Monday, September 29, 2014

AS THE RAIN FALLS HARD ON A HUMDRUM TOWN



Roma’s talented and fine-tuned players, stretching their muscles in the queue for customs at Ringway Airport, might have swapped the sun-drenched hubbub of the Italian capital for the red brick and drizzle of post-industrial Manchester, but they will be aware that they are about to play their most crucial game in this season’s Champions League.

This is a fixture that has never before been played in earnest, the pre-season plastic pitch of 1980 Giants Stadium in New York being the only (semi-)competitive game ever played between the sides. On that occasion the City goals were scored with graceful aplomb by Kaziu Deyna and Steve Daley with "Paul Sugroe", practically unknown to American tv commentators hitting the third and a chunky Carlo Ancelotti weighing in with one of Roma’s goals in a 2-3 defeat for the Italians.

In the 34 years that have followed, City have studiously avoided the need for eye contact with AS Roma. In fact, barring the occasional confrontation with Italian clubs over the years, City’s history in this part of the world is sparse to say the least. Only two UEFA Cup/Europa League double headers with Juventus (1976-7 and 2010-11) and one each with AC Milan (1978-79 UEFA Cup) and –more recently- Napoli (2011-12) in the Champions League have occurred in nearly 45 years. 



OLD LADIES FIRST

Here are the line-ups from the initial meetings with the great Juventus side of the mid seventies, one that furnished the Italian national team for the World Cup in Argentina in 1978 with no fewer than eight players.

Sep 15th 1976 Manchester City 1 Juventus 0 (Kidd)
Corrigan; Docherty, Donachie, Doyle, Watson, Conway, Barnes (Power), Kidd, Royle, Hartford, Tueart. Att 36,955

Sep 29th 1976 Juventus 2 Manchester City 0 
Corrigan, Docherty, Donachie, Doyle, Watson, Booth, Keegan (Lester), Kidd, Royle, Hartford, Tueart  Att 55,000 
City, with a team full of international pedigree, drawn to play Juventus in the first round of the UEFA Cup, an unlucky quirk of the draw in the days before seeding and money interest kept glamour games away from the early stages. On a raw Manchester night, City did the raucous Maine Road crowd proud. With the Kippax belting out the slightly unusual chant of "We all hate spaghetti" and following it up with a thumping, partisan rendition of "Fish and chips, fish and chips, fish and chips", not only was the electric atmosphere giddy with that famous Maine Road mix of gallows humour and northern slapstick, but the men from Turin were in danger of being rocked out of their composed stride.

FALLING INTO IL TRAP

New England manager Don Revie sat expectantly under a tartan rug in the Main Stand with a notepad marked "Tueart, Royle, Kidd, Barnes, Doyle, Watson, Corrigan...", the new England pretenders, while Juventus coach Giovanni Trappatoni, embarking on what would stretch to a ten year stint in charge, strode around the muddy edges of the Maine Road pitch with a small piece of paper marked with a single vital word - "catenaccio". If foreign tongues were anathema to the mean streets of Moss Side in those days of chips and gravy, we would soon enough understand what this bit of Italian signified.

Tony Book would later admit that this was a well-laid but hardly unforeseeable trap that the Blues had marched straight into. With the Kippax heaving and City leading through Brian Kidd's soaring header, a win was considered well worth celebrating. It was not every day, after all, that Manchester City dealt a blow to the pride of a team so swollen with international names of repute. City had practically beaten the Italian national side for heaven's sake! The nagging doubt remained, however, that having Juve on the ropes on your own patch, with the Kippax baying for more, might just be seen as a missed opportunity rather than a heroic episode in what we somewhat laughingly hoped would be a thick volume of similarly outstanding European nights out.




THE OLD ONE-TWO

Well-steeped in European two leg tactics, Juventus knew full well that a 1-0 deficit could easily be turned around in the boiling bear pit of the Stadio Communale in Turin. And so it transpired, with City unable to steel themselves, unprepared for the iron-clad defensive shut-out that was necessary, instead attempting to give the striped Juventini a game, playing a brand of open expansive football, which the home side quickly picked off. With the score at 2-0 in a rainy Turin, City had no answer and the Italians played out the rest of the remaining minutes with their familiar defensive aplomb. Book had been right to say beforehand that the winners of this tie could go on to lift the trophy, but it was Juventus who would do so and not City.

