Thursday, December 9, 2010

Desert Dispatch: Latest Issue

A historian writes:
A Rich History Of Ballbearings
Mario eyes parked cars
In the calm before a game at Eastlands and sometimes during the first half an hour, one can often hear a pin drop. This is modern football.  One can often find the peace to think about team formations and tactics, why eggs don’t taste the same anymore and how chamelons eyes manage to go right round like that. For as long as Megabucks Bastard Manchester City survive, however, we will also think about mavericks. What would this great, noisy, messy, ex-lovable old club be without the likes of Meredith, Trautmann, Marsh, Bowles, Coleman, Bobby Mac, Morrison, Gaudinho and the great Barry Silkman? From Francis Lee doing pretend belly-flops in front of the referee to illustrate George Best’s cheating to Joe Corrigan demanding the Baseball Ground penalty spot be repainted before a penalty kick was taken, the denizons of Maine Road have had more than their fair share of wacky MCFC moments. And now they have Balotelli, a man who, by his initial antics in and around Manchester, should be expected to fit in just about fine. The man who announced his arrival in England by crashing into a tree, is said to have had a high volume row with the midwife when he was born and does not seem to have looked back since...see page 116 

Culture & Dairy Products – THIS MONTHS BIG ACTION FIST-FIGHTS –  TEN ROUNDS UNLESS STATED – ALL TO BE STAGED AT EASTLANDS OR CARRINGTON OR IN THE PLAYERS’ CARPARK (wherever it kicks off basically)
·        Roberto “The Rock” Mancini versus Carlos “the Jackal” Tevez
·        Mario “Carcrash” Balotelli versus Jerome “Drinks Trolley” Boateng
·        James “Bonehead” Milner versus Yaya “The Mountain” Touré (that’s enough fights –Ed)
Juve's tough guy fashionistas
Fashion & Personal Hygiene Exclusive: Mario Balotelli’s skull & crossbones gloves and snood combo voted tops in GQ poll. Honourable mention for entire Juventus team, who in their match away to lech poznan, appeared en masse wearing gloves, tights, snoods and bobble hats, creating a hitherto unseen phenomenon of an entire starting eleven dressed up as “proper Southern European pansies”. “Of all them,” writes Max Heatherbow of FashionWatch “the blond guy Krasic took the eye, with his wide head band and sea anenome hair poking vertically out the top. This was both cutting edge and amazingly crass at the same time. Top marks for being a tough Serb and an Italian wooftie at the same time!” Commenting on Yaya Touré’s snood, Heatherbow said, “This garment is so big, a family of hobbits could live in it. It casts a shadow for heaven’s sake”.
Travel and Crime Dispatch: WORLD CUP LATEST
Warner. integrity guaranteed
A literate and erudite man, Sir David Beckham cut a lonely figure as he limped through customs at Luton yesterday carrying a family tub of maltesers and a cow bell. So too did David Cameron, Prince William and Dogtanian, the three other members of England’s Four White Kinghts. How had it come to this, they may have been asking themselves. Or even, why did I bother? In the sinister world of FIFA voting, our boys had come up way short in the glad-handing stakes. How had our trusted ambassadors managed to fall so far short of the agreed target? Well, that conundrum can be left with the producers of BBC programme Panorama, as it has now become clear from Mr Jack Warner, described by ambassador Beckham, as “a great man, who could lie through a collander if need be” that bitter English journalists scuppered England’s bid. FIFA Vice president and vice-president Warner claimed “I am a friend of England, especially when we can reduce it to a harmless laughing stock.” The next two World Cups will go to Russia, after FIFA announced stadia and transport networks in Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and England were found to be a little too “elegant, developed, accessible and ready for use” and Qatar, after FIFA revealed there had been widespread worries about excessive summer temperatures in Australia, the US and Korea.  
Page 412 – Read our exclusive guide: How to survive at the Qatari World Cup if you are a gay, pale-skinned, jewish alcoholic.
Hyperbole Section: Rick Ashley Exclusive: How Alan Pardew Can Take Newcastle United Into Europe and Beyond!!!! MAGPIES FINALLY REVEAL THEIR BURSTING AMBITION. Never again will people laugh louder about other teams.
Legal Dispatch – ALWAYS READ THE SMALLPRINT - Contract Details Exclusive: “Balotelli committed to City but Undecided on future. 5 year contract said to run out in January” How does this work exactly? See Trevor Dipthong’s analysis Page 18
A warm welcome to Gorton
House & Home -  This month Steven Ireland shows us his jewell encrusted shark tank and walks us around his three storey hat garage. Also, we follow Alan around cheering our heads off as he  tries to buy a house in Gorton.
Nutrition Dispatch: Food important, say experts, but not in portions like that, thank you very much.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

