Saturday, August 9, 2014


FC Porto line up for their game with City

Malcolm Allison was not to know it at the time, but stepping out onto the playing fields of Portugal in charge of Manchester City in the pre-season of 1980-81, the larger than life head coach was getting a first taste of a country where he would a few short months later enjoy his swansong as a professional football coach.
The subtle irony would have been lost on him at the time, as his second full season in charge of City (for the second time) commenced with a trip through a country where, the very next season, the larger than life coach would achieve his last great success, leading Sporting Clube de Portugal to their most recent league and Cup double  in front of an adoring Lisbon public.

As with those City supporters whose memories are capable of recalling this era, Sporting fans remember Allison fondly for the glamour and success he brought to their club.
City's pre-season on this occasion was to take in the following hotspots:
Wed 30th July 1980        FC Porto
Tues 5th Aug 1980          Sporting Braga
Thurs 7th Aug                   Sporting Lisbon
Thereafter the club would head north to round preparations off in the Netherlands with a game against NAC Breda and back home to face Bath, Nuneaton Borough and, as part of the deal that had taken Polish World Cup skipper Kaziu Deyna to Maine Road, Legia Warsaw.
Having been part of a record breaking management partnership with Joe Mercer that had brought City untold success in the late 60s and early 70s (an arrangement that the brash and self-confident Allison always maintained reflected poorly on the amount of influence he had had on the team's shape and tactics), Allison was now in sole charge, put there by City's megalomaniac chairman Peter Swales.
Swales had embraked on a death or glory chase to catch and bypass Manchester United in the late 70s and, although City had finished 2nd and 4th as the decade wound to a close, his impatience was beginning to get the better of him. Having removed Tony Book from the front line (the manager had overseen City's League Cup success in '76 and the afore-mentioned league campaigns), Swales had turned to Allison.
The Havana cigars, the champagne flutes, the sheepskin coats, the brazenly unbuttoned round-collared shirts and the entourage of fragrant women, all ideologically wide at the hips, were once again to be seen at Maine Road, as Allison set about puffing blue smoke in the faces of anyone, who didn't do things with a bit of a swagger.
The team also found itself in the middle of quite a transformation, with Allison insisting on what appeared to be change for change's sake. Out had gone seasoned internationals Mike Channon, Asa Hartford, Dave Watson and, much to the chagrin of the supporters, club favourites Gary Owen and Peter Barnes. In their stead we were still to get used to Gary Wiffill, Staurt Lee, Michael Robinson, the massively expensive Steve Daley and the utterly unknown Paul Sugrue. Strange times were brewing and - as with all stroies involving Big Mal - it would either be glorious success or horrible, char-grilled failure.
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Paul Power offers Rodolfo of FC Porto a small memento. Caption out of pic wrongly names Daley as City player
The tour was to start in the north, then veer off to the Minho region for a game with Sporting Braga and end up in the south for a visit to Lisbon. The three Portuguese clubs were taking things very seriously, as they also embarked on the last days of preparation for their domestic season. The first game featured a tight 0-0 draw with FC Porto, with a picture of Paul Power (incorrectly identified as "Daley") and "problematic" Porto captain Rodolfo exchanging pennants making the morning edition of A Bola under the headline, "Positive start without really shining in the first appearance of the Allies". 

Under- fire Porto coach Hermann Stessl was quoted as saying "miracles do not appear out of the blue", the usual clarion call for patience even before the season had started. This was Porto's first game of pre-season and captain Rodolfo reported that the players were "reasonably pleased with the amount of movement", whilst others praised the excellent planning of their coach. 
Moving on to what was thought to be a slightly easier challenge than that posed by Porto in their cavernous Das Antas stadium, City played Braga six days later and this time the goals flowed in a 3-1 win for the Blues, with Paul Sugrue and a brace from Kevin Reeves doing the trick.

Braga had held on well until after the break, when their lack of fitness compared to Big Mal's City began to tell and they conceded "justifiably" according to the copy of A Bola from two days later (the sports paper that is now the country's biggest selling daily was only printed once every two days in the 80s). Pictures in the paper show Tommy Caton clearing up one Braga attack under the caption "with the swiftness of movement that is typical of British football, an English player intercepts a pass meant for Pinto...". Another picture shows Kevin Reeves moving away with the ball whilst a team shot at the start of the game reveals City lining up as follows:
Tommy Caton is "the English defender intercepting a pass"
Tony Henry, Tommy Caton, Joe Corrigan, Tommy Booth, Kaziu Deyna, Ray Ranson, Kevin Reeves; Steve Mackenzie, Paul Power, Paul Sugrue with Steve Daley clinging on grimly to the match mascot. (see photo below)

The paper also provided a brief preview of the third game of the tour featuring a visit to Sporting Lisbon. 

