Saturday, November 19, 2022


🏆Argentina '78 will be remembered for the ticker tape and the passion, the Dutch getting to their second successive final only to find, for the second successive time, they would be losing to the host nation, another lone Scotland appearance on behalf of the home nations (this time much more embarrassing than in 1974) and an exotic, passionate backdrop that seemed as otherworldly as it was apt. This was what World Cups were supposed to be about for a young kid growing up: a new country, new players, exotic things.

Sadly, it was only apt in a footballing sense. The politics that have taken over global sporting events these days were much in focus back in 1978 too, with many baulking at the thought of FIFA putting on its grand show in a country where thousands of dissidents had disappeared under the Videla regime. Pre-tournament reports focussed on the gun-toting guards and rabid-looking police dogs that were part and parcel of the match-going experience down Mendoza way.

Jorge Videla, Argentina's dictator, prepares to deliver the World Cup to Daniel Passarella.

Curiously, the now-iconic World Cup logo had been modelled on an outstretched-arms gesture by Juan Peron, the ex-leader ousted by military coup, but it could not be changed so close to the start of the tournament as it would have led to a spate of expensive law-suits against the military regime headed by Videla.


Having turfed out Wales in a hectic game at Anfield, Scotland were once more the only representative from Britain's sceptered isle. Apparently stronger than four years earlier, when they had slid out unbeaten in the first-round groups, the squad contained two vital contributions from City. At 26 and 27 respectively, Willie Donachie and Asa Hartford were at their prime for this World Cup. Despite a wretched start, they would both feature at the pointy end of another brief but generous Scotland donation to football history.  

Hartford played in all three of Scotland's games, so can be said to have had a hand in two of the country's worst-ever results plus one of the most outstanding. Donachie missed the first game against Peru, his left back slot occupied by Stuart Kennedy of Aberdeen. Kennedy's abject showing in the shock 1-3 defeat allowed manager Ally MacCleod to ease the City man back in for the second game, an equally desultory 1-1 draw with Iran. By this time the travelling fans were throwing their tam o'shantas at the team bus and Tony Gubba was working overtime getting all the cringe-inducing interviews in for BBC World Cup Grandstand.  

Hartford and Willie Johnstone take on Peru in Cordoba. The West Brom winger was sent home in disgrace for doping infringements. 

Hartford, tireless in midfield as ever, played through the opening disasters to form the solid midfield bond with Graeme Souness that so nearly put paid for a Dutch side swaggering towards their second consecutive final. One more Scottish goal and the Dutch would have been going home after the dust had settled on the group phase. Initially partnered with Derby's Bruce Rioch and Don Masson of QPR, Hartford's efforts against Peru and Iran were overshadowed by the chaotic preparations of the manager MacLeod, who had allowed everyone to think that Scotland only had to turn up in Argentina to be crowned world champions.

The introduction of Forest tyro Archie Gemmill and, in particular, Liverpool kingpin Souness, transformed the Scottish midfield into something that happily stood up to Johan Neeskens, Wim Jansen and the Van Der Kerkhof twins until Johnny Rep smashed in a thirty-yarder past the flailing Alan Rough (wasn't he always flailing?) to dull the threat.

Donachie comes away from Van der Kerkhof and Jansen in the epic 3-2 win over Holland

Scotland went home but others were planning to stay longer. Kaziu Deyna again graced a Polish midfield, which qualified from an opening group with West Germany, Mexico and Tunisia into a difficult 2nd round group with Brazil, Argentina and Peru. It would be Deyna that missed a critical penalty in the white-hot atmosphere of Mendoza, from which the Poles never really recovered. Argentina, meanwhile, went on to beat the Dutch in the final. It would be Deyna's last World Cup. Less than six months later, he would ship up in Manchester via a convoluted range of agreements that included fridge freezers and television sets from City chairman Peter Swales' Altrincham emporium going in the opposite direction to the Polish skipper.

Ubaldo Fillol dives to smother Kazimierz Deyna's ill-fated penalty in Mendoza: Argentina 2-0 Poland

Deyna would never properly settle at City, despite firing a glorious winner against European champions Forest at Maine Road, and would find himself underused and maltreated in the reserves when Malcolm Allison came back to City. Allison's successor John Bond would then sell him to San Diego Sockers, where he later died in a car crash with excess alcohol found in his blood. It was a tragic demise for a superb technician, who - had he been used properly by City - could have been part of a revival at the club at the turn of the decade instead of a demise.

