would go down in history), occasionally lunatic 'keeper Andy Dibble was again up to his old tricks, giving away the penalty that put the hosts 1-up.

That City also scored from the spot evened things up neatly, Clive Allen slotting a late equaliser with his accustomed sangfroid.

Allen by this time was persona non grata at Maine Road, new manager Howard Kendall seemingly unprepared to put up with any players who did not have the word "Everton" stamped on their passports. The Merseyfication of the side (Megson, Heath, Ward, Reid, Pointon, Harper, Clarke would all, as ex-Toffees, ship up during Kendall's short reign) grated with many City supporters but saw the club clear of relegation that season.

Kendall's arrival had brought another parallel with Luton, who had Jim Ryan in fresh charge for this game. Both clubs had recently ditched the previous incumbents of the itchy managers' chairs with utterly ridiculous excuses.

The old axe-swinger Peter Swales had shown Mel Machin the door on the grounds of having no "repartee" (sic) with the fans, while Luton had got rid of Ray Harford on the premise that he "didn't smile enough". Within six years both sides would be languishing in lower leagues, perhaps as reward for such short-sighted management.      





Thursday, December 7, 2023

OF UPGRADES AND DOWNTURNS



In the summer of 2012, Manchester City, with Roberto Mancini still just about in tow, produced a summer spend of such prolonged ghastliness, it would eventually bring to a close the urbane Italian's reign at the Etihad. 

Business that summer produced Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair, Matija Nastasic, Javi Garcia and the ineffable, low-flying Maicon.

As improvements on the players that had months earlier pulled in City's first league title since 1968, there was little to be said. Not one of these acquisitions raised enough energy to ignite a candle and, as the season kicked off with a wobbly 3-2 home win over Southampton, talk was of how City were to progress in their inaugural Champions League tilt with this array of new talent at their disposal.

Rodwell featured against the opening day visitors in a midfield comprising Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and David Silva, yet only managed to make it look weaker, as former talisman Nigel de Jong prepared to be shifted out to AC Milan. De Jong it had been carrying the ball forward the previous May in the 94th minute of that sweat drenched title denouement against Queens Park Rangers, when City won the league the only way the Gods would have allowed it. Now Rodwell carried it sideways.

City had to come from behind to beat Southampton, as they had done so dramatically against QPR, and again in the second home game of the season, a 3-1 win over the self same Londoners, the champions looked vulnerable in a shaky 3-1 win. The programme cover featured "Jack the Lad" Rodwell, but, despite the smiles and the shiny new kit,  all was clearly not well.




When it came, it would be City's worst-ever showing in the Champions League. Drawn with the champions of Spain, Germany and Holland, it was truly a Group of Death with City starting it semi-deceased and ending it comatose. The reality quickly proved to be worse than even the greatest of the ex-Kippax doom-mongers could have predicted. 

This correspondent watched aghast high in the stands as the opening game away to Real ended 3-2 after City had held a 2-1 lead going into the 87th minute, provoking a delirious knee slide along the touchline from the Armani-suited Jose Mourinho. Talk about scuffing the knees unnecessarily.

New signing from Benfica Javi Garcia featured in a ponderous looking midfield alongside Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure, yet another three minutes would have seen a famous win at the Bernabeu. It was not yet clear that City's season would fall flat. In Europe this gradually became the case, however, as Dortmund and Ajax both wiped the floor with an out-of-sorts Blues side, City finishing a distant last in their group of four.




Soon the League Cup would also be sacrificed in a home defeat to Aston Villa. It was by now dawning on many that the desired Summer upgrade was in fact an utter dud. A dreadfully listless 1-3 defeat at St Mary's where Barry's own goal sealed the win for Southampton as early as the 48th minute, meant City were languishing in the leaders' slipstream. They would cling on through the spring with some more invigorating performances to finish runners-up in the league to a rejuvenated United and would go all the way to the Cup Final, only to be sidelined by a player go-slow in the final versus Wigan Athletic, who won with a last minute Ben Watson header.

It had cost Mancini his job, although he had been on his way long before the cold May showers of Wembley. In fact, the writing had been on the wall as early as the pre-season, with the poor summer intake scuppering City's chances before a ball had even been kicked.

It is difficult to look at the 2023-24 iteration without being bombarded with technicolour flashbacks of Rodwell and company. Josco Gvardiol, a fish out of water at left back, Mateo Kovacic a willing runner but no replacement for the dearly departed Ilkay Gundogan. Matheus Nunes a tidy technician but hardly an upgrade on what went before. With Rico Lewis and Oscar Bobb clean out of the youth ranks stepping up in front of England international Kalvin Phillips, there looks to be no future at City for the ex-Leeds man either.

