Wednesday, August 22, 2012

THE BEAUTY & THE SAVAGERY OF THE FIVE GOAL THRILLER

As a simple opening to the 2012-2013 season, a pair of 3-2 wins, one easier than it should have been, one far more difficult, was a great way to start. It is, after all, a scoreline rich in drama, heavy in sweat and toil, layered in its Hitchcock-like denoument. The plot builds, the emphasis shifts, the doubts mount. This is what we like at City. Here's to a few more before the nights close in:

Alongside all the broken glass and the melting tarmac, more ruined suppers and flat beer, the thought keeps occurring to me: losing or winning, 3-2 has to be the ultimate footballing joy ride:
  • Saturday 1st December 1979: CITY 2 WOLVES 3: Steppy Stepanovic and Tommy Caton doing the can-can, those curious knocky knees of Roger Palmer that made him look like Aunty Jessy running for the bus, there was an awful lot to delight in this 1979 classic. Traditional Maine Road mud as thick as the banks of the Amazon, and Berry and Palmer sporting their versions of carefully coiffed dandelion clocks. Old Gold bold as brass neon City classic.


  • Saturday 13th September, 1980: FOREST 3 CITY 2: A thriller at the City Ground, featuring more funny running (Tony Henry this time. I think he needed the toilet), a Dave Bennett cameo (collector's item of sorts), a royal hair-off between the waxen bushes of Ian Wallace and Tommy Caton (Wallace winning on the grounds that his creation was in bright ginger) and that great standing corner away terrace at Forest before they built proper stands. What a lot of terracing that stadium had in the mid 70s. This was a place City got soundly trounced every year around this time. A three-two, therefore, had an excitingly solid look about it to those of us no longer convinced Big Mal's second coming would end with toast and honey.

  •  Saturday 29th November, 1980: CRYSTAL PALACE 2 CITY 3: Always fun down at Selhurst Park, once Network SouthEast had realeased you from its sweaty grip and you'd found the ground and this one was a humdinger, starring Gerry Gow, a player easy to overlook but hard to ignore. Gow battled like an older, slower and considerably more vicious version of Nigel de Jong. No precision fouls and sliding maim tackles from our Gerry. War cries, flying boots and flailing legs. And that was before he even got near his target. On this occasion, he was on his very best behaviour, transforming himself into a shadow-like schemer, who managed to steal in with two vital goals from midfield in this up-and-down-and-back-again thriller.                            
This victory came on the back of two consecutive 3-0 home wins v Coventry   and Southampton, as John Bond's glistening helmet of bouffed hair began to take hold of everyone's senses in a way teenage boys had never thought possible. The cheap but expensive cologne, the anaconda cigar and the signet ring that looked like a metalic life belt all helped transfix us young Kippax guns, but a 3-0 home win, even a brace of 3-0 home wins, has nothing to hold to a 3-2 victory on enemy territory. The sweat and effort of it all, the power and precision, the shuddering uncertainty, the glory and the dry throats, the floodlights shining off Bond's lovely fluffy bonce. Bewitching stuff.
 
  •  Saturday 19th December 1981: CITY 3 MIDDLESBROUGH 2: Clevor Trevor at Manchester City. There was always something not 100% right about this. Was Trevor Francis the very first example of modern football's slightly unwilling mercenary? Did he really want to be at Maine Road or had he burned his bridges with Brian Clough and seen United spend their limited budget on Garry Birtles? Was there really no other alternative? He sometimes had that look about him that cast doubt in certain young minds unwilling to believe this thoroughbred running machine would choose to play his football at sweaty old Maine Road. The true class act gets on with things, however, and Francis could never be called a slouch, especially with a following wind and the sniff of the opposition goal filling his nasal cavities. Sometimes this meant he won games practically by himself, on other occasions it just made him look like a saphire in a bucket of pig food.
At different points in John Bond's tenure, you could see the way Francis worked within the team. Early on, everything hot as a fresh pancake, the verve and speed of the man carried City past the willing men of Middlesbrough and many others to boot.

Fag end of Bond's managership, Francis was beginning to look like the boy they tied to a tractor. CITY 2 SUNDERLAND 3: This horror (below) was the match that launched the career of Sunderland teenager Barry Venison and, for that reason alone, will go down as a severely below par Maine Road experience. Add to that the arctic conditions and the brittle as melt-ice City performance and we have the classic 3-2.: when it's in your favour, ham and mustard, when its not, a big sack of stinging nettles.



CITY 3 BARNSLEY 2: By the time the wondrous lustre had gone from Bond's Bonce, the puffy-cheeked leader was long gone from the Maine Road precincts, replaced by the dubious management skills of John Benson, the quiet man who lead us into Division Two. Once there, not knowing quite what we should expect, the faithful gathered for the humdrum arrival of Barnsley early season. What we were served up was one of the most exhilarating afternoon's football I could remember seeing at the time. Masses of away fans on the Platt Lane benches, goals galore and new heroes (temporary as it turned out) in Parlane and Tolmie, the "New Kevin Keegan". Oh yes. Oh no. Oh well.



CITY 3 BLACKBURN ROVERS 2: Beating Blackburn 3-2 is neither unique, nor particularly spectacular, but the effort here (below) was a match of such verve and character, involving a good visiting side taking a 2-0 lead, then the classic comeback, that had the Kippax purring all the way home. A good sign is when you have lost your voice well before the hour mark. That David White's winner came sliced and deflected was of little matter by that time, as the dancing hordes on the old steps were well into that strange surge of noisy enthusiasm that often carries a team forward to remarkable exploits. A great day out that you somehow knew, once the momentum was with you, would end up just fine.


CITY 2 MAN UTD 3: Then there was this horror: a familiar foe, in ruder health than the malfunctioning combine harvester we now tackle toe-to-toe in 2012. This was The Days of Pomp, with the strutting French cock and the scallywag Keane at the height of their considerable powers. Still Big Niall gave us all hope, but hope in those days was a fragile beast and this was the kind of game that was never safe at two-nil with half of the game still to be played. It gave you the feeling that you wished we hadn't scored at all and - in fact - by the end and Keane's fist-shaking winner, you kind of wished you weren't there at all aswell.



BLACKBURN ROVERS 2 CITY 3: Something about Blackburn Rovers we all like. I can remember more good times at Ewood Park than I can remember birthdays. Probably we are only talking four games, but they were all so soul-stirringly dramatic that I feel like I have spent half my life dancing the Darwen Quickstep. This was a rainswept soft-shoe shuffle, starring the twinkling feet of Paul Walsh, a mud-spattered Uwe Rosler and, somewhat curiously, the speed and guile of Nicky Summerbee down the right flank. Glorious simple relegation cheating days of yore, before life became complicated by Great Expectations.



CITY 2 OXFORD UNITED 3: Then there was this. Great Expectations or not, nobody should pay to enter a football stadium, then be treated to something like this. Abject despair meets slapstick comedy, all in a night's work for Andy Dibble. With his shorts hoiked up higher than was decent and our voices straining towards falsetto, this was one of those evenings when the late night episode of the Sopranos would have been a far better idea. The beauty of football, of course, is that you travel in hope and you return in dismay, disarray and denial. On this occasion, the combination of those three sentiments would have been a warm comfort in comparison to what really happened. Still, the match lingers in the memory, along with many five goal thrillers and, if City continue as they have started this bright young season, there will be one or two more to store in the archives marked "nearly wet myself at the football tonight".




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