Having had his penalty saved against Argentina, Deyna would start the following two group games against Peru and Brazil, but a win and a loss in these games meant Poland were out of the World Cup at the second group stage. For Deyna, the 3-1 defeat to the Brazilians would be his 97th and last cap. A matter of months later his ground-breaking move to City would finally go through. 

Elsewhere in the Polish squad the successor to Deyna was also making his first tentative steps on the world stage. Zbigniew Boniek had also come to the attention of City fans before the World Cup, where he debuted as a sub in Poland's sterile first two group stage matches v West Germany (0-0) and Tunisia (1-0). He had arrived at Maine Road as a relatively unknown midfielder for Widzew Lodz as the pivot in the Poles' 2-2 draw in the 1977-78 UEFA Cup match, disturbing one fan so much, he broke onto the pitch and attacked Boniek. This incident was the catalyst for UEFA ordering City to put up fences for future European matches and can be read about in full here.

There were two other high-profile stars at this World Cup who could have worn the sky blue of City. On Malcolm Allison's return in 1979, a huge clear-out of talent had begun. many names were mentioned in dispatches as to who might replace the likes of Dave Watson, Mike Channon, Brian Kidd, Gary Owen and Peter Barnes and two of the most anticipated were Johan Neeskens and Herbert Prohaska. Both would pass through the first round easily with Holland and Austria respectively and would have played against each other in the second-round group game in Cordoba, had the Dutchman not been injured (he returned for the crucial win over Italy). Instead of firing City's soon-to-be-weakened midfield ranks, Neeskens enjoyed great success at Barcelona alongside Johan Cruyff and Prohaska briefly became one of Internazionale's best players of the early 80s and also alighted at Roma for a season. 

On such narrow margins football fates are sealed.


Wednesday, November 16, 2022


If the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico had seen possibly the strongest England side to compete in the tournament up to then (better balanced than Alf Ramsey's wingless winners of 1966), 1974 saw no England participation at all. 

While Colin Bell and Francis Lee had displayed their art in the searing heat of Guadalajara, there would be no games for England fans to savour in West Germany in the summer of '74. Rodney Marsh would miss out too, at perhaps the peak of his career. For City fans, however, there were still some areas to focus on. 

Instead of England, it was to be the first of two World Cups, where Scotland were Great Britain's sole participants. This would be Denis Law's swansong. After a final season (1973-74) in the sky blue of City, the ageing Law (34) was picked by Willie Ormond to travel to West Germany with the squad. With 54 caps, he was also the most-capped player in the squad, ahead of Billy Bremner (48) and the Leeds captain was also, at 31, the only other senior professional anywhere near Law's age and experience.

Law waits for a corner to be taken in the opening game of World Cup 74 for Scotland v Zaire.

Ormond chose Law, Kenny Dalglish, Joe Jordan and Peter Lorimer for the opening game v. Zaire, in the obvious hope that such exaggerated attacking firepower would lift Scotland's goal difference before the more critical ties with Brazil and Yugoslavia. Law, looking leggy and blunt, played a low-key part in a 2-0 win over the central Africans that did little to convince. Yugoslavia would beat Zaire 9-0 in their second game, while Scotland were putting up a much better performance against the Brazilians (0-0).      

By this time, Law's international stint had stalled at 55 caps. He failed to make the pitch in either of Scotland's remaining games, which were both drawn and resulted in an early flight back to Glasgow. Unbeaten, yet eliminated, with Law at the end of his international career and a few weeks away from retiring altogether, it was the beginning of a hard luck story for the Scots that would dog them in 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1998 before they disappeared completely into modern World Cup oblivion. 

City's Willie Donachie fared even worse than his teammate in West Germany, playing no part in a defence that comprised Rangers' right back Sandy Jardine and a central pairing of Manchester United's Jim Holton and John Blackley of Hibernian. with Danny McGrain of Celtic in the City man's place on the left.

Denis Law and Kaziu Deyna feature in a Barratt card collection for the 1974 World Cup

In both the 2-0 win over Zaire and the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to qualify against Yugoslavia (1-1), Ormond brought on Tommy Hutchison as a substitute. The leggy Coventry winger, who would join City under John Bond in 1980, added wide attacking options as Scotland's need for goals became more acute. It was Hutchioson in fact that provided the cross for Joe Jordan's late equaliser against the Slavs, but it proved too little too late and Scotland were out.