Everywhere you look, suddenly square pegs are sitting askew in round holes. The loss of John Stones and Kevin de Bruyne provides a chunk of the excuses, but not all. Loss of form across the board and possibly a hardly unimaginable loss of hunger too (to go with the fans getting tired of constant winning of course), has left the side looking as listless and rudderless as Mancini's 2013 side. The defeat at Villa did not need the statisticians to tell us City's possession game had been shot to bits and that Villa were picking up the ball from a multitude of misplaced passes that have seldom if ever been seen before on Pep Guardiola's watch. It all made for unusually grim viewing.

It is ten years since City got it so wrong in the transfer market and there have been very few bad summers on that front since, but it is indisputable that last summer's work in this area is already coming home to roost. With a trip to Saudi Arabia further clogging up the schedules and the need to perform adequately in the club's first-ever appearance at the World Club Cup, the winter transfer window suddenly looms large as a last ditch opportunity to sort out the squad before the 2023-24 season is sacrificed in the same manner as that of ten years ago.    




🔚

    

Saturday, October 21, 2023

200 WORDSWORTH hors-série BOBBY CHARLTON

 Bobby Charlton by Mark Meadowcroft




This is a flex, but Sir Bobby Charlton did play for “Manchester” in Bert Trautmann’s testimonial. 

In fairness, there were 60,000 witnesses at Maine Road, he was famously pictured in a sky blue shirt, he played with Denis Law (who’s really one of us) and if we can’t bend the rules for a Knight of the Realm and a holder of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, then when can we?

Charlton was unquestionably world class, a serial league winner, a European Cup winner and of course a World Champion. But his role as the fulcrum of the team that survived the wreckage in Munich made him a man that transcended his club and his sport.

What more could he have achieved with the friends he lost at Munich? Purely internationally, in 1966, Duncan Edwards and Eddie Colman would have strengthened an already excellent team. In 1962, he could also have combined with peak Jimmy Greaves and a 30 year old Tommy Taylor.

He was also a wise Director at United. How they have missed his counsel. 

City are the next league visitors to Old Trafford. 

It will be an honour to help commemorate his life.


England line up in Guadalajara, Mexico for their opening game of the World Cup finals. Both Bobby Charlton and Francis Lee, lost to the football world this week, featured in the starting line up.



Friday, October 20, 2023

EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY: BRIGHTON 1979

📸Season 1979-80 First Division

📆25th August 1979

🏟 Maine Road



Early season home action between City and Brighton in a 3-2 thriller in favour of the Blues.

Image shows goalmouth action at the Brighton end, watched by a well-stocked Kippax. The goalkeeper making the acrobatic save is Eric Steele, who would go on to total 87 Brighton appearances, before moving on to Watford in time to be a part of their surge into the big time, although his appearances there were restricted by Steve Sherwood and later Tony Coton. On retiring to run a pub, Steele set up a goalkeeping school and later resurfaced at City as goalkeepers' coach in 2007 as a replacement for the departing Tim Flowers.

Crumpling to the ground in front of Steele is Michael Robinson, the City striker finished as top scorer this season, but with a feeble 9 goals. His 46th minute penalty past Steele put City 3-1 up in a rollercoaster game that had seen Teddy Maybank equalise Paul Power's 24th minute opener. In between ex-England striker Mike Channon (2) had already netted City's second. Robinson would move to Brighton and score freely against City, before heading for a surprise upgrade to Liverpool and a career playing for the Republic of Ireland. Channon would also head to the south coast, but in his case back to his first love Southampton, where he would also call in the Law of the Ex-Player, by scoring twice against City in the opening game of the 1980-81 season. 

Attempting to mark Channon in this instance is future BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson, who, like Robinson, would end up at Anfield and play for the Republic and would be remembered as one of Brighton's best-ever players.

Completing the picture is no.2, John Gregory, who would go on to become a classy midfielder for QPR, Derby and Aston Villa, winning 6 England caps along the way. Curiously, he ended up managing these three clubs too, as well as Plymouth, who he had also briefly played for. Is there another individual who has both played for and managed as many as four clubs? Gregory's only tenuous link to City was that he became one of the regular names linked with the club whenever a management vacancy came up at Maine Road/the City of Manchester Stadium, but he never made it past the newspapers' gossip shortlists.

In Brighton's side on this sunny August afternoon was Brian Horton, future City manager, as well as the recently deceased Gerry Ryan. On the City side, goalkeeping giant Joe Corrigan would play 36 games at the Goldstone Ground in 1983-84 to add to the near 500 he managed for the Blues.    



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Friday, October 6, 2023

GALLERY: FRANCIS LEE

FRANCIS LEE: 1944-2023 

Lee, one of City's all-time greats, completed a total of 320 games (1 as sub), scoring 143 goals.









DESERT DISPATCH

Mike Hammond has followed City home and away since the early 80s and made it to Jeddah to see history made. Here are his impressions of fiv...