AGRICULTURAL LANGUAGE IN THE MUD

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

BLUE RINSE

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

DRAINING THE BARREL

"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.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

HITTING THE BAR

As a student I was quite partial to a drink. I'm British and it's part of our culture, part of our ascendancy into adulthood to dabble, dabble a bit more, then get absolutely splattered as often and as thoroughly as you possibly can. We would play pool in the early evening at The Broadfield over a "casual few pints", before heading downtown to the Royal for a couple more snifters and then onto the Leadmill to take in some live music, shake our bodies in an absurd fashion and drop three or four more pints of Becks. The next day we would recount all the highpoints, most of them involving a vain attempt at totalling our alcohol intake for the evening. Eight, nine, ten pints, was it. Was there a double vodka and lime in there too at one point? Dear me. Then a kebab and home to watch Match of the Day on the vcr with a bottle of homebrew and the light-fingered woman from the hairdressers. I was Adam Johnson's age and off the lead. It was fun, a lot of fun. Importantly I was flat broke, like many other students and here the comparison keels over, burps and dies a swift and painless death.

A glass of Becks yesterday

Adam Johnson is, what, twenty-one? Something like that. I am loathe to check, because it will make me feel both slightly odd and very old. He is also rich beyond his uncluttered Middlesbrough upbringing might be expected to have prepared him for. Like the tight, sharp German pils in my days, the cash is dribbling out of his ears.

The gnarled old chestnut of putting young men and big bucks together has been thrashed to bits over the years and we are all aware of the consequences. I would probably have been alongside Adam and Gareth and Joe, trying to impress the ladies and hanging out with the boys. But wait a minute. Did you say Gareth? What the hell's Gareth doing out on the bender with us? Shouldn't he be at home reading a book or something?

A bottle of rum last week
And here's the crux of it. We never quite leave this light-headed world of bubbles and fizz behind. It follows us into our thirties like a stooped man in a hood, and on again into middle age where we make even bigger fools of ourselves on slightly more expansive budgets and much smaller quantities of alcohol. We refine our intake to Chilean reds and G&Ts, but still drink enough of the stuff to anaesthetise a medium-sized antelope. Our relationship with alcohol is like that with our football team. Love, hate and oh go on then, let's run with it again.

How many times have I said to myself either "that's the last time I drink red wine, white wine, then red wine again. And certainly no Sambuca in the middle next time" or "that's the last time I waste my money going all the way to bloody London to see them cave in feebly to West Ham yet again". What happens ten days later? Caught drunk in the precincts of the borough of Fulham on the way to watch another 3-1 defeat with a bottle of Sambuca in my back pocket. So, we are addicted to both, right?

Thought you said you'd not be coming again...?

This is the marvellous world that Adam Johnson came flying into. Thanks to cash and modern schooling methods, our footballers are now able to take things onto a new plane of wastefulness and idiocy. A flight to St Andrews to play golf on your day off. A student party. A student party! Well, I remember full well our dos in a shaky Hastings Road bedsit attracting all sorts of night hawks and carnivorous party beasts, but not once did I find Simon Stainrod or Mel Sterland, what might have passed for Sheffield football gliterati in the 80s, stalking our kitchen hoovering up the cans of Wards and eating slices of salami with their hands. (Mind you I'm sure Mel would have been there if he'd known about it....).

With wealth comes untold possibilities. St Andrews is suddenly a viable alternative to the pitch and putt in Timperley, a quickie to see the Lakers is as commonplace as a bus ride down to the GMex to see the Masters Soccer Sixes used to be. We live in enlightened and wasteful times, times of excess and bravura, scoffing and gagging, nothing much impressing us unless I can trump it with some other monstrous overstatement. Pink fitted Hummer? Lamborghini that turns into a hovercraft? Jetski with a bar attached? Black and white pool table with your name on it?

