Monday, December 31, 2012

ANNUS MIRABILIS

2012, like a glittering unicorn, decked out in bejewelled clothes, galloping along a prairie thick with trees bearing sapphires of the deepest aquamarine, appeared to us all shimmering in its splendid and acute beauty. It stamped its feet a couple of times, lifting a fine dust of gold and silver, snorted loudly and cantered away with us all hanging breathlessly to its waxen mane, as it cavorted across a landscape pocked with the defeated and the slaughtered. Champagne Supernova. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. 2012 was when all our dreams came home to roost and Manchester City, proud bearers of the largest and most impressive array of Cup For Cock-Ups medals ever seen in the history of British football, became winners.

Holders of the FA Cup, City followed this in the New Year by being crowned Premier League Champions, following in the footsteps of Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal and Chelsea as select members of a small bunch, who have sealed the title in these modern times of money and more money. The Greed is Good League, as the doyen of football writers Brian Glanville likes to call it, is extremely picky when it comes to choosing its champions. Football followers decry its inability to open to the field, its singular interest in the moneyed few, but in dragging the title away from the serial boasters of West London and Salford, City were seen to do football a service of kinds. 

Neutrals the length and breadth of the country seemed pleased with the outcome, or at least found in City the lesser of a small number of evil options on offer to them. Who will forget the cries of delight from the QPR section at the Etihad or the impromptu Poznan conducted by Sunderland's supporters in front of the United away following that day? For Blues supporters, carried away in the delirium of how this long-awaited prize had been delivered, it hardly seemed to matter what others thought of us. For so long ridiculed by the great and good of the game, here was a moment - after 44 long years of sitting on our hands and weeping - to crow and cry, scream and fly. The seemingly impossible, unreachable dream had been realised after all and in a way which would leave an indelible City-style mark on the subconscious of every football follower on the planet from Qatar to Queensland and Sun City to Sunderland. Manchester City, Champions of England, but in their own inimitable way.

To those of us long in the tooth (I have been watching City in various forms of discomfort since 1973, for example), it was a particularly poignant moment. The obvious thing to do was simply to start blubbing at the magnitude of what had happened, at how long we had suffered, how long we had put up with the gnawing embarrassment, the riveting slow-motion car-crash that our club had developed into during the 80s and 90s and its modern day struggles to actually be somebody other than an also-ran.

The year had started with the apocalyptic thunder of a 3rd round FA Cup Manchester derby. What a way not only to start the New Year but to commence the defence of a trophy hauled in for the first time since 1968 in another tear-drenched emotion-packed occasion at Wembley the year before. The man, who would end the season holding aloft the biggest prize of all, was sent from the field within twelve minutes of the game starting. Referees would come into sharp focus during 2012 and here was a grand start by the infamous Chris Foy dispatching Vincent Kompany for a daring and expertly executed sliding tackle in the Manchester rain, reminding many of the performance by Mark Clattenburg, who had sent off Craig Bellamy for being tackled at Bolton the previous season. Foy and Clattenburg, like all poor referees, would be high profile on many more occasions in 2012. The good ones, of which there are still mercifully a few, go about their jobs largely unnoticed. Clattenburg could not do more for his self-promotion if he wore a belisha beacon for a hat and brandished a steel mace as he ran around.

City's form slump included exits from both cups, as Liverpool surprisingly found the form to take them past the Blues in the two legged League Cup semi final, a cup that had so surely been there for the taking that the ailing Scousers only had the winners of a Cardiff-Palace semi final to beat in the final. A golden opportunity to win another cup had been lost and, whilst other clubs turned up their noses at this "third ranked" trophy, it should not have been hard for Mancini's men to concentrate given the interminable length of the previous drought on this front.  Who were we to grumble?

City's form rallied and results improved too after a wobble in January. In an article called Form & Shape it was noticed that "The gap to 3rd placed Tottenham now stands at eight points. Chelsea in fourth, are thirteen points adrift and 5th-placed Arsenal eighteen points behind. We are eighteen points ahead of Arsenal. With a goal difference of +42, you might as well add a point to each of those figures. We can clearly see that, whilst the marauding goal form of September has settled a little, there is still oil in the tank."  Whilst City's form returned, their luck remained out, helped it seems by the gods of fate.

Results in January looked like this:
  • Sunderland 1 City 0
  • City 3 Liverpool 0
  • City 2 Man Utd 3 FAC3
  • City 0 Liverpool 1 (CCSFi)
  • Wigan 0 City 1
  • City 3 Tottenham 2
  • Liverpool 2 City 2 (CCSFii)
  • Everton 1 City 0

Having disappeared early from the domestic cup competitions, City set about trying to do themselves justice in the dreadful, lumpen Europa League, a sad, time-consuming and energy-sapping successor to the old UEFA Cup. In its attempts to become a mini Champions League, the drawn-out format of UEFA's secondary tournament had turned it into something that many clubs, having fought tooth and nail through a domestic season to reach, then tried their utmost to be eliminated from in the Spring. To their credit City professed a serious interest in winning it and set about the job in fine fashion with a tub-thumping win in Porto which laid down a marker for others to think about. Within weeks, however, City had been turfed out of this competition by weaker opposition from the same country in the shape of a bedraggled looking Sporting Lisbon. 

As the season wound itself up for the final stretch, City remained out front, chased by an increasingly desperate Manchester United, who started a sandstorm of media "incursions" by the great and good, from Paddy Crerand to the guileless Terry Christian in an attempt to rock the leader's boat. A swathe of press articles regarding "mind games" started to appear, as if the childish fibs and prefabrications being uttered into the microphones by Mike Phelan, Ryan Giggs, Ferguson and indeed Roberto Mancini, should be considered some kind of eerily piercing art form. Unedifying as it was suspect, all that it would serve in the end would be to leave one side or the other looking totally foolish come May.

When that month broke with City suddenly trailing United by eight (8) points, having been well in front a matter of weeks previously, it looked like it would be the blue hordes who would once again be wiping the custard from their trousers. A dreadful loss at Swansea reduced one media friendly supporter to tears in the front rows and the press were ready to pounce. With the annual defeat at Goodison and United's spurt of good form, the tables had been turned at the most crucial moment of this fast-moving campaign.

By now the crowing had become deafening. Everybody had an opinion on why City had lost out: no bottle, poor, effete, foreign, card-waving, hair adjusting manager, mercenary players, no team spirit, a side -in short- patched together by oily money. A club held together by the individual greed of its myriad parts. The rightful and righteous balance had been restored just in time, with Mr Ferguson's veined nose edging back in front at the top. Arsenal's late winner against City at The Emirates had been hailed with particular gusto by elements of the southern press and all those thousands of Gunners fans, who suddenly felt a bond developing with United, their fellow rich aristocrats in peril. But as the stands in North London heaved to 57,000 cavorting United sympathisers, a strange thing happened.

Release.

The ensuing run-in will never be forgotten. The most deliciously balanced Premier league finale ever, indeed one of English football's most well scripted endings was about to break over us all in its simple and savage beauty. 

