Monday, August 29, 2011

RAPTURE

Three games in (four with Wembley's game of two halves) and we have a picture of incredulous beauty at the top of the table. Spoiled only by the fast-withering Arsenal's act of total down-tools at Old Trafford yesterday afternoon.

That's the way to do it
Often have been the times that City have sat atop the table after one or two games, less frequently after 3 and, beyond that into the meaty part of the football season, well, more like the frequency of the appearances of a laughing Colonel Gaddafi looking for a cool glass of lemonade and a goat sandwich at a late night Tripoli coffee bar.

It has quickly become apparent that this season's incarnation of the great shambling bulk known as Manchester City is nimble, wily, forceful and precise. No more stumbling. No more lofted balls into the highstreet. This is Chicken Tikka-Taka at its most effervescent. In all three league games to date Mancini's class of 2011-12 have played the type of controlled, fast intricate passing manouevres that gives defenders a headache merely trying to watch the ball, never mind keep up with it. The eyes slowly cross.

Nasri's immediate addition against Tottenham made for even more slick, laser-accurate passing. Little one-twos, feints, touches, turns, flicks and moves into space to receive and set off again. Spurs were quickly and irretrievably tied into little tidy knots, the cumbersome-looking pair of Kaboul and Dawson having no answers to the light-footed acceleration of City's mini dynamos. Even the gutsy but hardly Maradona-esque Zabaleta was moved to perform a little arabesque in passing Modric in the second half. The mood, it seems, can be catching.

If Swansea put up brave opening night resistance and Bolton never quite gave up the race, Tottenham had a torrid time even getting to the edge of the City box. In their own stadium. When was the last time City set foot on the green grass of one of the recognised elite teams and wiped the very floor with them? You will have to go back longer than my memory will carry me to find an answer. If this were the media's favourite phrase " a statement of intent", then it was written in bold capital letters and hung high from the biggest oak tree on the village green.

The irony of all this mesmerising one touch trickery by the midget maestros Aguero, Silva and Nasri is that the biggest benefactor up to now has been the beanpole Dzeko, now displaying the full towering range of his attributes, as seen week in week out in Wolfsburg down the years. For all those laughing at his efforts last season, there is only the sound of the wind whsitling in the bushes now. Discerning as ever, the City support has picked him out for special praise already and he is fast turning into the goal machine that we thought we had bought earlier. Dzeko offers so much more than goals, though. What a pleasure to see the big man shielding, trapping, taking part in the chicken tikka-taka and banging in such a rich variety of classily dispatched goals that nobody knows what is coming next. A tap in, a thunderous screamer, a twisted backwards header, a gently flighted lob?

And Aguero? Darting urgent powerful. His light-footed performance is an obvious foil for the big man next to him, but the twist and swift flight from dawson for City's 4th, culminating in a rasping shot whilst holding the heavy-breathing defender off, smacks of wonderful artistry mixed with significant force. That low centre of gravity and tree-like thighs are not unlike his father-in-law's after all. If there are more similarities, by all means feel free to display them, Little Man.



In any normal season, we would have been looking at City already comfortable in the driving seat after three games, but Arsene Wenger's odd behaviour down in Islington has assured us of a start to the season anything but normal. That, as ever, has allowed the old enemy to steal our thunder once again, but the feeling remains that this City side has wheeled out some pretty enormous drums to bang this season. That throbbing insistent beat calls a very different tune this time out and the message is more than clear: We're coming to get you.

Here are City's opening games from the last 40 years:

