Wednesday, April 30, 2014

UEFA LATEST

Symons: cut out and keep UCL souvenir
UEFA have announced strict sanctions against Manchester City this morning. The artificially sustained Premier League outfit will from next season only be allowed to take part in the Champions League with a squad of nine players (see full list below) and will be fined the equivalent of the price of Sheikh Mansour's tractor lawnmower (the one for the front lawn, not the golf course).

Michel Platini opined: "Are they breaking accounting rules? Je ne suis pas tres certain. Are they arranging some cuisine around their books? Quite possibly. On verra. In the meantime this will give them time to think and time for manchester United to regenerate...."

Brannan: "...absolutely ready . (....)..for the challenge."
City have announced that they will not appeal, have already transferred the cash to Lausanne, have sent both letters of apology and gratitude to Platini and Gianni Infantino, UEFA's Head of Little Plastic Balls and have this morning announced that the squad is in place for the tilt on the European crown. It will be:

(GK) - B. Siddall

(D) - K. Symons
(D) - A. Nuttall (signed from Heaton Park Strollers)
(D) - V. Kompany (capt)
(D) - A. Kernaghan

(MF) - B. Gazprom (forced offloading from Zenith, who were also hit hard)
(MF) - G, Brannan

(S) - B. Taylor
(S) - G. Taylor

It is thought that it is in attack that City will feel the pinch most, although some are already saying the goalkeeping department looks decidedly average too, given that Joe Hart and Costel Pantilimon will only be able to start domestic games next season. Meanwhile a surprised and elated Ged Brannan stated that, "I will be ready by August and fans can expect the same level of concentration and finesse that they always saw from me." Kit Symons was unavailable for comment as he had smashed an attempted clearance into his own nose during a kickabout in his back garden and was heavily bandaged when we contacted him. Head Coach Manuel Pellegrini said, "We will play our usual game and we will have a chance like the others, no?"

Monday, April 28, 2014

OF MONKEYS, MICE AND MEN


Mind games. They’re all the rage. You can’t park a bus without people looking at you in a strange way and woe betide anybody who decides to attempt such a manoeuvre at Anfield these days. Do so with a funny look in your eyes and you will find yourself derided for playing anti-football, as the poor embattled souls of Chelsea were or, worse still, have a band of miniature scoundrels test the perspex of your own coach's windows, as a City minibus experienced two weeks ago.

We walk, some of us, on a sheer knife edge between over-confidence and self-assertiveness. Others amongst us are left to our own devices, whilst a lucky few apparently never walk alone and therefore are not afraid of the dark.

Are the fine words offered in the vortex of battle great lines of exhortation? Or are they empty rhetoric? Worse still, are they blocks of amateur psychiatry cooked up to look like a would-be champion's lunch-time snack? Do I need my tub thumping or my back patting? Am I dealing with monkeys, demons, hobgoblins or simply the memory, sharp and precise, of last week's open goal miss-kick? If I lose my head whilst all around are also losing theirs, what will that make me?

Liverpool supporters have been singing “We’re going to win the league” in their frantic, ever-so-slightly pre-ejaculatory giddiness for some weeks already. Head onto YouTube and you will find it horrendously heavy with clips of the Liverpool bus arriving at a dead slow stop pace through red smog and electrically charged chanting. You will see people in Liverpool Premier League Winners T-Shirts and others reeling around from the sheer enormity of it all. This has been going on for weeks and weeks. The old place was absolutely heaving against City and it obviously helped the side tear into the Blues from the off. That the same thing did not happen against Chelsea can be put down to a variety of factors. Firstly, the away side was not interested in going toe to toe, as City had done two weeks earlier at Manuel Pellegrini's behest ("we go there to play our normal game"). For good reason, José Mourinho chose to be pragmatic. His side is midway through a Champions League semi final and the number crunching told him that it only required to appear from Fortress Anfield with a point to thrust his side right back into the swarming whirlpool of this dramatically fluctuating title race.

