Wednesday, June 8, 2022

INFLUENCER'S INFLUENCERS

One day you will learn of Lee Peacock, my son

Erling Haaland's teenage obsession with Manchester City is well documented. Photographic evidence to persuade the doubters litters social media. Faded shots of a gawky youth in a variety of City shirts have been seen by all as a solid sky blue pedigree as reliable as the messages that used to trip out of the North Stand scoreboard at Maine Road. 

We0.%me *o //nches/er C  y, it is then. 

Haaland Junior's early passion for Joe Royle's stuttering sky blue outfit had a very obvious launch pad. Father Alf-Inge had moved from Leeds to Maine Road in July 2000 with a new Premier League season about to begin after City's dramatic double promotion at Wembley and Ewood Park the previous two Mays. 

The young Erling was born the same month, whilst Alf-Inge prepared for the new season. Those initial bonds can forge strong links in the mind. Although Erling would only have been 3 when dad's time at City was run (Roy Keane's infamous assault in the Manchester derby necessitating early retirement in July 2003), it was the only lasting image son had of father in top flight action.  

Thus, 22 years later, City could add emotional attachment to the other benefits Erling would have in joining the club. Despite those "other benefits" being plentiful for those that choose the sky blue favours these days, a link of this kind forged at such an early age should not be underplayed.  

However, putting it all down to a father's influence is not quite the whole story. Why did Alf-Inge choose City, newly promoted under Joe Royle and Willie Donachie, but still harbouring a ravenous taste for the ridiculous, when other better-placed suitors might have been more logical? 

For it is here, in finding the father's influence for joining the club in the first place that we can trace what later became a fully-fledged family attachment to Manchester City.

Haaland senior can thank an erstwhile Leeds and Norway team mate for giving him a nudge in the right direction. Gunnar Halle had played under Royle and Donachie at Oldham in a side that pushed all before it in reaching the Premier League, a League Cup final and two FA Cup semi-finals. For Oldham, this was truly the most golden of golden ages. Halle's stay at Boundary Park spanned six years, taking in every minute of the club's glorious period under Royle and Donachie. In 1996, he moved to Leeds, where he was joined a year later by his compatriot, arriving from Nottingham Forest.  

Haaland explained at the time. "When the bid came in from City and Leeds told me they were prepared to sell, I needed to find out whether the move would be good for me." 

Seeking out his team mate, Halle told Haaland, "You will not find a better management team than Joe and Willie", thus sowing the seeds for not one but ultimately two Haaland transfers to Manchester.


Haaland senior and Gunnar Halle celebrate a Leeds goal in 1997






Thursday, May 19, 2022

THE JOURNALISTS: John Bean

🖳 Part 6: Aston Villa (h)




John Bean was a staple in the Daily Express sports pages in the seventies. Although ostensibly a reporter on all things United, in those days the reporting was objective and honest, without the need for the partisan drool that some employ for their paymaster's clicks these days. This enabled him to report on City with no apparent sign of bias entering his crisp prose. 

As a result, Bean spent much of the decade reporting on the ups and downs of City, as well as the other sides on the North west football beat. 



He had cut his teeth at the Leek Post and the Evening Sentinel in Stoke, before moving on through the Daily Sketch, Daily Mirror and onto the Express, where this avid young reader caught up with his clean, enthusiastic style of writing. 

The Manchester football scene in those days featured a number of larger than life characters, led by James Lawton amongst others, and, if we are to believe the words of ex-colleague David Walker, Bean was also near the forefront. 

"Beano, as everyone knew him, was brilliant company. He did have his moments of intense eccentricity. Most revolved around him not possessing the greatest sense of direction but demanding that others followed the Bean instinct for getting to a destination somehow, if not by the easiest route...." 

 When in Rome, follow the Tiber...

"For the World Cup in Italy in 1990 when we were with the boys in green. Ireland reached the quarter-finals in Rome and the British press covering the team had three hire cars to travel into the media centre at the Olympic Stadium from our hotel.

On this particular day Beano teamed up with another fine man, now much lamented, Rob King. The journey should have taken 30 minutes. Perhaps with the traffic around
Rome it might have been an hour. King appeared first, FOUR hours after setting off. Clearly flustered Rob declared: “Don’t ask. Just don’t ask where we’ve been. The man’s mad.”


