Tuesday, November 16, 2010


The Maine Road mud was thick this particular day, clogging, wretched stuff that had changed the yellow West Brom socks to dark brown, but it didn't stop Peter Barnes from marking his return to the old squelching ground with two excellently taken goals, lifted with exquisite ease around and past the flailing darkened bulk of Big Joe Corrigan. It was a day in which several aspects of life were put under the harsh spotlight of reality: Big Mal's 2nd coming was doomed to an epitaph of failed tinkering and gross squandering of resources; Tommy Caton's prodigious talent was somehow irretrievably tainted (his slapstick airshot clearance allowing Barnes to pilfer his 2nd goal in this game); the departures of Barnes and Gary Owen from their beloved Maine Road were a sad travesty; and City, tragically and not for the last time, thought they were better than they really were. It was all going to end in tears again.

Fast forward more than three decades and you will find one important parallel, the loud and prolonged chanting of a very particular nature, heard after last weekend's game as it was after the West brom defeat of 1979.

Last weekend our brave boys in blue managed the heroic feat of holding bottom three and seemingly ambitionless Birmingham City to a 0-0 draw at home. With the life draining out of all those still managing to watch, Mancini substituted the one bright spark in City's line-up (albeit the bright spark was having a poor game) to bring on yet another defensively minded player. He also switched a specialist full back for a utility fullback allowing the game, quite predictably, to peter out as it had been doing from the 18th minute of the first half onwards, when visiting keeper Foster first discovered that he could get away with three minute goal kicks. Kolarov and Tevez needed to nurse recently injured bodies. Fair enough, but the replacements could hardly be called "final push alterations"....

The result produced a point and kept City in 4th place. Hoorah for that. We live in strange times and keep exalted company and all that. What it also highlighted was the stubbornness of coach Mancini, who seems so unwilling to shift away from his solidifying the defence mantra that we are in danger of taking every little team too seriously, every little point squeezed from barren games like this as nectar to the Gods.

The moment Roberto raised the temperature

If you want to have a squad bursting with the likes of Tevez, Silva, the hitherto malfunctioning but nevertheless "offensive" Johnson and Wright-Philips, if you want Jo and Milner and Balotelli, then surely one has to lift up this coarse hair blanket a little and waft some warm air into our lives. Watching City on Saturday was like having your teeth flossed by the local plumber. This squad has talent coming out of its ears, but it is being asked to drop the fantasy football and play coalface percentages. My heart is beginning to ache. What you can barely justify against United, you will do well to get away with against a baleful Birmingham City.

To be met by a chorus of boos at the game's tepid culmination is to some a kind of blasphemy, but Manchester City was ever thus. This is an emotional place. This is a side, which has long drained the blood from our cheeks before revving us up again, week after week. How some of us of more antique years have managed to put up with this season after season without lengthy hospitalisation sometimes puzzles me. Why don't I have a weak heart and a nervous twitch at least? There is a necessary release for the frazzled punters, who drink this bubbling soup week in week out. We laugh and chirrup at the names that roll off the tongue so easily. All those black Saturdays chomping at the bit with Jason van Blerk, Frank Clark, alan ball, Tony Vaughan, Tony Cunningham, Jimmy Frizz, Ken Mcnaught, the list of course is both endless and pointless without the inclusion of The Jamie Pollock. But this is to miss the point slightly.

It is not the lists of rich comedians in sky blue that sets our pulses running. We are used to having a ringer or two in every side, after all. No, it is the hope that we may have left these times behind us. The eternal hope, dashed time after time. The great run of wins that suddenly stops for no reason at home to Charlton Athletic. The magic goal-scoring feats followed swiftly by three nil-nils on the trot. The glorious form of the little winger that precedes six months wallowing in the reserves (elite reserves at that) and an alcohol addiction. The 18 million pound Jo, followed by the 50 grand miss. The nil nil with Birmingham followed by the thrilling 4-2 win at Fulham. You see? It really can't go on like this. My physician is writing one of his little notes for me to take to the chemist again. Twas ever thus.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


So, here we all are, on the very rim of crisis, the juicy edge of the precipice, where the wet soil is giving way beneath our feet and the slurping noise is not just the soft mud but the jackals wiping their mouths before the feast. Another Maine Road, sorry Eastlands crisis looms large, the whirlpool sucks at our giddy feet, tickling, trickling and pulling us down.