The there was the atmosphere. Once again the Kop was a sea of banners and scarves, the feverish ambience lending itself to a big occasion, perhaps one bigger than this one. This of course can be a double edged sword, as Steve Peters, Liverpool’s mind games expert and supposed champion of all our internal monkeys will testify. What he has been teaching the players and staff of Liverpool has obviously had an invigorating effect on the likes of Jordan Henderson and Glen Johnson, who previously found a scoreless draw at Fulham sufficiently appealing . Liverpool have been unrecognisable this season from the slumping also-rans they had turned into over the last quarter century.

But what happens when this premature euphoria has the opposite effect? Logic not emotion, you could almost hear Peters whispering under his breath, logic not emotion. Take the sting out of the occasion before it eats you for lunch. Peters’ famous Foundation Stones have brought athletes from many disciplines through to the very top of their professions, making them aware of who they are, how they best perform and where the demons lie. Here there were demons flying out of every crack of the old stadium's red brick walls. It was emotion not logic and there was such a strong tide of it running that it was difficult not to throw down your towel and stride naked into the throng shouting "get me to the Kop on time".

But after the initial spurt, the giant mass fell silent, the atmosphere changed and all the impartial observer could hear was the gentle knocking together of Scouse knees. Steven Gerrard heard this ominous sound too and joined in the fun. The pressure, as it often does, was getting to the league leaders and Chelsea and their boisterous fans were feeding on it lustily. For the Londoners - and indeed to a lesser extent, City – have been here before. In beating Bayern on their own ground in the final of the Champions League, Chelsea proved beyond any necessary doubt that they have the balls for the big occasion. In fishing their own first league title for 44 years out of the Manchester Ship Canal after the world and his dog thought that boat had already sailed, City too revealed a mettle that only big time athletes can produce. Whilst onlookers were wilting with the pressure on that sunny May day v QPR, others were winding themselves up for the kill. It took the breath away but remains as a testament to what positive thinking and a little touch of Mario Balotelli can do for you.
Monkeys are funny creatures with long arms and cauliflower bottoms. Inner monkeys, it seems, can be even more ridiculous. Look at the video below. How would you feel if you were inside this bus? The date is 26th March, some six weeks before the destination of the title is due to be decided..

 
March 26th before Liverpool - Sunderland. Yes, March. 

Manchester City's Monkeys - some might want to call them gorillas - have been doing an impeccable job, for and against the club, for a number of years. The mind drifts back to the last title winning season's blur of tear-stained action. Last gasp winners v Chelsea and Spurs as Samir Nasri skipped home and Balotelli banged in yet another ice cool penalty; at Arsenal in the League Cup with that sumptuous counter by Dzeko, Johnson and Aguero; the delicious late flurry of activity at Old Trafford; then there was that strange old day in May to cap it all off.

By that tumultuous denouement, City had hoisted themselves not only into first place, but also to the top of the rankings for late match winners. More goals, in fact, scored after the 90th minute than any other side in the division. Who would have thought we would be saying that about City ten years ago?

Long-term masochists will well remember two games versus Birmingham City in the late nineties, where the club had managed to cultivate the exact opposite of what we see today: a deadly ability to concede when it was least needed. Dele Adebola. A name never to be forgotten. The mists of time clear to show us the unlikely bulk of Murtaz Shelia giving us the lead at St Andrews in some God-forsaken, mud-splattered second division game. It was the 88th minute when the lolloping Georgian netted. We went on to lose that game, rather predictably, two-one. Birmingham's goals came in the 94th and 97th minutes. The rot set in so deep that the club's decline to the third tier of English football felt in many ways absolutely inevitable. Unstoppable until it rolled to its own halt. There were monkeys, albatrosses and vampire bats everywhere you looked. This is why the resurrection since then has been nothing short of breathtaking.

Liverpool – fresh from their very own Dele Adebola moment - now face a trip to Selhurst Park, seemingly a daunting task, but one which City sailed through at the weekend like a flotilla of white-slacked students larking about on the river. If a tray of Pimms had been served to celebrate Yaya Touré´s majestic second goal, nobody would have batted an eyelid. Palace, on a run of 5 consecutive wins, looked like little boys who had lost the front door key. Shut out for ninety minutes, whilst City went about their business with a quiet efficiency, which will have been noted amongst the frothing denizons of the Annie Road. City have done this before, of course. Two years ago, a succession of unlikely victories (six consecutive wins, to remind you) brought a momentum that carried them to the title, but even then a twist in the storyline of the very last game ended up ageing every City supporter by half a lifetime in the space of ninety minutes. It is this mental strength in adversity that now kicks in for the team that believes it can be done.

