Monday, January 30, 2012

EVERTON v CITY: A RICH HISTORY OF RIVALRY

It's Everton Time again, that twice-a-season knee shaker where eyes are trained on City's quivering stars to see if they can match the Toffees for grit, thunder, bluster, drive and sheer never-say-die lung-busting effort. Will David Silva be trampled under foot? Will Tim Cahill take yet another swing at our corner flag? Will Hibbert and Heitinga suddenly become world beaters? We have fallen foul of Everton's spirit on numerous occasions in recent years, but this season's 2-0 win -struggle though it was- may at last have put a dent in the hoodoo...

Here's a selection of memories from games between the two sides:

SATURDAY 27th AUGUST 1994 With the Kippax in tatters, City opened the season under Bryan Horton in a blur of attacking football. This game, watched by only 19,876 owing to extensive works on the ground, featured a blistering performance from City front men Rosler, Walsh and Beagrie. "We were a shambles," insisted the urbane Mike Walker and, thanks to his tactics, they were. Crowd complaints about Niall Quinn not getting into the side soon disappeared into the Rusholme night, as City went 6th in the early season table in a flurry of wing play not seen since Peter Barnes in his heyday.



WEDNESDAY 8th DECEMBER 1993 A year earlier, Everton had turned up wearing salmon coloured shirts to a Maine Road wearing black. The Francis Lee campaign to oust Peter Swales was in full flow, as Swales's hired gun (more of a pop gun admittedly) John Maddock left his post in the run-up to this game. With the pitch waterlogged and both sides deep in trouble, an early header from Carl Griffiths sealed the win for City.



SUNDAY 8th APRIL 2001 The desperate descent under Joe Royle was well under way by the time he took City to his old Goodison stamping ground. With City sliding towards relegation, Nicky Weaver had started to show his nerves. A clanger in the home game with Villa was followed by a similar mistake in this game, which gave Everton their third goal. It was a shame for Weaver, who had already saved a Michael Ball penalty and made a string of brilliant saves, after Jeff Whitley had bounced City into an unlikely lead. By the time Weaver spooned Unsworth's header into his own net, the game was up and City were heading down the pipes.



SATURDAY 21st AUGUST 2002 Long before Nicolas Anelka decided it was time to learn Mandarin Chinese, he landed in the north west for a little while with goals on his mind. Nurtured by Kevin Keegan, he settled well and managed a hat-trick in this early season game, ably supplied by the mercurial skills of Eyal Berkovic, Ali Benarbia and Shaun Wright-Philips. The win would take City to the heady heights of 8th place, as Keegan tackled his first City Premiership season with all-out attack.


SATURDAY 9th DECEMBER 2000 This result was so out of place in a dismal season full of own goals and drubbings that, at first, it seems like a mistake. The day the Andromada Vortex swivelled across the Maine Road turf. In fact, this was a performance of poise and power amidst a season of poison and powder. Five different scorers (Wanchope, Goater, Howey, Dickov and Gary Naismith) made it one of the few days to remember in the 2000-01 relegation season.


SATURDAY 20th MARCH 1982 With John Bond fast losing interest in his City tenure, this Easter game was livened by a 30 yard pile driver from Kevin Bond and the single instance of Trevor Francis losing his temper in 22 years of top flight football, when he planted his forehead into the face of Billy Wright after an altercation between the two and Mark Higgins. The game ended level at 1-1 and City fans rued the diminishing returns from their star striker, who would leave for the Spain World Cup a City player and return only to collect his kitbag en route for Sampdoria.


FRIDAY 26th DECEMBER 1980 A Boxing Day cracker which saw City continue to climb the table at the turn of the year under John Bond's (at that time) enthusiastic leadership. Curiously, Gerry Gow and Paul Power scored the goals in this match. The same two players would also secure City a 2-2 draw at Goodison two months later in a never-to-be-forgotten FA Cup 6th round tie in the days when the FA Cup throbbed with passion, you could stand in the Park End and the atmosphere created by 52,000 was spellbinding. 


SATURDAY 25th FEBRUARY 1978 With City charging hard for the title, this was a game full of emotion, as Everton, backed by sizeable travelling support, played their part in a thrilling clash in the wet, finally ending up on the losing side, thanks to Brian Kidd's clincher. 12 months later Kidd would be turning out in the dark blue of the Toffees and City's star-studded side (here represented by Channon and Watson) would soon be a thing of the past.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

PARANOID PETE

So, here's the list, growing by the minute!