70-71 15 Aug Southampton 1 CITY  1
71-72 14 Aug CITY 0 Leeds 1
72-73 12 Aug Liverpool  2 CITY  0
73-74 25 Aug CITY 3 Birmingham 1
74-75 17 Aug CITY 4 West Ham 0
75-76 16 Aug CITY 3 Norwich 0
76-77 12 Aug Leicester 2 CITY  2
77-78 20 Aug CITY 0 Leicester 0
78-79 19 Aug Derby 1 CITY  1
79-80 18 Aug CITY 0 C. Palace 0
80-81 16 Aug Southampton 2 CITY  0
81-82 29 Aug CITY 2 WBA 1
82-83 28 Aug Norwich 1 CITY  2
83-84 27 Aug C. Palace  0 CITY  2
84-85 24 Aug Wimbledon 2 CITY  2
85-86 17 Aug Coventry  1 CITY  1
86-87 23 Aug CITY 3 Wimbledon 1
87-88 15 Aug CITY  2 Plymouth  1
88-89 27 Aug Hull  1 CITY  0
89-90 19 Aug Liverpool  3 CITY  1
90-91 25 Aug Spurs 3 CITY  1
91-92 17 Aug Coventry  0 CITY  1
92-93 17 Aug CITY 1 QPR 1
93-94 14 Aug CITY 1 Leeds 1
94-95 20 Aug Arsenal  3 CITY  0
95-96 19 Aug CITY 1 Spurs 1
96-97 16 Aug CITY 1 Ipswich  0
97-98 9 Aug CITY 2 Portsmouth  2
98-99 8 Aug CITY 3 Blackpool 0
99-00 8 Aug CITY 0 Wolves  1
00-01 19 Aug Charlton 4 CITY  0
2001-2 11 Aug CITY 3 Watford 0
2002-3 17 Aug Leeds 3 CITY  0
2003-4 17 Aug Charlton 0 CITY  3
2004-5 14 Aug CITY 1 Fulham 1
2005-6 13 Aug CITY 0 WBA 0
2006-7 20 Aug Chelsea  3 CITY  0
2007-8 11 Aug West Ham 0 CITY  2
2008-9 17 Aug Aston Villa  4 CITY  2
2009-10 15 Aug Blackburn 1 CITY  2
2010-11
Spurs0CITY 0







Friday, August 5, 2011

Big Mal in Portugal - The Original Special One

"It was a great thing that he has been in our lives." So said Colin Bell about the legendary Malcolm Allison, who's career and unorthodox approach to life has been dissected with the precision of a surgeon's knife over the last six months or so.

The Glory years of Mal's Maine Road tenure are well trodden, the Gory years that followed equally familiar to one and all, but the sometimes bleak sometimes vivacious end to his coaching career represented by the three jobs he held in Portugal make a fascinating postscript to an undulating story.

A real "Mister"
Stop any Sporting follower of a certain vintage with the refrain "Big Mal" and they will regale you of his exploits with their team in season 81-82, when the green and whites carried off a double of cup and league playing barnstorming, technically daring football that swept all before it. They speak of "um verdadeiro Mister" (a real football manager), of the larger than life character that England came to love or hate, but also of a man of subtlety and intuition, of candour and tenderness.

Mal walked into a set-up at Sporting that was well prepared for success. Aside from Antonio Oliveira, a national team regular and the Hungarian national keeper Meszaros, Melo, Venâncio, Nogueira, Virgílio and Alberto all arrived that summer. They were added to an already strong squad. Eurico, the defensive lynchpin was impressed by Allison's early excursions into creating a winning group. "He gave us responsibility. All players had the right to a glass of red wine with our lunch. I can well remember the immaculately dressed serving staff putting bottle of wine on our tables at meal times. In one of our first meals together at the beginning of Malcolm Allison's season with us, an employee served the wine and went to remove the bottles. Up went the shout from Mr Allison "leave those bottles where they are!" 

Sporting line up in 81-82
As in England, everyone he came into contact with and especially those lucky enough to have worked closely with him, have a favourite story of the big man. Manuel Fernandes was Mal's choice at centre forward in the all-conquering Sporting side of 1981. He remembers a trip to Paris at the end of the season for a wind-down friendly after a triumphant close to the football year. “We went to Paris to play PSV Eindhoven in a friendly, end of season stuff. We were champions and had just brought home the Taça de Portugal (Portuguese cup) as well. After a good long dinner, we returned to the hotel. It was already two in the morning, so I said to Mr Allison, "Boss, what time do we get up in the morning?" I will never forget his reply. He looked at me, smiling, and said “Today, nobody's going to sleep. We are going out on the town in Paris. We are champions and now our job is to celebrate and enjoy each other's company. We will come back at six!"

