Friday, August 9, 2019

HEADING WEST: ASA HARTFORD, A STUDY IN COMMITMENT

Asa Hartford is one of the very best midfielders to have worn the sky blue shirt of Manchester City. 

A terrier in the tackle with indefatigable spirit and a great eye for a pass, he represented the all-round midfield package in an era when every club had its geniuses and lynchpins in that section of the pitch. None of those built for skill in the 70s and 80s will have come off the pitch having faced the Scotsman in City's midfield without checking their legs and other body parts for bruises. Hartford was stocky and tough, solid on his feet and swift in his cutting runs forward. Built from solid Clydebank stock, he would go on to represent Scotland 36 times whilst on the books at Maine Road out of a half century of caps in total.

Hartford weighed in with goals too, often crisply struck efforts from outside the area, and was the pivot around which two separate eras of very different City sides were built.

His debut came in the opening fixture of the 1974-75 season.

Having represented West Brom against City in the 1970 League Cup final (he would play for City in the successful 76 final against Newcastle), Hartford arrived at Maine Road after a transfer to champions Leeds United fell through on health grounds. His medical had revealed a slight heart defect and Leeds decided to call the signing off at the eleventh hour. 

The Yorkshire club's loss was to be City's huge gain.

Asa Hartford takes a shot during his debut, the opening fixture of 1974-5 v. West Ham United

Hartford's midfield partner Colin Bell strides away from Frank Lampard
Scorer Rodney Marsh is congratulated by Colin Barrett, as bell walks in to add a hand shake

The opening fixture was against West Ham United, in those mid-70s days often considered a soft touch away from the tight confines of their own Upton Park, where the majority of their typically neat and tidy victories tended to come. The Hammers travelled north with a squad well packed with talent, however, including Frank Lampard, Trevor Brooking Billy Bonds and Clyde Best and on a sunny August day were expected to be part of a well-balanced and challenging opening fixture for Tony Book's City.

Book's men had other ideas, however.

Driven by the energetic probing of Hartford and Colin Bell in midfield and Rodney Marsh's enigmatic front running, City would run out 4-0 winners, dispatching the Londoners towards London with their tales firmly between their legs. Although he did not manage to score against John Lyall's side, Hartford would collect his first City goal in the next fixture, a 1-0 win v Spurs that saw City head the early season league table. Gelling immediately with the Rolls Royce Bell, Hartford produced a majestic debut performance. It would be the first of many that endeared him to the Kippax faithful during a period of growing influence for Book's side.   

By the time Hartford donned the white City away shirt for the fixture at Upton Park at the beginning of the 1982-83 season, he had been back at the club almost a year. Having been shipped out in 1979 during Malcolm Allison's ill-fated clear-out of talent, the Scot had endured a brief but painful stint under Brian Clough's tutelage at Nottingham Forest and a longer and more pleasurable stay at Everton. Returning to Maine Road, he found a new regime under John Bond and a new side, fresh from Cup Final disappointment against Tottenham in the Centenary final. 


The 1982-83 season would be his penultimate in a City shirt, as City flirted with the upper echelons of the division (2nd after beating Southampton in November), before falling into the bottom three for the very first time on the last day, after succumbing to pressure and to stand-in manager John Benson's play-for-a-draw tactics against Luton Town on the final day. City were relegated and Hartford's slump-shouldered retreat from the Maine Road pitch as supporters flooded the playing surface would be the last time he was seen in the top flight in the sky blue shirt. 

The match at Upton Park had taken place in September, however, during a period of the season that City's buoyant form had given few clues as to the disastrous finale in store for us all. In a rumbustious match, City leaked four goals of their own on this occasion and Hartford was sent off along with team mate and manager's son, Kevin Bond. "Getting yourself sent off when your side is already trailing by three goals is not a lot different from deserting a beaten army", suggested Steve Curry helpfully in the Daily Express the following Monday. 

In truth Hartford's combative style often lead him into trouble with officials (he had been sent off that pre-season in a summer tournament in Barcelona, characteristically "catching Porto Alegre midfielder Silvio across the forehead with a backhander" after having his shirt pulled. On this occasion it was not so much Hartford's flailing limbs that got the better of him, but his sharp Glaswegian temper, as his fiery reaction to referee David Letts - a police sergeant in real life who brooked no dissent - brought him an immediate dismissal, as City's sudden collapse got the better of him. 

The two matches with West Ham represent the full spectrum of what Asa Hartford brought to Manchester City: fire and brimstone, which, when controlled, could move mountains, but when let loose in more volatile circumstances, could have differing results. He finished his time at City in the second tier, hardly fitting for a player, who had worn the sky blue with such ferocious effectiveness throughout 317 highly watchable, fully committed appearances.   

