Monday, October 28, 2013


40 years ago Manchester City embarked on a season that would see them use three different goalkeepers and, at one time or another, each one would be pilloried by the press and/or by the supporters. First Joe Corrigan, then Ron Healey and finally Keith MacRae would attempt to stem the flow of goals being shipped at the wrong end by City that unstable year.

Healey quickly disappeared into the nether regions of a low profile career at Cardiff, whilst MacRae eventually drifted to the other side of the Atlantic to escape his detractors. Corrigan, however, fought back. The big man had been horribly overweight - he was of naturally heavy build, usually clocking an average weight of around 14 and a half stone - and seemed to put on excess weight with some ease. In those early days of season 1973-74, he looked cumbersome and ungainly, neither a trademark any top class keeper would attach himself to willingly.

Eventually the fans got on his back. He made more mistakes and the vicious circle was complete when he was dropped to the reserves, where he broke his jaw in one of his matches. From this miserable position, looking up at his new rivals from between long blades of grass, Corrigan had an important decision to make. Only with the will power of the semi-demented does one come back from the edge of the precipice and find your niche once more. Only with the mind cleared and your priorities reordered does it become clear what is to be done.

Corrigan had been around at City for several seasons before this dramatic fall off in his form occurred. In fact he had already completed four seasons of more than 30 appearances each and was well beyond 120 City appearances when this slide in form began. Corrigan had had dips in his career before, famously letting in a goal from Ronnie Boyce on a mud pudding pitch at Maine Road, when slowly returning from making a lazy, low-slung clearance, only to find Boyce had whipped the ball back full on the volley and into the City goal.

The goal was the sort of thing Corrigan was beginning to make his name for, although that Maine Road pitch - part pantanal swamp, part trifle - would have been the death of many a good keeper. It was around this time that Corrigan admitted he dreaded playing at Maine Road in front of the critical noises and audible whistling. There were even rumours that he might retire, but the big man battled on, blocked out the catcalls, recovered from his injury and set about reclaiming his place in the City first team.

MacRae, bought from Motherwell for a then record fee for a goalkeeper (£100,000....) did not start well at City, making a blunder on his debut at Sheffield United. Although he kept his place and would play in a League Cup Final against Wolves that first season, MacRae was injured the following year and a new look Corrigan - slimmer thanks to the wired jaw and hungry for first team action - stepped back into the spotlight to claim his place.


Joe Corrigan played a total of 592 games for Manchester City, was voted man of the match in the Centenary Cup Final v Tottenham, went on to play for England at a time when the national team already had Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence and in 2004 was deservedly inducted into the Manchester City Hall of Fame. From the abject mud-spattered anti-hero seen in the video above, Corrigan turned himself into a goalkeeping giant capable of saves like the one below, made at Leeds in the 5th round of the FA Cup in 1977.

Joe Hart may never know what it feels like to be as low as Joe Corrigan was in 1974. A young man to whom the game's riches and good fortune have fallen easily and early, Hart is already England's number one and the holder of various baubles to attest to his position at the back of the team that won the 2011-12 Premier League, amongst other things. 

Hart's fame and agility have brought him in a few short years what Joe Corrigan fought an entire career's length to get close to. And it is perhaps here that the Joe Hart story is threatening to go in an unscripted direction. Public life is littered with examples of those to whom life's good times came too early. How these young stars - whatever their field of excellence may be - handle this unwieldy situation is critical. Let it go to your head - as many have said Hart has done - and you will find yourself on the slippery slope. Let it consume you and the same may happen. Allow it to teach you and continue to challenge you, allow it to make you grow in stature whilst remaining humble and aware of the pitfalls, and you will survive to display your skills at the highest altar.

For Joe Hart, the critical moment of choices is fast approaching. He may share a name with Corrigan, but only time will tell if he shares his destiny too.

You can read a match by match account of the 1973-74 season at City, including Joe Corrigan's fight for the green number one jersey here 


  1. Hi Simon,
    Bill from here. Thanks for putting my blog on your blogroll. I have now done the same with yours. I would have done it otherwise, but your recent post on Moz & the Smiths made it imperative! Go City!

  2. I've checked my City books, Simon (thanks, Gary James), and MacRae started the 1974/75 season as first choice, and had a short spell out of the team over Christmas, before returning.
    The turning point for the Scot was Leicester City away on the 8th March, 1975, when, as you rightly state, he was injured very early in the game.
    If I remember correctly, he slipped chasing a wayward clearance, and sustained a groin injury. Mike Doyle took over in goal as we went down to a battling 0-1 loss.
    Corrigan's eventual form on his return was so good that apart from one isolated start on 1st November 1975, MacRae's next first team game was 30th August 1980.
    That followed a undistinguished start to the season by Corrigan....what goes around, comes around!

    1. Spot on, Graham. Big Mal had a minor fall-out with Big Joe (or was it a Big Fall Out?!) after a couple of slightly below par performances in his eyes at the start of 80-81. I can well remember thinking it harsh at the time. Ironically, Joe was actually ousted because of injury in the end, picked up in the League Cup at Stoke. MacRae came in and played v Boro (a), the return with Stoke in the League Cup, Arsenal (h) and a 3-2 defeat at Forest, before Corrigan returned for a 2-1 home defeat by Stoke. MacRae stayed a hell of a long time without getting much of a look in. Something strangely serene and unambitious about 2nd choice keepers.

  3. Simon, in American football, it's not unusual for the backup quarterback to be one of the most popular players on the team: he never plays, but the faithful are convinced that if he did, he'd be loads better than the joker who's playing right now. It's similar in hockey: the Montreal Canadiens had a Hall of Fame goaltender in Ken Dryden, but the fans adored Bunny Larocque, his seldom-used backup.

    How many times has a backup keeper become a figure of legend? Does it happen? Is this another example of weird North American exceptionalism?

    1. We have had so many duds in goal down the years, Cort, that it was always tempting to fantasise about the unknown fella playing in the twilight zone of the reserves. If one Googles Perry Suckling, however, one gets very much what one deserves.


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