Keeper Meszaros with hair + 'tache combo
Mal's domestic success with Sporting had been tinged slightly with the disappointment of a failure to spark in European competition, a story that haunted him with City too. Having dismantled an excellent Southampton side containing the likes of Keegan, Channon and Alan Ball, Sporting slipped up against Neuchatel Xamax. Antonio Oliveira remembers the away leg on the south coast of England. “For this tie he decided to put me at right back. he said to our keeper, Meszaros, "When you have the ball, play it out to Oli down the right." Mal had seen a weakness in the Saints side and manoeuvred his best players into positions to attack that frailty. We won 4-2 at the Dell, Sporting's first ever away win on English soil.. What a night, what a tactician". Had Mal seen something in Nick Holmes to give him hope? It would not have been the first time that such a sentiment had been encouraged. Whatever the lead, Sporting mercilessly carried out the big man's orders, swift counter-attacking goals down the flank sinking the home side without trace. As the final whistle sounded, the British public were treated to one last proper Big Mal moment on national television. As rival boss McMenemy fled away down the cramped touchline, Big Mal could be seen ambling back to the dressing rooms surrounded by the adoring attention of the press photographers flashbulbs and microphones. It must have felt like a wonderful home-coming.

Goalkeeper Meszaros also has fond memories of Mal: "I owe him an awful lot. It was Mr Allison who brought me to Lisbon and afterwards to Setubal in 87-88. There was one detail which I will never ever forget. It came in a cup match at home to Boavista, which we were losing 2-1 at half-time. We, the players, were already in the dressing room. He just opened the door and said as calmly as you like, "If you want to win this match, give the ball to Mário Jorge.'' Then he shut the door again and hammered on it with his fists from the outside. We all looked at each other. In the 2nd half, Mário Jorge created the equaliser for Manuel Fernandes and was floored in the area for our penalty winner..."

Carlos Xavier was a youngster in the side: "Every time we played in Alvalade we were to be in the stadium at 10.30 and we would take "lunch" at this time too. Malcolm Allison told us that we could eat what we wanted, potatoes, eggs, meat, fish, pasta. You could choose. Until the match started, we would stay there inside the bowels of the stadium. By the time we left the changing rooms to go up to the pitch, we all had goosebumps. Everyone in the ground did, supporters, staff, players, because Mr Allison would go onto the pitch before us and walk a lap of the whole perimetre with his arms out, waving and gesticulating to the supporters with that amazing hat of his. He was like a show before the show, if you like. The supporters were whipped up into a state of near delirium by the time the match was due to start and we were too. We would hear live music playing, clearly hitting the notes of "o Comanchero".What a time that was. Malcolm's departure was the end of the golden period for that Sporting team."

The afore-mentioned Mario Jorge had seemed on his way out of Alvalade when Allison arrived, but the new coach managed to change things round for the wayward talent. "He liked to see the young players in action. he arranged an early training session and just wanted to see us pass, trap, receive and deliver the ball, simple stuff, nothing fancy. I remember being aware of how he was watching me pass and control the ball. After the session he asked me to stay at the club and he put his confidence in me. He kept his distance from the players, didn't say much but valued hard work and players he could rely on to perfom."

Despite his roaring success in the first year at Alvalade, Big Mal's job in Lisbon came to an abrupt end at the very beginning of the following season. He was fired by president João Rocha, another man who enjoyed the limelight. It was rumoured that Rocha could not stand the attention Mal was getting from the fans and, more importantly, the local and national media. The story was circulated that Mal had been drinking too much, a more than feasible excuse, as his high jinks and taste for alcohol and fast women had followed him into southern Europe, but there are those, who deny this to be the real reason for his somewhat precipitous departure. Oliveira again: “It was a deeply unjust process that was unleashed on Mr Allison. An agent was preparing the smooth arrival of Joszef Venglos and managed to invent a story that Allison had downed an impossible amount of alcohol." Although Malcolm's capacity to drink and carry on drinking had by this time transcended into legend, Oliveira doubts its veracity. Ironically, it was Oliveira that would be the immediate beneficiary of the new situation, substituting the departing Englishman in the capacity of player-manager whilst Venglos's contractual niceties were finalised. 