Liverpool, flowing freely for half a season, have suddenly had the carpet removed from under their feet  How does one react to that with two games to go? Do you fold or do you come out at Palace with all guns blazing? Or do you start taking corners a little bit like Iago Aspas did v. Chelsea? Will the fans stop singing about winning the league and will this add to or deflate the pressure? Will Chelsea, having dented Liverpool’s title hopes, now go back to coveting that Champions League trophy? Or will last weekend’s win fire them for two more league successes to keep the pressure on, despite Mourinho’s insistence that they can only finish 3rd? Can City overcome one of their bogey sides on one of the club's least successful grounds to set up a two-home-game run-in towards an unlikely but successful finish? Will the City fans' innate sense of foreboding have a detrimental affect on their side or can the likes of Sergio Aguero manage quite nicely whilst the rest of us are all gnawing feverishly on the corner flag?

With two, and in City’s case, three games to go, having the initiative at this stage is worth its weight in gold. City’s players, who have admitted to watching bits of the Chelsea victory on the big screen at Selhurst Park as they were warming up, will have been given a colossal boost for that game and, with its smooth onclusion, for the three that follow it.

Everton away, Villa at home, West Ham at home.

That is all that now separates City from their second league title in three seasons. Negotiate those three games and the pot will once again be paraded around the Etihad. In Manuel Pellegrini, City have the ideal man to keep players focussed and with feet firmly on the ground. Whilst Mourinho creates his wars and Rodgers scatters clichés far and wide, the Chilean grunts his sweet nothings and disappears. The weather-worn face and gravel voice lend themselves to the general air of rien ne va plus. It is to him and to the calm authority growing from the likes of Martin Demichelis and Javi Garcia, to the great swirling limbs of the Elephant of Bondoukou and to the unstoppable punch of City’s inimitable forward five that one must now invest trust. 

Strong minds alone will not be enough, but they will surely now play their part. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

THE DAY ALLISON DRANK FROM FRAGILE CRYSTAL

 "John Bond's cup runneth over, but Malcolm Allison's remains as dry as a bone..."

So went the opening line of Colin Malam’s pithy match report for the Sunday Telegraph in January 1981.

The match that had just been completed on the soaking wet Maine Road pitch, between unevenly matched Manchester City and Crystal Palace, had finished 4-0 to the home side. It was the beginning of a legendary FA Cup run that would take in never-to-be-forgotten matches with Norwich (an uproarious six-nil pasting), Peterborough (with 28,000 packing the 4th division club’s old London Road ground), two mammoth quarter final ties with Everton, played out in front of an aggregate crowd of well over 100,000 people and a semi final with the then all-conquering Ipswich Town, who had been on route for a treble of trophies before being sent packing by a dogged City performance at Villa Park.

The final with Tottenham, the centenary FA Cup Final would also be drenched in sweat and drama, but – at this stage -- that was still some four months away.

The reason for the autumnal change of management at Maine Road in 1980-81 was on this occasion sitting in the dugout not ten metres away from where ex-Norwich boos Bond and his assistants John Benson and John Sainty (the beknighted "Three Johns") were busy arranging their sheepskin coats and pre-match Havanas.

The incumbent of that small plastic and steel arrangement in front of the Main Stand had in fact only just sat down, having spent those typically tense pre-match minutes striding out across the Maine Road mud towards the heaving Kippax terraces on the opposite side of the ground, to take the adulation of an expectant and thoroughly wound-up 39,000 crowd.