  • Chelsea away. Loose ball in the box, rears up and hits Joleon Lescott on the arm. Clear ball to hand incident. Penalty!!! Chelsea score, win 2-1 and City's unbeaten run is over. Tough cheese, what comes round goes around.
  • Man Utd in the cup. Big Vinny slides in with a brilliant clean tackle, swishing the ball from Nani's feet and returns to the perpendicular all in one motion. Nani, a fragile beast at the best of times, jumps the tackle and lands on his feet, ready to chase back for possession. But wait a minute, ref blows. Red card. Oh yes. Play the next 80 minutes with a man less. Don't pass Go and don't get out of jail. Not for a long time, sonny.
  • Big Vinny banned for four games for brilliant clean tackle.
  • Man Utd: Incredibly, still going strong and fighting for late equaliser. Phil Jones handles in the box. No penalty. Out of the cup you go! Shhh.
  • Liverpool. Johnson flies in from great distance with a leg breaker on Lescott, who just about clears the lunge. Play on, no foul, no cards, no retrospective punishment. There you go, Joe.
  • Mates telling me to calm down, it's not a conspiracy.
  • Wigan. Ball cleared to halfway, Aguero is clear to run through one on one if it doesn't touch last defender. He jumps, makes sizeable arse of himself and pats the ball away like Michael Jordan doing the Big Loopy. Yellow card, free kick, stop whining.
  • Sunderland. After a day camping in the opposition half, home side break out of ten man defence for first time in 93rd minute. Sadly, disoriented South Korean sub strays a metre and a half offside, but runs on and nets winner. No offside, go away, you've lost the game! Toot toot.
  • Tottenham. Balotelli banned for 4 games after Retrospective Trial by Daily Mail (new law introduced whilst you were asleep last night).
  • Mates start laughing at my "dyspeptic rage" and outrageous sense of Contrived Bully Syndrome.
  • Hospital appointment to remove Malteezer from ear.
  • Day off work to replaster wall where fridge landed after last night's game.
  • Liverpool. Dzeko's leg taken away by Adam for clear penalty. No penalty go away. Shut up and stop muttering like that, you're only making yourself look silly.
  • Dark clouds forming around my temples.
  • Liverpool. Ball zooms off Micah's outstretched foot and rears up to glance onto his arms. Waist high arms. Penalty!!! No, I said penalty. Ball to hand? no, penalty and don't ask again.
  • Phil Dowd leaves the field at half time doing a routine not unlike the Tampa Bay Rowdies Cheerleaders. "Arms were up here, arms were up here, arms were up here". 
  • Aleksander Kolarov
  • Shoe flies out of window, followed by tortoise. Whoops. Expect FA Retrospective Action. Thought it was Lego.
  • Peter Walton is announced as ref for Everton v City.
  • Immigration papers arrive.
FA Council Disciplinary Hearing: "Ban him!"

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

FORM & SHAPE






The Balotelli Incident now means that Roberto Mancini enters yet another critical phase of this season of critical phases with diminishing prospects upfront. Whilst many are gnashing their teeth and rubbing their armpits in anguish (some perhaps even reduced to Roy Hodgsonesque temple-agitation) I believe this is an opportunity for City to put down a serious marker. Clubs at the top are obviously being forced to take the Blues seriously, but a positive outcome at Anfield would really underline the fact that, despite all the water seeming to flow in the opposite direction at the moment, we can canoe with the best of them.

Shorn of our captain, the best central defender in Europe at the moment, without our most influential midfielder bar one in Yaya Touré and with a mounting press campaign to get the likes of Balotelli and Lescott removed from the playing fields of England, City have come through a period of form loss and massive disruption with a three point lead at the top of the Premier League.That's some slump.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

GREY MATTER

Alfred Grey.

Amongst Liverpool supporters, the name probably deserves a flicker of attention before getting back to studying Uruguayan Spanish dictionaries for nuance and politesse. For certain members of the blue half of this semi final square-up, however, it is a name that resonates as forcefully and clearly as if someone had just hit us over the head with a bin lid. If little Alan Wilkie is the refuse bin in the corner of the kitchen, Alf Grey is the municipal skip on the edge of the industrial estate. 

(Comparisons of Chris Foy to a Soviet Era Chemical Compost Dump are of course utterly out of place here)

For Mr Grey was the upright, quasi-military-looking fellow, who managed single-handedly to whistle our beloved City out of a hard-fought, mud and feathers League Cup semi final in 1981, curiously enough our last league Cup semi, and even more curiously against the very same opponents. If some of us don’t remember, it is likely to be better that you don't. Three decades later some of us are still smarting about his role in what was to turn out to be a truly epic two encounters with the team of the 70s, which would also become the team of the decade ahead.