Elsewhere, Poland, about to embark on a surprise journey to a well-deserved third place finish, were captained by the Legia Warsaw midfielder Kazimierz Deyna, who would find his way to Maine Road after the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Deyna's casual finesse in the middle of the park belied a skillset that also involved powerful shooting from all distances, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Argentina and Italy, as they surprisingly succumbed to the Poles in a competitive Group 4. An Italian side containing many elements of the Juventus team that would knock City out of the 1976 UEFA Cup were sensationally sent packing at the group stage here thanks to the emergence of Poland and Argentina as footballing powers of the 70s.

Tommy Hutchison takes on a Zaire defender after his 75th minute introduction as substitute

Deyna was the lynchpin of a magnificent Polish side that included the skills of Robert Gadocha, the energy and organisation of Henryk Kasperczak, the goal-laden attacking of Grzegorz Lato and Andrzej Szarmach, plus the giant Jerzy Gorgon at the back and The Clown himself, Jan Tomaszewski, in goal. That Brian Clough had called the goalkeeper out thus before the fateful night when he almost single-handedly kept out England in the Wembley draw that saw Poland progress at England's expense was typical of the blustering Clough, who on this occasion could not have been more wrong. Tomazsewski's bronze medal from the tournament proved he had more to offer than oversized boots and a bright red nose.

The World Cup would be carried off by the host nation, victors over Deyna's Poland in a quasi-semi-final and over the tournament's outstanding team, Holland, in the Munich final. It would not be until after the following World Cup, in Argentina, that the flow of stars from the tournament would begin its slow trickle towards the shores of Albion. It would bring rich pickings for City in the shape of Deyna, but seeing him in his 1974 prime in a City shirt would have been a rare pleasure in those sweat-stained mid-70s days of push and shove.


Monday, November 7, 2022


Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius seems a strange bedfellow for eager Premier League referee Darren England, but we are sailing through odd and difficult waters. 

Fatherless since childhood, Marcus Aurelius was raised by his wealthy single mother, Domitia Lucilia. In 139, she hired Fronto, a Libyan nomad who had shipped up in Rome looking for work and meaning, to teach her son and prepare him for a career in politics.

There is no striking evidence that Darren England was either fatherless or raised by African philosopher nomads, but his actions had a similarly galvanising effect on the Etihad on Saturday as the poet Aurelius' words once had on his followers in Ancient Rome. Meditations, indeed. There was scant time for that, as City's ten were moved to great deeds rather than thoughts.

City's modern-day gladiators, dressed in sky blue and without the helpful aid of either tridents or swords, tore into Fulham in a way that the visitors could hardly have been expecting, even if they knew they were on one of the toughest assignments of the league campaign. And England, as is often the case these days, was the root cause of much of their later discomfort.   

Darren England had quite the weekend. Beginning in Manchester and ending in North London (or thereabouts), the Premier League referee managed to ignite not only debate, but a ferocious comeback from City that fair took the breath away. It is a feat that will have a lasting effect on this year's title race.

Stung by apparent injustice, the ferocity of City's response not only made the eyes water but also lit a bonfire under the crowd and, by the end, had the manager and coaching staff in a rare froth of fist-clenching and touchline bellowing. Pep Guardiola even managed to gurn into one of the pitchside cameras for extra effect as the emotions ran over. 

Those that felt the full "lap of honour" at the end of the game was milking it slightly, underestimate what these key moments of a season do to a group set a challenge of winning the game's highest honours. There was a spirit and a ferocity of achievement on display that rarely surfaces in such an unprovoked manner and which bodes well for what this group intends to try and achieve come May.

It was only Fulham, after all. 

It is no fault of the visitors that "Fulham at home" rarely gets the adrenaline pulsing. The away support is polite and unfussy but has often been sparse and stubbornly passive on past occasions; the games can be pleasant on the eye but nothing to write home about. What football delivers so well, however, is the unexpected. It is a sport that can suddenly take off when you least expect it to.   

As Joao Cancelo completed the latest of a long series of uncoordinated brainwaves and cannoned into the advancing Harry Wilson, a penalty was inevitable. The strutting English, enjoying his second outing at the Etihad, duly pointed to the spot. So far, so predictable. What happened next elevated the situation to siege. Out came a red card. An unnecessary double jeopardy manoeuvre that has been highlighted many times before. 

City, reduced to ten men and, a moment later, on level terms again, were incensed. With the crowd incandescent, a fightback of Herculean proportion commenced. 10 v 11 and all square with 70 minutes to play. The response was jagged and grew to an exhausting cresendo, as Guardiola threw on Foden and Haaland to try to break Fulham's resolve.

