Saturday, October 30, 2010


As a student I was quite partial to a drink. I'm British and it's part of our culture, part of our ascendancy into adulthood to dabble, dabble a bit more, then get absolutely splattered as often and as thoroughly as you possibly can. We would play pool in the early evening at The Broadfield over a "casual few pints", before heading downtown to the Royal for a couple more snifters and then onto the Leadmill to take in some live music, shake our bodies in an absurd fashion and drop three or four more pints of Becks. The next day we would recount all the highpoints, most of them involving a vain attempt at totalling our alcohol intake for the evening. Eight, nine, ten pints, was it. Was there a double vodka and lime in there too at one point? Dear me. Then a kebab and home to watch Match of the Day on the vcr with a bottle of homebrew and the light-fingered woman from the hairdressers. I was Adam Johnson's age and off the lead. It was fun, a lot of fun. Importantly I was flat broke, like many other students and here the comparison keels over, burps and dies a swift and painless death.

A glass of Becks yesterday

Adam Johnson is, what, twenty-one? Something like that. I am loathe to check, because it will make me feel both slightly odd and very old. He is also rich beyond his uncluttered Middlesbrough upbringing might be expected to have prepared him for. Like the tight, sharp German pils in my days, the cash is dribbling out of his ears.

The gnarled old chestnut of putting young men and big bucks together has been thrashed to bits over the years and we are all aware of the consequences. I would probably have been alongside Adam and Gareth and Joe, trying to impress the ladies and hanging out with the boys. But wait a minute. Did you say Gareth? What the hell's Gareth doing out on the bender with us? Shouldn't he be at home reading a book or something?

A bottle of rum last week
And here's the crux of it. We never quite leave this light-headed world of bubbles and fizz behind. It follows us into our thirties like a stooped man in a hood, and on again into middle age where we make even bigger fools of ourselves on slightly more expansive budgets and much smaller quantities of alcohol. We refine our intake to Chilean reds and G&Ts, but still drink enough of the stuff to anaesthetise a medium-sized antelope. Our relationship with alcohol is like that with our football team. Love, hate and oh go on then, let's run with it again.

How many times have I said to myself either "that's the last time I drink red wine, white wine, then red wine again. And certainly no Sambuca in the middle next time" or "that's the last time I waste my money going all the way to bloody London to see them cave in feebly to West Ham yet again". What happens ten days later? Caught drunk in the precincts of the borough of Fulham on the way to watch another 3-1 defeat with a bottle of Sambuca in my back pocket. So, we are addicted to both, right?

Thought you said you'd not be coming again...?

This is the marvellous world that Adam Johnson came flying into. Thanks to cash and modern schooling methods, our footballers are now able to take things onto a new plane of wastefulness and idiocy. A flight to St Andrews to play golf on your day off. A student party. A student party! Well, I remember full well our dos in a shaky Hastings Road bedsit attracting all sorts of night hawks and carnivorous party beasts, but not once did I find Simon Stainrod or Mel Sterland, what might have passed for Sheffield football gliterati in the 80s, stalking our kitchen hoovering up the cans of Wards and eating slices of salami with their hands. (Mind you I'm sure Mel would have been there if he'd known about it....).

With wealth comes untold possibilities. St Andrews is suddenly a viable alternative to the pitch and putt in Timperley, a quickie to see the Lakers is as commonplace as a bus ride down to the GMex to see the Masters Soccer Sixes used to be. We live in enlightened and wasteful times, times of excess and bravura, scoffing and gagging, nothing much impressing us unless I can trump it with some other monstrous overstatement. Pink fitted Hummer? Lamborghini that turns into a hovercraft? Jetski with a bar attached? Black and white pool table with your name on it?

Joe Hart prepares to go down the shops for a tin of peas

Brian Marwood, another man lost in the timewarp of the 80s, made a uniquely appropriate quote last week, (just after Joe Hart had tripped the light fantastic on a bar top in Magaluf and just before he sipped the magic student broth in central Scotland) -boy, these lads can get pissed absolutely anywhere- stated, “our foreign players have educated the other players. Kolo and Yaya [Toure] are Muslim. They don’t drink. I’m hoping young players look at that, and think they’ve played in the Champions League final and there’s a player with Spain in the World Cup [Silva]. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, rarely goes out. Maybe I should try a bit of that.’’
Maybe Gareth, Joe, Shay and Adam should try a bit too. If the performance at Wolves is anything to go by, the whole team should stick to mineral water

Monday, October 25, 2010


Wide eyes, arms beginning to can only be...
Arsenal won at Eastlands yesterday and in doing so provoked some strangely triumphalist newspaper headlines in the morning red tops. Certainly a "rampant super show" as The Mail spluttered, is slightly over the top when all things are considered.

A 3-0 win at Eastlands represents a good result these days without a doubt, but it does little to portray City's admirable reaction to being deprived of a central defender after only 4 minutes of the game. "You will now play the best passing team in the land for 86 minutes with a man less. Go get the points, boys!"

As has quite rightly been written elsewhere, this match ceased to be a contest after Boyata's dismissal (a foul, certainly, a red card, possibly, Chamakh a little flimsy at staying on his feet, a developing theme, Clattenberg a frustrated cabaret artiste, almost certainly ) right at the beginning of a contest which, don't forget, had started with a scintillating period of City pressure and a back-heeled effort by David Silva, stopped by the very finger ends of a surprisingly agile Fabianski. The match at that stage had every sign of a rip-roaring afternoon of thrust and counter-thrust between two worthy opponents.