Joe Hart prepares to go down the shops for a tin of peas

Brian Marwood, another man lost in the timewarp of the 80s, made a uniquely appropriate quote last week, (just after Joe Hart had tripped the light fantastic on a bar top in Magaluf and just before he sipped the magic student broth in central Scotland) -boy, these lads can get pissed absolutely anywhere- stated, “our foreign players have educated the other players. Kolo and Yaya [Toure] are Muslim. They don’t drink. I’m hoping young players look at that, and think they’ve played in the Champions League final and there’s a player with Spain in the World Cup [Silva]. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, rarely goes out. Maybe I should try a bit of that.’’
Maybe Gareth, Joe, Shay and Adam should try a bit too. If the performance at Wolves is anything to go by, the whole team should stick to mineral water

Monday, October 25, 2010

GUTS, PASSION & A THREE-NIL HOME DEFEAT

Wide eyes, arms beginning to wave...it can only be...
Arsenal won at Eastlands yesterday and in doing so provoked some strangely triumphalist newspaper headlines in the morning red tops. Certainly a "rampant super show" as The Mail spluttered, is slightly over the top when all things are considered.

A 3-0 win at Eastlands represents a good result these days without a doubt, but it does little to portray City's admirable reaction to being deprived of a central defender after only 4 minutes of the game. "You will now play the best passing team in the land for 86 minutes with a man less. Go get the points, boys!"

As has quite rightly been written elsewhere, this match ceased to be a contest after Boyata's dismissal (a foul, certainly, a red card, possibly, Chamakh a little flimsy at staying on his feet, a developing theme, Clattenberg a frustrated cabaret artiste, almost certainly ) right at the beginning of a contest which, don't forget, had started with a scintillating period of City pressure and a back-heeled effort by David Silva, stopped by the very finger ends of a surprisingly agile Fabianski. The match at that stage had every sign of a rip-roaring afternoon of thrust and counter-thrust between two worthy opponents.

Then an early red card. Clattenburg is no stranger to odd decisions, both on and off the football pitch, and his manner when reffing leaves a little to be desired (wide eyes, slicked hair, bit-fond-of-myself strut, high volume go-aways accompanied by theatrical arm movements) and he seems very keen to join a long line of men in the middle who don't wish to go quietly about their business. Not often is there a match refereed by this guy that reaches the 15 minute mark and people are asking "who's reffing today?". Here, by broad consensus, Boyata's ungainly lunge from behind left him with an easy red card option, but still....

That the ever-present Fabregas felt it necessary to rush up waving pretend cards is still a slightly sad part of our game and should have been rewarded with a card of his own. His magnanimity afterwards, spluttering that he was a little surprised at being chosen as man of the match after telegraphing a distinctly average penalty to Joe Hart's left, did not tally with this kind of petulant nonsense.

Mancini revealed a willingness to tinker with the team's shape after this early set-back and kept tinkering until it felt right. Barry dropped back, then reemerged, Yaya Touré dropped back then left to be replaced by the hapless Bridge, who despite showing recent signs of improvement, took a huge leap backwards when setting up Song's second with a deft little touch into his path. Bang. 2-0 and the door swings shut in City's faces.

< Bridge, soft touch set up Song

What Wenger said in the steam and bubbles of the half time dressing room did the trick. Arsenal managed to control the 2nd period with less bother, fewer stray passes and were able to snuff out City's praiseworthy efforts with greater ease. However cruel the third goal was on City, and it may even have been ruled out as the ball appeared to cross the touchline in the build-up, the legs had long gone by then and the damage limitation exercise was running its wobbly course. Nevertheless, one or two interesting lessons will have been learned here:
  • Arsenal can put their foot in with the best of them these days
  • City's "mercenaries" appear to be building up a fervent fighting spirit
  • Might be best to play Boyata in some less crucial games before launching him at the big boys again
  • Nobody has that Kill The Game Stone Dead mentality this year but Chelsea
So City go off to lick their wounds in 4th place. The Blues remain in exalted company and travel to Molineux next with hopes still high.

As a farewell tribute to Big Mal, this was a game that would have had the City coach reaching for the champagne with a wry smile on his face. He would surely have appreciated the effort City put in to covering the wide open spaces stretched by a clever Arsenal side. "To win the game you need to score one more than the opposition" he would have said laconically and wandered off leaving a trail of cigar smoke behind him.
Big Mal: Win or lose, keep that smile in place

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    City v KKS Lech Poznań: City Play The Generation Game

    Manchester City are not the most decorated of European campaigners. Until recently, City's continental c.v. looked a little on the threadbare side of embarrassing. Mention of the capture of the Cup Winners Cup these days brings the same non-plussed look from listeners that I used to give my uncle when he regaled us with tales of the great Leeds United in something called the Fairs Cup. "The Fairs Cup!" I would whinny with delight, "that doesn't even exist anymore!". Despite remembering the Cup Winners' Cup of Everton-Rapid, West Ham-Anderlecht, Chelsea-Stuttgart and Arsenal-Parma, try as I might, I cannot pretend I am old enough to have seen City's one and only European win first hand. All of which dates the exploit somewhat.

