Monday, June 27, 2011

THE CAPTAIN

R.I.P. Mike Doyle, wearing the celestial captain's armband.

The Pride

"What bugs me about them is the air of supremacy that surrounds Manchester United. My personal feeling is that United's fans are not ready to admit their once great side is past its peak. Quite honestly they have had their day and it is time to realise that it is City who are taking over as number 1". Mike Doyle, ........ 1971 (!!)

Mike Doyle, who left the great mortal football pitch today, was the archetypal Blue: biased, cheeky, energetic, red-averse to the nth degree, tough as teak, assertive and head strong. He was also obviously a man well ahead of his time.

HAND IN HAND WITH BUSBY

In the early seventies, at the height of the searing rivalry between City and United in the steamy football and cultural hotpot that was post industrial Manchester, Colin Bell decided to open a restaurant with his mate, the Burnley defender Colin Waldron. As footballers are wont, they let their imaginations roam a little before naming the dining house "The Bell-Waldron". The story goes that, on opening night, an array of City and Burnley footballers were present to support their team-mates' new business venture, Doyle amongst them. Some of Manchester sport's great and good had also been invited to take part and a special surprise was set up for Mike Doyle. The died-in-the-wool Blue, who hated anything to do with Manchester United, was lined up to give a hand to the incoming dignitaries, the first of which was United manager Matt Busby. It took him the best part of the season to rid himself of the ribbing he took from all gathered that night. For just an instant he had been hand in hand with the enemy.

Doyle's loathing of United was far from tongue-in-cheek. In an age where you could get away with speaking your mind, he really detested our red cousins and did not mind who knew about it. This didn't mean he avoided the other half when seeking beer companions, however. "United are a team of the past. City the force of the future. My fierce feelings of pride for City and my outlook on United does not encroach on players at Old Trafford where Brian Kidd is a good friend of mine..." Doyle often socialised with players from Old Trafford, as did many of City's staff in those days, and would later play in the same City side as Kidd in 1977 when City came within a point of beating Liverpool to the league Championship.


LIVING WITH THE BEST OF THEM

Although Brian Kidd turned into a bar-room buddy, it is Doyle's relationship with George Best that is most poignant from this time. Best was the maverick genius in a faltering United side, as Doyle's City imperiously began building their own great dynasty. Here was the one player at Old Trafford who really received Doyle's respect in large slices. The tussles between the two became legendary, as Best twisted and turned, Doyle's dogged chasing would set up many a derby day victory throughout this golden period for the Blues. Strong in the tackle and upright in stance, the Blue shirted Doyle would track United's dangerman from one side of the pitch to the other. When he was done nullifying the threat, he would often be seen in the opposition penalty area causing his own brand of havoc.

BLUE BLOOD

It was not only Doyle's Blue family that set him on the inevitable path to Moss Side. As a youngster in the well honed Stockport Boys set-up, he was frequently taken under the tutelage of a man called Charlie Gee, who Doyle knew as a helpful and willing teacher, always available with a word of advice and a consoling arm around the shoulder. What he didn't know was that the jovial Gee was a scout in Manchester City's employment and, within a few months, Doyle was turning out for his first game for City's A team, at the tender age of 15.   

Legendary youth trainer and scout Harry Goodwin remembered the name of Doyle after the initial contact at Stockport too. He discovered a note in his files back at Maine Road from a schoolboy, Michael Doyle, of Reddish, asking for a trial. On visiting Doyle's house, he found a home that reeked heavily of support for Manchester City. Posters, mementoes and souvenirs littered the place. "I knew after our first chat there was only one place their son wanted to play," said Goodwin in later years.

By the time Joe Mercer was appointed to the manager's post at Maine Road, Doyle had made a steady debut in a 2-2 draw at Cardiff and was becoming established around the first team squad. Happy that a big name like Mercer should be taking charge, Doyle and his team-mates were left less impressed by his new assistant, a relatively unknown chap from Plymouth called Malcolm Allison.This was quickly to change.

"I first recall Malcolm on the day we reported for pre-season training at our training ground. We were all messing around a bit when suddenly this giant-like figure emerged to roar at us to form two lines and play the ball to each other. Then the balloon went up. he screamed and shouted at us that we were all a bunch of lazy bastards. Needless to say we all quickly got the message. There was no looking back. we bought into Malcolm's training and fitness regimes. Allison helped to mould my career."