United, suddenly cocks of the north and champions designate, now lost inexplicably at Wigan, whilst City, "out of the race" according to their own manager and his home-recipe mind games, beat West Brom easily. Buoyed, City travelled to Carrow Road and smashed six past Norwich, with a hat-trick from the reintegrated Carlos Tevez, lacking neither paunch nor punch. When United threw away two 2-goal leads to draw 4-4 at home to Everton, the title race that had run its course was suddenly open again. With a win at Wolves on the Sunday, City could make it mathematically possible once again. That game, won two nil by the Blues, led us straight into the lion's jaws of a home Manchester Derby deemed the most important ever. Another critical turning point arrived with Ferguson's team selection and subsequent tactics. 

The champions-elect and reigning title holders talked the talk but failed to walk the walk, coming for a draw, when bravery was called for. Their stacked defence ended up with precisely what it deserved: a 1-0 defeat with a towering headed goal from the man unfairly sent off in the same fixture at the start of the year, captain Vincent Kompany. With the stadium in a complete tumult, Mancini's job was suddenly to get his super relaxed players to focus on the two games that would define their destinies. Win at Newcastle and at home to the team with the worst away record in the league and your names will be written in gold leaf on the highest pillars in the land, never to be erased. Lose and you will have lost this title not once but twice, and to your sworn enemies, on top of this. This delirious stress, as Daniel Taylor named it in his Guardian report, was what now washed over every pore of City's players, administrators, fans and sympathisers. Well wishers hoped for the best. Die hards awaited the biggest embarrassment in their club's history. Ferguson called up the Ghost of Devon Loch.

Newcastle 0 Manchester City 2

Manchester City 3 QPR 2

In these two simple results sit a lifetime of stress and trouble and their release to the four winds. Seven goals found the net. Seven times voices roared and bodies jumped and shivvered, but a story as long as the Bible is contained within. City crawled over the finishing line tugging the dead weight of a million distraught, overwhelmed, disbelieving onlookers with them. When the final whistle blew on that sunny May afternoon, the football world shuddered a little on its axis, as it took in what Sergio Aguero's clinical 94th minute skip, swerve and slice actually represented. The mosh pit that greeted it took many minutes to straighten itself out. The repercussions are still untangling themselves half a year later. 

A season that had ended in such utter pandemonium had the beautiful symmetry of starting and finishing with the final goalscorer of each match making the headlines (Aguero had burst into our line of sight against Swansea with a lethal smack of his right foot too, way back in August 2011).

The first repercussion only became evident some months after the summer break, in which Roberto Mancini was tasked with the fragile job of boosting a squad that had just achieved a Herculean objective. How to build on that, one asked? Instead of securing the early signatures of the few stellar talents (De Rossi, Ibrahimovich) that might just have upped the ante, Mancini became embroiled in a behind the scenes struggle with Brian Marwood. Over pounds and pennies. As the big fish slipped away downstream, City hooked kippers. Worse still, Robin van Persie, league top scorer, went to Old Trafford.

An understated pre-season gave way to full-blooded passion in an impressive curtain opener against Chelsea at Villa Park. For a spell in the 2nd half, City seemed unplayable, as the European champions leaked three quick goals. Little were we to know that, by Christmas, that twenty minute spell would remain the best passage of football witnessed by City fans all season so far.  

2012-13 has proved to be difficult viewing. The challenge of "beating that" has indeed proved a tough one. Mancini, looking in turns detached, disatisfied and disinterested, has cut an increasingly lonely figure. Behind the scenes, management recruiting makes a tilt towards Pep Guardiola look more sure as the days pass. The feeling grows that Mancini's days are numbered whatever the outcome of this largely unfulfilled campaign. Yet hope remains. City enter the New Year in 2nd place, backfiring and spluttering, but ahead of the rest of the pack. They do this without having produced one single 90 minute display that would bear decent comparison with the multitude of shatter-and-splatter wins from last year. The goals have largely dried up, the width has gone, the impregnable defence leaks. Yet hope remains and, whilst Manchester City supporters remain true to their history, hope will always be the last man out of the door.

Happy New Year.



 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

QUESTIONS QUESTIONS

For Manchester City's annual defeat on Wearyside, this year's embarrassment avoided last minute offside winners by little known South Koreans and instead opted for the more prosaic pattern of off-form important players, stumblingly predictable tactics, a winning goal from an ex-City player and bizarre substitutions to keep us all warm with the glow from our blushing cheeks. If you had sworn not to touch another drop of the hard stuff after hitting Christmas at full pace, then you'd have been swigging from the nearest bottle of spirits before the players had cleared their lumpen forms from the Stadium of Light pitch on this occasion.
- Heneage: Doubts creep up on Mancini’s City
- Mancini blasts 'soft' City

By the end of this truly exasperating game, we had the unedifying sight of the live-wire Carlos Tevez giving way to be substituted and City playing out the last few minutes with that well known and world-class strike partnership of Joleon Lescott and Joe Hart. Truly one had to pinch oneself and check that it wasn't Frank Clark down there in the dugout with his guitar and his mouth organ.

Mancini indeed stated afterwards that, "next year we don't come". He might, after this, be closer to the truth than he imagines. The malfunctioning blob that passed for City's shape in the last 30 minutes did nobody any justice, least of all those tasked with putting some shape and production into the play. 


You can read the remainder of this article here on the ESPNFC club blog page

 

READING BETWEEN THE LINES

Nicky Shorey ducks, Gareth Barry flies. 1-0, at last.
It is October 1998. I am getting wet. It is cold. Bitingly cold. I have just watched a game that has stretched my patience, my non-believing eyes and my love for Manchester City football club. Reading, playing in bright red and yellow, have just left the Maine Road pitch having won 1-0. 24,364 others are grumbling their way through the exits into the wind and rain outside on Claremont Road. Christmas is still a way off but I am considering cancelling it anyway.
- Blog: Royals effort all for nothing
- Late Barry header snatches win

Fourteen years later in similarly cold and wet conditions, Reading are about to emerge from a tangle in Manchester with an unexpected point. Then something funny happens involving the unlikely Christmas Figure of Fun and Jollity, Gareth Barry, who launches himself over Nicky Shorey's attempt to block him, connects with the ball and sends it rocketing past Adam Federici for a 92nd minute winner. 


You can read the rest of this article on City's pages at ESPNFC

DER DER DER PABLO ZABALETA

That august publication The Mirror sent a correspondent, as you would well expect, to last weekend's dustup between Newcastle and Manchester City at St James' Park. It is not a newspaper for delicate tastes with its lurid spreads of teen pop stars and picture specials of reality television people getting out of taxis without putting their knees together first, but the football coverage occasionally pleases and, a little less frequently, also informs.
It was with fleeting interest that my eyes fell to the bottom of the page devoted to the match in question, where the learned scribe in question put his mind to awarding marks - out of 10 - for the day's performers. This is always a scene of carnage and disagreement, where folks are either one-eyed or "weren't watching the same match as me".  It is done, I imagine, for reader entertainment and to provoke argument and discussion. Good old-fashioned harmless fun, I was busy thinking to myself, as I perused the inoffensive little numbers.