Then an early red card. Clattenburg is no stranger to odd decisions, both on and off the football pitch, and his manner when reffing leaves a little to be desired (wide eyes, slicked hair, bit-fond-of-myself strut, high volume go-aways accompanied by theatrical arm movements) and he seems very keen to join a long line of men in the middle who don't wish to go quietly about their business. Not often is there a match refereed by this guy that reaches the 15 minute mark and people are asking "who's reffing today?". Here, by broad consensus, Boyata's ungainly lunge from behind left him with an easy red card option, but still....

That the ever-present Fabregas felt it necessary to rush up waving pretend cards is still a slightly sad part of our game and should have been rewarded with a card of his own. His magnanimity afterwards, spluttering that he was a little surprised at being chosen as man of the match after telegraphing a distinctly average penalty to Joe Hart's left, did not tally with this kind of petulant nonsense.

Mancini revealed a willingness to tinker with the team's shape after this early set-back and kept tinkering until it felt right. Barry dropped back, then reemerged, Yaya Touré dropped back then left to be replaced by the hapless Bridge, who despite showing recent signs of improvement, took a huge leap backwards when setting up Song's second with a deft little touch into his path. Bang. 2-0 and the door swings shut in City's faces.

< Bridge, soft touch set up Song

What Wenger said in the steam and bubbles of the half time dressing room did the trick. Arsenal managed to control the 2nd period with less bother, fewer stray passes and were able to snuff out City's praiseworthy efforts with greater ease. However cruel the third goal was on City, and it may even have been ruled out as the ball appeared to cross the touchline in the build-up, the legs had long gone by then and the damage limitation exercise was running its wobbly course. Nevertheless, one or two interesting lessons will have been learned here:
  • Arsenal can put their foot in with the best of them these days
  • City's "mercenaries" appear to be building up a fervent fighting spirit
  • Might be best to play Boyata in some less crucial games before launching him at the big boys again
  • Nobody has that Kill The Game Stone Dead mentality this year but Chelsea
So City go off to lick their wounds in 4th place. The Blues remain in exalted company and travel to Molineux next with hopes still high.

As a farewell tribute to Big Mal, this was a game that would have had the City coach reaching for the champagne with a wry smile on his face. He would surely have appreciated the effort City put in to covering the wide open spaces stretched by a clever Arsenal side. "To win the game you need to score one more than the opposition" he would have said laconically and wandered off leaving a trail of cigar smoke behind him.
Big Mal: Win or lose, keep that smile in place

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    City v KKS Lech Poznań: City Play The Generation Game

    Manchester City are not the most decorated of European campaigners. Until recently, City's continental c.v. looked a little on the threadbare side of embarrassing. Mention of the capture of the Cup Winners Cup these days brings the same non-plussed look from listeners that I used to give my uncle when he regaled us with tales of the great Leeds United in something called the Fairs Cup. "The Fairs Cup!" I would whinny with delight, "that doesn't even exist anymore!". Despite remembering the Cup Winners' Cup of Everton-Rapid, West Ham-Anderlecht, Chelsea-Stuttgart and Arsenal-Parma, try as I might, I cannot pretend I am old enough to have seen City's one and only European win first hand. All of which dates the exploit somewhat.

    Gornik Zabrze, City's opponents in that final of 1970, played out in the vast empty concrete bowl of the Prater in Vienna during a night-long downpour, recalled for me "typical Cup Winners Cup occasions". The competition always made me think of Carl Zeis Jena and Magdeburg, Ujpest Dosza and Ferencvaros, the Dynamos Berlin; Moscow and Tbilisi. It was often an Eastern European thing played in front of huge brown-clad crowds, with dirty snow lining the edge of the pitch.There seemed to be military personnel as far as the eye could see and they often kicked off at four in the afternoon. On a Wednesday. This, remember, long before UEFA and the t.v. moguls snuggled up to each other under the duvet.

    Line-ups in Vienna, 29th April 1970: 

    City: 1.Corrigan, 2.Book, 3.Booth, 4.Heslop, 5.Pardoe, 6.Doyle, 7.Towers, 8.Oakes, 9.Bell, 10.Lee, 11.Young. Sub: Bowyer

    Gornik: 1.Kostka, 2.Oslizlo, 3.Florenski, 4.Gorgon, 5.Olek, 6.Latocha, 7.Szoltysik, 8.Wilczek, 9.Szaryniski, 10.Banas, 11.Lubanski. Subs: Skowronek & Deyna.

    Somewhat strangely, then, for a team with such a distinct lack of pedigree in Europe, what City do have is a rich and engaging past in Poland. The Blues take on Polish champions Lech Poznan this evening, but it is far from our first encounter in Europe's 8th most populous country.

    Seaman applauds the park end at Groclin

    City's record against Polish sides is surprisingly impressive. Out of eight games the Blues have managed to stay unbeaten in all but one of them [W3 D4 L1] of which [W1 D2 L0 in Manchester]. Analysing performance in more recent ties, however, throws up some slightly less auspicious numbers: City have drawn their last four games against Polish opponents, their previous win coming on 31 March 1971 when they beat Górnik 3-1 in a Cup Winners' Cup quarter-final replay staged in Copenhagen. That, as you will readily agree, is quite some time ago.