Complete barnacles, obviously, with City sitting proudly in 4th place and making decent headway into the permanent fixtures of the upper echelons, judging by the adverse press and spectator reaction to every move the Blues make. This is Big Four territory and everybody's out to get us.

Cwisis? I'll just get the guitar
Only, when you have followed this club for a little while, even a relatively short little while, you know that a crisis is a furry animal with a very different smell. You have to be a Junior Blue with the meakest of loyalty points totals to be able to say that all you know about City is top division calmness and Europa League chases. Those of us a little older are still taking pills to recover our hormonal balance after the Gillingham play-off final in 99. Those of us a little older again are still having monthly injections to ward off the nightmares featuring alan ball, Frank Clark, Steve Coppell, Phil Neal and a band of merry men so merry you would have to be Fat Santa himself to recognise them all.


Big Mal's replacement is announced
And then there is my generation. Brought up on The Jam, The Sweeny, The Old Grey Whistle Test and The News at Ten, we know a crisis when we see one. We look the thing between the eyes, size it up, then laugh at its temerity. For this is a mere nothing, my friends, a tooth pick in the back of an Alaskan Musk Ox. Manchester City has crisis written through its genes like the message in a stick of rock and to talk of such as we sit half-pretty, half ugly in 4th place in the top division is akin to saying Wayne Rooney might have gone to America to free his mind. Plain daft, Jack Kerouac daft.

Crisis facing a fixture at West Brom is this: your saviour and most successful ever manager has returned and crashed & burned. His contract has just landed in pieces on the pavement after being jettisoned from the top floor of the admin block. The money has not only dried up but turned into a pile of aggressive iou notes and confiscation orders. The ranks of international stars have left to be replaced by Bobby Shinton, Stuart Lee and Paul Sugrue. You will face West Brom and their two hungry new England starlets, Peter Barnes & Garry Owen. Something crucial and fragrant is dripping from the hem of your trousers.


The year is 1980. The Glory years have turned Gory. Big Mal has been sacked. Tony Book, that arch replacer of failures, is at the helm until John Bond has got his suitcases under control. City are bottom three (that's significantly south of 4th). Confidence is shot. We have just lost at Leeds, who are also devoid of hope and health. Book, Captain of City's fabulous trophy team, is himself bruised and battered from Big Mal's rocky second coming. Ken Barnes is coming to the rescue with a packet of Rothmans and a pint of Boddies.

The game at the Hawthorns, on Saturday 11th October 1980, was lost 3-1. A young Brian Robson got Albion's first, as they did the hopscotch allover City's twitching corpse. As the Sunday Express recounted: "Chants of "Swales out" rose from the vociferous band of Manchester City supporters as their team conceded two goals in four minutes midway through the second period of this game...." That Bond duly arrived and , after an initial defeat by Birmingham, soon had City on an unbeaten run that would take us to the Centenary cup Final, a League Cup semi and 10th in the league, demonstrates that even proper crises can easily be blown away if you hold your resolve. We are quick to run out the white flag these days, too ready to jabber hyperbole and far too twitchy about a defeat or two. How many City defeats have you watched? Exactly. So, even if yet another one materialises before our eyes in the West Midlands on Sunday, it won't be anywhere near a crisis. We've been in far too many worse places to even blink at this kind of minor discomfort. Besides, the respectable neighbours are due round for tea and crumpets on Wednesday evening. Let's hope they leave on time this year and don't outstay their welcome.

Friday, November 5, 2010


"And we'll raise a cup to dear old City, never ever to be compromised...."

So it is we enter what the slathering masses with their noses against the windows might name "the critical zone", an area in City's case, marked by many untidy reels of barbed wire, several shards of broken glass and a badly soiled shirt with the legend WRIGHT PHILIPS on the back. So, in the space of a week and a half, hardly time for Roberto Mancini to master the 3rd conditional, Manchester City have lurched from a position exhaling hot Mancunian breath onto the bare neck of Signor Ancelotti and his troops, to a barren place with only the whistling of the wind and the baying of far-off wolves for company. This place, desolate as it is lonely, is called "4th in the Premier League".

A week in football.