Liverpool were a well-oiled goal-scoring machine in those days, with a spine of clever international players, who could look after themselves in a fight and turn on the tricks when the sun came out. Clemence, Hughes, Thompson, Alan Kennedy, McDermott, Ray Kennedy, Souness, Dalglish, the names rolled off the lolling tongues of the devoted press. This was a team that carried all before it, winning trophies galore and setting standards that teams today are still chasing.

Note the marvellous irony of the cartoon


Before City's recent glut of big games, an appearance this close to Wembley usually meant we were off down Bond Street Christmas shopping. But, suddenly, the glee of a day out in old London town can be contemplated quietly on a regular basis. Here we are but two games away. In 1981, memories of Wembley were not too distant either. City had won the League Cup in 1976 in the "Dennis Tueart Final" v Newcastle and lost it in 1974 in the Gary Pearce Final v Wolves. Added to the 1970 final win v West Brom ("The Horse of the Year Final"), the League Cup in those days was a favourite hunting ground for the Blues.

Let me take you back to the winter of 1980, however, and we see that the City side ambling about the playing fields of England was a far cry from those Wembley vintages. Big Mal was in the grip of his mad clearout, levering the likes of Gary Owen, Peter Barnes and Asa Hartford out of the Maine Road doors, after Watson and Brian Kidd had been dismissed before them. A whole generation of hopes had skidded on the cobbles of Claremont Road as they bounced off into the distance.


By November Allison was gone too, replaced by the bouffant boaster, John Bond. Brash and saddled with a Norfolk burr that made him sound like a farmhand, Bond had taken a depleted, bedraggled squad by the scruff of the neck and dragged it kicking and screaming from the foot of the table, where Big Mal's haphazard tactics had dropped us.

With little cash to spend, he had brought in three old-timers, who few on the Kippax held out much hope for: Tommy Hutchison, a leggy winger from Coventry, Bobby McDonald, a heavy-thighed left back colleague at Highfield Road and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, Gerry Gow, a gnarled old ball winner from Bristol City. Gow's fuzzy hair was greying, his legs were thin, he appeared knock-kneed when he ran, none of which helped raise the air of resignation inside Maine Road when Bond's first game in charge ended with home defeat to a sterile, docile Birmingham City. In fairness, the three new recruits arrived after this game and all were to fit in astonishingly quickly.

On a cold wintry night in Moss Side some thirty short years ago, more than 48,000 pressed into the old ground to witness the remarkable continuation of John Bond’s sky blue miracle, having hauled us off the bottom of the table post Big Mal and embarked on not one but two cup runs. Stoke, Luton, Notts County and a nail-biter against West brom had all been successfully negotiated, the first two whilst still under Allison’s managership. The Stoke game had involved brisk performances from Dave Bennet and Tony Henry, two bit part players, who were set to write their names in caster sugar and hundreds and thousands as the League Cup run ran on. 

By the time Notts County hove into view, Bond had really taken charge and City’s lifeless corpse was once again twitching vigorously. This game would convince one or two of us that the early surge of positive results under the new bouncy-haired chief were not to be short-lived. As Bond’s reign took off, we had seen the following happen before our increasingly disbelieving eyes:

  • City 0 Birmingham 1 (had hardly had time to wipe the crumbs and cigar ash off his seat)
  • City 3 Spurs 1 (whirlwind win with Mackenzie, Reeves and Daley suddenly looking like Baggio, Neeskens and Butragueño)
  • Brighton 1 City 2 (stunning debut for Catweasel look-a-like Tommy Hutchison, as Daley is red carded)


So to Notts County, 2nd division leaders, to be promoted at the end of that season, but a team with no answer to City that particular night and, especially, no answer to Dennis Tueart. This was one of my favourite memories of Tueart, a player who provided us all with a tank full of special moments to remember him by. He was by this time reaching the final stages of what had been an utterly exemplary City career, which would see him play his last game for the Blues in the shocking relegation cliffhanger with Luton two years hence, followed by a brief spell at Stoke, then retirement, but here was the Tueart of old, darting, scampering, sniffing and, above all, dispatching that greasy spheroid into the old onion bag. Not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times, he slid in and beat the County keeper. Final score 5-1 and City on a real roll. In the light of recent happenings in the FA Cup, it is interesting to see what Don Hardisty’s report in the next days Daily Mirror had to say: “Yet Tueart was lucky to still be on the pitch. Booked in the 2nd minute for a trip on County defender Pedro Richards, he handled a centre from Kevin Reeves into the net in the 15th minute. In the present disciplinary climate he was lucky to avoid a red...”. One wonders what Chris Foy might have made of that. City would have the tables turned in this respect come semi-final day.