Sergio Aguero, for his darting, slightly directionless performance had been awarded a man-of-the-match nine, followed swiftly by compatriot Carlos Tevez and the little magician David Silva on eight. I had already subconsciously made the Spaniard my own outstanding performer - I am a sucker for his eye-catching diagonal passes, unexpected pirouettes and deft how-did-he-do-that through passes - but was in no mood to quibble anyway. Both the Argentinian dynamos up front had been excellent too, I thought.


You can read the rest of this article on ESPN's MCFC page 
 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A DISH FIT FOR A KING

King of the Kippax was the nickname given to Colin Bell, so named for his peerless displays of stamina, skill and selflessness in the great City side that eventually won the title at St James's Park one unforgettable afternoon in 1968. Until last season, nobody in the famous sky blue of City had emulated that feat. Now the deed has been done; thanks partly to a heroic win in Newcastle last May, the mantle of champions sits snug on the broad shoulders of the young men in blue. However, up to now, it has also sat heavily on those young shoulders in 2012. 


It is a big deal. A very big deal. For opponents, for the press, for the supporters. Everyone likes to take it out on the best team in the land.
The Kippax may have disappeared, buckled under the wrecking balls and dynamite sticks, but St James's Park remains a bastion of proper football support and so too do midfielders in sky blue, who do the good name of Colin Bell and his lofty team-mates justice in this age of easy fame and flexible morals.

On Saturday, one in particular really excelled himself.


You can continue reading this article on ESPN's Manchester City pages

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

DANCING WITH DEVILS




Pablo Zabaleta, his battered form slumped against the far post, slithered slowly down it to the ground like an uprooted plant. His immense contribution, full of guts, will-to-win and indomitable spirit, typified the fight City had carried to their neighbours during a second half so full of energy and urgency that it felt like the walls were coming down. 

Zabaleta and his countrymen, Tevez and Aguero, had revealed just the characteristics we attribute to professional footballers from this part of the world: fight, technique and courage, coupled to a seemingly never-ending stream of spirit and lust for the ball. It was quite something to behold, quite something to fix your eyes upon. The raw meat of the Pampas in the bearpit of a Manchester derby. 

Ultimately, once more so cruelly late in the day, it had not quite been enough.

Such are the vagaries of football that a performance of such delightful controlled aggression as we saw in the 2nd period at the Etihad on Sunday afternoon would surely see off every team in the Premier League, but this intensity comes at a cost and, with big perfromers, it sometimes comes only in extremis

Only the very best bring out the best in players, who know they can coast against Norwich and put in a 70%-er against Wigan and the likelihood is that they will survive the experience intact. Against the old foes from across the city boundary, only 100% will do. When we were finally delivered just that in a second period of mounting effectiveness, the signs were clear that we can not only match this season's pace-setters, we can peg them back and get the result, a result that, in this case, looked more and more like being a win as the clock ticked round to 90 minutes. United were shredded, tired and their hitherto admirable organisation and shape was beginning to unravel before our eyes. 

But football is a cruel beast and it turns on a sixpence if you take your eye off it for a second. Suddenly the red shirts were back up the other end. City, left open by the incessant pressure in the opposite direction from the preceding 35 minutes, were suddenly exposed. Clichy, with the will to risk, took one too many. Tevez, the marvellous catalyst to the 2nd half pyrotechnics, nicked the advancing heels of the shorn Hobbit and he tumbled. Confusion ensued. Three men in the wall? Four men in the wall? Mancini's hand signals did not match Hart's and an ominous nervousness gripped the crowd at the South Stand end. Sure enough, as Van Persie struck the freekick left footed, Nasri, suddenly looking for all the world like something that had just been deposited on the Etihad turf from La Grande Revue at the Moulin Rouge, waved a gartered thigh at the passing ball from his place snug behind Edin Dzeko. The ball clipped his foot and arched the extra five centimetres needed to carry it around Joe Hart's outstretched fingers. Those same fingers that had asked for men in the wall, a minute earlier. Men, not showgirls, cowgirls or schoolgirls.

City, undone yet again by a post-90 minute United winner, collapsed en masse to the grass. Shades of Michael Owen, of Wayne Rooney and of Paul Scholes and of several others i am trying now to block from my mind. On and on it goes, this agony with no name, this terrible stretching of time until it twangs back and smacks you full in the face. 


Nasri prepares to join the end of the wall
Long ago, in the shadow of an era long past, The Guardian's Northern football correspondent Eric Todd wrote this: "Four players booked, two others sent off, 45 fouls, a break of five minutes whilst the survivors calmed down, not one goal and only about five minutes of genuine football, in the closing stages. These melancholy events summarised one of the most atrocious games ever played by Manchester City and Manchester United. The only consolation - if that be the word in the circumstances - was that there was no invasion of the pitch by spectators."

In today's anodyne settings and picture postcard political correctness, you get looked at in a strange way if you stand up to adjust your clothing in a football stadium, so this derby's raw edge, which became more jagged as the afternoon wore on, was a bit of a throwback to the times when Doyle and Macari traded punches and insults, players refused to leave the pitch after being red carded and crowds bubbled with such unrest that - within a couple of seasons - fences were going up all over the ground. By 1975 the Kippax was divided from top to bottom by a great mesh of chicken wire as the warfare spread around the ground. A lone pitch invader wearing the sort of headgear Paddington Bear might have baulked at is not in the same league. The throwing of coins, however,  is a repugnant throw-back to the worst excesses of the eighties, when golf balls came with nails hanging out of them and beer bottles flew the barbed wire space that was no man's land.

Todd wrote those words after a tight ugly scrimmage of a derby in 1973 had ended goalless and without much cheer for either City or United. The irony would not have escaped him, had he still been alive, that the 2012 version was packed full with everything that the 1973 version palpably lacked, but with the added irritant of the unruly crowd alluded to in his poetic descriptions. The more sanctimonious members of the Twittersphere told us shortly after the end of the game on Sunday that people's behaviour at derby matches emits a dark unwholesome stench, revealing an aspect of human nature that is best kept covered up, but there is nothing wrong with a bit of tension, a bit of aggression, to wind up the atmosphere a notch or two. Derby matches are no places for the trembling neutral, although the front rows of the Etihad seemed richly populated by half and half scarves (the most inappropriate garment ever to be worn at the Manchester Derby since Alan Ball's shell suit and flat cap combo in 1995 and dear old Brian Horton's aggressively checked jacket), flasks, biscuit tins and the now usual array of Canons, Nikons and Blackberries clicking away at anyone who comes near them, be they red shirted or blue. Who'd have thought this Sky-clad glue would attach itself to little old City in the modern era, after all that bare knuckle stuff at Bootham Crescent and the Racecourse Ground?! There were no coach parties from Hong Kong taking pictures of Jamie Pollock, that's for sure.

Would you wear this garment?
Derby Day in Manchester was always a day for raw steak, raw eggs and raw nerves. The city that gave birth to the industrial revolution may have once manufactured biscuit tins, but you don't expect them to show up full of almond tarts and cream cake on an occasion like this. Two powerful sides going at each other like a pair of enraged buffalo is enough to hold the attention away from these fripperies for 90 minutes, surely? As for taking pictures, hands were either clapping or shaking too much to hold a camera. Our game has been tidied up and rebranded for a new world audience bigger than the denizons of Gorton, Blackley and Salford can imagine and the television juggernaut now sets the agenda for Britain's football-watching public. No surprise then, that - as soon as things livened up beyond Sky's Super Sunday prettiness, the cameras steadfastly refused to show the lively-hatted City fan trying to get at Ferdinand and Joe Hart threatening to box his ears if he did. 

