Sunday, March 24, 2013

TILTING AT WINDMILLS

Ivan Golac brought me one of my lowest moments watching City. It was at Southampton, when - late in the 1982-83 season - he comically formed part of a structure loosely defined as "the back four" against his old Southampton mates. How he thought he would stop through balls with bow legs like that, I'm not sure. Needless to say, he didn't.

Shambolically, inevitably, we lost 4-1, a young Steve Moran claiming a hat-trick for himself and we scuttled off towards the buses before anybody could laugh us out of town. In those days, City were sufficiently low profile not to merit daily demolition spreads in the Daily Mail (these days Tha Mail asks meaningful questions like was Gareth Barry's own goal at St Mary's the worst ever? It is not even close to the worst ever City own goal,(take a bow, Mr J. Pollock) but please let's not show them they're getting to us again.

On that bright sunny disastrous afternoon 30 short years ago, Golac huffed and puffed and fell down. City did much the same and ended the season with relegation as their main course for the summer picnic. In 17 long and eventful years, we had not come close to such a terrible end of season outcome, yet here we were on the way to Grimsby. Packing our bags for Barnsley. And Cambridge, I seem to remember.

Playing at The Dell infront of its Subbuteo stands and its well mannered supporters was never a particular pleasure for City in the 70s and 80s, where we would frequently leave with our tails between our legs after yet another embarrassing run around. The close confines and the fact that Southampton had a plethora of small, nippy players (Moran, the Wallace clan, even Alan Ball) who worried and gnawed at our men to such an extent that it would almost always lead to a shout of "timber" and a set of sky blue shirted men pole-axed on the turf.

There was Mike Channon and his bloody windmill arms, Phil Boyer and his floppy blond hair, Graham Baker shuffling about slotting the strikers through to wreak havoc on our trembling defence. That they all ended up, like Golac, playing for City in later years only made it worse, as none of them managed to carry off their form on the south coast and replicate it in the grim open spaces of Maine Road. 

This season, finally, we have had another disaster on the South Coast to add to the litany. A stale burp of a performance, neither hurried not measured, neither showing much care nor much precision (Barry's neat own goal excepted). Not since a grubby and listless three-nil defeat at White Hart Lane under Mark Hughes in 2009 did a City side in the so-called new era of cash and expectation look so disinterested. We can add to this the recent debacle at Everton too, although here other forces were at work, including luck, referees and a steaming Mersey Hurricane called David Moyes.
Two games to shake out any lingering feelings of complacency.  

In City's shambolic performance on the South Coast and in the eventual mess made at Goodison, one could reminisce quite lucidly on the old days of biff and bosh, as we lurched to one side, taking the curtains tumbling down with us; as we went, everything else following obediently shortly afterwards, until we were left sitting white-haired and shabby eyebrowed in a great hill of debris.

These then were matches with fine men facing in the wrong direction, other strong individuals with their shirts on back-to-front and yet others plainly in a state of severe confusion. In conditions like this, the City faithful revert to type. Witness raucous renditions of the songs of yore, never winning at home, never winning away, having a swift half and not really being too bothered about the outcome, or words to that effect. Well, we are bothered, naturally we are, but sometimes you have to just hold up your hands and say "what the hell was that?". To those who say Manchester City has no soul, take a look at those in the packed away section at Southampton. Eight hours from home, singing "we're staying up" as the title slides inexorably towards the dark side of town.....Take a look at the faithful urging one last effort as Everton's ten men play like twelve, even without Mr Probert's assistance.

 death by poke and fritter...

And, whilst you're there, take a look too at poor old Gareth Barry, a man who usually only gets himself into the spotlight whilst being bypassed by German midfielders working in a different time dimension to his own cosy world of two foot passes and easy slips and slides. At St Mary's Gareth was unlucky enough to have been involved in a pre-match error by the kit man, inadvertently easing himself into Yaya's giant boots instead of his own. This alone might not have engineered City's downfall all by itself, but then hapless Gareth deigned to put the giant torpedo-shaped objects on the wrong feet too and all was lost. His safe as houses game of punt and slide became a shambolic death by poke and fritter, the ball skidding off his toes like it had been deeply insulted. At Everton too there were culprits with their heads screwed on too loosely, whilst others had lost theirs altogether. It is in these swirling bearpits and on the wide daisy-pocked fields on the South Coast where City's title has gradually been prized from our grasp. The rest is very much history. History, some might say at this point, is what we might have to call the league title too.

At the least our earlier questions have been answered. Was a featureless 0-0 draw at Loftus Road and a lucky 2-2 draw at home to Liverpool the prelude to upward or downward movement we asked nobody in particular. Were sparkling one-way cup performances in any way connected to all of this thick soup, or must we consider Leeds, Watford and Barnsley soiled goods? On England's wet South Coast and in the eery sunshine of Goodison came the answers, loud and clear.

But now that the title is out of our reach, the hard work begins. The serious thinking begins. The gathering of nerve, sinew and energy begins. Thanks to a variety of prime examples of both short-term and random thinking by certain members of the management team at the Etihad, City's season now rides solely on the FA Cup.

So Bugles blow golden and banners fly blue, but these days the castle's just drywall and glue, and tilting at windmills is the best you can do, with the black knight of time on your lawn


Maybe the best thing City can do now is take a leaf from the great book of Cervantes and "take care, Sir" not to tilt at the wrong windmills at this jittery point of the season. Mike Channon expressed a pride in having scored for both Manchester City and Southampton. Adrian Heath, although not really doing enough of it in the sky blue shirt, intimated the same regarding City and Everton. It is now for today's wearers of the sky blue to show us how badly their pride has been pricked and how they intend to deliver this increasingly frustrating season to us all. Mistakes have been made, some as far back as last July, but the sting of St Mary's and Goodison must provoke a swift and positive response. Where better to start than against Newcastle United at the weekend. 

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