    Gornik Zabrze, City's opponents in that final of 1970, played out in the vast empty concrete bowl of the Prater in Vienna during a night-long downpour, recalled for me "typical Cup Winners Cup occasions". The competition always made me think of Carl Zeis Jena and Magdeburg, Ujpest Dosza and Ferencvaros, the Dynamos Berlin; Moscow and Tbilisi. It was often an Eastern European thing played in front of huge brown-clad crowds, with dirty snow lining the edge of the pitch.There seemed to be military personnel as far as the eye could see and they often kicked off at four in the afternoon. On a Wednesday. This, remember, long before UEFA and the t.v. moguls snuggled up to each other under the duvet.

    Line-ups in Vienna, 29th April 1970: 

    City: 1.Corrigan, 2.Book, 3.Booth, 4.Heslop, 5.Pardoe, 6.Doyle, 7.Towers, 8.Oakes, 9.Bell, 10.Lee, 11.Young. Sub: Bowyer

    Gornik: 1.Kostka, 2.Oslizlo, 3.Florenski, 4.Gorgon, 5.Olek, 6.Latocha, 7.Szoltysik, 8.Wilczek, 9.Szaryniski, 10.Banas, 11.Lubanski. Subs: Skowronek & Deyna.
     

    Somewhat strangely, then, for a team with such a distinct lack of pedigree in Europe, what City do have is a rich and engaging past in Poland. The Blues take on Polish champions Lech Poznan this evening, but it is far from our first encounter in Europe's 8th most populous country.

    Seaman applauds the park end at Groclin

    City's record against Polish sides is surprisingly impressive. Out of eight games the Blues have managed to stay unbeaten in all but one of them [W3 D4 L1] of which [W1 D2 L0 in Manchester]. Analysing performance in more recent ties, however, throws up some slightly less auspicious numbers: City have drawn their last four games against Polish opponents, their previous win coming on 31 March 1971 when they beat Górnik 3-1 in a Cup Winners' Cup quarter-final replay staged in Copenhagen. That, as you will readily agree, is quite some time ago.

    There is a curious symmetry to City's encounters in this part of Europe: the club has often been thrown into competition with Polish teams at a time of crucial development in the domestic game there. One look at the line-ups from the 70s games with Gornik and the names Gorgon, Lubanski and Deyna stand out. Deyna, later to play for City after Peter Swales swapped a lorry load of television sets and washing machines for the army captain, was a sumptuous midfield orchestrator, Gorgon a long-haired rock in the centre of defence and Lubanski a stylish rapier quick front runner, who scored one of Poland's two goals in beating England in a 74 World Cup qualifier. All three would play decisive roles in Poland's storming 1974 World Cup, where they were unlucky to only finish 3rd in their first ever finals appearance. Gornik in the early seventies contained many who would go on to greater things with the national team in Germany and later in Argentina in '78.

    A young Boniek steps out to do some damage

    By the time Widzew Lodz arrived in Manchester for a UEFA Cup tie on 14th September 1977, Polish football was in the middle of its golden era and about to drift from the first great generation of players to the second. Another World Cup beckoned, this time far from home in Argentina, and another strong showing would ensue, built around the stylish ball skills of Gadocha and Deyna, the classic goal threat of Lato and Szarmach and the granite defence constructed around Jerzy Gorgon. City were not to know it but they were about to become the unwitting victims of the next glorious phase of development, which would again take Poland to a World Cup 3rd place finish, at Spain 1982. In particular, we were about to be introduced to the man. who would be the undisputed leader of a fresh generation of polish success.

    Leading 2-0 through goals from Peter Barnes and Mike Channon, City were stunned when a youthful-looking midfielder by the name of Zbigniew Boniek suddenly took the game by the scruff of the neck and brought Lodz level at 2-2 through a deliciously placed shot and a penalty inside 6 minutes. City then added attempted suicide to mortal injury when Donachie decided to upend the author of his side's downfall and was promptly sent off. This was too much for one City supporter to put up with and the steaming Kippax was treated to a brief moment of comedy as the ever-threatening Boniek came face to face with one of Manchester's finest. A fast moving policeman curtailed the conversation and Boniek could get back to bossing the middle of the park..