If ever there was a game that required the hackneyed you could cut the atmopshere with a knife, it was this one.
The 3rd round tie between City and Palace that set up the run to Wembley 1981 was not so much a game about the two clubs but instead the two managers. City, under the atsute management of Bond,
had taken off – pilfering 20 points from a possible 26 in the league since his arrival the previous October. The team he had taken over had been at its lowest ebb for some time, with debilitating cup exits at Shrewsbury and Halifax still very clear in the mind.
Back on the pitch, the Kippax was still in a tumult. Never can I remember an opposition manager having the gaul to walk arms aloft towards the centre circle, clapping his hands ostentatiously above his head and receive exactly the same back from the mass of hands and faces staring back at him from the great swaying steps. It was one of the moments of the decade at Maine Road, an unforgettable sight and an unforgettable moment that sent chills down your spine and was later captured in the ultra intrusive Granada TV documentary called simply CITY!.

The exclamation mark after the club’s name in the Granada documentary has never really gone away. It would come as very little surprise to see City appear on the results boards as Manchester City!, so serpentine and entangled has the club’s last thirty years been.



The man in the middle of the pitch with two minutes to go to kick-off was of course Malcolm Allison, sacked by City’s genius chairman Peter Swales, the used television mogul from Altrincham, just two months earlier. The very same Allison, who had been mentor to John Bond from their days playing together at West Ham United in the 50s and still the larger than life character that City fans had grown to love and respect for the drama-laden trophy years he had brought to Maine Road between 1967 and 1970.

Under Allison's 1981 regime, however, a succession of terrible results had brought the famous coach's City tenure to a sad end. A chaotic three-nil home defeat to Liverpool where Allison inexplicably told his players to choose their own tactics to face the champions and a dismal midweek loss at Elland Road against an equally appalling post-glory Leeds United led chairman Peter Swales to pull the rug from under the coach's expensively clad feet.

Football is a game that seldom stands still and – as Allison saw the thousands of hands returning to their pockets, he made his way back towards the Main Stand, where the teams were about to enter the fray and the various elements of the coaching staff were preparing themselves for the game to come. As he did so, the crowd rose again, an upswell of noise from the Kippax telling Allison in no uncertain terms that his moment had now come and gone, that he would forever have a place in the hearts of the faithful but that now he was here as Leader of the Opposition.

Suddenly a chant rolled down off the great terrace behind him, creating one of the most poignant moments in what was the beginning of the twilight of Allison’s career as a respected coach."Johnny Bond, Johnny Bond, Johnny Bond," was the refrain as Big Mal wedged his frame into the tiny dugout.

His face was stretched and his eyes carried a sad glaze as he made himself comfortable. He would take Palace down to the second division at the end of the season and would later lead Middlesbrough in an ill-fated spell in the North East

(reporter: “Mal, Middlesbrough is not really a champagne and cigars sort of town is it?” –  Allison: “When you’re winning, any town is a champagne and cigars sort of town”).
His Palace side on this occasion, beaten thoroughly by his old love Manchester City, managed by his old pupil John Bond, must have left Allison with one of the saddest memories of his later career. The feeling that his career at the forefront of British football was coming to an end must have been horribly tangible for a man used to making things work so effortlessly.

As Malam had written, Bond’s cup ranneth over, whilst Allison’s remained dry as a bone. Few were the occasions that Big Mal’s cup was anything other than full to the brim.