RECORD BREAKER

A LASTING IMAGE

It was certainly a career that was beginning to blossom. As City hit the glory trail, Doyle could be found in the mix. His biggest thrill, according to an interview given in the 70s, was the 3-1 victory at Old Trafford the season City finally lifted the League crown. He saw that as a turning point in the Manchester clubs' respective fortunes. Sadly for City, it was a false dawn and Doyle became the last captain of City, until Carlos Tevez achieved the feat last May, to lift a pot whilst playing for the Blues. He had become a centre-half by now, combining to form a rock-like rearguard with the imposing Dave Watson. At their peak, between 76 and 78, the Watson-Doyle axis was one of the very best pairings in league football. The massive high-leaping Watson and the bolt upright scimitar tackling Doyle were so good that Don Revie paired them for England on several occasions around this time.

Doyle played 551times for his beloved Manchester City, a massive sacrifice to the club he adored. He shares with Tommy Booth the accolade of playing in the most City cup finals and is perhaps one of the strongest candidates for the title of Mr Manchester City there has ever been. Doyle bridged the gap between the incredible Mercer-Allison years and the second great City side of the 70s, put together by his old team-mate Tony Book. He was there for the first triumph v Leicester and was still there, as captain, for the 76 League Cup triumph over Newcastle. He played on after leaving City for another 6 years, giving great service to Stoke (where he was player of the year in 79), Bolton and Rochdale. His big-hearted steadfastness and always-blue-tinted determination to drive City to the heights marked him down as an incredible leader of men. For Mike Doyle was blue through and through. 

+++++++++

"To be chosen for one's country is just the biggest accolade that can be handed to a player, but I would still perhaps prefer to be in the Manchester City side that will one day lift the Champions Cup. For this is where my heart is...Maine Road." 


DOYLE, STILL UNWILLING TO LOOSEN HIS GRIP ON THE TROPHY, POSES FOR PHOTOS, WEMBLEY 1976

DAYS THAT SEALED A SEASON 4

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY: A TRIP THROUGH 2010 - 2011
╬ Chapter Four - look Left, look right, pull away, stall 

"For many, the death of Big Mal and the dip in league form meant November and the snowy road to Poznan and Christmas couldn’t come quickly enough". 


November. The curate's egg. Just when City needed a bit of stability, a bit of consistency, in wafted instability and inconsistency, just like it was what we had always prayed for.  



With the papers busy linking the club with any superstarlet from South America, any wandering big name without a sense of direction and any player at all that they could attach an eye-watering fee of at least £30M to, the tale of Shaun Wright Phillips' efforts to boost his earnings to a sloppy £100,000 a week might have slipped beneath the radar, but thanks to an ever-alert tabloid pack, a rat was smelled and the story went public. The fact that Shaun was playing like a bricklayer with a family of badgers going at it in his pants meant most observers thought the quoted figure to be "a little on the high side". His step-father, writing in his capacity as a brain surgeon in The Sun suggested the contrary.

With player unrest, a million and one transfers and Shaun's Wage Demands propelling City onto various backpages, a lethargic and defensive display in Poznan, resulting in a 1-3 defeat, meant the next day's papers had knives at the ready that were sharp enough to separate an elk from his antlers. Journalists, punters and the great and good of sausagemeat production all had an opinion on Mancini's "Italian mentality" and most now agreed "it was too defensive for the premier league". However, the self-same writers prodding sticks now would be dusting down their very best quill pens come May.


Roll up, roll up, for the greatest show on earth

Back from the arctic wastes of Poland, the sun made an appearance at the Hawthorns. This seemed to be to Mario Balotelli's liking as he wafted in a double to seal the points. Around about now, with bad news stories from Poznan beginning to dry up, the papers brought the nation's attention to the snood, a woolen garment worn outside the shirt around the neck. Resembling a black Labrador curled up asleep in front of the fire, it is worn - we were reliably informed - by "more of the soft foreign mercenaries at Manchester City" than anywhere else in the Premier League. It was also around this time that it became obvious that somebody in a velvet-lapelled coat and cork Ted Baker mocassins had told Roberto Mancini that the English league is always (that's always) referred to as "the Barclays Premier League". Mancini duly called it thus every single time he was interviewed until the end of the season (17,843 single mentions according to Opta).
Barclays, goddammit, Barclays!!