"They were just too experienced for us," he said later. "We were 16 months together and only knew one way to play. We did not adapt to the needs of the European game, the slow build up, cautious patient passing game." Another abrupt end had been reached, another harsh lesson had been dealt out. A small consolation presented itself in the next round when United showed they had learnt nothing from City's approach and they too were dumped out by Juventus. The Old Lady shimmied all the way to the final and yet another glorious trophy win, whilst Manchester's blues began an inexorable slump that would end up with us all face down in the mud at at Macclesfield.

THE KIPPAX EXPERIENCE
To stand on the Kippax in the 70s and watch a night match in European competition, you were transported to a unique place in life. Bursting with wit and spontaneity, danger and uncertainty, the great terrace grasped you, shook you and embraced you, until that trembling old place cast you back out into the wet streets of Rusholme to fend for yourself. The rain -if not the town- could drag you down.
Between those mid-to-late 70's of Brian Kidd and Dennis Tueart and the 2003 UEFA Cup match with Total Network Solutions of Wales, there was not a sausage, bratwurst or chorizo worth its name for City fans to savour. The European drought has long since ended, however, and these days the likes of Milan, Roma and Juventus look at Manchester City in a totally different light.  
Whilst the Old Lady represents, even in her modern low budget blouses and sensible shoes, much of what City are not - old Europe, old money, trophy-heavy, aristocratic elite from the parched south of Europe, Roma’s record in Europe is not so burdensome. A mid-eighties peak of losing ignominiously to Liverpool in their own heaving Stadio Olympico was the zenith of their achievements and modern times have brought more modest targets.

"Call me morbid, call me pale, but we've spent 34 long years on your trail..."

TIME LORDS

Images of the track-suited Nils Liedholm flash across the mind, the upright gods of Falcão, Graziani, Boniek, Collovati, Giannini, Prohaska, Ancelotti and the little devil Bruno Conte come easily to the mind's eye, draped in history, glory and the honeyed fog of all those unforgettable European nights. These names form part of the rich history of not just the fabric of Roma but also of Italian football.

City play out a delayed 2-2 draw at the San Siro in 1978
When the two sides met in New York in 1980, City’s business with the likes of Roma and Juventus was coming to an end. A scintillating defeat of AC Milan in the previous season’s UEFA Cup brought the club a quarter-final with Borussia Monchengladbach, where defeat ended City’s participation in continental competition until TNS in 2003. Twenty-four years had passed by in the meantime, with the Blues contenting themselves with a close-up view of their belly button fluff.

HISTORY BECKONS

Whilst City lost at Halifax Town in the FA Cup and introduced themselves repeatedly to the denizons of the old second division, Roma were embarking on something of a golden era, that would bring them eventually to today’s total of 213 European games (City have played just 92). Reaching the European Cup Final of 83-84 and the UEFA Cup final of 90-91, both lost respectively to Liverpool and Inter, things would never be quite so good again. Modern times have seen intermittent participation in the Champions League but have also brought the club’s biggest ever continental defeat, shipping seven at Old Trafford in 2007. A visit to Manchester should not, therefore, be taken to lightly by the Italians, especially so when you realise that seven is exactly the number of goals City managed in their last home game..

Tommy Booth (l) and Brian Kidd (r) head goals in the 3-0 City demolition of AC Milan at Maine Road
Roma arrive in grand form and will be backed by support as lusty as that seen from Napoli when the Partenopea visited for City’s first ever Champions league home fixture on 14th September 2011. From the Blues side that played that night, only the departed Joleon Lescott and Gareth Barry cannot play, although Samir Nasri’s injury also excludes him. Of the others, eight (Hart, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Kompany, Dzeko, Aguero, Silva and Touré) should all play, great testament to the growing stability at a club often derided for its knee-jerk spending.

Napoli exhibited a verve and togetherness that took the home side by surprise that night, gaining a 1-1 draw that would be instrumental in keeping them above City in the final group table. City have grown into this competition since then and will draw on the experience of four consecutive seasons pitting their wits against the very best Europe has to offer, plus Viktoria Plzen.

If the club’s history of combat with Italian sides is a little on the thin side, it is not without triumph. The spirit of Brian Kidd and Asa Hartford may long have been extinguished on the football pitch, but City’s class of 2014 has the guile and the heart to out-manoeuvre the very best that Roman organisation can put in its way, emulating the class of 1980.



1 comment:

  1. Small consolation in United's knockout by Juve maybe, but attendances 36,955 compared to 59,021 shows where Manchester's loyalties lie.

    ReplyDelete

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