Once upon a time, it wasn't a derby match without a few hundred flared trousered philanthropists hammering around the centre circle. Whilst Sky thought more of it, the television viewing public were left to wonder why everyone was running off camera to the right, leaving the tv screen showing a rapidly emptying centre circle. 

So the dust settles and the emotions, having been given a good old fashioned shredding for the first time since May 12th last year, settle too. United, with admirable shape and energy, came away with the spoils on this occasion. Through gritted teeth we congratulate them for this. they played well, using the forward outlets of Young and Valencia to maximum effect. They kept their shape under increasingly robust pressure in the 2nd period and got lucky at the end. But luck had also removed a legal goal and a possible penalty, whilst at the other end, David Silva's shot was put onto the bar by De Gea's left ear. It was that kind of game. The kind of game that brings us back to this much-changed, much.tampered with sport of ours, because, in it's purest most furious form, it is unlike anything else we know.



Friday, December 7, 2012

CRYING FOUL

It would be less than magnanimous of me if I did not start this piece by congratulating Manchester United on their 20 years of almost complete Premier League domination. It has been quite something to behold, from its pantomime birth with plain old Mr. Ferguson and his sidekick Mr. Brian Kidd (shame on you, Brian!) doing the Chicken Jerky 5 yards inside the touchline after Steve Bruce's stopwatch winner against Sheffield Wednesday. It all just seemed to roll from there, didn't it? I'm sure, however, many reading this will join me in confirming how glad City supporters are that the dark period is finally at an end, brought to that unforgettable close by Sergio Aguero's nod to history after our red cousins had turned -- in the space of 30 unrepeatable seconds -- from champions-elect once more on a dreary afternoon on Wearside to the quietest of quiet neighbours.

You can continue reading this article on ESPN's City pages 

KEVIN REEVES nods in at The Scoreboard End in 1981



BRIAN KIDD. seen it all on the Manchester scene



City still have some catching up to do on the penalty front


The Bad Old Days



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

NO FLOWERS PLEASE

 Manchester City's European campaign passed quietly away on Tuesday night. It left 3,000 bereaved souls in northwest Germany, cold, in a state of disrepair and in growing disorientation, plus many other family members scattered around the north of England and thereabouts.

It was just three months old. It will be sadly missed by many thousands of well-wishers who asked to be remembered to the bereaved on their way out. It leaves 47,000 souls with nothing to do on a Wednesday night..(.......)..


You can read on, if you are in a fit state to do so on ESPN's City pages, here  


A night City caught a dose of Monchengladbach. The Simonsen seizure suffered may have triggered later palpitations.......

 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A STRAITJACKET CALLED EVERTON

In the late '80s and early '90s, it seemed that Manchester City and Everton were intent on trying out each other's entire squads. They shared two managers (Joe Royle, Howard Kendall) and more players than seemed polite. At one point. there was almost certainly some kind of left back bet on between the respective boards, as Terry Phelan, Neil Pointon, Paul Power, Andy Hinchcliffe and Earl Barrett all swapped sides. Leighton Baines, the current incumbent, might one day continue the trend, but today, replete in his Frodo Baggins wig and face fuzz, he played a significant part in stopping City's home juggernaut from continuing along its merry way.

- Report: Everton hold Manchester City to draw
- Blog: Bogeymen Everton continue to trouble City
- Tyler: City's James of all trades


And so, Everton's hypnotic hold over City maintains its icy grip. A point here was the least they deserved for a clinging, athletic, clever performance against a City side that was never able to find second gear for spells longer than five minutes or so at a time. This has been a curious season so far. Way off the form and vitality of last year, City are still unbeaten, and sat top of the league at the end of the 3 o'clock kick-offs. This is a team that has been changed, some say unnecessarily, had reinforcements introduced that have not strengthened the unit, been tinkered with at many a junction and yet still sits seven points ahead of Chelsea at the top of the pile. 

 
YOU CAN READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE ON  ESPN'S CITY PAGES 
 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

EVERTON

"If we are honest with ourselves, Everton come closer to how we see ourselves, or at least saw ourselves before recent unforeseeable developments, than most other top flight clubs. There has always been a kind of thinly stretched affinity with the Blues of Merseyside despite the scratchy accents and the omnipresent danger to the contents of your pockets. Living in the shadows of the local behemoth is a sad fate that befell both our clubs from the late 60s onwards, plus we have long shared both an instinctive hatred of the colour red and a hair-trigger, morose sense of humour born out of a million and a half wretched disappointments. As Liverpool and United have grown into all-consuming megaliths for the hordes of Sky neutrals, it is tough not to grow a little bitter and develop Rhinosaurus skin."

 

These words dribbled out more than a year ago. Today Everton are much the same as they have ever been: a club with true traditions, fervent support and down-to-earth principles, just how many City supporters have viewed our club over the many years of trials and tribulations before we fell headlong into that gigantic pot of honey. 

The atmospheric stadium, the dark old church, the heaving paddock, the swaying Glwadys Street, scene of a thousand and one hyperbolic Gerald Sinstadt commentaries ("...and Whittle's done it!!!!"..."Latchford at the far post, oh my word!"). Too hemmed in by the crumbly tenements of the Scottie Road, none of this can be redeveloped into glistening executive boxes and corporate lounges. The Z Cars theme that still blasts out on match days, the girls with baskets of toffees, the perimetre advertising shouting things like Hafnia and Pukka Pies. 

What do modern day Evertonians think? Here are three generations and their ideas about City, City and Everton and this weekend's game:

Gerry Gow shows how in 1981

Luke O'Farrell writes ESPN's Everton blog and sees it thus: 

"For many years, Everton and City were two peas in a pod. The poorer relations within their cities, both tried to upset the established order with Everton making a slightly better fist of it over the years. However, a lot has changed in recent times and City now possess the sort of wealth that Everton can only dream about. The money has skewed the similarities with recent City managers doing their best to sour relations; few Everton fans would speak positively on Hughes or Mancini. The Lescott departure was acrimonious, to say the least, and Hughes irked a number of fans with his behaviour. Mancini has failed to endear himself to Evertonians with the Italian throwing sour grapes about whenever Everton get the better of his Manchester Millionaires. In spite of all that, and I'm using some kind of twisted logic here, Everton fans may think of City in a more favourable manner at present The reason for that would be Jack Rodwell. More than a few eyebrows were raised when Mancini came in for him. Despite showing glimpses, Rodwell's injuries were grabbbing more headlines than his football prior to his transfer. His progress had stalled and the money allowed Everton to sign the brilliant Kevin Mirallas; Everton easily got the better deal in this case. The money threatens to drive a wedge between two once similar clubs but the fact that you aren't United probably still applies for many."