    There is a curious symmetry to City's encounters in this part of Europe: the club has often been thrown into competition with Polish teams at a time of crucial development in the domestic game there. One look at the line-ups from the 70s games with Gornik and the names Gorgon, Lubanski and Deyna stand out. Deyna, later to play for City after Peter Swales swapped a lorry load of television sets and washing machines for the army captain, was a sumptuous midfield orchestrator, Gorgon a long-haired rock in the centre of defence and Lubanski a stylish rapier quick front runner, who scored one of Poland's two goals in beating England in a 74 World Cup qualifier. All three would play decisive roles in Poland's storming 1974 World Cup, where they were unlucky to only finish 3rd in their first ever finals appearance. Gornik in the early seventies contained many who would go on to greater things with the national team in Germany and later in Argentina in '78.

    A young Boniek steps out to do some damage

    By the time Widzew Lodz arrived in Manchester for a UEFA Cup tie on 14th September 1977, Polish football was in the middle of its golden era and about to drift from the first great generation of players to the second. Another World Cup beckoned, this time far from home in Argentina, and another strong showing would ensue, built around the stylish ball skills of Gadocha and Deyna, the classic goal threat of Lato and Szarmach and the granite defence constructed around Jerzy Gorgon. City were not to know it but they were about to become the unwitting victims of the next glorious phase of development, which would again take Poland to a World Cup 3rd place finish, at Spain 1982. In particular, we were about to be introduced to the man. who would be the undisputed leader of a fresh generation of polish success.

    Leading 2-0 through goals from Peter Barnes and Mike Channon, City were stunned when a youthful-looking midfielder by the name of Zbigniew Boniek suddenly took the game by the scruff of the neck and brought Lodz level at 2-2 through a deliciously placed shot and a penalty inside 6 minutes. City then added attempted suicide to mortal injury when Donachie decided to upend the author of his side's downfall and was promptly sent off. This was too much for one City supporter to put up with and the steaming Kippax was treated to a brief moment of comedy as the ever-threatening Boniek came face to face with one of Manchester's finest. A fast moving policeman curtailed the conversation and Boniek could get back to bossing the middle of the park..

    Having thrown away the first leg, the second leg took on an entirely different colour. City now needed a goal. That they did not manage it was thanks mainly to a calamitous miss from close range by big Joe Royle, who was seen to twice wipe his foot over the ball when the merest of touches would have dispatched it into the net. 40,000 Poles excitedly cheered Lodz into the next round as City licked their wounds and Royle attempted to put one foot in front of the other.

    A schoolboy's scrapbook captures the moment Burzynski drops a cross and Joe Royle prepares to fail

    Line ups at Maine Road, 14th September 1977:  

    City: 1. Corrigan, 2 Clements, 3 Donachie, 4 owen, 5 Watson, 6 Booth, 7 Barnes, 8 Channon, 9 Kidd, 10 Hartford, 11 Keegan 

    Widzew Lodz: 1. Burzinsky; 2 Kostrzewinski, 3 Janas, 4 Chodakowski, 5 Tlokinski, 6 Kowenicki, 7 Rozborski, 8 Mozeijko, 9 Grebosz 10 Boniek, 11 Gapinski

    Facing the nasty teal green shirts of Groclin Dyskobolia Grodzisk Wielopolski was hardly the romantic notion most of us had had when City finally returned to European football for the first time since the late 70s of Booth, Kidd and Tueart in 2003, but it was at least a step up from the qualifying round which had pitched the Blues against Total Network Solutions Llansantffraid for their troubles. Groclin came to the City of Manchester Stadium and played admirably to eek out a 1-1 draw. Anelka had put City into an early lead but Sebastian Mila swerved a majestic free-kick past David Seaman for the equaliser. As had happened against Lodz 25 years earlier, the away goal proved crucial for the Poles, a 0-0 draw watched by 1,000 travelling City fans in a capacity crowd of 5,000, being enough to put them through and City, as it ever was, out.  
    • Line ups in Grodzisk, Thursday 27th November, 2003                                     
     Groclin: Liberda; Pawlak, Koziol, Krizanac, Mynar, Zajac, Wieszczicki, Sedlacek, Mila, Niedzielan, Raziak subs: Gorszkov, Piechniak)              

    City: Seaman; Sun, Sommeil, Dunne, Distin, Wright-Philips, McManaman, Barton, Sinclair, Fowler, Anelka (subs: Reyna, Wanchope, Macken)

      Now it is Lech Poznan, who stand in the Blues' way. Lech's only previous encounter with English opposition came against Liverpool FC in the 1984/85 European Champion Clubs' Cup first round; they lost 1-0 in Poznan and 4-0 at Anfield. With Poland's hosting of the European Championships on the near horizon, maybe once again City face opposition from this great footballing nation at an interesting and crucial time for the game there.

      Friday, October 15, 2010


      To pay homage to Malcolm Allison, who was shown the red card by God today, would need a far better pen than mine, but I am not going to let that prevent me from offering one or two thoughts about the Greatest Manchester City manager ever.

      Big Mal: doing what he did best

      My early years following City brought a degree of confusion in my seven year old mind that would serve me well for the ensuing 35 years and Big Mal was at the very heart of this.