With yet another international break, the papers descended on Carrington en masse and, depending which one you perused, City were buying Dani Alves, Edin Dzeko, Keanu Marsh Brown (no, really) or Sime Vrseljko (yes, yes) or offloading Wayne Bridge, Adebayor, Jo, Rocky Santa Cruz or either from the penniless Wright-Phillips to the snood wearing misfit Balotelli. Kolo Touré also found himself quoted as saying players were "cheating" the club if they didn't fight for each other, this an early example of the door that bounces back and smashes you in the nose (or belly, if that happens to be hanging out further).

Zabaleta smacks in number 2
Two drab and scoreless home draws against United and Birmingham did nothing to prepare us for the blistering display of attacking football City put on at Craven Cottage. With Jo starting for the first time, City were three up after half an hour, a coruscating show of powerful, vivacious and cunning one-touch football sending a message to the anti-Mancini scribes. By Jiminee, this team can play! Zabaleta's missile and Yaya Touré's finish to a 24 pass move were the highlights of a sterling show. That it was Mark Hughes warming the home team's bench did not go unnoticed, his face remaining a picture of the most awkward discomfort throughout.


The month finished in the snowy wastelands of the Potteries, with a last minute Etherington equaliser depriving City of all the points. It would not be the last time we would lock horns with Tony Pulis's agricultural side, but it would be the last time they got any change from this Manchester City team.


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Sunday, June 26, 2011

TWENTY-EIGHT

a bounding Foé celebrates his brace at The Valley
On this day eight years ago, Marc Vivien Foé collapsed onto the pitch during a match in the Confederations Cup between Cameroon and Columbia.in Lyon. Typically of the big man, he had made it as far as the 72nd minute before hitting the floor. 

Foé had been hitting the headlines for Kevin Keegan's swashbuckling side after a loan move from Lyon was arranged for the 2002-03 season. The big Cameroonian with the ear to ear smile was a powerful presence in a flimsy but spectacular side built by Keegan around the creative likes of Robbie Fowler, Ali Benarbia, Eyal Berkovic, Nicola Anelka and Shaun Wright Phillips. Foé appeared to have been Keegan's one desultory nod towards solidity, but in time proved to be a character who fitted the Keegan mould as well as any of the others. We should have known better, really....
He had earlier been part of West Ham's 1999 side that went into Europe and played regularly and with great energy for a multi-champion Lyon and a good Cameroon side thereafter.

Cameroon pay homage
Although he only played one season at Maine Road, his performances were always filled with verve and stamina, his incredible lung-busting runs upfield a speciality. His gangly, lop-sided running made him an unlikely danger in the opposition box, but - much like Yaya Touré in the present side - he contributed richly in terms of midfield dominance and goals (9 goals in the 35 games he played for City that season) 

Fatefully, it would be his last that would put him into City folklore forever: a clinical finish against Sunderland in a 3-0 home win. It was his second of the game (he had scored twice against Charlton as well in a stirring City comeback at The Valley) . We did not know it at the time, as there were still two home games to be played before the final Maine Road season was put to bed, but a 0-1 reverse to West Ham and a similar score against Southampton meant that Foé became the last ever player to score at Maine Road, as City moved to Eastlands the following summer. 


A month later the big man from Cameroon lay dead in the changing rooms at the Stade Gerland. His contribution to that memorable season at City, along with the memories he left with followers of Canon Yaounde, Lens, Lyon, West Ham and Cameroon ensure his name is still writ large in the football pantheon in 2011.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

DAYS THAT SEALED A SEASON 3

Bright Lights, Big City: a trip through 2010-11
Chapter Three: Look, indicate, manoeuvre

“Ireland’s season would never raise itself above ill-considered tat, but City’s was about to disappear down another black tunnel where the knives would be out once again.....”

October gifted the mainstream press a gold plated opportunity to stick the dagger in and wiggle it all about. For some of the tabloids’ less fussy pen wielders, the occurrences of Sunday 3rd October were manna from heaven. As Newcastle playmaker Hatem Ben Arfa, already the target of an unprovoked attack of illiteracy from Alan Shearer, steadied himself momentarily in midfield possession, he was clattered by the in-coming Nigel de Jong in a way that we would see hundreds of times as the season unfolded. Indeed many would vouch that De Jong’s tackling was one of the major features in City’s first successful season in terms of trophies since the Spanish Armada was chased around Rathlin Island shouting “rocks ahoy”. Only on this occasion, the opponent’s leg was broken in the challenge.