Friday, April 25, 2014

CITY v PALACE: GALLERY

1980-81 Selhurst Park. Shortly after John Bond's arrival as City manager. Things are taking off and City take all the points in a thriller at Palace. Here Ray Ranson beats Hinshelwood for pace down the right.
By the end of the season, Bond has taken City to Wembley to face Spurs in the Centenary Cup Final. The Palace game comes with days to go before the final. One of the big questions is who gets the starting place upfront alongside Kevin Reeves: Dave Bennett or Dennis Tueart?. Bennett's goal here gives him the edge for Tottenham.
the next time the clubs meet both are in the Second Division. The opening game of the season for 1983-84 sees them meet at Selhurst Park. Billy McNeill's cut-price side wins 2-0 in the sunshine. Here Asa Hartford, one of several to stay on and help the club battle back to the top flight, (Asa would manage 7 games that season before moving on to Norwich) flies in with an optimistic challenge.
By the winter City are getting bogged down in a four horse race with Newcastle, Chelsea and Sheffield Wednesday. This 3-1 win comes courtesy of the jet heels of Steve Kinsey (at back of photo) and goals from midfielders Paul Power, Graeme Baker and one from Kinsey himself
1984-85: Having failed to gain promotion, City start a second season down in the dumps. This early season game at Maine Road again features the speed on the counter of young Kinsey, who scores one and sets one up for Gordon Smith.     
1991-2. Fast starting City are on their way to the top of the First Division table after three wins from their first three fixtures. In a topsy turvy game David White grabs the winner after two Mark Brennan penalties keep City in the running for full points. As White wheels away in typical fashion, the Kippax heaves into life behind him. 
By 1996-7 both sides are back in the second tier. Little do City fans realise but Nicky Summerbee and his team mates are about to introduce us to the third level of English pro football. 
In the same game, Georgi Kinkladze plays through the Palace defence in inimitable style. The game ends in an inglorious 1-1 draw, with even City's goal scored by Palace man David Tuttle.
Richard Jobson is mobbed by happy team mates after scoring a surprisingly refined goal at Maine Road in the September 1999 game. City win 2-1 with a second from Gareth Taylor on their way to back to back promotions to the Premier League.
Jamie Pollock battles with Clinton Morrison in the return game at Selhurst in 99-00, drawn 1-1 by City thanks to an eye watering flying header from Bob Taylor that sees City close in on their promotion target.
December 2001: After one season apart, the sides are once again facing each other in the second tier, Palace winning this December clash 2-1 despite little Ali Benarbia's midfield magic and an opportunistic goal from Shaun Goater.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

BAD TO THE BONE



Cort McMurray gets his teeth into a decent Villains Tale

***

Every good story needs a villain.

If there has been one disappointment in this thrilling season – an early exit from both the Champions League and the FA Cup don’t count as disappointments; consider them a cosmic tax on all the good things that have happened – it is the lack of a good counterpoint, someone malevolent and conspiring, someone skilled enough, someone determined enough to threaten all of our hopes and dreams.  Harry Potter must have his Voldemort, Luke Skywalker his Darth Vader, Milton’s Adam and Eve must be hounded by Lucifer’s Rebel Angels. No bad guy to vanquish, and the narrative arc is ruined: you may have success, but you’ll never know Victory.

Which is why I love Luis Suarez.

All of our old nemeses have gone, at least for this season.  Admit it: it’s not nearly as much fun taking pleasure in United settling into the soft brown ooze of mid-table ignominy with their current brain trust manning the ship, as it would have been had Sir Alex been at the helm.  For years David Moyes roamed the sidelines for Everton, square jawed and steely eyed, and we assumed he was filled with Grit and Indomitable Spirit. Eight months in at Old Trafford, and that same expression fairly screams, “Did I leave the iron on at home? I think I left the iron on!” His guilty, stooped shouldered sulk into the stands during City’s most recent evisceration of the Red Devils, a lap dog who’d just done a Bad Thing on the living room carpet, brought no joy, no visceral sense of triumph, to City supporters. Afterward, he actually expressed admiration for City’s style on the pitch! There was no defiance, no rancor, no “noisy neighbors”dismissiveness to stir our outrage. Overawed and submissive, he might as well have been managing Torquay United.

It’s a far cry from May 2012, when Dzeko and Aguero and the boys were fashioning a miracle, and, split screen, we were watching Fergie, all manic gum chewing and burst capillaries, wandering disbelieving in Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, doing an impromptu one man version of “Downfall”. It was a glorious moment, a deeply satisfying moment, heroes accomplishing the improbable on one side of our television screens, the source of all of our misery and woe set to stew in humiliation on the other. Every good story needs a villain.

Fergie’s gone, replaced by a grocery clerk. José Mourinho for a moment looked like a worthy adversarial successor. He was dismissive and outrageous, and his team of plucky ponies seemed a serious threat.  But like Chelsea itself, The Special One is a mere pretender, a caricature, not a real threat. With his Arafat beard and his open collar shirts under Armani suits and his penchant for talking crazy talk, Mourinho looks increasingly like the second runner-up in a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lookalike contest. His Mussolini pout doesn’t help.

