Thursday, April 28, 2016


The longest judicial inquest in British legal history came to a close on Tuesday 26th April 2016. Letting the enormity of that fact sink in makes the whole tawdry decades-long exercise in mud-slinging and blame-shifting all the more horrendous.

In the aftermath of the jury’s eye-watering verdict in the 27-year-long wait for justice for the 96 people who needlessly died at Hillsborough at the FA Cup semi final in April 1989, football fans of a certain age will be reflecting on how it really could have been any one of us, given the callous disregard for safety and organization we as football supporters met every week of our apparently risk-laden lives during a decade of neglect and disrespect.

That is why, for all the occasional jarring moments about wallowing in the past and breeding a grief culture, this decision, dreadfully late though it is, should be seen as a release first and foremost for the relatives of the families involved in the tragedy, but also a breath of fresh air to anyone, who was there in the 80s and attempted to follow his or her club through a decade of danger, dirt and decadence.

Contrary to the idea mooted on social media on a daily basis these days, apart from the last five years, following Manchester City has not really been what you might call a bed of roses. In the 80s, in fact, it was anything but.

As the last dainty notes of Sister Sledge and Boney M faded and the jagged sounds of the 80s dawned, the football landscape began to change radically. It would do so again after Hillsborough, spawning the sometimes anodyne but always safe environment we watch the game in today, but first came this jarring, dizzying change for the worse. Much worse. 

You can read the rest of this article on Four Four Two magazine's website 

Friday, April 8, 2016


Future City player Asa Hartford lines up for WBA's '73 pre-season team pic
City's recent record at the Hawthorns is exemplary, with wins aplenty, the last defeat an orange-shirted disaster when Filipe Caicedo's unusual effort looked to have given a struggling City side a point late on, but the Gods of Football had other ideas. It was probably all we deserved in those shirts anyway.

WWWWWDW is how it looks in the West Midlands in recent times anyway.

Two season's ago City kicked off the season with a fine 3-0 win at West Brom, with goals from David Silva's early effort followed by more from powerhouse midfielder Yaya Touré and Vincent Kompany. Last season saw an increase by one in the margin of victory, with Sergio Aguero and Ilkay Gundogan both netting twice.

Recent connections are Joleon Lescott, the Premier league's record appearance maker Gareth Barry and the hirsute Giorgios Samaras.

No History Whatsoever: West Brom were founded in 1879, were founder members of the football league a year later, won the league in 1920 and have won the FA Cup five times, the last thanks to the late lost and lamented Jeff Astle in 1968 v Everton. This represents their most recent success of any kind, although they came close two years later in the League Cup final versus City, losing only after extra time on a pitch that only needed scattered hand grenades and plumes of smoke to resemble the rutted fields of the Somme (the Horse of the Year show had judiciously been allowed to go ahead the day before. Rumours that Glyn Pardoe's goal bobbled off a still steaming chunk of equine excrement proved to be unfounded).

Through winning the cup in '68 Albion qualified for the Charity Shield at the start of the 68-69 season and - as is the tradition - played the previous season's league champions, City.

The game was played at Maine Road and was famous for City's achievement of racking up a 6-1 win as well as the fact that new signing Bobby Owen scored with his very first touch in a Manchester City shirt. Not many can lay claim to a thing as beautiful as that.

This will be the 141st league meeting between the two sides.

Quirks: Inflatable sharks will remind older fans that it was at the Hawthorns in 1987 that City's inflatable banana craze really took off, starting a post-hooliganism revolution on the terraces in England. It had been started by one man, Frank Newton, who travelled to Plymouth for the first game of the season with a five foot inflatable banana under his arm for some reason. It is not clear whether Frank was under the influence of the heady cocktail of fruit juices and other delicacies rife in the Hacienda-led Manchester scene at the time, but, naturally it caught on. This from Paul Howarth on the MCIVTA site.
Frank went to City’s first game of the season against Plymouth Argyle with a friend, Mike Clare, and they took pictures before and during the game. The fans’ reaction was universally favourable as the huge yellow object was greeted with laughter wherever it appeared. Being a hot August afternoon, Frank decided to remove his regulation City shirt and for the want of anywhere else to put it, put it on the banana. Within a few minutes a face had been drawn and a bobble hat completed the effect. The banana had taken on a personality.
Just like Frank, the banana followed City all over the country and became a well-known figure on the terraces. At West Brom in November, City fans called for the appearance of substitute Imre Varadi. The chant mutated and he was henceforth known affectionately as “Imre Banana”. Gradually the numbers of bananas began to increase. 
The West Brom game witnessed "fighting" on the away terrace between bananas and paddling pools, dinosaurs and inflatable women. A huge cigarette also bounced around, chasing a crocodile and a fried egg. It was, as they say, quite a sight and led to some legendary away days that season.