Enter Beano, who had a perfectly good explanation. “Bloody Rob. I told him to follow the Tiber and we’d be all right but he kept taking different turns. When in Rome, follow the Tiber. You can’t go wrong.”

Wherever we were in the world Beano would want to seek out a good restaurant, enjoy a glass or three of fine wine and then entertain us with his personal tales from the press box. Some from his early days  on the Stoke Sentinel were both incredible and unrepeatable here! He was brilliant company. Unfailingly funny and invariably self-deprecating".

 


We find him here, reporting on a late season struggle for a City side needing points at home to Aston Villa. Malcolm Allison's second-coming to Maine Road is unravelling fast (he will be sacked the following October) and another season of tactical tomfoolery is coming to an end with City looking nervously over their shoulders.



Ironically, Bean had also been on the City beat the previous February when the two sides had met at Villa Park in a thrilling 2-2 draw. The two points, home and away, would help seal City's survival by season end, escaping in 17th place, two points clear of Everton, occupying the last safe place in the relegation fight. 




Bean later followed the adventures of the Republic of Ireland under Jack Charlton, a fitting project for such a bon vivant, and was also the only one to notice Stuttgart had fielded an ineligible player v Leeds in the nascent Champions League, passing on the information to the club, who got a third play-off game as a result of their complaint, which was duly won at the Nou Camp.

He also coined the somewhat unusual journalistic phrase "grenade down the underpants approach" to describe an occasion when he went in all guns blazing in a press conference with Sir Alex Ferguson. He was proud of the fact he had been banned by Ferguson on three separate occasions, but the United boss still squeezed unseen into the back of the church for his funeral service in April 2017.

 

𝌟

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

IN NEED OF A GOOD WASH


Google the term "sportswashing" and one is inundated with bons mots from every corner of the journalistic world, images of Chelsea, Newcastle, City, of gleaming glass facades, sheikhs in pressed white robes alongside shots of bloody-nosed kids emerging from bomb craters in far-off places. There are happy faces carrying plastic pints and wearing tea towels on their heads. There are time worn images of fake money with (fake) Sheikh heads on the notes. A true cornucopia of the joyous and the hideous.

These were the images of Paris St Germain, of City, of Newcastle. These were the pictures used to show the interference in British and continental European culture by regimes in places where democracy does not exist as we know it, where the culture includes activities we deem crude and cruel, where proxy wars are waged and mealy-mouthed statements are meant to cover over cracks.  

Then something changed.

In one fell swoop, the images began to portray good old Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner who has had an easy ride in West London for the last 20 years, of bomb-wrecked European cities and lines of refugees heading away from places that some of us have travelled to in order to watch football matches. This was different, the argument goes, the horrors brought close to us courtesy of Vladimir Putin's skewed visions of Imperium.


Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv, 18th September 2019 before Shakhtar v City. Photo by Mike Hammond 

Our common moral compass has been tilted again. Demands are being put on us all as football supporters that we did not sign up for in our scruffy-knees halcyon days, when Colin was king and the only thing that mattered was whether you had a swap of Peter Osgood or not.

You cannot now move within a mile or two of our Premier League football grounds without being caught up in the tangled web of global geo-politics, internecine wars, labyrinthine plot and counter-plot in the thermic battle for hearts and minds. If you just like the way Kevin de Bruyne squirts a diagonal pass, you're out of luck, because, with that admiration comes profound moral and cultural responsibility. You cannot leave it at that, as Eddie Howe has found out. 

If you sidestep the isssues of Tommy Tuchel's inherent decency ("I'll definitely stay to the end of the season..."), Guardiola's smirking "war face" or Eddie Howe's kharki gunship parked up in the St James' VIP slots, you run the concomitant risk of smelling of the same used cordite as the fellows laying waste to our grand scheme of global interconnectivity in places like Mariupol and Sumy this morning.

All of a sudden the moralising of Jamie Carragher (never trust the words of a man who spits at people, my Gran would have said) and Gary Neville (fresh from a chicken-jerky of an experience at the Russia World Cup) is the go-to drip-feed for our times. We are moralised to from every corner, by cod-experts knee deep in Wikipedia clips. 