With their tales up, City headed down to the capital, where Sporting were eagerly waiting to pit their wits against the Blues. 

This was to be the home side's presentation to the supporters, a tradition still maintained to this day in Portugal and a big crowd appeared early at the old Estádio José Alvalade to welcome their heroes (a 26 man squad was to be presented according to the paper). In an ill-tempered game won 2-1 by City, the home team's lack of match fitness again told, as it had done in Braga two days earlier. According to the morning papers, Sporting's appearance had been at once exciting but also patchy as they battled to hold on to the coat tails of a well oiled City side, whose goals came from Tommy Booth and Kevin Reeves.
"City show how football is being played in Europe right now" exclaimed a headline in A Bola, paying the Blues the somewhat overstated compliment that playing Paul Sugrue in a "do what you can, son" role up front was somehow placing Malcolm Allison at the cutting edge of contemporary European tactics. As the reporter's name appears to have been Victor Hugo, he may be forgiven for his slightly overworked prose.
City line up in Braga. The hard to categorise Paul Sugrue sits happily centre stage
City are "stronger and more adapted to pre-season" versus Sporting
The ill tempered end to City's tour came in the 73rd minute of what had been at first a placid match, played at the pace City dictated. Leading 2-0 at the interval, City were coasting to their second victory of the tour, when they received the double whammy of a Sporting goal (scored by star striker Jordão) and a red card. Paul Sugrue had been unceremoniously upended by Ademar. The City player's reaction was to retaliate far too strongly and he was shown the red card, with Caton joining him in the book, shown a yellow in the same incident. Sugrue, until just a few weeks earlier to be found ploughing a simple and unspectacular furrow upfront for Nuneaton Borough, was evidently not used to the close marking of burly Brazilian defenders.

City's subs included Dragoslav Stepanovic and the floating mirage that was Dave Wiffill.
Allison, preparing to take his troops back to England to fine tune their start to the season proper, said: "All three games have been a useful work-out for us and each one has provided us with a tough challenge..."
What he thought of Kaziu Deyna's penchant for making a fast buck is not recorded. The local paper reported after the game that they had attempted to get Deyna, perhaps City's most high profile player after Allison's fire sale, to give an interview, but the Pole had only relented when the then hefty sum of 5,000 escudos had been mentioned. The interview, occupying an entire page of the paper and decorated with floating heads of the Polish World Cup captain, was eventually carried out "grátis", however.
City, with a 3-2 win in Breda to round their continental exploits off, then put three past both Bath and Nuneaton Borough before the last preparatory game with Deyna's old team mates from Legia. This featured an infamous 5-1 thrutching from the Polish champions and City limped into the season with their nerves suddenly shot. An opening day defeat at Southampton, where ex-Blue Mike Channon and the returning Kevin Keegan ran riot, was followed by a humiliating 4-0 reverse at home to newly promoted Sunderland, the less than elegant John Hawley bagging a scarcely believable hat-trick. 

City's good work in Portugal had been undone in a matter of days and a dark first three months would lead to Allison's dismissal after a desperate defeat at Leeds left City bottom of the table. John Bond - Allison's pupil at West Ham - would come in and haul City to two semi finals and the centenary cup final with Spurs by the end of the season and Allison would resurface at Sporting to help them carry off the double. Football still works in funny ways, but the irony of City's pre-season jaunt to Portugal in 1980 is hard to beat.
The "Flying Pole" asks for a medium-sized back-hander

1 comment:

  1. The irony being that John Bond turned out to be the complete opposite. Steve Mackenzie, great prospect who could have achieved so much more, was sold to accommodate Martin O'Neill, a washed up has-been with no resale value... which turned out to be JB's transfer target of choice...

    Chris Jones, David Johnson, Terry McDermott, John Robertson, Kenny Burns, David Cross... all great names if we'd been chasing them in 1979, yet terribly depressing when studying the back page of the MEN each night in 1982.

    We really couldn't have done any worse just leaving Tony Book where he was...


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