That leaves Liverpool. (The other “top clubs” are nothing much: Wenger, like his club, just seems tired, and really was never the kind of manager to stir more than quiet respect in his opponents. Poor Spurs, twirling in Bedlam, have pinned their hopes and dreams to the back of one Emmanuel Adebayor, which from most City supporters can only elicit a mixture of commiseration and pity. Everton is soaring high on goofus dust and positive feelings; there’s nothing dark and villainous rising from Goodison Park).

Brendan Rodgers, Boy Wonder, is all Earnestness and Sincerity. Rooting against him is like loudly expressing your hatred of the color beige. Steven Gerrard is, literally, an altar boy: Sure, he may sneak the odd sip from the sacramental wine and get into the occasional scrap, but he’s a decent enough lad. Between them, they generate as much passion in their opponents’ supporters as a large bowl of mashed potatoes.

Every good story needs a villain. Finally, at the end of this long season, Fate’s tumblers have turned and everything is in place.  The poseurs, the pretenders, the Unreadys, are a low background rumble.  It is Liverpool and City, Sky Blue against Scarlet, our heroes massed against the last obstacle to Victory.  It is Us versus Luis Suarez.

Ah, Luis Suarez!  El Gran Mordedor. Lemur eyed Suarez, with his Peter Lorre shiftiness and his uncanny knack for scoring goals. Conniving Suarez, the man who shamelessly put forth “El Mano del Diablo” in the 2010 World Cup, effectively eliminating loveable underdogs Ghana from the competition, utterly graceless in victory, cackling in triumph as Asamoah Gyan’s penalty deflected off the crossbar. Bigot Suarez, whose benighted view of race relations (“I don’t speak to Black people”) makes one wonder if UKIP has opened an office in Montevideo. Suarez, talented, scheming, contemptible Suarez, a villain worthy of Milton, or at least Rowling. This is our new Fergie. This is the man we need to vanquish.

I just hope he doesn’t take a bite out of David Silva when we do.

You can follow Cort on Twitter here

Friday, April 4, 2014

CITY V SOUTHAMPTON: GALLERY

Front cover of Match Weekly, featuring Steve Daley, making his debut against Southampton 1979-80 season. Seen here pulling away from Graham Baker, later to sign for City from the Saints. This match also marked the debut of Stuart Lee
Joe Jordan goes up to challenge Alex Williams, as Kenny Clements and Mick McCarthy add their support during a 0-3 drubbing at The dell in season 85-86. Saturday 7th September 1985.
Hassan Kachloul shields the ball from Alf Inge Haaland in a stultifying 0-1 home defeat for the Blues in 1990-00
Terry Phelan scores City's goal in a rain soaked encounter in season 93-94. the match ended in a 1-1 draw on Tuesday 28th December 1993
Steve Moran scores one of his hat-trick in 1982-83, as Tommy Caton arrives too late. 1-4
Shaun Goater holds onto possession with a young Joey Barton in support in the last ever match at Maine Road
David Phillips and Paul Simpson celebrate the winner in the home game in 1985-86 (1-0)
Sunday Express cutting from 1978-79 and a two-one home defeat which included an own goal from City midfielder Colin Viljoen. Saturday 9th December 1978
Shaun Goater waves goodbye as the last game ever to be played at Maine Road comes to a typically unsatisfactory ending. Saturday 10th May 2003. Not a dry eye in the house.
Alan Ball waves a finger at Kevin Bond as Southampton defeat city 2-1 at the Dell to top the table and stop City doing the same thing. Saturday 6th February 1982. Bobby McDonald got City's goal.
Richard Jobson keeps one step ahead of James Beattie in the League Cup encounter (0-0) in 1999. Wednesday 15th September 1999. Southampton won a scintillating replay 4-3 at The Dell.
Daily Mail report on the 93-94 clash at Maine Road, with picture showing Terry Phelan wheeling away at the North Stand end after scoring City's goal in a 1-1 draw.
Kevin Reeves gets his shot away at a sunny Maine Road in the 1981-82 season, watched by future City midfielder Graham Baker and team mate Martin O'Neill.
Paul Dickov leaves future City left back Wayne Bridge for dead in the clash at The Dell in 2000-01
 Mark Kennedy and Kevin Horlock initiate a left wing attack in September 1999 at Maine Road
Gerry Gow smacks home one of City's goals in the 3-0 home win in season 1980-81