If you support one of the above-mentioned clubs in the Premier League, you are automatically lumped into a brazen group of "weaponised apologists", who mimic, copy and swallow for a living. You, apparently, no longer have a say, because you are doing the sportswashers' job for them. You are part of the Conn. Dangling your Emirati flags and wearing your tea towels, you are rinsing the blood of savage regimes and helping them become part of our everyday landscape. 

Well, yes and no. Sportswashing is a fabulous term. Washing your smalls in public is no longer the done thing. Washing your reputation through Newcastle United cannot be as simple as all that, can it? Do you want the increased scrutiny that being the owner of a Premier League club will bring you? Really? And if it is more layered, more subtle than that - which it will need to be - do the positives really outbalance the negatives, as suggested by Miguel Delaney in the Independent, itself Russian owned? 

Does the high quality, if we agree it is high quality, of the journalism in that paper also accelerate a sportswashing process?

Before their interest in Parisien football, how much was known of migrant workers' rights in Qatar? Had anyone a single clue about child camel races in Abu Dhabi before Sheikh Mansour dug into the cookie jar ahead of his trip to Moss Side? Good that we now know, but what to do with this knowledge? Stop going to the game? Take a placard (there are enough of those already)? Speak out? Insist on a statement from the team's manager? Worry about being weaponised? Feel slightly dirty?

As for Abramovich, we had heard of Russia alright. We had heard of the oligarchs and how they had split the rich pickings of the disintegrating Soviet Union for their own gain after the drunk-in-command Boris Yeltsin had let everything slip. But did any of that stop London filling its boots at every possible opportunity? Cash in hand purchases of 4 million pound Knightsbridge mansions by teenage Russian heiresses; diamond encrusted Lamborghinis ripping it up through Holland Park and every private school from Eton to Westminster lapping up the freshly ironed roubles. The owner of the Independent entering the House of Lords. We bowed, we scraped, we held the double doors open.



The multiple layers referred to in the tweet above are like the shells of a Matryoshka doll. The inside of one reveals another identical to the first but smaller and so on through to the eye of the storm, where you find nothing but the same stale air on offer in Chelsea's press releases. It is perhaps more like peeling an onion, as each layer removed reduces you to tears. Perhaps Qatar are pleased with their involvement with Paris St Germain. has it balanced out positively? They're in too deep now to extricate themselves with any alacrity. 

Meanwhile the great and good have this week landed on the unlikely figure of Eddie Howe to further their arguments. It looks increasingly like poor pasty-faced Eddie is in fact the chosen conduit for the opinions of the journalists themselves, who want to hear the manager of *Newcastle United declaring the same moral code they are pushing themselves. Howe bats the not-exactly-football questions concerning beheadings in Saudi Arabia with low-beat non-sequiturs, but what is it that we actually want? Perhaps a discourse that follows a path something similar to this:

Outraged journalist: So Eddie, Beheadings. Good or bad?

EH: I thought we held our own in the first half to be fair.

OJ: But what about Saudi Arabia, Eddie. How could you?

EH: | /// begins long winding official state sportswashing speech from PIF containing various vacuous and nebulous ideas of common good, mutual gains and greater exposure to well watered golf courses \\\ |    

\end/

Is this what we want? For Eddie Howe to be held to account for Saudi Arabia's state genocide by proxy in Yemen? For him to mirror our outrage over the global meanderings of belligerent states and statelets? Simon Bird, taking things to their logical if exhausting conclusion in the Mirror, opined, "Eddie Howe has a choice to make in the coming days which will define whether he is a man of principle or a patsy to his Saudi paymasters..."

This is the same Saudi Arabia were Boris Johnson is currently drilling for oil. Suddenly, poor Eddie is being held to greater account than the Prime Minister of the country. It's an eye-watering step or two on from arguing where to play Joelinton to maximise goal-scoring opportunities. It would even be easier to answer the Jonjo Shelvey Question than mire ourselves in this. But mire ourselves we must. Because the Independent and the Mirror have decided. We are all complicit. We have lost the ability to think independently. We spout any bullshit "our" paymasters feed us (I haven't received the cheque yet, but never mind about that). We are puppets. We are weapons. Our silence speaks volumes. Our utterances dirty the air. We are damned if we do and damned if we don't. If we open our mouths one more time, we should be carried away by hormonal chaps in ribbed rubber war suits and massive black helmets. 