A rare day of fun in 1999
Simon Hughes harks back to the Holy Trinity of Ball, Kendall and Harvey and has seen more Everton-City clashes than he cares to or indeed is able to remember: 

" Everton visit Man City at the weekend in a fixture laden with nostalgia for fans of a certain age. Everton and City sparred entertainingly throughout the late 60s and 70s, fielding some great players, but ultimately falling short of sustained success. We left that kind of monotony to Leeds and Liverpool. For City and Everton disappointment lurks around every corner. Recent years have seen an unexpected upturn in City's fortunes due to the sudden influx of Arab money, whilst Evertonians have become used to the club trading to survive. Fortunately, under Moyes we have one of the few managers able to make continued progress under such constraints. This season City have looked fairly ordinary so far, but have the knack of winning, often late in games which I guess marks them out as champions. Everton, whilst playing well and creating chances aplenty, have failed to see out games they should have won. This makes the weekend's game particularly intriguing and will be a key test of whether the Toffees can challenge for the top four places. In order to get a result - and a win is possible - Everton will need Gibson back to patrol in front of the back four and Jelavic to find his shooting boots. Midfield looks well matched, with Fellaini versus Yaya Toure being top of the bill. Mirrallas back would also be a significant boost to the Blues and he should enjoy the space available at Eastlands. Unfortunately, the loss of Baines to a hamstring strain reduces Everton's progressive play considerably and a draw might be the best we can hope for. Expect to see City's strikers rotated again from the start and during the game, until they find a way through. Lescott and Rodwell are likely to remain absent friends, which seems particularly tough on the former. Everton to score first, with Dzeko netting a late equalizer for City. Or not. Who knows? I'll be thinking of those dark terrace streets outside Maine Road and whether footy really was better in the 70s"

Losing to Everton not a new thing: here's one we made in 1993

Chris Dottie was brought up on a solid diet of 80s successes in the blue half of Merseyside. Then it all dried up. Everton-City means this to him:

"I think Evertonians feel a bit bereft nowadays, that they used to have brothers in arms. It helped that we normally felt like the big brother in my life time, that for all we had in common life was still that little bit worse for you. So we could share in the hatred for the famous reds that had stolen our cities in the popular mind and bitterly rant about how much better we deserved and how spawny and horrible and patronising they were. But at the same time we could feel a little bit patronising towards you, because you hadn’t often been much higher than us and you’ve often been quite a lot lower.

There were many shared players and managers, never any bitterly painful or violent games that stick in the memory – maybe because neither club had anything positive to play for during much of the past 30 years and we were never the ones to send you down. Away trips were a positive date in the diary because it was a short journey with little risk of physical harm and a possibility of getting points. The fans always very similarly minded as well – maybe a mixture of nature and nurture. The geographical proximity provides the natural link, that the fans are likely to be more similar in socio-economic and personality terms than 2 clubs from the other end of the country (especially during the 80’s when the North/South divide seemed widest). And we were both nurtured by a traditional, respected, historic club that was perennially unsuccessful and so held no appeal to glory hunters. No surprise that we felt that the supporters of both clubs were cut from the same cloth.

Paul Power part of a shared legacy
So until City attracted investment there was a lot to like and little to dislike. After that, things have changed to a large degree. Our erstwhile wingman has found he can get into the high-end nightclubs and flirt with the Champions League totty, leaving us with our pint of mild in the social. There's a bitter element to the jealousy because it seems down to luck. Why buy City and not Everton? Because City have a stadium. Why do City have a stadium? Because the Commonwealth games was in Manchester. Not your fault but not our fault either, and a real “Sliding Doors” moment, almost up there with the impact of Heysel on Everton’s recent history. Neither club seemed to get a break, then you won the lottery.

I still think there is a lot more affection from Evertonians for your club than for the rest of the rich and famous because the feeling is that most of the fans haven’t changed. But power corrupts and your managers have really driven a wedge sometimes, not just with signing our players but with comments about styles of play and sizes of clubs. Sometimes it feels like the club is forgetting quickly where it came from.

Your best mate wins the lottery and you celebrate like hell while he’s sticking it to “the man” and flying the flag for the previously ignored. If he then becomes “the man” and acts like winning the lottery was down to good judgement, the distance starts to grow. That’s where are paths are diverging and the brotherhood is becoming a pleasant nostalgic memory."
Thanks to Luke, Simon and Chris. May there also be a pot of honey at the end of the rainbow marked "Toffees" one day, for as sure as many football fans wished us well when our luck turned, I can't imagine too many begrudging the blues of Merseyside a go on the ride as well at some point.

PEERING INTO THE FUTURE

Wed. 28th Nov 2012 - Wigan Athletic 0 City 2
There was so much Spanish being spoken around the icy ramparts of the DW Stadium as City strode into town, one could have been forgiven for expecting the night's menu to feature -- writ large in pleasant script -- a large appetising portion of tiki-taka.

- Balotelli, Milner keep City in second


There were four Spaniards alone, plus a Spanish manager, a host of Argentinians and a bevy of others whose mother tongue may come with an accent, but is also most certainly traceable to the Transatlantic jaunts of Senor Cortes and his cohorts. What we got instead was commitment, tackling, visible clouds of hot breath from heaving lungs and a great deal of dash and hope.


We had a Spaniard on one side, Jordi Gomez, auditioning for a part as Camacho the Killer, and on the other side in the maroon of City, Javi Garcia doing a passable impersonation of a Morris Minor. Some called his performance understated, while others labeled it subtle in its efficient use of time and space, yet others said it was off the pace and inaccurate. Whatever the truth -- and it almost certainly lies somewhere in between all of these descriptions -- the ex-Benfica bulwark has not yet found his feet in the English game. 


You can read the rest of this article on ESPN's Manchester City pages 

 

Monday, November 26, 2012

TO ABSENT FRIENDS

Dave Sexton brought Chelsea success in the early 70s

October 1971. 52,000 people watched Dave Sexton's Chelsea draw with 2nd placed Manchester City. Then as now the immediate reaction to exiting Stamford Bridge with a point should have been positive and upbeat, but left a sour taste in the mouth. Almost exactly 41 years later, the point gained on this frenetic, mistake-pocked afternoon, felt strangely like two less than City might have secured.

For a side that, until very recently, could count 0-5 and 0-6 thrashings as the sort of things that "happen" when visiting the King's Road, surely a point is a rare thing of beauty? True, it represents the fifth draw of the season already, matching last season's grand total. True it came on the back of quite a lot of solid defending and not much else, but it also came against a Chelsea side badly out of sorts and still adapting to this month's manager. City may have had the edge in possession and in shots on goal and also, for that matter, in decent goal-scoring chances, but the ball did not look remotely like going into Cech's net, even when dispatched plum off Aguero's head towards the goal from six yards.

You can read the rest of this article on ESPN's Manchester City pages here

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A GAME OF IMPATIENCE


All snuggly at The Bridge, 1980s style
"When the dust settles...", a football phrase the great and good of the game enjoy employing when another of those little problems has arisen without warning, scattering good sense and decorum to the four compass points. In the case of Chelsea, Manchester City's illustrious yet suddenly ramshackle opponents this weekend, waiting for the dust to settle might need the patience of Job, such is the cloud of detritus constantly flying around the polished chrome and steel of Stamford Bridge. Despite the well-meaning hustle and bustle of a veritable army of hoover-wielding flunkies, City fans rich enough to entertain the trip to West London on Sunday might well be advised to take their own cloth and dusters on the long trip south.