    Having thrown away the first leg, the second leg took on an entirely different colour. City now needed a goal. That they did not manage it was thanks mainly to a calamitous miss from close range by big Joe Royle, who was seen to twice wipe his foot over the ball when the merest of touches would have dispatched it into the net. 40,000 Poles excitedly cheered Lodz into the next round as City licked their wounds and Royle attempted to put one foot in front of the other.


    A schoolboy's scrapbook captures the moment Burzynski drops a cross and Joe Royle prepares to fail


    Line ups at Maine Road, 14th September 1977:  

    City: 1. Corrigan, 2 Clements, 3 Donachie, 4 owen, 5 Watson, 6 Booth, 7 Barnes, 8 Channon, 9 Kidd, 10 Hartford, 11 Keegan 

    Widzew Lodz: 1. Burzinsky; 2 Kostrzewinski, 3 Janas, 4 Chodakowski, 5 Tlokinski, 6 Kowenicki, 7 Rozborski, 8 Mozeijko, 9 Grebosz 10 Boniek, 11 Gapinski

    Facing the nasty teal green shirts of Groclin Dyskobolia Grodzisk Wielopolski was hardly the romantic notion most of us had had when City finally returned to European football for the first time since the late 70s of Booth, Kidd and Tueart in 2003, but it was at least a step up from the qualifying round which had pitched the Blues against Total Network Solutions Llansantffraid for their troubles. Groclin came to the City of Manchester Stadium and played admirably to eek out a 1-1 draw. Anelka had put City into an early lead but Sebastian Mila swerved a majestic free-kick past David Seaman for the equaliser. As had happened against Lodz 25 years earlier, the away goal proved crucial for the Poles, a 0-0 draw watched by 1,000 travelling City fans in a capacity crowd of 5,000, being enough to put them through and City, as it ever was, out.  
    • Line ups in Grodzisk, Thursday 27th November, 2003                                     
     Groclin: Liberda; Pawlak, Koziol, Krizanac, Mynar, Zajac, Wieszczicki, Sedlacek, Mila, Niedzielan, Raziak subs: Gorszkov, Piechniak)              

    City: Seaman; Sun, Sommeil, Dunne, Distin, Wright-Philips, McManaman, Barton, Sinclair, Fowler, Anelka (subs: Reyna, Wanchope, Macken)

      Now it is Lech Poznan, who stand in the Blues' way. Lech's only previous encounter with English opposition came against Liverpool FC in the 1984/85 European Champion Clubs' Cup first round; they lost 1-0 in Poznan and 4-0 at Anfield. With Poland's hosting of the European Championships on the near horizon, maybe once again City face opposition from this great footballing nation at an interesting and crucial time for the game there.

      Friday, October 15, 2010

      THE GREAT CHALKBOARD IN THE SKY



      To pay homage to Malcolm Allison, who was shown the red card by God today, would need a far better pen than mine, but I am not going to let that prevent me from offering one or two thoughts about the Greatest Manchester City manager ever.

      Big Mal: doing what he did best

      My early years following City brought a degree of confusion in my seven year old mind that would serve me well for the ensuing 35 years and Big Mal was at the very heart of this.

      I came to City - or vice versa - at just the wrong moment for anyone looking for a quiet life. I missed the glory period of 67 -70 by two to three years. By the time City had made itself comfortable in my unknowing lap, the glory days had dissolved, acrimony and discontent were moving in and an audible all-pervasive rumbling could be heard in the distance.

      This was the house falling down.

      By the time I had steadied myself, bought the tracksuit and stuck up the Tony Towers posters on my bedroom wall, City were managed by Ron Saunders, a monosyllabic man with a charisma bypass, who must have believed smiling was a frivolous gesture best left to nuns and grave diggers. It is always a bit of a let-down when the Habsburgs move out. You are left with the distinct feeling that the Lipizaners won't move with quite the same step and the empire might end up looking a little decrepit.

      So it was with my City post-Allison. In 1979, however, as if God had willed it himself, the neighbour's Daily Mail told me the news that made my day: Big Mal Was Back!