   

"And that, of course, is why those who have followed Abramovich, whatever his motivation, have bought clubs. Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia have bought Manchester City and Newcastle United, respectively, partly to gain a foothold in the U.K. but also to massage the reputations of their states. That includes taking on a section of their fans as willing propaganda foot soldiers. You might think that fans would be outraged at their clubs being used in that way, venerable institutions become weapons in a tawdry game, but if an owner can provide the funds to sign the players who might bring success, anything goes...." Jonathan Wilson in Sports Illustrated, 11th March 2022  You can read the whole article here.


The beginning of the end of the simpler times


Monday, February 21, 2022

MIRROR IMAGE | "AND IT'S THERE! THREE-TWO TO SPURS!!!"

MANCHESTER CITY 2-3 TOTTENHAM  |  MANCHESTER CITY 2-3 TOTTENHAM

Thursday 9th May 1981  |  Saturday 19th February 2022

Reeves goes to Aleksik's left. Mahrez goes to Lloris' left. The excitement mounts. 


✅ 💣 CARNAGE AGAINST TOTTENHAM | Has there been a fixture in City's last half century that has so regularly featured madcap games? Today we feature the FA Cup final replay, but there have been many other moments of unbelievable drama between the two clubs: the 4-3 FA Cup turnaround under Kevin Keegan, the 5-2 home win under Brian Horton, the 2-3 reverse in the Premier League, again under Keegan, as well as a glut of recent goal avalanches at the Etihad and White Hart Lane. It is truly a fixture to underline in your calendar if you like watching football matches that might make you soil your trousers. And you will notice, I have not even mentioned the Champions League. 

✅ ⚽ PENALTY LIFTS THE ROOF | In the 81 Cup final, having gone behind early on to Ricky Villa's goal, Steve Mackenzie swiped in a quick equaliser, before an early second half clash between Paul Miller and Dave Bennett resulted in a penalty to the Blues, converted under enormous pressure by Kevin Reeves. City ahead and now all they had to do was hang on.... Fast forward to 2022, an injury time handball allows Riyad Mahrez to level things at 2-2, converting a penalty under enormous pressure. All City had to do now was ride out the last two minutes of time added on....

✅😖 SPURS PLAYER PERFORMING LIKE AN ABSOLUTE PLANK TURNS INTO WORLDBEATER JUST AT THE RIGHT MOMENT | Ricky Villa, scorer of the Cup Final's "most memorable goal ever" Ⓒ, when he ran an improbable slalom around the entire City defence before scoring, had been anonymous in the first game. So bad in fact that he was substituted by Keith Burkinshaw. Likewise, Harry Kane, with four solid months behind him this season of playing like a man who has had lead poured into his jockstrap, suddenly took flight to put in a shift that in some quarters has even been called the best individual performance in Premier League history (yes, I know, but you get the drift). Both Villa and Kane would end up with two goals in their respective wake-up matches.


✅👶 CITY GIVING YOUTH A CHANCE |  Phil Foden has passed the 150-appearances mark and is well on his way to extricating the last of Neil Custis's imaginary bench splinters from his elegant posterior. With McAtee and Palmer leading the drive to be included with him, the Academy roll-out continues to produce solid talent. In the 81 Cup Final, three of City's four-man Ricky-Villa-practice-bollard set-up were homegrown. In Ray Ranson, Tommy Caton and Nicky Reid, the club had three of the best young defenders seen for a generation. With Dave Bennett up front, the final side was packed with local talent. 

✅🧴 THINKING OF LIVERPOOL  |  Tottenham's win brought second-placed Liverpool back into focus. With a lead that was 12 points now down to six, with a game in hand and the two sides still to meet, the title race is back on. In 1981, City had one more fixture to fulfil after the 2-3 defeat to Spurs at Wembley, but, although Liverpool won it at a canter, it did not stop them from finishing in 5th spot, nine points behind champions Aston Villa. They did have the small matter of a European Cup final to prepare for a week later, a fixture City will be hoping to participate in for the second successive season come May.