The disallowed goal further upped the ante, as the Norwegian tank was judged to be slightly offside when heading in De Bruyne's curling cross, but the Belgian by now was carrying the whole show on his shoulders in the kind of display of mighty authority only certain players can produce. Joined by the tireless midfield work of Bernardo, Rodri and Gundogan, De Bruyne dragged City forward time and again until the raging storm finally brough its reward.

It was perhaps harsh on Fulham. It was certainly hard-going on the already frayed nerves. And it would be harsh to dwell on England's part in it all. He had after all made a reasonable call in reaction to Cancelo's petulant attempt at dispossession. 

Taken in isolation, the day was done. It was time to wipe the surfaces clean, tidy up and head off home. However, during the Sunday game at Tottenham, where Alexander Arnold's shove on Ryan Sessegnon went unpunished, a new scenario arrived. It was not wholly dissimilar to the foul perpetrated by Cancelo the day before, a little less reckless, but still a clear shove in the back. That it went unpunished by on-pitch referee and VAR officials alike served to highlight the grave problem of inconsistency in refereeing. 

That it was a certain Darren England in charge of VAR at White Hart Lane would have left Marcus Aurelius seriously lost for words.     


Sunday, October 30, 2022


There is a trope that has been carried far and wide in recent times that the Premier League is as competitive as the Bundesliga, where Bayern Munich have won the title every year since the boy Jesus began to take his first faltering steps through the dusty side streets of Bethlehem.

This states that nobody can cope with City's "high ceiling" (if in fact there is a ceiling at all), it being a club, after all, that can spend anything they feel like spending. Generally, it's just not fair, we are constantly told. While some arguments carry a little more thrust than others, this is one that doesn't convince for a minute. 

The weekend's results will add grist to the mill. For those convinced City are running away with it, things could hardly have gone better. Despite actually starting the day in second place, the early kick off against an incredibly supine Leicester brought a one-goal victory that hoisted City to top spot. That was quickly followed by a spectacularly loose performance by Chelsea at Brighton and a series of comic capers from Liverpool in losing at home to a hitherto harmless Leeds. To top it all off, Tottenham had the mother and father of problems dispatching Bournemouth. 

Newcastle won well to keep their place in the top 4, but to include them as possible contenders will only bring gales of laughter and a wall of opprobrium about Saudi Arabian geopolitics. Mr. Klopp might also at this point want to interject to inform you of high ceilings and limitless transfer budgets, for when it comes to City and Newcastle, we all know the FFP sharks swim under the nearest rocks. They can spend what they want

This is, of course, not true.

If we consider budgets, all the sides in the top six should be competing and competing hard. Throw in the biggest spenders of the lot, Manchester United, and you have -potentially- a fascinating and thrilling title race something along the lines of the early 1970s that so many people now eulogise about.

John Cross of the Mirror was quoted from a BBC interview as saying City "would finish 20 points clear at the top", a hefty slice of prematurism if it ever existed. Cross was simply praising City for their slick superiority, I was told, but he was also adding to the argument that nobody stands a chance, which is inaccurate. With his beloved Arsenal sitting pretty at the top of the table when he uttered the words, it all looked a little bit comical. Let's face it, if you're giving up the ghost from top position, there has to be something seriously skewed with your attitude. Since then they have dispatched Forest 5-0. 

What is the point of predicting a 20-point title win when the club you are talking about is 2nd in the table? What purpose can this serve apart from solidifying the already multifarious tropes that City are ruining the competition of the Premier league? How can you ruin something from 2nd place? What purpose can there be to carry on with this argument every time City canter onto a football pitch to play football?

This is a City side that failed at Anfield, has drawn its last two Champions League games without scoring and beat Brighton and Leicester without convincing. There is nothing to suggest this side is about to crush all in its way. In a season that is about to be cleaved in two by the least anticipated World Cup in history, there will be even fewer certainties. Add City's near-obsessive glances towards the Champions League, and another destabilizing factor emerges. "Ah, but that is just one game" comes the reply. "Ah, but that is just a four-game dip" we hear again. Anything to steer away from the fact that they are beatable and that there is competition. 