      Day One of Phase Two

      This is very definitely it, I thought to myself with the pinch of triumphalism that a boy of 13 sometimes allows himself. City would be back among the big men in no time at all. Little did I know I was starting a career of self delusion that still warms me in bed at night in the year 2010. My colleagues on the Kippax obviously shared these grandiose thoughts, as a great thundering mass of blue scarved supporters crossed the Pennines for Big Mal's first game back, at Elland Road against the old foes of Leeds United. City showed no signs of a sudden improvement and were thankful to Brian Kidd's 30 yard thunderbolt, which saved a point. Here already was the first pointer to what Big Mal would mean to me: although the prolific Kidd had scored the late equaliser, he had been operating as a centre-half during the game, a position i had never seen him play. Allison's penchant for tinkering would land him in much greater trouble in no time at all.

      Big Mal takes the press plaudits on his first day back at work

      It was precisely this tinkering that would land him in trouble during this ill-fated second spell in charge at Maine Road, but if we travel back a little, we can see clear and frequent evidence that "tinkering" in his earlier days actually meant "innovation" with a capital "i". Allison, bred in the school of excellence at west ham with John Bond and Noel Cantwell, was a tactical masterchef. What Arsene Wenger gains applause for in the modern game (dragging Ian Wright and Alan Smith off the fish and chips, suggesting Paul Merson and Nigel Winterburn might like to swap a glass of red for the eleven glasses of amber, balancing diet and muscle preparation, implementing alternative therapy) Allison was doing 30 years ago. Dance instructors, aerobics, diet, yoga, you name it. Added to this willingness to experiment in areas deemed "pansy" by 70s England, Allison was light years ahead when preparing tactics. As Mike Summerbee said on hearing of his demise "We'll not see his like in football again."


      Ahead: he was even wearing the tops 40 years before Mancini


      It is almost impossible to understate the worth of this man to the development and linking of coaching finesse, acceptance and modification of continental European strategies, diet and well-being of athletes to the domestic English game.Whilst most coaches were wearing trilbies and cooking omelettes, Allison strode the touchline in a fedora and sheepskin coat with a recipe book from La Gavroche. The Havanas and the omnipresent after match bottle of Veuve Cliquot only served to make him more sexy. When he was then pictured in a bubble bath with a perkily naked Fiona Richmond, it was confirmed: Malcolm Allison was the man, who would teach me all of life's lessons:

      • Never stand on your laurels
      • Expect and embrace the unexpected
      • If you're good enough you're old enough
      • Say what you think even when honesty hurts
      • Shoot for the sun and you might hit the stars
      • Never put a cork back in a bottle
      • If the hat fits (even if it's a funny one)....
      • Never be shy to embrace fragrant women

      "I don't know what you're laughing at, you're playing left back tomorrow..."


      Allison brought entertainment, success and swashbuckling football to a Maine Road creaking and cracking, to a City bankrupt of ideas and bereft of hope. The club was haemorrhaging support by the week, a paltry 8,000 watching the Swindon game (the famous I was There match for 45,000 40-somethings who have followed City through thin and wafer thin). By the time Allison teamed up with Joe Mercer, the black curtains were about to be drawn. Within months colour flooded back into the lifeless body and the sky blue half of the city awoke to a period of laughter and unbridled triumph. Allison brought in a new away kit: the iconic red & black of Milan, he ushered in an era dripping with silverwear, a dare and do mentality. City's golden age is owed entirely to Allison and mercer. Genial Joe, the organiser, prompter, cajoler, smoother of wrinkles. Big Mal, the womaniser, the troubleshooter, the maverick poet, the lyricist, the creator.

      It is said that neither would have found success without the other. Certainly neither came close to it on this scale. League Cup, Charity Shield, Cup Winners' Cup, Fa Cup and the League Championship, won breathtakingly 4-3 at a packed St James Park with an estimated 18,000 Mancunians willing the Blues on. Only a Malcolm Allison side would have dared win it that way. Forever on the edge, confident, cocky, teasing us all.

      So, when he came back to do it all again, few of us had reservations. But sadly it was a disaster. Soon after returning, during his first full season back in charge, City sank in the clogging mud at the Shay, dumped on their expensive backsides by Halifax Town, a team shorn of its stars, replaced by expensive "experimental" misfits. This was typical Allison, pushing the boundaries to see what would happen, what could be achieved with a Michael Robinson instead of a Brian Kidd, a Barry Silkman instead of an Asa Hartford and a 16 year old Tommy Caton at the back instead of good old dependable Dave Watson, sold for peanuts to Werder Bremen..