As stated in the article The Great Chalkboard in the Sky, an unconfirmed story tells of Joao Rocha calling Mal to a meeting in his office, where there is a bottle of whisky in the middle of his desk. Rocha throws down his new contract and says "It is one or the other, Malcolm, you cannot have both." To which Allison, in true Dartford gunslinger style, picks up the bottle and departs. Other stories have Mal misbehaving on a grand scale during a pre-season trip to Bulgaria, where the trusty combination of drink and girls seems to have been augmented by the appearance of the local police in Sporting's hotel. This appears to have been the straw that broke the camel's back for Rocha. he could no longer countenance Mal's playboy shenanigans and, despite the fact that he had produced a swashbuckling winning side the like of which green and white fans would not witness for another 18 years (when the club finally brought home another league title under Lazslo Boloni), it heralded the parting of the ways.

Sporting was Mal's last big success. Flops, failures and truncated stays followed at Middlebrough, Kuwait (what a choice) and Bristol Rovers where he finally brought the curtain down on a career flaming in headlines since the early 60s. According to António Oliveira: “Malcolm was a man who enjoyed life to the full and wanted to transmit the joy of working in the industry of football to all of us players and staff."

Mal's squad, by the end of his tenure at Sporting looked like this:
Meszaros, Fidalgo, Virgílio, Barão, Eurico, Carlos Xavier, Bastos, Zezinho, Meneses, Inácio, Mário Jorge, Ademar, 
Marinho, Lito, Esmoriz, Nogueira, Freire, Manuel Fernandes, Oliveira and Jordão.

The life of Reilly
They are still today considered one of Sporting's finest squads in the rich and textured past of this great Portuguese institution. Mal still had time to alight from the Destruction Express at a football outpost called Setubal. Based in the dowdy but characterful fishing port south of Lisbon, the local side was down on its luck slumbering in the 2nd division when the new coach breezed in under a cloud of blue cigar smoke one morning. Then as now, Setubal was a run-down, ramshackle sort of place. You can smell the salt from the estuary, the fish from the quays and the ever-present churascos (barbecues) along the Avenida Luisa Todi. If the wind is in the wrong direction, an awful funk pervades from the paper pulping factories by the great ship building sinks. Nevertheless it is a beautiful setting, with a wide estuary giving out onto the Troia Peninsular on one side and the elegant bulk of the Arrabida coast on the other. This is like the Cote d'Azur without the jungle of concrete and buzz of Porsche cabriolets. It is truly a lost paradise, 40 kilometres south of the bustling hub of Lisbon and 2 or 3 from Setubal. Mal would have loved the beach restaurants serving fresh ameijoas a bulhao pato (clams in white win sauce), the icy Vinho Verde (Portuguese sparkling green wine) and the gentle sunny climate  Indeed, he holed up in a wonderful farmstead in the Arrabida hills, overlooking lush green valleys of fruit orchards on one side and the clear blue Atlantic on the other. It is an intoxicating place. He seems to have been taken by his life here almost immediately. The story goes that he was planning to lay down slightly more long term roots. He seems to have found some peace in this unassuming, slightly decrepit corner of south west Portugal.

He got back into coaching in a big way, the downtrodden Vitoria squad the obvious and immediate beneficiaries. Soon Mal had the rag-tag band of no-hopers on the way to promotion. It was around this time, mid 1987, that Vitoria's goalkeeping coach began to bring his son along to training sessions. His son was a Physical Education student in Lisbon and, even at that age, was keen to learn from interesting and innovative teachers. 

Senhor Felix Mourinho
Taking one look at Big Mal at work with the Vitoria squad, the young man was swiftly hooked. He became a permanent fixture at squad training. The goalkeeping coach was called Felix. Felix Mourinho. His son, Mal's last disciple, a self-confident young man who today carries more than a passing resemblance to the self-assured coach he watched so closely all those years ago. Next time you see José Mourinho strut onto centre stage, ask yourself who he reminds you of.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

THE MARVELLOUS ILLUSION OF THE PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY

For anyone waiting patiently for the new season to start, especially during these painful  “barren” Summers without a major international tournament to hold the attention, long-awaited pre-season games are a welcome re-introduction to the match routine and a sure sign that the wait will shortly be over.