But first it was back to the bread and butter of climbing the league table away from the deadbeats at the bottom. The impressive home run continued with the following results:

  • City 1 Norwich 0 (Gladwys Power netting the winner)
  • City 3 Southampton 0 (Gow, Bennett, Reeves on target)
  • City 3 Coventry 0 (Reeves, Power, Bennett again the scorers)
City’s away form was patchy, though, and in between this run of home wins, the Blues drew at Filbert Street and lost at Roker Park. The game before the quarter final with West Brom saw a fine 3-2 win at Selhurst park, masterminded by Gerry Gow’s combative, two-goal display. Gow, like Hutchison and McDonald, was proving the doubters completely wrong. City were now ready for the arrival of the West Midlanders.

This was to be Tony Henry’s night . A bit part player under Allison, he had been seen in the infamous City! Documentary as the one, who Allison always landed on when haranguing the team for their failings. Even the episode where the film crew witness Allison’s farewell’s to the squad on a grey morning at Platt Lane, his comment to Henry was “Don’t forget what I told you”, whilst patting and hugging the others with a trail of “good boys” and “keep it goings”. Henry took centre stage this night with the winning goal, a towering header in a crowded West Brom area, after the visitors had been given the lead by Tommy Booth’s early own goal.Luck and Lady Fortune herself, so long with their back to us, were now smiling at us and beckoning in the most beguiling way.

The win led to an outpouring of joy amongst City fans. We had reached a semi final after such a wretched league campaign and the others left in the draw were Coventry, West Ham and Liverpool, enjoying a stranglehold on both this tournament and the League Championship. Obviously, if we could avoid the favourites, Wembley would be a realistic target for Bond’s revitalised side.

The little balls rolled out and Liverpool it was.

The heaving Kippax welcomed bobby-tailed City onto the green beize. Within seconds of the start, Kevin Reeves leapt like a salmon on the last waterfall before egg-deposit-Sunday to skim the ball past a flailing Grobelaar and into the North Stand net. Cue cup semi final knees-up-mother-brown pandemonium. Then, like now, I had no idea how to celebrate taking the lead in such an important game, so my imminent embarrassment was mercifully cut short by a shrill sergeant major phweeeep on Mr Grey’s old tin musical instrument. Apparently, in leaping to head the ball majestically past the Liverpool ‘keeper, a gust of wind from somewhere deep inside Reeves’s 80s style loose fit Umbro shorts had affected Grobelaar’s ear-to-eye balance ratio. It was nothing a mere human eye would have been able to pick up, but fortunately, Mr Grey was made of far sterner stuff and, his sensitive antenae having twitched a message through to his frothing Grey Matter, he pointed his parade ground arm firmly for a free kick. The mood on the Kippax sank.

I can well remember the look on the faces of Souness and McDermott, as their Tom Selleck moustaches twitched knowingly. Phil Neal's chin quivered in the floodlights. Joey Jones's tatoos danced in an early impersonation of Modern Day Footballer. I swear one of them winked, whilst Alf Grey moonwalked back upfield, vast amounts of static zapping between his back pocket and his earpiece.



The match thereafter represented a classic Liverpool ambush. Peter Johnson, writing in the pre-sensationalist Daily Mail said: "Manchester City entered that deep valley of death that is Liverpool's defence....". For 81 minutes City's brave troops battered at the Liverpool rearguard, holding their own elsewhere on the park against their formidable opponents, despite the fact that they were shorn of their new heroes, the fully cup-tied Hutchison, McDonald and Gow. In their place, Henry, Bennett and Paul Power had worked their socks off. But then came the breakthrough.

City, visibly tiring, allowed McDermott's freekick to drift through further than was sensible. the Kippax's chant of "Liverpool are boring" froze in our throats, as Ray Kennedy ghosted in at the back post, as he often did, and side footed home with ease. It was a smack in the chops for the young duo of Caton and Reid at the back, who had shackled the dangerous Dalglish all game. Sammy Lee then came within inches of making the Anfield return a no-go area, but it finished 1-0 and City still harboured some form of hope.