      I came to City - or vice versa - at just the wrong moment for anyone looking for a quiet life. I missed the glory period of 67 -70 by two to three years. By the time City had made itself comfortable in my unknowing lap, the glory days had dissolved, acrimony and discontent were moving in and an audible all-pervasive rumbling could be heard in the distance.

      This was the house falling down.

      By the time I had steadied myself, bought the tracksuit and stuck up the Tony Towers posters on my bedroom wall, City were managed by Ron Saunders, a monosyllabic man with a charisma bypass, who must have believed smiling was a frivolous gesture best left to nuns and grave diggers. It is always a bit of a let-down when the Habsburgs move out. You are left with the distinct feeling that the Lipizaners won't move with quite the same step and the empire might end up looking a little decrepit.

      So it was with my City post-Allison. In 1979, however, as if God had willed it himself, the neighbour's Daily Mail told me the news that made my day: Big Mal Was Back!

      Day One of Phase Two

      This is very definitely it, I thought to myself with the pinch of triumphalism that a boy of 13 sometimes allows himself. City would be back among the big men in no time at all. Little did I know I was starting a career of self delusion that still warms me in bed at night in the year 2010. My colleagues on the Kippax obviously shared these grandiose thoughts, as a great thundering mass of blue scarved supporters crossed the Pennines for Big Mal's first game back, at Elland Road against the old foes of Leeds United. City showed no signs of a sudden improvement and were thankful to Brian Kidd's 30 yard thunderbolt, which saved a point. Here already was the first pointer to what Big Mal would mean to me: although the prolific Kidd had scored the late equaliser, he had been operating as a centre-half during the game, a position i had never seen him play. Allison's penchant for tinkering would land him in much greater trouble in no time at all.

      Big Mal takes the press plaudits on his first day back at work

      It was precisely this tinkering that would land him in trouble during this ill-fated second spell in charge at Maine Road, but if we travel back a little, we can see clear and frequent evidence that "tinkering" in his earlier days actually meant "innovation" with a capital "i". Allison, bred in the school of excellence at west ham with John Bond and Noel Cantwell, was a tactical masterchef. What Arsene Wenger gains applause for in the modern game (dragging Ian Wright and Alan Smith off the fish and chips, suggesting Paul Merson and Nigel Winterburn might like to swap a glass of red for the eleven glasses of amber, balancing diet and muscle preparation, implementing alternative therapy) Allison was doing 30 years ago. Dance instructors, aerobics, diet, yoga, you name it. Added to this willingness to experiment in areas deemed "pansy" by 70s England, Allison was light years ahead when preparing tactics. As Mike Summerbee said on hearing of his demise "We'll not see his like in football again."

      Ahead: he was even wearing the tops 40 years before Mancini

      It is almost impossible to understate the worth of this man to the development and linking of coaching finesse, acceptance and modification of continental European strategies, diet and well-being of athletes to the domestic English game.Whilst most coaches were wearing trilbies and cooking omelettes, Allison strode the touchline in a fedora and sheepskin coat with a recipe book from La Gavroche. The Havanas and the omnipresent after match bottle of Veuve Cliquot only served to make him more sexy. When he was then pictured in a bubble bath with a perkily naked Fiona Richmond, it was confirmed: Malcolm Allison was the man, who would teach me all of life's lessons:

      • Never stand on your laurels
      • Expect and embrace the unexpected
      • If you're good enough you're old enough
      • Say what you think even when honesty hurts
      • Shoot for the sun and you might hit the stars
      • Never put a cork back in a bottle
      • If the hat fits (even if it's a funny one)....
      • Never be shy to embrace fragrant women

      "I don't know what you're laughing at, you're playing left back tomorrow..."

      Allison brought entertainment, success and swashbuckling football to a Maine Road creaking and cracking, to a City bankrupt of ideas and bereft of hope. The club was haemorrhaging support by the week, a paltry 8,000 watching the Swindon game (the famous I was There match for 45,000 40-somethings who have followed City through thin and wafer thin). By the time Allison teamed up with Joe Mercer, the black curtains were about to be drawn. Within months colour flooded back into the lifeless body and the sky blue half of the city awoke to a period of laughter and unbridled triumph. Allison brought in a new away kit: the iconic red & black of Milan, he ushered in an era dripping with silverwear, a dare and do mentality. City's golden age is owed entirely to Allison and mercer. Genial Joe, the organiser, prompter, cajoler, smoother of wrinkles. Big Mal, the womaniser, the troubleshooter, the maverick poet, the lyricist, the creator.

      It is said that neither would have found success without the other. Certainly neither came close to it on this scale. League Cup, Charity Shield, Cup Winners' Cup, Fa Cup and the League Championship, won breathtakingly 4-3 at a packed St James Park with an estimated 18,000 Mancunians willing the Blues on. Only a Malcolm Allison side would have dared win it that way. Forever on the edge, confident, cocky, teasing us all.

      So, when he came back to do it all again, few of us had reservations. But sadly it was a disaster. Soon after returning, during his first full season back in charge, City sank in the clogging mud at the Shay, dumped on their expensive backsides by Halifax Town, a team shorn of its stars, replaced by expensive "experimental" misfits. This was typical Allison, pushing the boundaries to see what would happen, what could be achieved with a Michael Robinson instead of a Brian Kidd, a Barry Silkman instead of an Asa Hartford and a 16 year old Tommy Caton at the back instead of good old dependable Dave Watson, sold for peanuts to Werder Bremen..