1976-77 Fine aerial duel between Brian Kidd and John Wile, with Ally Robertson and  Jimmy Conway in the background. The game, played on 29th November 1976, ended in a 1-0 win for City. 
1979-80: Peter Barnes and Gary Owen were sold off to West Brom in the summer of 1979 against their wishes as part of Malcolm Allison's ambitious (reckless) rebuilding programme during his second stint in charge of the club. The move backfired spectacularly when Owen masterminded a 4-0 rout of City at the Hawthorns and Barnes scored twice in a catastrophic defeat at Maine Road the following spring.

1980-81, a full blown resurrection is underway with John Bond having taken over from Malcolm Allison. The FA Cup final will be reached but meanwhile, momentum is growing in the League Cup too. One of my favourite childhood memories is of the quarter-final against West Brom at Maine Road. Having gone a goal down early on to Tommy Booth's unfortunate own goal, City stormed back with goals from David Bennett and Tony Henry to reach the two-legged semis with Liverpool and a date with destiny in the shape of Alf Grey, still the worst referee in living memory. The clip below from the unforgettable Granada documentary CITY! shows otherwise unsaved moments from this game at 7:50 onwards. What comes before is also worth watching, as members of City's board try to look professional in front of the cameras.

A year later in 1981-82 a sunlit Maine Road opened the season against the Baggies. City, fresh from the centenary Cup Final the previous May, played with a similar verve that had carried them all the way to Wembley two months before. Goals from Dennis Tueart and cup final hero and villain Tommy Hutchison sealed a 2-1 win in what would be Bryan Robson's last game for the club before his record breaking £1.5 million transfer to Manchester United.

1982-83: City are on their way to relegation from the First Division, but at Christmas things are still running relatively smoothly. As late as November a 2-0 win over Southampton had put the Blues 2nd in the table. Although West Brom's Christmas visit coincided with a downturn in form, this game was won 2-1 with a rare goal from Steve Kinsey, who had been brought in for his second game of the season in a decidedly thin-looking attack that featured the beanpole David Cross and Peter Bodak. City's form would hold out until a 4-0 thumping at Brighton in the 4th round of the Cup signalled John Bond's exit and the start of a steep descent towards the third relegation spot and an unforgettable day on the beer against Luton Town.

1982-83: Steve Kinsey slots in at the North Stand end to make it 2-0.
1996-97: A truly painful episode during a season when City's Manager of the Month competition took over from the traditional Goal of the Month. January's manager Steve Coppell had left the building "in a bit of a hurry", to be replaced by Miss February, Phil Neal. Having watched with open mouths as Oxford came to Maine Road and won 3-2, City then beat West Brom by the same score. In doing the same again to Bradford a week or so after, Neal was moved to produce his famous quote that "Watching City was the best laxative in the land".

Phil Neal's face tells us the laxatives are about to take control.
1997-98: By now almost completely constipated, City were heading towards Division 3 when West Brom were dispatched at Maine Road by Uwe Rosler. Do not adjust your spectacles, that is Peter Beardsley. It was an odd season, but not nearly as odd as the one that followed in the third division..

1999-00: (below) Spencer Prior warms up vigorously, er, prior to his City debut v West Brom. A central defender of limited ability, Prior was more than happy to reveal unlimited enthusiasm, shoring up the back four in a game that resurrected City's promotion charge after a shambolic 2-2 draw at Stockport had set all the usual alarm bells ringing. Prior had arrived from Derby County on the say-so of none other than Georgi Kinkladze, who must have recommended the lumbering centre half to "undertake a few mazy runs and they'll be eating out of your hands". £700,000 was the reported fee as Prior glided straight into the side to play the Baggies. This was a game in which the 32,000 present were once again put through the famous City wringer. With minutes ticking away, Albion were holding onto a well-deserved single goal lead, which would have left City trailing second placed Ipswich Town by 5 points. Up stepped Mark Kennedy to equalise and, with the very last kick of the game, Shaun Goater to steal the points and give the Blues vital momentum towards a dramatic last day of the season promotion clincher at Ewood Park, Blackburn.  

Spencer practises the all-important bouncing before his debut. 

Last season: A 4-0 win in October. All was very much fragrant in Pep Guardiola's garden. Goals: Aguero (2), Gundogan (2) Att: 22,470 including 2,697 City fans.

Played in both directions: Our Asa, Gary Owen, Peter Barnes, Derek Kevan, Steve Mackenzie and his chins, David Cross, Andy Dibble, Tony Grant, Tony Grealish, Ken McNaught, Robert Hopkins, Nicky Reid, Ishmail Miller et al.

Ron Saunders, the man who couldn't smile, managed both clubs, while Gary Megson managed one and played for the other.

Retort to the Where Were You chants: Albion's home average dropped below 10,000 in the top flight in 1985-86. 12,122 witnessed City's 3-2 win at the Hawthorns on 26th August 1985. Goals from Paul Simpson, Mark Lillis and Clive Euclid Aklana Wilson

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