There is, of course, still some "dust settling" over the Etihad too and all those tea towels are no doubt being put to good use to waft away any malodorous gusts still clinging to the portals. This then is the mangled wreckage, the contorted mess that our Blatter-Platini-Scudamore sculpted football juggernaut has wrought on Chelsea, a great footballing institution, awash with instability and rumour, pickled in unsustainable desire to be top of the tree, kings of the pile, barons of all they survey. And of all people to have to welcome to their tumbling fortress at the weekend, but the Premier League's other "wealthy failures", City. 
You can read the rest of this article on the Manchester City page at ESPN here


You can see the story of how Jim Tolmie smacked home a classic 1983 winner at The Bridge here

You can read the story of City's titanic struggle with Chelsea in 1973-74 here

The 1973 clash







Thursday, November 22, 2012

FOREST CUT DOWN

Season 1979-80 
Neil King remembers a classic defeat of Forest that left him unable to celebrate in time honoured style:

Manchester City 1 - 0  Nottingham Forest    

13th October 1979 : ko 15:00pm

"The fellow whose mischievous wit prompted him to send up City in a local newspaper advertisement, offering a set of "clockwork clowns" for sale at £5, must number among the world's biggest fools this morning" - Richard Bott, Sunday Express, 14/10/79 

 At the time, as a fresh faced 17 year old, I was living at a friends house in Reddish and was looking forward to the match ahead against "Old Bighead's" Forest. Our form to say the least at that time was "patchy". However my first decision of the day was to decide how I was getting to the game. There were no buses running; if memory serves me right they were on strike. A situation in those days that was not uncommon. I decided that i would walk to the game, after all Maine Road is not that far from Reddish! Remember I was 17 and naive. As it turned out I would not have the same predicament about getting home!
 
I think it took me about an hour and a half to walk to the match. I headed down Longford Road, onto Levenshulme and into Dickenson Road. The sights and sounds have not changed much to this day in that area. As multi-cultural then as it is now.
 
If I remember right Forest were flying at the time (they may even have been top?) and the match was a close affair.I had taken up my usual position in the Kippax near the back and close to the away fans. Then my day was about to take a turn for the better (and worse) with assistance from the late great Kazimierz Deyna. The Pole scored what turned out to be the winning goal and the crowd erupted. As one we leapt in the air celebrating but as I landed I stumbled on the steep Kippax steps. To say my ankle/leg hurt would be an understatement, but being young and foolish i decided I would not show my pain (too much!). For the remainder of the match I spent most of it trying to usher people away from pushing me, which for those familiar with the Kippax was easier said than done. 
 
The final whistle came and everyone headed for the exits, abusing the Forest fans on the way out obviously!
 
I remained where I was though as by now i could not even walk, and I sat on the Kippax steps. The police and stewards from those days would sweep across the stand moving fans away (and picking up the coins that had been thrown). They reached me and asked me to leave, I explained I could not as i had hurt my leg. Sympathy was not a strong point of the local Constabulary so it was left to 2 of my friends to carry me down the steps. We were told to go to the first aid point at the corner of the North Stand. My mates made sure i was ok and headed home. Ambulances, like the buses were also in short supply, and I was "transferred" to Manchester Royal in the back of a Police van. A splendid experience given that my foot was resting all  the way on the ridged floor of the van!
 
It transpired that I had actually broken my leg when Deyna scored. So I can say with pride " I broke my leg at Maine Road". As mentioned earlier, it took the decision on how to get home away. I was given a lift by the Greater Manchester Ambulance service.
 
One final thing, the crowd that day was over 41,000 and considering there was a bus strike 
(i think it was all over the Manchester area) was fantastic. In fact Brian Clough in the papers the following day said it was an amazing attendance. More proof we have the best fans in the World.
 
Neil King
 
Follow Neil on twitter - @cityneil51 
 
 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

MADE IN MANCHESTER

Setubal is a scruffy little fishing port twenty miles south of Lisbon, where – on a good day – you can inhale the smoke of the barbecues and wait for the grilled sea bream to arrive fresh out of the sea and onto your plate. On a bad day the funk from the paper mills south of the ship building sinks carries all these pleasant aromas away and replaces it with a curtain of mist that smells like Brian Kidd’s socks. It was in this town in 1981 that the late great Malcolm Allison landed. The one and only City manager to gain a European trophy spent time in Portugal resurrecting his career after his disastrous second coming to Maine Road in 1979.  Having won Sporting Lisbon the double, he fell foul of the dreaded drink, and drifted to this small town to revive both the local club’s fortunes and his own.
 
Big Mal in the bath at Crystal Palace: soap suds +2 up front

Allison was a man of loose morals but tight, well drilled football principles. He took City all the way to a rain drenched Cup Winners’ Cup Final in the Prater Stadium in Vienna with a brand of football based on his upbringing at West Ham’s school of pass and move, plus his own hankering for the delicious diagonal patterns of the magnificent Magyars from Honved in the 1950s. Allison was one of the first to enthuse about the Hungarian national team that would some time later come to Wembley in their old fashioned kit and lightweight “carpet slippers” to wipe the floor so comprehensively with Billy Wright’s tittering England troops that it fair brought tears to the eyes.

You can read the rest of this article on ESPNs Manchester City page, here


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

LOSERS AND LOSING

Reading 5 Arsenal 7

Chelsea 5 Man Utd 4


The theatre and the drama of it all. What dizzy heights can football not traverse? What uplifting current can this new age of froth and blather not produce? The power to surprise and to rejuvenate is beyond astonishing sometimes, leaving old lags and sceptics light on oxygen and bathing in little carbolic bubbles. Sometimes this old sport can still raise a smile and force out a giggle.

Ajax 3 Manchester City 1

Then there are the other days when your team has just sunk without trace in a vital Champions League game, when your hopes head upwards into the ethereal ink sky and the world looks at you and emits a deep belly laugh. Days when football belts a curver right into the family jewels. When the last umbro diamond of sky blue slides inevitably behind a mass of black smoke and foul smelling rain begins to tumble out of its engorged belly. When your brains curdle at the thought of another descent into the Europa League.

On long dark winter days like this, Roberto Mancini must feel like Giacomo Casanova on a swift dart across the sloping lead roof of the Doge's Palace. “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of Platt and Kidd,” he might want to wail as he slides off into the night, hot bodies in hot pursuit. They chase him here and they chase him there.

Criticising Mancini after what he has achieved with Manchester City in such a short space of time smacks of a callousness that only football can eek out of normal people, but a pattern that has been developing in his Champions League career deserves at this juncture, at the very least, our deeper scrutiny. The dust from Ajax's successful operation to scythe through City's tactical forest in Amsterdam has settled. The return is now upon us, a match so laden with importance, given City's precarious one point at the foot of the four-team group and Mancini's own Trial by Wapping this week that you dare not consider the fall-out from another Dutch victory. The added spice comes from Daniel Taylor's Guardian article that claims Mancini spent some of the crucial closing weeks of last season negotiating a million dollar contract with AS Monaco as a possible escape if City's season petered out into tears and sawdust. The Italian is never far from the headlines, be it for inter-manager altercations, heinous card waving antics from the sidelines, eerily bare press conference responses or tactical manoeuvring (née tinkering) to the umpteenth degree. Whatever the truth or the reasoning behind City's well-paid manager finding it plausible to move to the French second division from the top of the English Premier League, the news comes at a time when Mancini's Midas Touch is coming into question once again, owing mainly to the shortcomings of his side in continental combat.