City 4-0 West Ham (Marsh 2, Tueart, Doyle)
Saturday 17th August 1974
Attendance: 30,240

West Ham 4-1 City (Boyer)
Saturday 25th September, 1982
Attendance: 23,883






Monday, August 5, 2019

GALLANT LIVERPOOL TAKE THE PLAUDITS

Match report from Wembley, by Generic Iconic

MAN CITY SPORTWASH 1-1 LIVERPOOL 
(Abu Dhabi launder it up 5-4 on penalties)
Attendance: Mainly from Liverpool

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So, Liverpool will be competing for six trophies not seven in this already iconic 2019-20 campaign. 

The Community Shield (what even is this, a cup final, a super cup, a supercharged friendly, a noisy nose blow in a damp tunnel?) came and went in its own special way at a Wembley Stadium, filled with the lethargic City support of the summer holidays and a boisterous contingent from The Independent Republic of Scouse.

As a litmus test for the new season, these occasions can tell us relatively little. And yet. Two sides, still lumbering and bumbling along with their collection of tired legs, frothing bank balances and not-yet-ready muscles. City, fresh from a summer of preening themselves after the Abu Dhabi-inspired cup final whitewash against poor dishevelled Watford had delivered an unprecedented domestic treble thanks to unprecedented levels of obscene spending, finally prevailed after Georgino Wijnaldum’s penalty unluckily found the gloved fists of Claudio Bravo in its way.

Liverpool, pert and impressive in the second half, will have taken more from this than City, the eventual winners of the shield. But that means very little, if not nothing at all. As Jurgen Klopp had told us all beforehand in his inimitable way, "this match means very little, perhaps nothing at all.". It had come a week or so too soon for his mighty fine side.
With Mo Salah sprightly and alert, chances to win came and went in normal time. City’s expensive new recruit, Rodrigo, playing in shorts so baggy they looked to be full of desert sand, if not freshly laundered dirhams, stood mostly firm as the red tide washed his way, but it was to another extortionately expensive bauble of the sovereign spending that Pep Guardiola had to sprint at the end to offer heartfelt thanks for this hollowest of victories. Balding £56m Kyle Walker had performed the most acrobatic goal line clearance, charging back towards his own goal with the speed of a Yemeni gunship to hook Salah’s goal-bound header from right under the bar. He may have been the most outrageously overpriced full back in history when plucked forcibly from poor Tottenham Hotspurs, but here he paid a fraction of that despicable sum back.
It was to be City’s day. Playing in an unadorned commemorative kit (harkening back to the pre-oil wealth days when simplicity was the key and City’s squads had a rather more prosaic look about them as Eddie McGoldrick and co clattered around the football league), Guardiola’s sumptuous team, constructed at fabulous cost as part of the sportswashing project in the Gulf, cantered easily into early control of this game.

The Catalan chief, looking sullen and sure of himself, cajoled from the sidelines as his expensive stars showed scant respect for the momentous and traditional season opener. 

With Ederson fresh back from extended leave, Bravo was entrusted with the goalkeeping gloves and used them well when called upon. In front of him, the glittering array of admittedly pricy defenders were doing their jobs too. £47m (wth add-ons) Kevin de Bruyne strutted in midfield but Leroy Sane, the subject of a daring transfer raid by plucky Bayern Munich, fell awkwardly early on and had to be replaced. A worried hush fell over the City crowd, already being heartily out-sung by the bouncy Liverpool end, fresh from a lusty rendition of God Save The Queen and For She’s  A Jolly Good Fellow. Whether Bayern think City’s ridiculously high asking price for their left winger is worth continuing to press for is a moot point, when a club backed by such never-ending riches decides to try to milk the market this way too. It is a distortion of the market, plain and simple. City cannot have it both ways. 
If the horrific possibility of a big City win had briefly been a thought in everyone’s minds in the packed press box after the scruffy opening goal, Liverpool’s second half comeback allayed those fears at least. We had a contest after all! City were not going to canter to more silverware, despite everything! And how they were made to fight and sweat over each millimetre, each blade of well watered British grass.
It is to everyone's relief that we can say, at the end of a game which it would have been fairer to call a draw, that City will once again not have it all their own way this season. It must be heartening for millions of fans from the Tottenham High Road to the precincts of Old Trafford to know that, by the looks of this admittedly early evidence, those mere mortals who have built their squads along regular organic principles may yet have a say in where the trophies go this season. The netspend advocates will have their day in the sunshine. Sportswashing may be the dominant factor right now (and how we have had the term pushed down our throats), but there remains a healthy entourage of worthy contestants to wear City's tainted crown next May. We will all drink to that.    

You can also read Generic Iconic's work in the Qatari Morning Bugle.  

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