      A promising start with the youngsters  

      The Halifax defeat weighed heavily on the players and on Big Mal. Coupled to an equally lame collapse on ice rink at Shrewsbury the season before, it made people stop and think. Questions were being asked about the big man's judgment, both in coming back at all and in his transfer dealings. Hartford, Watson, Barnes, Owen had all been shipped out rapidly and replaced by the likes of Robinson, Shinton, Daley and Reeves. The transfer balance was negative whichever way you looked at it, performance or finance. Even the rookies had a slightly comical whiff: Paul Sugrue from Nuneaton, Dave Wiffill, the fluffy haired Barry Silkman and Stuart Lee from Stockport. This time Mal's gambles were not coming off. In a Granada documentary titled simply "City!", the tv execs got lucky. Trailing all and sundry for a warts an' all look at big time football, they suddenly found themselves filming the unravelling of Allison's second coming and it made uncomfortable viewing. It still does, some 30 years on. Slightly more warts than we could handle.

      Big Mal enjoys the spotlight at Sporting

      Allison, dismissed, showed up briefly in Middlesbrough and Lisbon, for a season, where he won the double with Sporting and is still revered as the "Mister" who brought a new swagger to the green and white hoops, bringing them to England in the UEFA Cup where they swatted Southampton 4-2 at the Dell. It was Sporting's first triumph on English soil. But the star was waning, the halo beginning to slip. He was sent packing from Lisbon after some "excesses" displeased the president João Rocha, no doubt linked to wine and women rather than any failed team formation. Big Mal's time had come and gone, the swanky tv appearances dried up, as did the job offers and he seemed to physically shrink in later years, a sad and stumbling replica of that grand, tanned lothario of the 70s. His last years, in a bedsit in Middlesbrough, were not a satisfactory reflection of a full and exuberant life.

      So farewell it is, Big Mal. You always managed to mix the super sophisticated with the naive and perhaps that's why we loved you so much. Whether it was in the stands at Stamford Bridge before Palace's never-to-be-forgotten 6th round FA cup tie, swathed in cigar smoke, or striding pre-match towards the bubbling Stretford End holding up 4 fingers to show the locals how many City would score, you were always full value. I leave the final thought to my first taxi driver in Lisbon, when I arrived here 10 years ago, who - on hearing that I was a Manchester City supporter - turned round to look at me whilst negotiating the Rotunda de Horlogio (the most hair raising roundabout in town) like all good Lisboetas do, and said to me "Ah, Malcolm Allison, he was a real Mister, a real Mister!"

      Tuesday, October 12, 2010

      ALTERNATIVE TOPS ... part two

      THE ALTERNATIVE TOP 12 Goal Celebrations
      In 20 years will we all remember Italian Stallion Bernado Cribbins knighting Joey Barton after his Fulham goals or playing a strangely effeminate guitar piece with the same Joey Barton after the latter had scored at Villa Park? Well, maybe, and maybe we’ll remember some of these other humdingers as well and not a single swinging baby routine amongst them:
      1.        THE SLIGHT OVERREACTION - April 1979, Highbury: Mike Channon, in the midst of a death-defyingly average stint at Maine Road, has just popped one in the onion bag at Highbury, then as now, a place City get about as much return as Prince Andrew on the Big Dippy at Courtney Love’s house. Channon, probably fearing this might be his one and only opportunity to celebrate a goal before the curtain comes down on his inglorious City career, wheels away with his right arm doing the famous windmill in a hurricane impersonation. No one can catch him. No one wants to.
      2.        NO ONE SEES US, WE DON’T CARE - January 2001, The New Den: It’s a tasty night at The New Den and there are officially zero City fans there to see a sparkling 3-2 win and Shaun Wright-Phillips’ first ever City goal. There are undercover Blues present, but for all intents and purposes, this is home fans only. When City cut a giant swathe through the home side and wallop in a cracking breakaway goal, Huckerby, Tiatto and Horlock run to the empty away end and start celebrating with the imaginary City support. Priceless entertainment for the swathes of empty seats and puzzling behaviour for the New Cross Neanderthals to work out.
      3.        ITS NO BIG DEAL - October 1970, Stamford Bridge, in the days when it was (sparsely) populated by nutters and urchins in blue and white bar scarves. Colin Bell gets on the end of a giant swinging left foot cross by Alan Oakes and pings in a majestic first time volley that fair cracks past Peter Bonetti. As the City fans spin into excited hyperbole in the stands, at this Van Basten Before His Time effort, Bell trots back to the centre circle, one arm briefly raised to wipe sweat from his brow. Maybe he does it every week, everybody is left thinking.
      4.        LETS ALL DO THE CHICKEN JERKY - January 1985, Maine Road: Watford in the cup and Gordon Davies’ slow motion progress down the right produces a curling right wing cross for slow motion Mark Lillis to batter home with his pan lid-shaped head. Cue the most embarrassing knees and elbows fandango the Kippax has ever seen. The crowd stops celebrating to ask itself what the dickens two fully grown professional sportsmen are doing dancing like Zippy and George after the naughty glove puppet man had paid a night time visit.
      5.        OH JEEPERS, HE’S COMING THIS WAY - February 1975, Maine Road: City finish off ‘Boro in the second leg of the semi final of the League Cup. Its done and dusted with Royle’s breakaway 4th and he wheels away, a great lumbering figure, charging towards the bench with his arms out wide like he’s just spotted long lost Uncle Zoltan with his bag of hobnobs three rows back from the front in the Main Stand crowd.
      Stand right to one side please
      6.       AH BEJAYZUZ, HE’S COMING THIS WAY AGAIN - May 2000, Ewood Park: Fast forward 25 years and Royle is on the bench managing City as the Blues batter Blackburn to go up to the Premiership. The 3rd is a Kennedy tap in at the far post and leads to the Irishman running full pelt back to the half-way line, to a very pleased Joe Royle, who still has his arms out waiting for Uncle Zoltan’s hobnobs to be handed out. Instead he gets a very excited Irishman in his lap, closely followed by ten other fully grown adult males. Watch me hip, watch me hip!
      7.        SLIPERY DIPPERY DEE - November 1987, Maine Road: Huddersfield are taken to the cleaners and along the way, Tony Adcock snaffles a hat-trick for himself. In completing the barely believable feat, he runs deliriously to the North Stand corner flag, jumps ecstatically and comes to a two-footed halt in the wet turf. Only wet turf doesn’t lend itself to this kind of Torvill & Dean performance and he slides ingloriously onto his posterior in front of hordes of laughing children.
      8.        YES! NO! OH BUT YES! - May 1988, Valley Parade: Quiet man Trevor Morley is singled out by fate’s fickle finger to be City’s unforgettable figure on another special promotion rollercoaster in Yorkshire. There are only a few minutes to go as he slots the equaliser which will take City up. As the away end bubbles and froths, Morley does a two-arms in the air sweep along the razor wire fencing until he gets to the corner, turns round and finds nobody has followed him. A classic moment of uncertainty stops him in his tracks whilst he searches for the killer linesman flag, which doesn’t come. Morley’s smile drops off, reappears and City are up.
      9.        COUNT MY FINGERS - September 1989, Maine Road: The Platt Lane is already beginning to look a little threadbare as the United fans head back towards the airport, as a majestic sweeping move sends the ball careering from one side of the pitch to the other and then onto Hinchcliffe’s head and in. As the United fans turn to have another look, Hinchcliffe is mobbed, just managing to stick an arm up through the agitated heap of humanity to slam five fingers high into the air.