As a major intellectual sandstorm blew in over The Mirror and The Sun, with Stan Collymore on Talksport calling for De Jong to be “drummed out of football...”, a brief selection of reactions from the pride of the UK tabloid press pack would have given the impression that the City midfielder was guilty of manslaughter, assault & battery and willful wounding, despite the fact that the tackle was neither high nor late. Ben Arfa’s parent club, Marseille, helpfully offered to start court proceedings, whilst Newcastle complained bitterly. De Jong, who’s card had already been marked by many for his chest-high kung-fu attack on Xabi Alonso in the World Cup Final, would take the flak in his small but tenacious stride and, by season end, would feature as one of the main reasons for the successful outcome to City’s travails.

On Friday 15th, news reached us that Malcolm Allison had passed away. For many, the one man who more than any other epitomised the City spirit of adventure and risk was gone. http://downthekippaxsteps.blogspot.com/2010/10/great-chalkboard-in-sky.html told the story of a man ahead of his time, who lived both football and life to the absolute maximum.
 



De Jong prepares to meet his critics
Cheers, Big Mal
As if to celebrate the memory of the club’s most successful and flamboyant coach, City landed at the seaside and proceeded to joust with Blackpool to the delight of the capacity crowd at Bloomfield Road. A topsy-turvy game was eventually sealed by a wave of the magician’s wand (otherwise known as the left leg of David Silva) in a 3-2 win. The away following was loud and appreciative in its eulogising of Big Mal during the match and the next match would see the seeds sown for the birth of another crowd phenomenon to follow in the footsteps of 80s inflatables and 90s club anthems, both of which had their roots in Maine Road folklore before becoming league-wide trends.

When Lech Poznan arrived at Eastlands for a routine group game, the 34,000 present should have gone home talking about a surprisingly alert Adebayor hat-trick, but instead, post-match chat was confined to the antics of the large Polish following, who spent most of the game pogo-ing backwards with their arms linked. An impressive sight, all agreed. We might have guessed what would follow.

October petered out with two defeats. The first a Mark Clattenburg-inspired mauling by Arsenal (where the dramatically self-indulgent Geordie sent off Boyata after three minutes) and the second at bottom-three Wolves, where Adebayor returned to the lethargic ghost we had all come to recognise. With this mini slump, City, missing De Jong and Tevez, also missed an opportunity to climb into the top four. For many, the death of Big Mal and the dip in league form meant November and the snowy road to Poznan and Christmas couldn’t come quickly enough.

Monday, June 20, 2011

DAYS THAT SEALED A SEASON 2

Bright Lights, Big City: a trip through 2010-11
Chapter Two: Adjusting The Sun Visor

“Newspaper talk of unrest in the camp and the obvious disaffection of Adebayor were already themes taking root in City’s nascent season....”

Iaquinta opens the scoring for Juve
By the time the ten game-less days at the start of September had passed, two more moments of significance had occurred. In an early insight of what was to come, the press were delighted to report that new signing Mario Balotelli had wrapped his £120,000 Audi around a bollard on the Chester Road. Another player widely used as a stick to beat City with, the inaffable Robinho, finally dragged himself to the airport to sign for Milan, another big payday and reward for a marathon 2-year display of laziness, petulance and egotism in Manchester.

As a minor intellectual storm broke over the BBC for their use of superstar pundits, who’s lazy “thicko-cool” didn’t allow them to explain anything more simple than a big man coming up for a corner in any relevant detail, City were also coming in for criticism, after a 1-1 draw with Blackburn at Eastlands. Two comfortable away wins in the twin picturesque locations of Salzburg and Wigan (dreaming spires and steaming mires) began to put that right, but a midweek visit to The Hawthorns in the Carling Cup soon brought the vultures out again.  