Goal for Arsenal: a historical inevitability
That Arsenal took City to the cleaners was partly a historical inevitability (look up the scores over the past ten years or so), given wings by Dedryck Boyata's naivety and Mark Clattenburg's willingness to feature in the morning after's headlines as often as is decent. It is difficult to argue against the fact that there was a zip about the team that augured well, ten men or no ten men. Arsenal were not allowed to roll out the tricks and relax until City legs had turned to Lurpack in the last 15 minutes or so. Even before the early carnage, Silva's back-heel had so nearly put a rampant City ahead.

Molineux was a different story, albeit a familiar one: a head-start, upper echelons of the Top Four beckoning and wallop, swift descent into comedy capers, don't forget to attach big red hooter before you leave the ground. Suddenly, with people adding three-nil to two-one, experts were producing a total which read "P+A-N- Î & C". A defeat in Poland, we were told, and you can start running up the black flags and searching for your philips, to unscrew the manager's door plaque.

As watersheds go, Poznan was a pretty damp one. Mancini, scarf now making frequent appearances as a dank, slovenly chest wrap instead of the perky Oxford bow of yesteryear, looked increasingly like he wanted to throttle somebody, mainly, one got the distinct impression, Adam Johnson. Not just anyone, him.

We were treated by television to a jinking run by the afore-mentioned wey-faced winger that produced a diagonal cut-back well wide of the gasping Zabaletta and far too strong for a leaden-legged Milner to salvage. The ball pinged apologetically into a front row of bellowing, mouths-wide-open locals, as we cut to Roberto, eyes glazed, scarf sagging, head moving in desolate sideways shake. His cheeks puffed out an amount of luke warm air. he uttered the prophetic words "galileo" or "rigoleto". You could almost hear the rehearsal of Johnson's comeuppance speech on the purple Italian lips. "Hey Johnson, cam over here".

But it was Wright-Philips, a small figure proving even less effective than his height would suggest, who gave way at half time. A lightweight and peripheral figure, he had done his chances of surviving the ever-more-probable January cull very little good at all. He looked to be covered in sweat, but it is unclear how this might have gathered in such large amounts. With Silva introduced and two left footers to patrol the wide areas, City made immediate inroads. Adebayor, until then a peripheral figure, came to life first smashing in an equaliser after his own header had been acrobatically saved by Buric, then with a jinking run to the byline, where he delivered a cross best described as "testing"for defenders and David Silva alike. The Spaniard got his foot to it, smashing it into the ground and up onto the cross bar.With City in the ascendancy, Blue Moon finally ringing out above the baying hordes, City looked set for a point, maybe even three and confident qualification.

But Maine Road's gypsy curse had followed all the way to western Poland. Boyata's weak clearing header sailed into the back of Arboleda, whose first inkling that he might have scored was when the home end behind him erupted. A stranger goal you will have to wait many months to witness. Even then Silva, now becoming a central protagonist in a rip-roaring game, slotted over an open goal. Not only was that curtains for City but heralded another improbable goal from their hosts, Mozdzen whipping in from outside the area.

Joy before the fall

City had for long spells of an improved 2nd half been the dominant party, had succumbed to two improbably well-hit shots, considering the wider context of how Lech were playing, and been sunk by a bizarre quasi-own goal from the Dunne-like Boyata. (If this boy is jinxed, he needs to change his name to Vidic).

Position Team P GD PTS

1 Chelsea 10 24 25
2 Arsenal 10 12 20
3 Man Utd 10 10 20
4 Man City 10 3 17
5 Tottenham 10 1 15
6 West Brom 10 -3 15
7 Newcastle 10 5 14
8 Everton 10 2 13
9 Blackpool 10 -6 13
When 4th in the league seems pretty weak beer

So, where to now, as the pressure mounts and the scare stories do their rounds? The Hawthorns, for what the papers will call a must-win but what is in fact a "please don't lose" and then back home to host the well-behaved, butter wouldn't melt neighbours for the first midweek night league match between the two since the year dot. It should provide a fittingly tight atmosphere for a game that the old City would have won against all sensible odds. Now is not the time for this new, sleek expensive version to buck a dear old trend. Cups for cock ups, we can just about handle, another injury time sinker and we'll be reaching for the elephant pills.

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