      Dennis is ecstatic after the back-heel
      10.     DON’T BE SAD, DENIS! - May 1974, Old Trafford: Another lovely day. Minutes to go and the Lawman backheels a beauty right on time. As he turns around, ashen faced, he cannot even raise an arm in celebration. The usually inanimate Bell’s excited slapping of his face will do nicely though, as Mike Doyle piles in with the much needed enthusiasm. Cue bedlam in the bell bottoms department.
      11.     RINKY DINKY DOO - February1990 Old Trafford: Ian Brightwell does the Macarena, as his piledriver hits the back of the United net from a very long way out. “I just wellied It”, he says afterwards, and afterwards does not arrive until the rest of the team have caught up with the cavorting, wide-open legs jumping Brightwell, somewhere down in front of the dugouts, where Howard Kendall and the subs are already doing the hokey kokey amongst themselves.
      12.     Also mentioned in dispatches: Berko twirls his shirt v Norwich; Steve Daley climbing the barricades at Goodison; Simmo’s knees up v Charlton; First ever badge kiss by Clive Allen at Notts County; Barney Daniels on the Pans People audition v Leicester; Berko again at Ipswich (and live on the BBC) in the cup with a loud and excited “you fucking beauty” to celebrate his volley from a corner; Paul Power’s hopscotch in the cup at Goodison; Brian Kidd’s jet heeled scamper down the front of the Kippax after scoring 4 v Leicester; Kinky in the North Stand v Villa; Anelka shows some emotion in the final Maine Road derby and Big Paolo takes to the mike at St Mary’s