If this is the Bundesliga in waiting, it is worth looking east for a second. Klopp, after all, managed in the top echelons there for many years and was a serious challenger for honours at Borussia Dortmund between 2008 and 2015. Dortmund collected two titles in his time there and reached the Champions League final at Wembley. However, they also sold Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowki and Matts Hummels to Bayern, the equivalent of Txiki Begiristain descending upon Anfield Road to buy Mo Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Thiago Alcantara. Imagine the press that little swoop would have got.

Since a Klopp-inspired Dortmund carried off the title in 2011-12 (ironically the same month Roberto Mancini delivered City's first Premier League win since the launching of the ark), Bayern have been champions every single year. That is 10 consecutive titles. In the same period in England, United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Leicester and City have been top dogs. City have won five of the 10 titles on offer and, admittedly, four of the last five, offering critics the chance to say this is the fast-moving ossification process of our domestic game. Liverpool did something similar in the 70s and were feted for it...

In the transfer market City have shied away from Cristiano Ronaldo, Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi, Kalidou Koulibaly, Marc Cucurella, Harry Kane< Jorginho and a host of others who were carrying the infamous City-surcharge of old. There is clearly no limitless budget. The blue sky and fluffy clouds that Klopp sees above the Etihad are stationed at the same height as those hovering over Anfield, Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford. That the German must call City the best team in the world as often as possible and claim his own side are plucky outsiders is a critical part of the image-building process that has won so many over. Surveying Liverpool's inept display against Leeds, it is tempting to ask what the then world's most expensive goalkeeper and world's most expensive defender were doing and how such an expensively and expertly constructed side can look so fallible. Is this the inability to compete or bad management, bad strategy, bad planning? Bolstering a squad that is already of the highest quality is not an afternoon picnic, as Liverpool have found. 

When John W Henry, a man not exactly shackled by poverty, took over at Anfield, he insisted that his new acquisition follow the Moneyball philosophy constructed by Cambridge Physician Ian Graham. He had employed similar tactics at Boston Red Sox, a badly spelled baseball team also under his tutelage. It has allowed him to recruit the likes of Allison and Van Dijk and now also splash £85m on Darwin NĂșñez, a half-honed product of two seasons' work in the Liga Portuguesa. Liverpool's spending, like that of Chelsea and Manchester United and, for that matter Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton, Aston Villa, Spurs and others has not had the look of impoverished non-starters about it.   

After City's initial splurge to gain access to the higher echelons, the last five years have seen spending on players and wages broadly bottom out to meet that of their rivals. The dreaded net spend puts City at the bottom of a league table currently being "won" by neighbours United. Judicious spending has been the answer at the Etihad, not careless overspending. Whilst City avoided the car crashes of Sanchez and Maguire, United piled in regardless. While City avoided paying over the odds for Kane and waited for Haaland, Liverpool splurged nervously on NĂșñez. While City offloaded the inconsistent scoring exploits of Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, they settled on Haaland to do the job. Maybe we should be asking how Liverpool, United and Chelsea can get it disastrously wrong and how City can get it right nine times out of ten spending less.  

Those that tell us the league is heading towards a closed shop are right in a sense, but it has been on this journey since the mid-80s when the then Big Five (rather laughably when considered from the high plains of 2022, but then including Everton) started their Machiavellian journey towards what we see today. It might not quite have worked for Everton, but the idea was sound enough: cordon off the gains, syphon off the prophets and stop others following. The infamous drawbridge since used to describe the start of the Premier League and thereafter the Champions league too. In other words, Protectionism. 

This has been alive and well for decades. The vast riches swilling around the game today just accentuate the difference between haves and have-nots in a world where Atletico Madrid and Juventus can be summarily outbid by West Ham and Fulham.

All of this devalues the immense input of Pep Guardiola, a once-in-a-generation coaching talent, who has overseen City's final ascent towards the world game's summit. Klopp's work must not be undervalued either, despite the arguments he uses to explain the perceived gulf between the two sides. That would be to do them both a huge disservice. That City's massive wealth has been put to better use than Liverpool's massive wealth and Chelsea's massive wealth has been spent almost as willy nilly as Manchester United's massive wealth is neither City's fault nor the dastardly work of a tilted playing field, but the work of dedicated professionals at the top of their game, on and off the Etihad pitch.

If City win the title again this season the background noise will increase once more. Money will surely be the ruination of the sport. It has already done untold damage, but that damage can be traced way back to 1986, not the arrival of City in the game's corridors of power in 2008 and the money ruining it is going on players who fail not those who succeed.    






Wednesday, June 8, 2022


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


🖳 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


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 \\\ |    


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


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