      A promising start with the youngsters  


      The Halifax defeat weighed heavily on the players and on Big Mal. Coupled to an equally lame collapse on ice rink at Shrewsbury the season before, it made people stop and think. Questions were being asked about the big man's judgment, both in coming back at all and in his transfer dealings. Hartford, Watson, Barnes, Owen had all been shipped out rapidly and replaced by the likes of Robinson, Shinton, Daley and Reeves. The transfer balance was negative whichever way you looked at it, performance or finance. Even the rookies had a slightly comical whiff: Paul Sugrue from Nuneaton, Dave Wiffill, the fluffy haired Barry Silkman and Stuart Lee from Stockport. This time Mal's gambles were not coming off. In a Granada documentary titled simply "City!", the tv execs got lucky. Trailing all and sundry for a warts an' all look at big time football, they suddenly found themselves filming the unravelling of Allison's second coming and it made uncomfortable viewing. It still does, some 30 years on. Slightly more warts than we could handle.

      Big Mal enjoys the spotlight at Sporting

      Allison, dismissed, showed up briefly in Middlesbrough and Lisbon, for a season, where he won the double with Sporting and is still revered as the "Mister" who brought a new swagger to the green and white hoops, bringing them to England in the UEFA Cup where they swatted Southampton 4-2 at the Dell. It was Sporting's first triumph on English soil. But the star was waning, the halo beginning to slip. He was sent packing from Lisbon after some "excesses" displeased the president João Rocha, no doubt linked to wine and women rather than any failed team formation. Big Mal's time had come and gone, the swanky tv appearances dried up, as did the job offers and he seemed to physically shrink in later years, a sad and stumbling replica of that grand, tanned lothario of the 70s. His last years, in a bedsit in Middlesbrough, were not a satisfactory reflection of a full and exuberant life.


      So farewell it is, Big Mal. You always managed to mix the super sophisticated with the naive and perhaps that's why we loved you so much. Whether it was in the stands at Stamford Bridge before Palace's never-to-be-forgotten 6th round FA cup tie, swathed in cigar smoke, or striding pre-match towards the bubbling Stretford End holding up 4 fingers to show the locals how many City would score, you were always full value. I leave the final thought to my first taxi driver in Lisbon, when I arrived here 10 years ago, who - on hearing that I was a Manchester City supporter - turned round to look at me whilst negotiating the Rotunda de Horlogio (the most hair raising roundabout in town) like all good Lisboetas do, and said to me "Ah, Malcolm Allison, he was a real Mister, a real Mister!"