Let us start in the present - where sweat and rumour are hard at work - and work steadily backwards: this season's Champions League campaign is beginning to look strangely reminiscent of last year's efforts, where City ended up with ten points, only to find a poor start had scuppered chances of progression. So far we have the poor start nailed. If nine points are to follow from Ajax at home, Real at home and Dortmund away, there won't be a dry pair of trousers in the house. I for one will be available for interview at the top of Mount Fuji wearing an alan ball shell suit and an empty jar of family sized pickled onions as a hat.

What has befallen us so far? City have managed to...

  • lose a nerve-shredding game 2-3 in Madrid, after leading one-nil and two-one with three minutes left to play. Shots 20:8 in favour of the home side.
  • draw a game at home to Dortmund in which the visitors pummelled us for almost the entire match and we got off a very uncomfortable hook with a last minute penalty. Shots 20:12 in favour of Borussia; Joe Hart the clear and obvious man of the match.
  • lose in Amsterdam against a vastly less experienced Ajax side. Shots on and off, 14:14
These three games have rendered one solitary point, seven goals conceded and more shots towards our goal than any other side in the tournament, including the likes of Lille, Nordsjaelland and other so-called "punchbag" sides in reasonably difficult groups.

Last season's campaign has been well documented. The Champions League panned out thus in 2011-12:
  • a home draw with Napoli where the away side surprised us with its powerful fluid counter-attacking, making it necessary to come back from a goal down
  • a 2-0 defeat in Munich, after a lively, bright opening 20 minutes, but eventually 17:6 shots ratio and a ratio on the bench of One Reluctant Argentinian:One Steaming Furious Italian
  • a last gasp 2-1 win over Villareal, the group's whipping boys, who still manage 13 shots on our goal and to hold out at 1-1 until the 93rd minute.
  • an easy 3-0 win away to Villareal against a side whose confidence is beginning to slip away, as they were rooted to the bottom of the group and struggling surprisingly in La Liga.
  • a critical 2-1 defeat in Naples against a fiery, punishing home side, backed by a volatile crowd made up of 65,000 torch bearers. Difficult place to get the result we needed, but scored only one (from Balotelli) from 14 chances.
  • a 2-0 home win over already qualified Bayern, who played a quasi-reserve side 
The  totals under Roberto Mancini are thus: Played 9; Won 3; Drawn 2; Lost 4; For 13; Against 13

Some of this can be put down to bad luck, some of it to beginners nerves, inexperience, a dodgy UEFA coefficient, dogs barking outside the hotel windows all night and some oddly shaped and less than fragrant southern Italian gnocchi, but not all of it. When we add Roberto Mancini's distinctly ropey record with Inter, debate becomes a little more lively.

Before doing that, it is worth noting, whilst albeit not pertaining to Mancini's Champions League record, he did take Lazio to the semi finals of the UEFA Cup in 2003-4, beating Sturm Graz, Besiktas, Red Star Belgrade and Wisla Kraków before going out to the eventual winners, José Mourinho's Porto. However, when the nitty gritty of the UCL hoves into view, something odd happens. His Inter side never got going in this tournament, losing a steamy match with Valencia that led to sightings of Mancini trying to mask a tv camera's view of an ensuing "melée" between his players and those of the Spanish side. Reverses at the hands of Milan, Villareal and Liverpool followed in the years that came.

Much is made these days of the Mancini, who seems lost in European competition. The man, who -when confronted with the European game's big thinkers and big hitters- ends up with cioccolato dripping down the old Dolce e Gabbana slacks. With the British tabloid hyenas barking down his every word, the frayed edges of Mancini's silky smooth media appearance are beginning to show. Threads are unravelling gently around the sides to reveal a bare Italian bottom. 

The sky over East Manchester
The ever-growing band of intrepid Mancini followers watch his every managerial step, convinced they are witnessing a man on the brink of implosion, who continually suffers in Europe’s premier competition, a serial failure, the guy who got lucky in the league. They see a guy, who often cuts a frustrated figure on the touchline, his scarf knotted loosely, his arms not sure whether to point or fold, wave a card or point at Brian Kidd. they see all this and they prepare to pounce.

Let us not forget that, after the Inter loss to Liverpool, Mancini blurted a hugely premature resignation speech before presiding over a jittery end of season where his Inter did all they could to allow Roma to overtake them. In scenes almost as dramatic as City's summit with QPR last May, Mancini's Inter only secured the big gong on the final day by beating Parma. Mancini, then, is no stranger to emotionally charged crisis periods, life-sapping end of season run-ins, nor, sadly, continental collapses.

The fact remains that no man, be he English, Italian or neither one thing nor the other, deserves the public whipping Roberto Mancini is currently undergoing. The atmosphere sours with every outrage, every spat response, every sarcastic dig about a hair dryer or, as a Manchester Evening News hack  laughably complained last week, a lack of eloquence when using English. We are watching the gradual erosion of a man's dignity in a very public arena. Alex Ferguson would always resolve such matters quickly and without fuss: banning orders here, gagging order there and Mike Phelan for the rest of you. City, for the time being and for reasons that only they will know, continue to allow their manager to be flash fried on live television. It is beginning to make uncomfortable viewing. For Roberto Mancini, a man of some considerable pride, it is turning him slowly but surely into a sulky, wounded animal. He will not put up with this sort of circus, you imagine, for very long.

Monday, October 22, 2012

WINNERS AND WINNING

Today might not be the very best moment to wax lyrical about Lance Armstrong, but there are plenty of other strains of professional sport that carry solid examples of people, who know how to win at the top and keep winning. Every dog has his day, some might say, but how do you harness all that is good about what you achieved in a one-off situation and do it again? And again. How do you sustain this when all around you are busy sussing you out, improving their own efforts and wanting to occupy your space?

Because every first time victory runs the risk of being a one-off, unless you can capture the magic ingredients and reproduce them when the adrenaline flow is not rushing like a torrent. For Manchester City, this has become an interesting test. When your first trophy comes after a wait of 44 years and is followed by your first League title in a manner so unique, so unbelievably raw, it might just be a slither beyond you to recreate the circumstances necessary to repeat the performance.

Or not.

                                                            
Murtaz Shelia: no lack of physical toughness ...

Anyone living in the North West in the last 25 years will be aware of what has been achieved at Old Trafford. Much to the disdain of City supporters, the juggernaut driven by the Scottish cup thrower, has kept thundering forward despite challenges from all points of the compass. Say what you like about Alex Ferguson, and many of us do on a regular basis, but he has instilled an unbreakable spirit in five, maybe six, different United sides down the years. Look at the names in some of the more recent sides he has built and you will be hard pressed to be impressed: Bardsley, O'Shea, the two hobbits, Gibson, Phil Neville, Anderson. City fans have taken special pride in laughing out loud whenever any of these hove into view, but they have all played their part in winning games for United that most other teams would have lost, given up as dead long before the final whistle sounded.