If anything the second leg was even more painful. A trip to Anfield did not encourage the sort of hunger for success that it might do today. This place in 1981 was an absolute fortress. I only remember City winning there once in the two decades from 1970 to 1990. Again the Blues took to the field without the cup-ties trio, with untried youth team player Gary Buckley making up the numbers. It was to be a heroic performance. With Liverpool ahead after just 22 minutes, it looked very like curtains, but in a 2nd half so full of grit they might have needed a bulldozer to clear a path, Reeves shocked the Kop with a 55th minute equaliser and City piled forward for the goal that would level things overall.

I was too young and fragile to attend a night cup tie of this magnitude at a place like Anfield (there was huge rivalry and thus plenty of trouble between the Manchester and Liverpool supporters at this stage) so listened intently to the radio commentary as the drama exploded across the airwaves. That night, City tore down the flanks at Anfield in wave after wave of pressure, a pincer movement that culminated in young Bennett heading solidly against the bar with the chance which would have flattened the whole tie at 2-2. Liverpool, European champions and cup masters, hung on by the skin of their teeth, but the feeling of pride in Bond's rag-tag battlers had never been higher.

Today's City go into tonight's tie with a score to settle and with a better chance of doing so than for many years. May the luck that deserted them in these two gripping ties with Liverpool and last weekend against Manchester United come back in spade-loads this evening.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

NUTS AND BOLTS

It is common to write "five thoughts" about football matches these days, but I have had six, so here goes and two hoots to protocol. This is 2012 and I'll do what I want:

Firstly then, my second thought (as my first one is unprintable, libellous and might get me either put away or hunted down: it is not really a thought, in fact, more a question. How. Did. That. Happen? (following protocol this time, I have put a full stop after each word of a normally straightforward four-word sentence to emphasise the incredul. Ity.


Thirdly and most emphatically: where does imperious form go so suddenly, so swiftly, so completely? Does it melt or evaporate? Does it slide down the plughole like a well aimed shot of mucus? Why and where, why and where? Or is the form still with us, just the angles are different? Silva's tikka taka suddenly looking like barely warm meringue. Dzeko's foot a leather-clad spade. Yaya, already looking for the dusty train to Mongombo. Six hundred and sixty five passes were attempted, of which many found their man. twenty seven shots towards goal (not "on goal", you understand). The wording here is crucial, as Dzeko's mum muight be tuning in and we don't want to hurt her feelings too much. (Note to Mrs Dzeko. your son had a stinker today). Possession means chances and points mean prizes but shots at the roof mean nothing to most of us. (still, there were a heck of a lot of them)

Number 4: how does this all affect the others in this "red hot title race"? (this is what they call them apparently. Never been near one before, so will have to take Mike Parry's word for it). They will have been down then up. We were down then up and then down again. All that this proves is that there are a lot of ups and downs and some of them belong to us. Those intelligent fellows at the Daily Mail and Talksport will be thrashing themselves and each other with a bull whip taking it in turns to chant "It's United's title. Ouch", "Chelsea are out of it. Ayeeee", "It must be City. Ooof", "No this is the end of City. Owah", "Maybe it looks like Spurs. awoooo". Mentally, we must be strong. The others too. It's all played in the mind, except those tricky bits out there on the green. Psychologically, the manager's quiff-tossing, Italian expletive laden performance on the bench will be a big boon for...all of the others, whilst the poor individuals closest to the manager's wildly waving forearm (sadly, it has to be Johnson, forlornly running the line with that little ginger-haired defender on his back) will continue to get the full Italian-English dictionary thrown at them.

5. If Mancini's touchline histrionics are of little help, they cannot be compared to Stuart Pearce's. Any management guru or body language expert would tell you what he did on the touchline in the name of Manchester City should never be repeated. Still, one or two eyes-to-the-sky-looks of disdain less would be just dandy.

Six: we are all quite enjoying this, aren't we? Today's game reminded me of a classic in 1997, when we managed through the power of negative thought and jelly legs, to lose a one goal lead to Birmingham City in the 94th minute and lose the game altogether in the 97th. We had only taken the lead in the 88th ourselves. Boy were we in a mess in those days. Through these scattered crumbs of comfort, we dust ourselves down and prepare for the next outing. These days, not such a mess, no such worry. No Murtaz Shelia with a look on his face that spells "murder" in Georgian.

Look forward to a reaction on Tuesday. If it doesn't come, look out for Dzeko's Mum before you let rip.

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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