      Tuesday, October 12, 2010

      ALTERNATIVE TOPS ... part two

      THE ALTERNATIVE TOP 12 Goal Celebrations
      In 20 years will we all remember Italian Stallion Bernado Cribbins knighting Joey Barton after his Fulham goals or playing a strangely effeminate guitar piece with the same Joey Barton after the latter had scored at Villa Park? Well, maybe, and maybe we’ll remember some of these other humdingers as well and not a single swinging baby routine amongst them:
      1.        THE SLIGHT OVERREACTION - April 1979, Highbury: Mike Channon, in the midst of a death-defyingly average stint at Maine Road, has just popped one in the onion bag at Highbury, then as now, a place City get about as much return as Prince Andrew on the Big Dippy at Courtney Love’s house. Channon, probably fearing this might be his one and only opportunity to celebrate a goal before the curtain comes down on his inglorious City career, wheels away with his right arm doing the famous windmill in a hurricane impersonation. No one can catch him. No one wants to.
      2.        NO ONE SEES US, WE DON’T CARE - January 2001, The New Den: It’s a tasty night at The New Den and there are officially zero City fans there to see a sparkling 3-2 win and Shaun Wright-Phillips’ first ever City goal. There are undercover Blues present, but for all intents and purposes, this is home fans only. When City cut a giant swathe through the home side and wallop in a cracking breakaway goal, Huckerby, Tiatto and Horlock run to the empty away end and start celebrating with the imaginary City support. Priceless entertainment for the swathes of empty seats and puzzling behaviour for the New Cross Neanderthals to work out.
      3.        ITS NO BIG DEAL - October 1970, Stamford Bridge, in the days when it was (sparsely) populated by nutters and urchins in blue and white bar scarves. Colin Bell gets on the end of a giant swinging left foot cross by Alan Oakes and pings in a majestic first time volley that fair cracks past Peter Bonetti. As the City fans spin into excited hyperbole in the stands, at this Van Basten Before His Time effort, Bell trots back to the centre circle, one arm briefly raised to wipe sweat from his brow. Maybe he does it every week, everybody is left thinking.
      4.        LETS ALL DO THE CHICKEN JERKY - January 1985, Maine Road: Watford in the cup and Gordon Davies’ slow motion progress down the right produces a curling right wing cross for slow motion Mark Lillis to batter home with his pan lid-shaped head. Cue the most embarrassing knees and elbows fandango the Kippax has ever seen. The crowd stops celebrating to ask itself what the dickens two fully grown professional sportsmen are doing dancing like Zippy and George after the naughty glove puppet man had paid a night time visit.
      5.        OH JEEPERS, HE’S COMING THIS WAY - February 1975, Maine Road: City finish off ‘Boro in the second leg of the semi final of the League Cup. Its done and dusted with Royle’s breakaway 4th and he wheels away, a great lumbering figure, charging towards the bench with his arms out wide like he’s just spotted long lost Uncle Zoltan with his bag of hobnobs three rows back from the front in the Main Stand crowd.
      Stand right to one side please
      6.       AH BEJAYZUZ, HE’S COMING THIS WAY AGAIN - May 2000, Ewood Park: Fast forward 25 years and Royle is on the bench managing City as the Blues batter Blackburn to go up to the Premiership. The 3rd is a Kennedy tap in at the far post and leads to the Irishman running full pelt back to the half-way line, to a very pleased Joe Royle, who still has his arms out waiting for Uncle Zoltan’s hobnobs to be handed out. Instead he gets a very excited Irishman in his lap, closely followed by ten other fully grown adult males. Watch me hip, watch me hip!
      7.        SLIPERY DIPPERY DEE - November 1987, Maine Road: Huddersfield are taken to the cleaners and along the way, Tony Adcock snaffles a hat-trick for himself. In completing the barely believable feat, he runs deliriously to the North Stand corner flag, jumps ecstatically and comes to a two-footed halt in the wet turf. Only wet turf doesn’t lend itself to this kind of Torvill & Dean performance and he slides ingloriously onto his posterior in front of hordes of laughing children.
      8.        YES! NO! OH BUT YES! - May 1988, Valley Parade: Quiet man Trevor Morley is singled out by fate’s fickle finger to be City’s unforgettable figure on another special promotion rollercoaster in Yorkshire. There are only a few minutes to go as he slots the equaliser which will take City up. As the away end bubbles and froths, Morley does a two-arms in the air sweep along the razor wire fencing until he gets to the corner, turns round and finds nobody has followed him. A classic moment of uncertainty stops him in his tracks whilst he searches for the killer linesman flag, which doesn’t come. Morley’s smile drops off, reappears and City are up.
      9.        COUNT MY FINGERS - September 1989, Maine Road: The Platt Lane is already beginning to look a little threadbare as the United fans head back towards the airport, as a majestic sweeping move sends the ball careering from one side of the pitch to the other and then onto Hinchcliffe’s head and in. As the United fans turn to have another look, Hinchcliffe is mobbed, just managing to stick an arm up through the agitated heap of humanity to slam five fingers high into the air.

      Dennis is ecstatic after the back-heel
      10.     DON’T BE SAD, DENIS! - May 1974, Old Trafford: Another lovely day. Minutes to go and the Lawman backheels a beauty right on time. As he turns around, ashen faced, he cannot even raise an arm in celebration. The usually inanimate Bell’s excited slapping of his face will do nicely though, as Mike Doyle piles in with the much needed enthusiasm. Cue bedlam in the bell bottoms department.
      11.     RINKY DINKY DOO - February1990 Old Trafford: Ian Brightwell does the Macarena, as his piledriver hits the back of the United net from a very long way out. “I just wellied It”, he says afterwards, and afterwards does not arrive until the rest of the team have caught up with the cavorting, wide-open legs jumping Brightwell, somewhere down in front of the dugouts, where Howard Kendall and the subs are already doing the hokey kokey amongst themselves.
      12.     Also mentioned in dispatches: Berko twirls his shirt v Norwich; Steve Daley climbing the barricades at Goodison; Simmo’s knees up v Charlton; First ever badge kiss by Clive Allen at Notts County; Barney Daniels on the Pans People audition v Leicester; Berko again at Ipswich (and live on the BBC) in the cup with a loud and excited “you fucking beauty” to celebrate his volley from a corner; Paul Power’s hopscotch in the cup at Goodison; Brian Kidd’s jet heeled scamper down the front of the Kippax after scoring 4 v Leicester; Kinky in the North Stand v Villa; Anelka shows some emotion in the final Maine Road derby and Big Paolo takes to the mike at St Mary’s

      Other Tedious Stuff

      Poets and Lyricists