      Harmless Strikers
      Darius Vassell and Italian Stallion Bernardo Cribbins are still very fondly remembered in Manchester for their sterling efforts upfront in the sky blue shirt. Having the scoring power of Roy Hattersley in a bath towel on Celebrity Love Island does not mark them out as anything special in City's long and disaster-pocked history, however. Here are some more strikers who failed to get on the goal trail.
      1.      THE PLUM PUDDING- When Trevor Christie scored on his debut in August 1986, many thought, "he'll do us, the lad". Some also thought, "what a strange knock-kneed character that is". Those in the silent minority that sunny afternoon v. Wimbledon, who were thinking "that fella runs like an old man pushing a sofa up a cobbled street" were soon to have those delicious thoughts completely vindicated. Jimmy Frizzell, for it was he, had bought a big bad dud.
      2.  THE HERMAPHRODITE- Now, let's get this straight from the start. I have absolutely nothing against small pointy breasts. In fact, given the right attention and the correct and appropriate management, they are perfectly presentable body parts. The problem arises when said appendages come attached to the front of your new 750,000 pounds striker. If he had used them to force his way through on goal and swot a few cracking winners, Michael Robinson might have got away with them. But he didn't, so he didn't.  
      Maine Road catches its first glimpse of Michael Robinson
      3.  THE HEAVYWEIGHT BOXER- Tony Cunningham looked and moved like Joe Bugner's slow sparring partner, Hayzey Daze. How he managed to be an ever-present in the 84-85 side right from the big kick-off in August through to November 24th, when Billy McNeill finally sat him down and uttered the immortal words, "Tone, Joe Bugner's been on the phone. They want you back..." is anyone's guess. The records say 4 goals in 20 (very) odd  appearances. Reality, silently, said so much more. 
      4.  BLOODALZIEL- Watching this craftsman at work limping across the forward line, reminded me of how it must have felt treading the grapes in Burgundy. I'd never done it, but I could well imagine the delicious immobility of being up to your plums in grapes. Our Gordon, a bank busting free transfer from Glasgow Rangers' third team, certainly played with the speed of a man trapped in a barrel, but managed to add to that the speed of thought of a man who had drunk his way out of the vineyard in the first place.
      5.  BATTERY-OPERATED DEREK AND JIM- Nobody told the Kippax in early 1984 that they should not get too overexcited about Jim Tolmie and Derek Parlane. For this reason, we went ahead and got very excited. They looked distinctly second division, which was fine, because that's where we found ourselves that particular year, but, my, they could put the goals away. That was until their batteries ran out. This happened, as with all objects of the same ilk, very suddenly, very unexpectedly and absolutely at the most inappropriate moment. The result being City's shaky but until then semi-believable promotion push turned overnight into egg nog and our terrible twosome were taken back to the shop to a backdrop of tutting and complaining.
      Bob: slow
      6.  BINMAN BOB- Robert Taylor, as he was affectionately known in our house, was not so much a slow footballer, as a medium speed refuse collector. He moved with a grace and unpredictability built up over centuries of stumbling over loose tomato tins and slippery bacon wrappers. He had the manoeuvrability and agility of a large man carrying a very heavy wheely bin full of washing machine parts and the knack of arriving just a few minutes late for a cross of a man well versed in carrying furniture quite long distances. Plus, he couldn't score for toffee.  
      7.  THE MOBILE HAIR-DO - Whilst Bobby Shinton had a beard, which could have taken part in a Bucks Fizz audition, Panorama or the Boat Race, Steve Kinsey concentrated on his hair. Never was such a luscious bush cultivated in the hurly burly of top flight football. That Steve could quite literally come through a full steaming 90 minutes without a hair of that great fluffy, feather-combed bonce out of place was great testimony to his almost child-like ability to hide behind the sofa as soon as a defender appeared or indeed a heavy, mud-spattered ball dropped from out of the firmament. One thing you could never accuse Steve of doing, was looking unkempt, that's for sure.
      Bradbury moves up for a corner
      8.   IFFY SMELLS- My Great Aunt Stephen once told me that you can "smell" a good footballer. I tried this out at Maine Road one sunny afternoon in 1997, when I got slightly too close to Lee Bradbury as he got out of his car, which he had stalled in front of the Blue Moon Chippy. As he staggered past, looking for all the world like a man delivering haddock, I caught the aroma of what can only be described as shite. I mentioned this curious happening to Aunty Steve, after she had come out of rehab, and she told me "Shite's a sticking to where it feels most at home, my lovely". I never once had reason to question her thinking again.
      9.  IFFY SMELLS PART TWO - By the time Barry Conlon got a go upfront for City, you couldn't really tell if he smelled of excrement, candy floss or buffalo hide, because the aroma of decay spreading around our palatial establishment was, by this time, so strong, you would not have been able to smell a badly decomposing sausage that had been inserted in your nose. Despite this, I had the distinct impression that, if it had been possible to smell Barry, all would not have been ok in this department. For me, he came to embody a period that was highlighted by home defeats by Bury and away thrashings at Stockport. In short, if someone had removed our sense of sight, taste and foreboding as well, they might have done us a favour.
      10. LAUREL AND HARDY- It didn't happen very often but seeing Nigel Clough and Gerry Creaney on the park at the same time sometimes made me go to the toilet in my trousers. On the one hand we had a lithe, ex professional footballer, who didn't seem to mind that Gandalph the Great had waved his magic wand and turned him into one of the Sugar Plum Fairies. On the other you had a fat thing, which should never have come within spitting distance of a football ground, even if it were to fork the divots at half time. Come to think of it he resembled a half time divot himself; ragged, flabby and in need of replacing.

      Monday, October 4, 2010

      Desert Dispatch: September

      Barclay Premier League latest  -
      Megabucks Manchester City have officially been induced into the Premier league Big Four after this weekend’s fixture with Newcastle saw them gain a penalty for a tackle that was both legal and outside the penalty area and avoid conceding a penalty for a tackle that was both illegal and inside the penalty area. The Dark Knight was heard to mumble: “Aye, they’re in with us now, for sure....”. Meanwhile, in Liverpool....

