Friday, March 8, 2013


FA Cup quarter finals. Still can't quite get used to them. One day all of this will seem normal.

When Barnsley were dispatched in 1993, a two-nil win was enough to push City into a quarter final tie with Tottenham at Maine Road. City supporters gasped at the splendour of it all. I vividly remember the build-up to the Spurs tie. The huge anticipation. That terrible nervousness that grips you before a really important match against decent, dangerous rivals, in a cup tie that could lead to a semi final for the first time in 13 years. Eating properly is put on hold, the week with its menial tasks and humdrum work cannot be shifted fast enough, the weekend dawns with mountains of apprehension and anticipation. On this occasion, there would be a new stand opened too. The great sprawling decks of the dear old Platt Lane had been torn down and replaced by The Umbro Stand, a sort of plastic egg box vision of a Swalesian future, and would house City supporters for the very first time.

"...and it must be. Yes it is!. Nayim bags his third!...." 

Then the awful realisation. The stench of horse shit. The dancing metaphors for decay and rubbish. The baying and the weeping. Rag-tag teenagers on the pitch, followed swiftly by half of Manchester constabulary's horsebound troops. A cavalry charge amongst the steaming dollops. Jimmy Hill telling the televiewing nation to look away. Spurs fans delighting in our shambolic disorder. A cup exit seemed only half of the problem. This was City on the steady slope to oblivion. the small time thinking that would land us all square on our arses in the second tier three short years later.

But first, to understand what we have on our plate this weekend, we must travel further back, to 1981, when disorder and police horses were as normal as hotdogs and mustard. It was part of the furniture. Certainly when City followers turned up at Barnsley in early December for a League Cup 4th round tie, the anticipated run-around both on the pitch and off it, came to pass. You walk down a steep hill from Barnsley station to get to Oakwell, which in those days was a cavernous testament to the joys of simple terracing.

Nearly 34,000 packed the old ground that night and I swear not more than 3,000 were seated. Both ends housed massive steep tracts of terracing, shallow steps climbing all the way up to the very edges of the sky. To our left, a great roofed terrace swept the length of the pitch and to our right, the rickety Main Stand gathered in the few seats that existed in the house, before cascading down into a huge open paddock along the touchline. The place was throbbing two hours before kick-off. The streets and alleys outside an intoxicating mix of apprehension and glee.

The roof to the left screamed "Smiths Bitter" from one end to the other and it was being lifted joint by joint from its frames when Trevor Aylott's towering header found the corner of Joe Corrigan's net. For a full description of that classic night, you can read on here. Suffice to say, it was one of those games, one of those football experiences (before that term came to mean stadium tours, a free programme and a souvenir foam hand) that would not leave you for a very long time.

Memories of a trip to Barnsley stayed with you in those days, firmly locked in the archive marked "Hair Raising".

City open season 83-84 at Maine Road with a 3-2 success over Barnsley
Our conquerors went out to Liverpool at Anfield in the next round and that was very much that as far as our relationship with the South Yorkshiremen was concerned.

That is until the Swalesian dystopia took a hold of us again and City ended up falling into the unkempt garden of the second division. What ignominy. What joyless days those were. What terrible, scruffy company we were being asked to keep. We dragged ourselves down to Selhurst Park for the first City game in the second tier for 18 years. A 2-0 win set us up for the following Saturday's first Maine Road taste of this level. One wondered what degree of funereal atmosphere might ensue, what kind of deathly, pallid football, what sort of mind-numbing celebration of banality we might encounter.

The opponents that sunny day?

Barnsley, of course.

Barnsley's McCarthy makes his City debut at Cambridge
I stood on the Kippax that afternoon, in my usual spot half way up the grand old steps, near enough to the divide with the away fans to be part of the song and dance routines, far enough from the fencing and struts to have my customary good view of both goals. My first surprise was the crowd. We had been relegated the previous year with attendances dwindling rapidly to the mid twenty-thousands and lower. Only the death throes with Luton brought out a masochistic 42,000.

The Platt Lane was full. Barnsley appeared to be backed by a noisy mass of around 5,000. Elbow room on the Kippax was freer than in previous seasons but still more than 25,000 had turned up to launch City's season. And what a launch we gave them. Maine Road witnessed the birth of the Tolmie-Parlane axis (more of a home made raft than an axis in truth, but still it worked! they scored!). 3-2 it finished, a throbbing, cut and thrust game, high on tension and drama, littered with good intentions and lapped up by a crowing crowd, unsure whether to let surprise break into enthusiasm or not.