Dave Bennett in action at Wembley.









Sunday, January 2, 2022

HOW (NOT) TO BEAT CITY


An article in The Telegraph this weekend pinpointed how Arsenal's vivacious performance at the Emirates might be the blueprint for beating this juggernaut Manchester City side.

Although Arsenal lost the match in question and other clairvoyants might have been thinking that Spurs or Palace or even West Ham, who have actually beaten City this season, might be better examples for the study, the writer - Sam Dean - could just have a point. 

To a point.

Arsenal, as one fan put it proudly, "went toe to toe" with City and were not found wanting. This is true, of the first 56 minutes, at least. In an energetic and willing display of their new-found organisation under Mikel Arteta, the home side did indeed give City an uncomfortable introduction.

City were, however, struggling on a number of fronts. They had finished a tough game at Brentford on the Wednesday and were being asked to return to London for a Saturday lunchtime kick-off. Arsenal legs had been waiting for a week for proper exercise. Personnel issues added to problems at the back for the visitors. 

Without a doubt, the first half was Arsenal's with a fluid attacking strategy flowing most successfully through Gabriel Martinelli on the left. Arteta has his players functioning in a much more cohesive unit and it was a brave -albeit obvious, in the circumstances (City's tiredness and rearranged defence)- strategy to go out and attack.



What Arsenal hadn't fully planned for was being ahead and having to deal with the fight back after the break. City began to turn the screw, but it was still a decent fight until the penalty incident tipped their evidently fragile mental state over the edge. 

Bernardo is built like a feather, which meant the shirt-pull that toppled him looked meagre but had effect on his forward movement. We were effectively mixing the stupidity of Granit Xhaka and the insubstantiality of Bernardo, binary ingredients of a detonation that was about to lift the roof off the place.

And so it proved. Within seconds the entire Arsenal team had combusted. Crowding the referee as one amorphous blob, they wailed their dissatisfaction. Aaron Ramsdale and then the hapless Gabriel Magalhaes took it in turns to peel away and scuff up the penalty spot. Anything went as the home side's composure went west too. Suddenly they were hiding nothing. It was like the Moulin Rouge when the girls bend over and show their knickers.   

So fervently out of control had they become that there was only really one possible outcome once Mahrez had buried the kick from the reassembled penalty spot. Gabriel, reacting like a man who has just been force fed four pounds of raw chateaubriand down a cheap funnel, immediately contrived to misbehave again, smacking an arm across Jesus on City's next attack, and off he went chuntering and frothing. The men in red, having stuck to their manager's plan, had now rolled it up into a ball and fired it clean out of the stadium from one of their gleaming cannons and were contriving to do their own thing.

Freestyle Arsenal had noticeably less effect. They quickly became so embroiled in confronting their own metaphysical turmoil that they failed to notice City's growing presence in the contest. The athletic grace that they had displayed in the early part of the game had atrophied like the calves on an octogenarian stamp collector. Everything had turned to dust in their hands. Howling at the sky and tugging at referee Stuart Attwell's clothing were all they had left.  

By the end, the stats informed us of City's increasing influence in the match, despite a horribly disjointed first half. More possession had been garnered, more shots, more successful passes and more, much much more composure had been maintained, in order to strike in the 93rd minute to seal an improbable victory and make it 11-in-a-row. Arsenal's fervour had landed them more yellow cards. It was the only category they ended up prevailing in. 

Lessons were there for those who were looking in the right direction, however. Arsenal had taught us all a lesson or two about how to play City and also how not to play City. 


Absolutely beautiful 🤩 pic.twitter.com/xoVXalSY7I










 

Friday, December 10, 2021

A BRIEF HISTORY OF LAXATIVES

Phil Neal looks pensive as he watches City stumble to defeat in his tenth and last game in charge at Oakwell, Barnsley, a disastrous 0-2 loss. 28th December 1996. 

