Thursday, February 3, 2011

THE QUIET MAN IN RED AND BLACK

You won't find too much YouTube footage of Neil Young, nor many scintillating interviews. You'll have to look hard to find many meaningful backpage articles about him and you'd be making it up if you found any tabloid titbits of domestic detail but, rest assured, the part he played in City's greatest ever team is writ large, in capital letters, embossed with red and black ribbons and tagged for posterity in the annals of this proud club. Alongside the pomp and bluster of Big Mal and Franny and the bare faced cheek of Mike Summerbee and Tony Coleman, Neil Young cut a quiet, sometimes lonely figure, reticent with the press, retiring when the cameras flashed, always ready to slip quietly away and let the others bask in the limelight.that his own hard work often created.

Today, at the age of 66, he has slipped quietly away for the last time. No fuss, and, for heaven's sake, no fanfare. Here is one man for whom a minute's silence would almost be as apt as the standing ovation he will surely get at Eastlands this weekend.


The irony of this elegant, shy athlete is that, whilst shunning publicity was a major priority for him, his exploits in the sky blue (and most poignantly in the red and black stripes) of City made this activity almost completely impossible. This must have made City's successes quite uncomfortable for the man from Fallowfield, with the ever intensifying spotlight on City's exploits making escape ever more difficult. There is a touching interview conducted by a dicky-bow wearing David Coleman with Neil at the Grosvenor Hotel, where the smash and tinkle of knives forks and wine glasses in the background betray a Cup Final celebration banquet in full raucous flow. Young, looking a little startled and slightly giggly from the champagne, is asked to describe the winning goal and he embarks on a meandering self-effacing tribute to Mike Summerbee, who had set him up for the shot. In that black and white snapshot, you get the feeling he would almost have been happier had someone else got the goal and the attention that came with it. For Neil Young, brought up a City fan from his earliest days, just being there must have been the greatest thrill.


Quiet he may have been, but there was no mistaking the accuracy of the left foot, the balletic, gliding  movement up the inside left channel, the upright stance and the superbly prolific goal-scoring, 107 in all in just over 400 appearances for the club and top scorer in the championship side of 68. There was no ignoring the fact that his left foot steamer was the last goal to bring the FA Cup to Maine Road, nor that his close-in goal set City on their way to their only European success on that rain-sodden night in Vienna's Prater Stadium, nor that his two goals helped bring the last league title back from dizzy, glorious Tyneside. 

This quiet man’s gargantuan contribution speaks loud and proud in City’s patchwork history. He was a thoroughbred in a spectacularly well-balanced team. A team packed full of fight and artistry, of lung power and delicacy, a team as deadly as ever was seen in Moss Side over three quarters of a century of football there. And in amongst the flying legs, ducking the flashbulbs and microphones was the man who made the net bulge more often than any other in that never-to-be-equalled spree. 

Enjoy the peace and quiet, Nelly, but forgive the rest of us if we fail to keep quiet about the unforgettable part you played in City's rich history.

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