Thursday, April 3, 2014

SOUTHAMPTON TIMES TWO

Two Matches from One Season: 
Southampton 1980-1981

Saturday 18th August 1980 A long and tedious trip down to the South Coast for City fans wanting to see how Malcolm Allison's expensively assembled side would fare in the new season. The Opening Day, always one of the most eagerly anticipated, matched City against a home side featuring ex-City men Mike Channon and Dave Watson, future City men Graham Baker and Ivan Golac plus Kevin Keegan, here making his second football league debut after a spell abroad at Hamburger SV. City, ill prepared after a home thrashing by Legia Warsaw in the final pre-season game of the summer, continued where they had left off against Kaziu Deyna's old team mates (that match had been organised as part of Deyna's transfer the previous season from Legia to City). Listless and lifeless, the Blues were the bit part actors in the Grand Opening Show for Keegan and his men.


It was Mike Channon, of all people, who stole the limelight, however, scoring both goals in a blistering first half. Channon had endured a torrid two years at Maine Road, ending in acrimony as Allison picked on him and other big name stars as the underperformers who had to be shipped out to allow him to create his new City. Watson too had departed under a cloud and this ultimately easy win would have put a smile on both their faces. Allison was not smiling at all. Calling his side's performance a disgrace, he confided to the Mirror's Bob Russell "We were only fifty percent competent".

This was perhaps being kind to a City side containing the unlikely talents of Paul Sugrue, one of Big Mal's purchases on a whim from non-league Nuneaton Borough. A seemingly competent back four of Ranson, Caton, Reid and Power was given the complete runaround by Southampton and only two late chances for Dennis Tueart and Kevin Reeves, gave any glimpse of what City were capable of. This torrid opening game would lead to a 4-0 home reverse by Sunderland, immediately putting Big Mal under severe pressure as the season got underway. 

By Saturday November 15th 1980, much had changed. Allison had been sacked after one lethargic performance too many by his expensive charges, replaced by the avuncular John Bond and his entourage from Norwich City. Southampton had lost that early season sparkle, with Channon and Charlie George slowing after a sprint start to the season had seen them in second place in September. On top of this, Kevin Keegan was beginning to pick up a succession of niggling injuries. City, on the back of three legendary early signings by Bond, in the unlikely shape of the slow moving Coventry full back Bobby McDonald, the mobile threshing machine that was Gerry Gow and the spindly legs belonging to 33 year old Coventry winger Tommy Hutchison, lovingly called Hutchinson by various organs of the press.


In this game the tables were turned conclusively with the visitors, despite a first half penalty looped into the North Stand by Nicky Holmes, overwhelmed by a City side full of the verve and confidence that often comes from a change of manager. Southampton's string of City connections were added to by the inclusion here of Phil Boyer, who a matter of weeks later would head north to sign for City.

In a performance full of the energy and optimism so patently lacking in the reverse fixture, City prevailed down the wings, with a goal set up from the left by McDonald and a header from Reeves which originated in the right wing trickery of Hutchison. Bond's third signing, Gerry Gow, weighed in with the other goal, his first for the club since joining from Bristol City. The season would end in sparks for City, reaching the League Cup semi finals and the centenary Cup Final, where Hutchison would score at both ends, City only succumbing to Spurs after a replay. Allison had said, after the rubble of the opening game at the dell, that his side would pick up and win something. In his absence, the Blues so nearly proved him right.

The two games with Southampton had offered a snapshot of the schizophrenic nature of Manchester City in the early eighties.A hapless, shapeless display under Allison juxtaposed alongside a roaring confident 3-0 win, both against the same opposition within the space of three months.

Those, as they say, were the days.


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