25 years ago, Philip George Neal was temporarily in sole charge of Manchester City. If you had been asleep, or perhaps more aptly for the times, irrevocably hungover, you might have missed his stewardship of the club altogether. In historical terms, however, it is worth holding onto, as an example, a small, foul-smelling segment, of the very worst of Manchester City.

It came between the truncated disaster of Steve Coppell's tenure (just the 33 days sufficing for Steve) and the gentle, guitar-strumming disintegration under Frank Clark. To say it was the best of times, the worst of times was to do bad times a great disservice. Manchester City were slipping inexorably towards a first-ever assignment in the third tier of English pro football and some of the most horribly iconic fixtures in the club's long history.

Neal had been a rampaging fullback in the all-conquering Liverpool side of the 70s, brought in as a budget defender from Northampton Town, in the days when even the top dogs shopped at Oxfam. As a postscript to a fabulously decorated playing career that had included 50 full caps for England, most of which fell in the country's grim avoid-qualifying-for-all-finals spree of 1974-1979, his managerial stints at Bolton then Coventry then Cardiff had progressed from promising to dull to defensive leeks

Making 650 appearances for Liverpool juxtaposed nicely with presiding over precisely 10 City games and a collection of results that make him quite possibly the worst-ever manager of Manchester City.

Neal was in the dugout and calling the shots for a home calamity v Oxford United (lost 2-3), a dreadful, icy 0-0 night draw with Huddersfield at Maine Road that had not a single redeeming feature, stultifying home defeats to Tranmere (1-2) and Port Vale (0-1) that you had to see to believe and no-nonsense (full of nonsense) defeats at Portsmouth (1-2), Wolves (0-3), Oldham (1-2) and Barnsley, Neal's spectacular last game in charge (0-2). 

If you have been counting, that makes eight.

The other two games, although both victories, summed up City almost as succinctly as the big top collapses at home to Port Vale and Oxford. This was pure cabaret, sheer unadulterated slapstick for the frozen masses huddled in disbelieving knots on the Kippax. The home game with West Brom, Neal's second in charge, was clutched from the jaws of defeat by an unknown deity floating around the ground that bitter Wednesday night. The now-you-see-it, now-you-don't 3-2 win lifted City to 17th in the old League Division One. That's "up to seventeenth".

Paul Dickov prepares to welcome the ball back from orbit.


By the time the Bradford match came around, City had slipped back to 21st. There were 24 teams in the division. The 3rd division was smiling coquettishly and lifting its hem at us. We winked back and proceeded to fall into an open manhole. 

The Bradford game fell on Saturday 7th December 1996. The day of days dawned damp and cold and proceeded along similar lines for those hardy souls still focussed enough to be going. Bus, pub, wet walk of (no) hope. Neal's programme notes talked of "roller coasters", a sure description of everything City in the 90s. It basically meant the good man was sat on a bucking train the destination, speed and safety of which he knew not a jot about.

With Richard Edghill, Scott Hiley and Peter Beagrie all sidelined with long-term injuries, City's starting eleven on this day looks threadbare when put alongside the team Pep Guardiola fielded in this season's December fixture against Wolves, the very side that had humbled Neal's City 3-0 the weekend before in 1996.

In goal Martin Margetson, a name who always struck fear into the home fans rather than those backing the away team. The back four made up of skinny midfielder Ian Brightwell, accident-prone skipper Kit Self-inflicted black-eye Symons, nominally aided by the razor fast, skillful, double-dagger threat of Eddie McGoldrick and Graham Rodger. In midfield new acquisition Neil Heaney from Southampton joined the Ferrari twins Nicky Summerbee and Georgi Kinkladze and the indomitable lion himself Steve Lomas. Up front the strangely subdued partnership of Uwe Rosler and Paul Dickov, with all number of continental talent waiting for the call from the bench.


Like two Lamborghinis in a stock car race, Waddle and Kinkladze
battle it out in an over-staffed midfield.


Sadly, it was goodbye to Darren Wassall, the lumpen replacement for the ineffable Michael Frontzeck. His loan finished, Wassall was returning as quickly as his legs would carry him to the relative peace of Derby County. Imagine for a moment, if you will, Derby County being a safe escape route from Manchester City. Bradford arrived with Gordon Cowans and Chris Waddle starring, although Brightwell's brother David did not make the cut. Laugh-a-minute manager Chris Kamara no doubt kept the team talk light on tactical insight.