A meagre crowd of 10,000 watched a City second string struggle to find its feet, ultimately being eliminated from the one tournament that the Wise and Good of the British press saw as winnable for City this season. Hindsight, that fickle maiden, tells us that Mancini’s call was spot on, but the ferment of criticism at the time of the 2-1 defeat was impressive. Of the team that took to the field that night (Given; Vidal, Boyata, Mee, Cunningham; Ibrahim, Vieira, Johnson, Guidetti; Jo, Santa Cruz), only Johnson would play a critical role, and that often delivered from the bench, whilst Vieira and Boyata would be frequent squad members and late substitutions in games needing closing down. Perhaps Mancini’s decision on the night of 22nd September paved the way for automatic Champions League qualification and a historic FA Cup victory nine months later. Certainly at the time, his decision was lambasted from all quarters as a foreigner’s who didn’t understand our need for a trophy, pronto.

Adebayor tumbles
That the Blues followed this up with a strong line-up winning somewhat fortuitously against Chelsea, thanks to Tevez’s mishit shot, and holding the once mighty Juventus to 1-1 in the Europa League, drew the sting somewhat from the hill of criticism. In the latter game, Adebayor was “trusted” to take part in a high profile game, as the Mail put it, and Johnson slid in a beautifully manufactured equaliser to send everyone home contented.

What money doesn't buy
As the month closed, ex-Blue Steven Ireland shared the interior of his palacially robust mauvais-goût with readers of the Daily Mail. Details of the monstrous over-indulgence included heart embroidered seats in his and hers pink and white Bentleys, a black pool table with the word “Ireland” writ large on the baize and an aquarium the size of a Baltic inlet. Ireland’s season would never raise itself above ill-considered tat, but City’s was about to disappear down another black tunnel where the knives would be out once again.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

DAYS THAT SEALED A SEASON

Bright Lights, Big City: a trip through 2010-11

Chapter One: Setting Off With The Sun in Our Eyes

After an invigorating US tour, where City were soundly beaten by everyone bar the under 11s team they generously offered a rooftop synthetic pitch to, it was a quick dust down and zip back across the Atlantic to prepare for real business.

With punters and papers having a field day with moneybags City Must Finish in Top Four headlines, the pressure was building steadily even before the balls had been pumped up, the corner flags earthed and the lense-hoods removed.

Hart Stopper
Opening day sunshine at White Hart Lane brought memories flooding back of a Lineker-Gascoigne inspired Spurs on the first day back at school after Italia 90, the now official Moment Football Became Ok Again. (I had always found football pretty ok in the years that went before...). A 3-1 loss on that occasion was not to be replicated: it should have been double that but Joe Hart’s rubbery body made sure the Blues set off back up the motorway with an ill-gained point instead. The young ‘keeper would have a great season, but perhaps surpassed himself here, in the very first game of the season. It would be hard to better this performance in the ten months to follow, but his show of reflex, stretch and agility seemed to underline the accuracy of Mancini’s difficult early call to put the youngster in ahead of the impeccable Shay Given.

If this season were to be different to all the others, a home thrashing of Liverpool, displaying crisp one touch passing, constant movement and a goal from Gareth Barry –of all people- should have had us sitting up and paying attention from the off. The total dismantling job, so often inflicted upon us by them, was a real eye-opener. Here was a team hastily built but with an eye for the slick, slide-rule pass, the nonchalance on the ball of those truly confident in their own skills and the eagerness of those who know the sky might just be the limit. There would be potholes aplenty ahead of us, but this smooth bit of tarmac felt pretty good for starters.

Adebayor points to the exit
The month ended with a much changed side, including Boyata (who scored), Cunningham and the much maligned Jõ, winning in Timisoara to take our place in the draw for the Europa League group stage, the beginning of a truly marathon test if the final in Dublin was to be reached in May.  A 12 game unbeaten sequence against Sunderland was tossed away in the last match of August, as Tevez managed to scoop over a gaping goal and Darren Bent converted an injury time penalty to steal all three points for the Black Cats. Bent would knock on City’s door again later in the season and City would wreak significant revenge on Sunderland in the Spring. For now, Mancini would occupy himself with some growing problems: newspaper talk of unrest in the camp, the obvious disaffection of striker Adebayor and where to play new signing James Milner to best effect. We were not to know it, but all three themes would be a thorn in the side for many months to come.

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Imbiber of Amantis 2005, cold water, black coffee. Victim of great Winona Ryder trouser theft; hapless dreamer, willing accomplice and crafty left sided midfielder.

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