Gloating Germans, bulging nets: sometimes pre-season can mimmick the real thing


Some of the players may look a little portly after one beach barbecue too many, the new signings may still be studying the intricate patterns of the club crest and the result may seldom matter (obscured from reality by the 17 second half substitutions), but the sun is often out and the time has come to slide the lawn mower back into the tool shed and hang up the power drill for another eight months. Whilst City’s summer warm-up games in the past often involved any number of banal encounters that fall into a category as far removed from “classic” as it is possible to imagine, one or two down the years have provided memories that still manage to linger:

On 7th August 1980, long before the days when pre-season meant yet another trip to Ireland and a bus ride to Oldham, City took on the might of Sporting Clube de Portugal in their old Alvalade Stadium in Lisbon. City had already notched up impressive results in the north of the country, beating Sporting Braga 3-1 and drawing in Porto, when they came up against a Sporting side bristling with top notch international players. The game had been drifting happily City’s way in a solid and professional performance when suddenly local referee Marques Dias sent off Paul Sugrue for retaliation after a rash foul by the Brazilian Ademar. It was a case of Sporting losing their own composure as City had raced into a 2-0 lead by then in the stiflingly humid conditions, goals from Tommy Booth and Kevin Reeves putting the Blues in a comfortable position. Although the legendary Jordao pulled one back for the home side, the Blues held on to win 2-1 and please Malcolm Allison by their approach to a tough pre-season work-out in difficult conditions. City would come home and lose 5-1 catastrophically at Maine Road to Legia Warsaw on the eve of the season, a result and performance which acted as a much more detailed pointer to what we were about to be treated to that season. Big Mal lasted until October when he was sacked with City bottom of the table.

Big Mal reacquainted with Polish teams


Two years later City headed for Barcelona and a prestigious tournament that also featured Cologne, Porto Alegre from Brazil and the hosts, newly boosted by the arrival of Diego Armando Maradona. In the first game, a semi-final of sorts, City were paired with the Germans and held them 1-1 thanks to a fine display by Joe Corrigan and a goal from Dennis Tueart after Power’s shot had been deflected. Cologne’s late equaliser meant penalties and City held their nerve to advance to the final 8-7 on spot-kicks, Corrigan saving twice when the shoot-out went to sudden death. City thought that this would set them up nicely for a final with Maradona’s Barcelona and a certain 120,000 sell out crowd, all eager to see their new recruit from Napoli, but the hosts were beaten by Porto Alegre and City also succumbed to the Brazilians 1-3 in the final. Still there were 90,000 in the ground as Asa Hartford was dismissed for throwing a punch and a David Cross consolation goal was too late to stop the samba party. City finished runners-up in a tournament watched by more than 160,000 fans over the two days and went home happy to have put right the locals’ suppositions that we were the make-weights in the four-team challenge. We would turn out to be just that in the First Division that season, however, suffering relegation on the final day of a season that would see us second in the table at the turn of the year, but ultimately fall to David Pleat’s Luton Town on the final day.

Asa gets his retaliation in first


The following year, City were preparing for their first season out of the top flight for 17 years and took it upon themselves to undergo a pre-season tour through central Germany, playing such luminaries as Eppingheimer FC, Pfingstad, Vfr08 Osterode and Silksheimer FC. It was a tour organised to help Billy McNeil bed in his new cut price Scottish signings McNab, Parlane and Jim Tolmie and how they re-paid their manager’s faith. Having scored four against each of these amateur sides, City took upped the ante and knocked in six against the one team from a slightly more elevated level. Although Wolfsburg were not in those days the established Bundesliga club they are today, they represented a greater challenge for Billy McNeil’s new charges than the other essentially glorified park sides. Goals from Kevin Bond (penalty), Tolmie, Power and Caton enabled City to run up a comfortable half time score, with two more in the second half from Parlane and Gary Jackson completing the rout. City would also win in Tilburg in Holland on the way home before starting the second division campaign with a great win at Palace on the opening day. From these early moments it was already clear for all to see that the big Scot had spent what little money Peter Swales had given him wisely and that the new recruits would play their part in the build-up to eventual promotion a season later.



