Wednesday, November 8, 2017


Manchester City in 1996 were a slightly different beast to the one we see today. 

It had taken City chairman Francis Lee weeks to find a new manager but only 32 days to lose him again. Steve Coppell, appointed to the job that apparently nobody wanted 21 years ago exactly, went the way of so many others. Only a sight more quickly. 

Coppell, an intelligent and sensitive man, looked like a ghost when uttering his barely audible reasons for the swift exit in a hastily arranged press conference at Maine Road.

He left with these words. "I am not ashamed to admit I have suffered for some time from the huge pressure I have imposed on myself," he said. "Since my appointment, this has completely overwhelmed me to such an extent that I can't function in the job in the way I would like to. As the situation is affecting my well-being, I have asked Francis Lee [the club's chairman] to relieve me of my obligation to manage the club on medical advice. I am therefore resigning solely for personal reasons."

Oddly, Coppell had arrived amongst a flurry of well appointed quotes, included amongst were these, in hindsight, almost solid gold utterances:

When asked about his immediate past, eight years plying the right wing for Manchester United and a further nine in charge of Crystal Palace, he stated: “I am an animal that tends to roost...”

An animal that tends to roost....

Asked about how he felt joining a club that had chewed its way through 15 managers in 25 years, Coppell’s reply was succinct. “They tell me there have been eight managers in ten years, but I don’t look at myself as a three week wonder...”

Four weeks perhaps.

City had indeed been somewhat careless in its use of the carrott, stick and meat cleaver. The previous incumbents, flying in and out of Maine Road’s famous entrance as if there had been revolving doors fitted were as follows:

·         72-73              Malcolm Allison
·         73                   Johnny Hart
·         73-74              Ron Saunders
·         74-79              Tony Book
·         79-80              Malcolm Allison
·         80-83              John Bond
·         83                   John Benson
·         83-86              Billy McNeill
·         86-87              Jimmy Frizzell
·         87-89              Mel Machin~
·         90                   Howard Kendall
·         90-93              Peter Reid
·         93-95              Brian Horton
·         95-96              Alan Ball
·         96                   Steve Coppell

Coppell’s first act was to talk the side round from a pasting at QPR and salvage a 2-2 draw, coming back from two-down whilst hitting the woodwork three times. Thereafter, the side lost at Reading, beat high flying Norwich (gladly some things you can set your clock by even in the darkest tempest) lost at home to Wolves, won at Southend and lost at Swindon. This last defeat at the County Ground, “outfought and out-thought” according to Tony Banks reporting for The Sun, may have told Coppell enough about the impossible job he had taken on. The poisoned chalice, the fifth column, this was a time at City when there were so many spooks flying down Maine Road’s narrow old corridors, you could have filmed an entire series of Rent-a-Ghost 

The defeat at Swindon, with City old boy Steve MacMahon in charge and featuring midfielder Kevin Horlock, who had a penalty saved by Andy Dibble, was to be Coppell’s sixth and last in charge of the Blues.  

Looking drawn and his voice cracking with emotion, he whispered that it had been the hardest decision he had ever made. "I am extremely embarrassed by the situation and I would like to apologise first and foremost to Francis Lee and his board, who did everything in their power to help me. Francis has been particularly understanding and I would like to thank him for that."

Coppell had been City's third choice, after George Graham and Dave Bassett, but even his appointment had had an element of risk attached to it as he had been away from management for more than three years. He departed Maine Road with a record of  two wins, a draw and three defeats, leaving the club in a perilous 17th place in the second tier of English football.

Worse, much worse was to come under the stewardship of Phil Neal, and Frank Clark, but at the time, this period felt like a hammer blow to Blues fans suffering on the cold terraces. For a proud, intelligent man like Coppell, who had said on arrival that the chance to manage City had rendered him "excited and delighted", it was a terrible day too. As Lee himself stated shortly afterwards: "There have been too many sad days" at Maine Road”.

It already seems a lifetime away now, but City were to delve the depths of despair before re-emerging from the nightmare 15 years later. That the people following this grand circus of destruction from the side-lines actually survived to tell the tale is perhaps the biggest surprise of all. 

The relatively happy early days of the 32-day reign

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