      Health Beauty Body & Mind Dispatch:

      How to have “Big Sam Self-Esteem” with the BigSamulator (c) 
      “There is nobody quite like Big Sam. There is only one Sam Allardyce and that’s me. Nobody goes about his work quite like Sam Allardyce does.” This is the BigSamulator, a deluxe metal box with recordings from the master himself. Tip One: talk about yourself in the 3rd person. This makes you sound a little like Julius Cesar or Benito Mussolini. People fear men who talk like this. They have a deep feeling of instant respect and tangible uncertainty. They feel a strange longing in their trousers to be bossed around by you, preferably wearing leather jodhpurs and a rich cardigan made out of bakofoil. You have an aura, you command attention, you even smell slightly different. No longer the little man, you are BIG in every sense of the word. Now go out and kick some people wearing Arsenal replica shirts up in the air! The BigSamulator is available in all Woolworths stores and comes in slapstick pink, hard as nuts brown or denim.
      BigSam: confident
      The SmallSam, a garden gnome with a pointy bit in the front of his little blue enamel trousers, can be bought direct from at £9.99
      Also in the shops: TheAnderson – makes you feel ten times the player you really are!
      Legal Dispatch: Wengerboys To Be Sectioned
      In an unusual development Raging Barndoor Stormin Norman Arsenal manager Wengerboys Arsene has risked his very liberty by STRIDING AGGRESSIVELY towards linesman Bob Pritchard and PUSHING HIM LIGHTLY IN THE SMALL OF HIS BACK yesterday during a match in the Barclay James Harvest Premier league. When the official, having steadied himself and popped his funny little pillbox hat back on, turned to face his assailant, the only person nearby was Wengerboys Arsene himself, who was CASUALLY STRUTTING AROUND in his manager box stroking his chin in a THOUGHTFUL GALLIC MANNER as if absolument rien was the matter. It is thought that the full drama of this exchange may well have been caught by the cameras and that Wengerboys will be brought to justice. This ends a week where the pointy nosed chief has been behaving more and more strangely. In the match with West Brom he was captured by cameras wearing a polkadot frock and the following week versus Wigan Pier he was seen walking the touchline with a fishing rod and a roast chicken....
      Travel & Culture  - BALOTELLI BREAKS INTO PRISON - Megabucks bastard Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli has been quizzed by cops, after breaking into a WOMEN’S PRISON. The bad-boy, droopy trousers, rough & tumble, toast & marmalade Italy star, a £24m summer buy from Inter Milan, figured in a series of controversial on and off-field incidents ­during his time in Serie A and is keen to keep up his reputation for UNUSUAL & SUCCULENTLY media friendly capers. “I just wanted to see how it works in there,” said Balotelli with a generous smile. 
      Hyperbole Section: 22 page pull-out: Elite Development Squad picture exclusive: The day our EDS boys took on West Brom in the League Cup and shook the world’s very foundations  Pictures of tomorrow’s stars today!
      Literature & The Arts – Exclusive: Gazza’s Programme Notes, Day One, Garforth Town “There’s a nice boozer, an offy and a KFC....”
      Travel News – Coleen Rooney looked drawn, preoccupied, strained, dishevelled, underweight, heavy of step, peculiarly orange and deeply stressed last night as she headed out of Heathrow Terminal 4 on her way to Bratislava, this year’s must have fashion accessory holiday destination. She had terrible dark patches under her eyes and looked thin, weak, palid, sordid and knotted in a pale green kaftan and Billy Bremner stack heels. It is thought she is going to Bratislava for a second honeymoon with footballer Wayne Rooney. * Bratislava is a small Georgian town on the edges of the Steppes of Mogadon, near the borders between the great eastern and western cultures. It rests uneasily on the shores of the River Chapstick. It has become popular in recent years for its 2nd century mosaiced city fortifications, the only known breeding grounds of the Unbelievable Eagle and an unrivalled array of boutique espresso bars and shoe shops. 
      House & Home -  Find out exactly why Steven Ireland decided a black and white pool table with his own name across the baize was just what his living room was missing. What happens when slightly dim footballers allow slightly tasteless interior designers to run amok with gigantic budgets.
      Tactics Corner – Exclusive Interview with Henry Mancini
      “Henry, how’s tricks?”  - “Eeer, I tink eeer treeks eez eeeer very very good in the Barclay Premier League”
      “Erm. Yes! City are improving gradually aren’t they?”  -  “Eeeer, yes, we improve. A lot. A little. We improve. This is important, especially in the Barclay premier league.”
      “What do you put this down to, Henry?”  - “Eeeeer. I put it, eeer, I put eet down to we work a lot, with ball, without ball, ranneeng, jampeeng, this sorta theeng, all to be ready for big game in Barclay Premier league.”
      "Ahem. Barclays!"
      Our expert says:”Clearly somebody wearing a horsehair suit and dubious big-rimmed spectacles has told Mancini to up his sponsor-mention quotient (“SMQ”). Mancini’s SMQ in recent weeks has, according to Opta, been very low, slipping below that of Arry Redcap and Gareth Southgate (and the latter hasn’t even got a job). In a bid to rise up the table before Christmas, when Barclays traditionally send out their presents, Mancini is making a big effort to work some fluidity into his SMQ. It’s a simple tactic, never confuses the viewers and is absolutely sure to make the speaker look an utter dipstick. I think it has worked very well here”.

      Tactics 2: Tackling With Nigel de Jong – Today: How to Puncture a Bus Tyre Using Your Teeth.
      Psychiatry and WatersportsRooney and the World Cup Clap. Exclusive, Doctor Basil D’Oliveira looks into Hereditary Howler Monkey Syndrome, uncomfortable diseases transmitted through other people's cornflakes and why some men think they can get away with best everything.

      Other Tedious Stuff

      Poets and Lyricists