Although the magic of pre-season to many is the opportunity of a trip abroad to follow the Blues whilst enjoying a well earned summer holiday, there have been one or two memorable games closer to home, as City’s policy of playing more games in Britain and Ireland came to the fore in the mid to late 90s. In 1999, for example, the build-up involved a home win over Liverpool. This coming on the back of inept showings at Bury and Bristol City was a typical response by City: Completely unexpected and at odds with the results up to that point. As Chris Bailey wrote at the time in the Evening News, “...like a cordon bleu chef, Joe Royle has apparently brought his creation to the boil at just the right time...”. After Liverpool had taken the lead through David Thompson’s long range effort, City hit back in the second half with a penalty from the lively Kevin Horlock and a flicked header by Shaun Goater just before the end to send the 20,000 crowd home dreaming of a successful first division campaign ahead. As this all came hot on the heels of the less than overwhelming season down with the dead men of Division Two, it helped provoke great excitement amongst Blues fans and their dreams were realised as Joe Royle’s terriers shot straight through the first division like a dose of salts to gain a second successive promotion, as Norwich have done this year.

A year later, pre-season saw City fans in an advanced state delirium as the side prepared for re-entry to the Premier League. The unforgettable afternoon at Ewood Park, where City had clinched promotion in a fashion only City could manufacture, was still fresh in the memory as the Blues announced their new summer signings: where were you when the news filtered through that George Weah and Paolo Wanchope would be showcasing their continental skills at Maine Road in the new season? 



This wholly unexpected development produced a big turnout at Boundary Park to see the Blues beat Oldham and George Weah slot in an early goal. This was his second in two games, the other a consolation effort in a 4-1 drubbing at Stockport. With the Liberian’s silky skills and superior technique lighting up the game and the spider-limbed Wanchope set to join him, the travelling fans could have been forgiven for dreaming of what was to come. Two months later Weah was gone (too sophisticated for Joe Royle, who preferred the "reliable" Kevin Horlock and the "gritty" Danny Tiatto, City were on their way back out of the Premier League. The memories of Weah would become ever more painful as Royle ended the season dabbling with the superior skills of the mobile bollard Egil Ostenstad in the place left empty by the African. For City followers, as for anyone else daft enough to take pre-season games too seriously, there had been a sharp shock in store after those summer months spent basking in the warm glow of overcooked optimism. 

These days a 3-0 win over Inter fits snugly with the club's new image alongside the exalted elite of football, but never let us forget the lessons of pre-season past. Get ahead of yourself and you'll end up with custard dripping off your chin.

Monday, August 1, 2011

SUMMERS PAST

The Sittard Summer Tournament 6 – 8 August 1993

The Summer tournaments City participate in these days are far-removed from the home-made marmalade and darned-socks affairs of yesteryear. In 1993 I was *lucky* enough to be present at the Sittard Summer Tournament in southern Holland, a classy arrangement put together with plywood and elastic bands and helped along by the organisation of a befuddled cocker spaniel. At least the beer, the raucous company and the more than marvellous chips with mayonnaise, onions and peanut sauce (the infamous patatje oorlog or "war chips") were top class.

Always plenty of cultural attractions in Holland....

Sittard is a small, deeply unremarkable provincial town in South Holland, very near to the Belgian border. It shares a province with Maastricht but neither the political intrigue nor belle époque architecture of the latter seemed to have reached this far in to grassy Limburg. Although the town was celebrating 750 years of existence in the summer of 1993, most of its buildings looked strictly 1965. It was to this concrete and breize block background that the town’s mayor welcomed local rivals PSV Eindhoven plus the international prowess of Sporting Lisbon and Manchester City to play Fortuna Sittard in the town’s commemorative tournament. Arriving on the Friday night, the early impressions would be the same held as we left two days later. There were three excited fans from Portugal, a hundred or so from Eindhoven (50 miles away), assorted disinterested locals and two thousand loud, proud Mancunians, with beer tentacles-a-twitching.

City arrived under Peter Reid’s tutelage, having lost in Halsteren and won in a tree-lined park in Apeldoorn against the catchily named AGOVV. For us travelling fans it was a chance to see the newly acquired Alfons Groenendijk in action for the first time, an event that admittedly carried considerably more suspense in anticipation than delight in delivery. We had been told by Reid that he could open tins of peas with his left foot, but not that afore-mentioned tin-opener-left-foot was attached to a leg as brittle and muscle-less as the toothpicks we were removing last night's kebab's with. 