How long and hard we studied, re-studied and then complained about all those late winners. Soft refs, bent refs, a manager bullying everyone from the sidelines, tapping that bloody watch of his and looking like a kettle about to go off. It seemed to happen every single week, starting with Ferguson and Brian Kidd, now happily and ironically ensconced in the comfy chairs alongside Robert Mancini at the Etihad, doing the fandango six metres inside the Old Trafford touchline when Steve Bruce scored the winner against Sheffield Wednesday in the 6th minute of added time to draw United ever closer to their first Premier League title in 1993. Ferguson was tapping his watch that day too, first to send the clear message to the referee not to stop the game before United had done the business and, when they had done it in such late and dramatic circumstances, to tell him he was now allowing too much time. You marvelled at the bare-faced cheek. They won the league and we spat feathers. Then they did it another 11 times and the place went dark. 

(Of 45 clubs who have competed for the Premier League since its inception ("the beginning of football") in 1992, only five have won the title: Man Utd (12); Arsenal (3); Chelsea (3) plus one each to City and Blackburn Rovers....)


I have long stopped marvelling at stuff like that. It gave me stomach ulcers in the nineties and turned me prematurely bitter in my 30s. I still wear a smile like a man who has been kicked in the groin by a llama every time I am introduced to a surprise United supporter. If I have no time to prepare myself, I can become a bit of a mess. "Oh, you follow the (cough) reds? Aha (spills drink)...".


They didn't exactly ruin my life, only Colin Schindler can get away with statements like that, but they have changed it for the worse on countless occasions.

Kidd and Ferguson rejoice in Steve Bruce
"The champion DNA of Manchester United has been infected by City's triumphant emergence."

And then, a little while back, something quite invigorating happened. Something odd and unusual. Something that made my 35 years of bitterness evaporate in 20 seconds flat. I kept the disorientation. Indeed that became quickly and stupendously worse. I kept the giddiness and I kept the surreptitious dark humour that anything that could go wrong will do just that, but in the light of what I had just experienced, it was plainly complete rot. With a confident smack of his right foot, Sergio Aguero had banished a lifetime's worth of attempted full-on misery and gleeful masochism. I had been building it, layer upon intricate layer, like some giant self-propelling trifle, for practically all of my life, as tearful non-comprehending child (thank you Kenny Hibbitt and Gary Pearce), sweary adolescent (take a bow, Paul Hendrie, Sammy Chapman, Peter Willis, Alf Grey), inebriated student (yes, you, Jimmy Sirrell, and you, Raddy Antic and you, John Benson) through to the gleefully morose days of full adulthood (Jamie Pollock, I'm looking at you, Jason van Blerk, Alan Ball, God and all his witnesses, the seven riders of the apocalypse, Nayim, Peter Swales, Barry Conlon, Andre Kanchelskis, all of you, all of you).

And now it came tumbling down in a cloud of brick dust and flying bottles. As did I and all around me.

Since that moment, life has not been the same in football circles in Manchester. There is no longer much hope of a belly laugh from Manchester City jokes. It is better to take them seriously. As for Ferguson and his stopwatch. Well, he still taps his forearm, but the confident gestures have gone and the powers are on the wane. he taps and he taps but those late goals are not so plentiful anymore. They still occur of course, as do the comebacks, but the champion DNA of Manchester United has been infected by City's triumphant emergence. They see someone else, their neighbours of all people, making good the same philosophy, the same metal toughness and organisation that has brought them such success. This sows doubts. The seeds are sprouting.

City meanwhile are collecting in the crop. Look at these figures:

Season 2012-13 so far -

12th August 2012 CHELSEA (Comm Shield) - 1-0 down, come back to win 3-2
19th August 2012 SOUTHAMPTON (h) - 2-1 down, come back to win 3-2, Nasri winner 80th minute
26th August 2012 LIVERPOOL (a) 2-1 down, come back to draw, Tevez 80th minute
1st September 2012 QPR (h) Pegged back to 1-1, win 3-1, Tevez 90th minute warps it up
15th September 2012 STOKE (a) - one nil down, come back to draw, with Dzeko's 93rd minute lob cleared miraculously from the line by Shawcross to avoid a City comeback win
18th September 2012 REAL (a) twice taking the lead in the Bernabeu before falling to dramatic 3-2 loss
29th September FULHAM (a) one down, coming back to win against defensively set up team, Dzeko's winner in 86th minute
3rd October 2012 BORUSSIA DORTMUND (h) 89th minute Balotelli equaliser saves up and down game 
20th October 2012 WEST BROM (a) one down to defensively set up side, Dzeko's goals in 80 and 91 turn it around again for City

In practically every game so far this season, the Blues have either turned a defecit into a draw or a win or have scored late in the game to seal things. Even in the stroll against Sunderland, Milner's goal came on 89 minutes. This is a team that does not know when it is beaten; it is a team that keeps going in the face of lengthening odds. Wonder of wonders, I am not talking about Ferguson's troupe but the new teak tough Manchester City, with a mentality of champions.

"The players and staff of Manchester City have now arrived in a completely different place, one where they can marry, in a team environment, the rational and physical with the emotional and make this marriage work regularly and reliably for their own advancement."

Brian Kidd: part of 4 different Manchester dynasties

The mind drifts back to last season's blur of tear-stained action. Last gasp winners v Chelsea and Spurs as Nasri skipped home and Balotelli banged in yet another ice cool penalty; at Arsenal in the League Cup with that sumptuous counter by Dzeko, Johnson and Aguero; the late flurry of activity at Old Trafford; then there was strange old day in May to cap it all off. By that tumultuos denouement, City had hoisted themsleves not only into first place, but also to the top of the rankings covering late winners. More goals, in fact, scored after the 90th minute than any other side in the division. Who would have thought we would be saying that about City ten years ago?

I well remember several games, two versus Birmingham in the late nineties in particular, where the club had managed to cultivate the exact opposite to waht we see today: a deadly ability to concede in added time. Dele Adebola. A name I will never forget. I remember the unlikely bulk of Murtaz Shelia giving us the lead at St Andrews in some God-forsaken, mud-splattered second division game. It was the 88th minute when the lolloping Georgian netted. We lost that game 2-1. Birmingham's goals came in the 94th and 97th minutes. The rot set in so deep that the club's decline to the third tier of English football felt in many ways inevitable. The resurrection since then has been nothing short of remarkable.

That trophies now sit proudly on the Etihad mantlepiece is one thing. That we use the word in the plural, without fear of being hit by a barrage of belly laughs is quite another. The players and staff of Manchester City have now arrived in a completely different zone, one where they can marry, in a team environment, the rational, and physical with the emotional and make this marriage work regularly and reliably for their own advancement. As Lance Armstrong would tell you, only a dope throws that sort of gold away. 

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Psychology of sport - Further viewing: Dr Steve Peters, Olympic consultant, gives as good as he gets on BBC World's Hardtalk, on the subject of our "inner chimps" here:



 

Brian Kidd joins his boss on the pitch after Steve Bruce's 96th min winner v Wednesday

 




Other Tedious Stuff

Poets and Lyricists