In fact, it was soon painfully apparent that both managers probably had more insight into tictacs than tactics, as a match that could only be desribed as "hurly burly" got underway. There was, as Peter Fitton described in his report for the Sun, "no tracking back, hardly a tackle". That he was referring to the twin Rolls Royce models of Kinkladze and Waddle, might have legitimately been aimed at both sides as a whole. What today would pass for rudimentary game management at City might as well have been densely packed scientific code on the day. The ball shot about like an electron in search of a nucleus. As far as repulsive force was concerned, City were it.  

Despite being rather worryingly two ahead after 12 minutes, it was already 2-2 by the 54th, the giant Swede Robert Steiner, as Fitton put it "built like a true Viking, big and powerful with pillaging instincts" bringing the Yorkshire side level as darkness fell on a bewildered Maine Road.

With tempers fraying on and off the field and the crowd noise morphing from frantic passion to doom-laden frustration up stepped 17-year old sub Whitley, "Steve" according to Fitton, Jeff to the rest of us. Whacking the winner within a minute of coming on, he brought the house down and 25,000 present to their feet.

With Waddle's legs failing and the dual Christmas offering of Mikail Kavelashvilli and Lee Crooks on the pitch, City somehow held out. It had been a thrashing, flailing show of limbs and guts, without coherence, direction or plan. So far, indeed, from what we witness these days to be unrecognisable as the same sport.

Neal, flushed with the warmth of success and the bravado of victory, headed for the press room. "Watching this team is the best laxative in the land," he confided generously, a hot tea in his hand, perhaps to wash the cursed orange pill down with. Just around the u-bend were defeats at Oldham and what we stupidly thought at the time to be a one-off dive into the absolute realms of the pathetic, a lumpen, ashen, abandon-all-hope loss at home to Port Vale. Neal's time was done. The smoke and the dust were choking us all. The laughter of others a death knell in our ringing ears. It had to be brought under control, this whooping, veering monster that appeared only to know how to descend. 

No worries, we were told, an end to laxatives was nigh. Frank Clark was coming and soon constipation would be the very last of our problems.    










   


     

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

VILLAINS AND NICE GUYS

Season 1992-93, 18th April 1993, Vila Park, Birmingham. 

Aston Villa away, a different way.

After recent events between the two sides, when City's on-off purchase of Fabian Delph ended in the "on" position, a League Cup final brought unnecessary edge to the rivalry from some quarters and the record-breaking transfer of club icon Jack Grealish appeared to bring a communal breakdown upon the Aston Villa faithful, it is perhaps apt to cast our minds back almost exactly 30 years to the inaugural Premier League title race.

With just 4 games to go, challengers Blackburn and Norwich (yes, I know) had fallen by the wayside and only Villa stood between Manchester United and their first title in 26 years. The laughing had long stopped and Manchester was gripped with anxiety that the whole thing might end in tears and United might actually make it over the finishing line first.

As luck would have it 9th-placed City were set to travel to Villa Park for a match that would be essential if the home side wanted to keep pushing United for the title.

Some of the travelling City fans left the locals in no doubt where their loyalties lay.



It is not clear whether the banner made it through the match or whether the notorious West Midlands constabulary had it removed for inciting a riot (they had some strange ideas about policing the football in the 80s and 90s. You could be arrested there for pointing at Tony Daley's hair), but the message was clear: go out and do it for us all.

Villa duly won this game 3-1, despite Niall Quinn not reading the script and putting City ahead, but the title was United's, in the end by an unnecessarily wide margin of 10 points as Villa fell away.

When the Villa fans roll out their expletives for Grealish and their inevitably irony-free songs of "where were you when you were shit", cast your minds back to the beautiful détente of 1993.
 
Niall Quinn makes things unnecessarily complicated, putting City ahead before half-time.
















INFLUENCER'S INFLUENCERS

One day you will learn of Lee Peacock, my son Erling Haaland's teenage obsession with Manchester City is well documented. Photographic ...