The sun attempts to brighten up Sittard
For the good and startled people of Sittard, the tournament provided an obvious opportunity to see Mancunian male and female glory up close. The main square in Sittard, an unremarkable place decorated with small bars and shops, gradually filled up with Blues fans on the Friday afternoon and, by five o’clock every lamp-post and hotel window had a Union Jack or St George’s flag flying from it. The mood of boisterous good humour was only augmented by the mid Summer heat and the vast quantities of the local white beer Wieckse Witte we were consuming. As the songs wafted into the afternoon air, a baggy-trousered philanthropist shinned his way up the main flagpole with a major part of his backside hanging out for all to see. This was clearly what Sittard had been missing for 750 years.

The De Baandert ground’s facilities were on the threadbare side of sparse, but, attracted by a huge amount of noise, the casual visitor would almost certainly have veered away from the tiny main entrance and headed instead for the minuscule wooden clubhouse, The Little Stadium Café, some metres away from the low-slung stadium. There would have been good reason for this and a rich reward awaited those who chugged into its condensation-drenched interior. Inside, it had been entirely taken over by City supporters. Flags hung from every position and the cheery atmosphere in the town centre had now given way to a raucous, spirited rendition of everything from Niall Quinn’s Disco Pants to Joe Mercer’s Aces. Bar staff were being brought in from elsewhere to keep pace with their English visitors. Whilst this was a magnificent sight to behold, the bar owner could be seen rubbing his hands together in a clear and public display of glee. The highpoint was yet to arrive, however. In a moment of rare perspicacity, the organisers and security staff called for the tournament brass band to halt practising their stuttering rendition of When the Saints Go Matrching In in the stadium car park and come over and accompany the City fans through our own impressive play-list.This had the effect of encouraging both beer drinking and singing to up a notch or two, as we were now accompanied by a fifteen-strong band.



By contrast to the lusty atmosphere in the clubhouse, the tournament started with a timid and error-strewn game between City and PSV, Gary Flitcroft’s equaliser just before half time catching a sizeable portion of the City support - me included - outside queuing for yet more chips and mayonnaise. For those still in the away end, Klas Ingesson had been dispossessed by Ricky Holden, whose cross Flitcroft met so firmly that Van Breukelen could only parry the ball back to the same player, who buried it unceremoniously. The match petered out into penalties which, thanks to an aberration from Pieter Hoekstra, ended successfully for the Blues.The walk back into town was made unaccompanied by any recognisable wind instruments.

Muscle-bound Alfons Groenendijk begins to realise what he's let himself in for


There are a lot of bars on the main square of Sittard and most Blues woke up the next day wondering whether they were still under the influence as the Limburgs Dagblad informed readers that the day’s games would be Sporting v City and Sittard v. PSV, despite the fact that Sporting had lost their game the day before. “The tournament will be played under a league basis”, trumpeted the organisers, despite the fact that there would not be time to play the third game. Thus it was that City played and lost to Bobby Robson’s sprightly Sporting (Cadete pouncing on a monumental blunder from Terry Phelan). Even then the organisers, clearly fans of Einstein’s Chaos Theories, were not finished with the City supporters and a penalty shoot-out was deemed necessary (despite City losing 1-0). Confusion reigned as the sun beat down on South Holland. Had we won? What were the penalties for? Why did we have to drink so much Wiekse Witte? What exactly was the lass with the big chest and the Ajax tatoos doing? Who had moved our hotel? Did we really have to hug Bobby Robson when he got off the Sporting coach? Would we ever find Ari's wallet? PSV later beat the hosts 5-0 and were awarded the trophy. The tournament made a loss owing to the sparse crowds (5,000 over two days and half of those from England) and Peter Reid still had the misfortune of losing some of his squad in Schiphol airport on the way home. It had been a confusing weekend and things would only get worse for Reid, as his time with City ran out after only thirteen days and four win-less games of the new season.    

The end was nigh
It was clearly a watershed for City, as Brian Horton's arrival heralded the new dawn that we had all waited for so long. Within 6 years City were in the third division playing in grounds not dissimilar in size and comfort to De Bandert and, although many will tell you city's season down with the deadmen was actually  one big riotous laugh, nothing that happened at York or Wrexham, Darlington or Wycombe, could compare to the two days spent in southern Holland in 1993..

About Me

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Victim of great Winona Ryder trouser theft; bitter, confused and maladjusted. Watching City since 1974 with fluctuating amounts of disbelief.

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