By the time we met Barnsley at Oakwell, City's four-into-three-won't-go season was taking proper shape. Chelsea, Newcastle and Sheffield Wednesday were all too big for this league and City were on course to miss out. A 5-0 reverse to a Newcastle side fielding the Keegan-Waddle-Beardsley triumvirate upfront cleared our minds of any optimistic hopes. Both Newcastle and Wednesday came to Maine Road and won in front of 42,000 crowds. It was proving to be fun but not quite enough fun, if you know what I mean.

Or at least, the wrong sort of fun.

By this time, the block of salt that had barred our way in the famous League Cup tie at Oakwell was shoring up the Blues rearguard. How we needed the giant almost military stiffness of Mick McCarthy. Alongside him the likes of Ken McNaught, a shop-soiled Kenny Clements and poor old Geoff Lomax certainly required something sold to anchor themselves to. On the Kippax we needed something stiff to drink. A 1-1 draw in front of a less than intimidating Oakwell half-house of 17,000 did City's hopes no favours.

We would be meeting Barnsley again the following season...

In 1985 City struggled back up. No frills, quite a few disasters along the way, with the ultimate prize secured, Manchester City fashion, in a nail-biting finale against Charlton Athletic. I lost my Pringle sweater, my programme and my dignity that day on the Kippax, turned for the afternoon into a great heaving Quatermass experiment of cavorting uncontrollably drunk men. If there were women in there too, God help them. 47,000 was the official, Swalesian, tax-avoiding, crowd figure.

Barnsley had been a less intimidating prospect that second season down with the diddy men and we would not re-encounter the reds of South Yorkshire until sliding back down a division two years later. In the four games against them between 87 and 89, the South Yorkshire side would beat City twice, one of them a painful and potentially damaging home reverse on the final straight towards promotion.

1993 saw the only FA Cup tie between the sides, the real link to this weekend's game. The smiles were back on Maine Road faces thanks to a spurt of good form under Peter Reid's stewardship. His predecessor, Mel Machin, had been removed by Peter Swales for not smiling enough. The famous "repartee" that he was supposed to have with the Kippax faithful lost in a blanket of dourness and sensible planning. Sensible planning was not for Swales.

Suddenly here was Machin again, in charge of Barnsley and full of the airs of spring. To add to the jollity, he brought ex-City players Biggins, Fleming and Taggart with him. Again backed by a mighty phalanx of vociferous Yorkshire folk in the North Stand, the visitors gave a great account of themselves, the lank-haired Currie bringing a series of decent saves from Tony Coton. Eventually, a close range double from David White wiped away any vestiges of a smile from Machin's face and City moved through to face the disgrace and catastrophe of that epic excrement-strewn Tottenham quarter final.

In City's more recent divisional wanderings, our old Yorkshire foes have been frequently encountered, with a continuation of the mixed results of the past. Barnsley have provided City with tough resistance on many an occasion, but it is perhaps to the most recent matches that we should look to glean a clearer picture of where our two clubs stand today. After 30 years of winning, drawing and losing against this spirited foe, our previous three read thus:

won 3-0;              won 5-1;                won 7-1
A mathematician might tell you better than I what the next numbers in that series might be, but, given the fighting spirit shown in those past encounters, it would perhaps be wise to hope for nothing more than a slender success for our beloved Blues on this occasion. 

MORE RECENT TIMES - 1996: City lose home and away to Barnsley in the second division. Desperate days on the way to the third. here Uwe Rosler loses out at Oakwell in a dismal 0-2 defeat.

GARETH TAYLOR, scorer of one of the three goals in a coruscating home win on the way to promotion in 1999, climbs to win a header at Maine Road. The game finished 3-1 in a season when Barnsley themselves drove hard for honours.

MARCH 2000 and the unedifying sight of Lee Mills ploughing forward in a City shirt, at Oakwell in a 1-2 reverse that damaged City's chances of going up, as they chased Ipswich and Charlton for automatic promotion.
2002 DOWN AND UP AGAIN: Darren Huckerby leads the charge as Barnsley are swept aside 5-1 in the game that clinched promotion back into the Premier League, a match made famous by the extravagant tricks of the maestro Ali Bernarbia. Huckerby had reason to remember the away game at Barnsley that season too, scoring in a first half avalanche that led to a 3-0 win in South Yorkshire.

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