David Mooney is not only a prolific writer and talker on all things Manchester City, but also a purveyor of excellently written, eminently readable tales about this grand old club of ours. He has already been responsible for four books on City and one piece of fiction named Granny Killer, reputedly about Jimmy Frizzell and a misunderstanding over a small tub of creosote.
For those, who have not yet managed to get a copy of his latest work, "Looks Like Scunny Next Season", featuring fascinating interviews with each team member from the history-changing play-off final in 1999 with Gillingham, here's an extract to whet the appetite.
6: Kevin Horlock
“I know this sounds terrible, but I still didn’t think that was enough. I didn’t envisage what was going to happen after that. I thought the time was up. On a personal point – and I know it sounds dreadfully selfish – I thought ‘we’ve had a terrible day, but I’ve scored at Wembley and I can tell the grandkids that’.”
We were sitting in a downstairs room of Needham Market FC’s clubhouse and, naturally, there was only one place where the discussion could start. Just like Kevin Horlock on the pitch, when his goal at Wembley in 1999 hit the back of the net, there were few in the stands that celebrated it. With the board for stoppage time being raised and it pulling the score back to 2-1, thousands of fans thought it was too little, too late.
“Obviously it’s an even better story to tell the grandkids, now!” He adds, after a moment’s pause.
“All I remember was that, as a player, you really want to try and get back into the match. I remember trying to cover as much ground as I could. When we were defending, I tried to get back – because, obviously we couldn’t concede another one.
“Then I just remember the ball breaking forward and thinking I needed to get to the edge of the area as quickly as I could. Obviously, I’m not the quickest player in the world. Luckily enough, maybe being a bit slower helped me run onto the ball, rather than have to back-peddle for it.
“I remember arriving and the ball just seemed to come across for me. All I was thinking was just ‘hit the target – head down, get a good connection and hit the target’.
“It was a good strike. You can look at it as quite a good goal, I suppose, because I stayed quite composed – but maybe that was due to the fact I thought the game was over anyway! Maybe if it was to equalise like Dicky’s was, I’d have probably skied it!”
Even through chatting to him for a brief few moments, I can tell that Horlock is the joker in the pack. There’s a cheeky charm about the way he talks and he’s very humble about his own contributions to the City team that won promotion in 1999. When we first met – in the bar area of Needham Market’s clubhouse – he was clearly well liked by the staff and players that were there. As he walked in, three players, who’d been on the pool table, immediately started a game of ‘one-upmanship’ with him, ribbing him about his pool-playing ability. And Horlock gave as good as he got, too.
He’s capable of serious, too, though. After talking about his goal, we started talking about the bigger picture with regards to that match.
“We realised what a big game it was,” he says. “Not only in that season but in the history of the club. If we’d have languished in that division for much longer, then who knows what would have happened? We knew we had to get out at all costs – and it did go down to the last game.
“I sensed there was a little bit of tension, knowing that we were massive favourites. We had everything to lose and nothing to win, really. I sensed that amongst the lads and certainly felt that way myself.
“We tried to keep preparations as low key as possible,” he says. “Joe [Royle] was good at that. He kept the pressure off the boys and maybe that’s where I came into his plans a little bit.
“Joe didn’t sign me at Ipswich just because of the player I was,” he explains. “I think he saw me as a person who could take the pressure off. I used to have a laugh in the dressing room; I used to have a bit of fun. And speaking to people in Ipswich now, he actually signed me for that reason. Not just my footballing ability.
“So, Joe kept it low-key and I tried to keep it that way, too. It was a game we had to win and that adds pressure in itself, without having to deal with the opposition and Gillingham were a big, strong team.”
What Horlock doesn’t realise at this point is that I had already spoken to Joe Royle. I have to ask him about an incident that I’d been told about by the then City manager.
“We’d been out for a walk,” the former midfielder says. “We’d got down to the hotel and we’d all gone out for a walk and a cup of coffee down the road. On the way back, there was a monsoon. It was torrential rain. A few of the boys rushed in, but – and this will sound pretty immature now! – me and Jeff [Whitley] were stood there.
“There were a few tourists taking pictures of the rain. Then eventually they were taking pictures of me and Jeff because we looked bloody idiots, to be fair!
“I just said to Jeff, ‘I’m not going in, I’m going to stay out here for a long as possible.’ And Jeff being Jeff said he was staying out as well and it turned into a bit of a stand-off of who was going to stay in the rain the longest. And when I say rain, it was unbelievable. It was torrential.
“We were stood there getting drenched and I looked over Jeff’s shoulder and the manager was the other side of the glass window of the hotel saying, ‘get yourself in here now!’. So then it became survival of the bravest.”
A wry smile appears on his face as he adds: “Jeff went in first.
“It was funny,” he continues. “I think Joe probably laughs about it now, but he wasn’t best pleased at the time because we had a big game the next day. But they were the sort of things that took the tension off the boys, they found it quite funny. Joe pretended he was angry, but I’m sure he was laughing inside.”
In the February of that season, City travelled to Dean Court to face Bournemouth. In the end, the Blues would draw 0-0, but it would turn out to be a very welcome point after a truly bizarre refereeing decision – one Horlock would never forget.
When I ask about it, he laughs. “Where do I start?” he says.
“It was a big crowd and the majority were City fans,” he explains. “I don’t know whether it got to the ref. Jamie Pollock had just been sent off and there’d been a few dodgy tackles flying around – like I said, we were big fish in a small pond and everyone wanted to kick us and beat us.
“There was a break-up in play,” he continues. “I don’t know what had happened, I think someone had gone down injured. But there’d been a tackle about a minute before on the halfway line and I was just walking towards the ref to question it. I didn’t even speak and that’s the craziest thing. In his report, it said I didn’t say anything to him.
“I was walking towards him and he just flashed the [red] card at me.”
He says he didn’t think the card was for him at first: “I’ve not seen footage of it since, but I’ve looked over my shoulder thinking he’s thrown it at someone who’s behind me. And he said, ‘no, you, off you go!’
“And I said, ‘what for?’ and he replied, ‘off you go’.
“So I’ve wondered what was going on. I’ve walked off into the dressing room and Jamie Pollock was getting out of the shower having been sent off previously and he said to me, ‘what’ve you been sent off for?’ and my answer was ‘I actually don’t know.’
“Joe [Royle] has come in after the game and said to me ‘what did you say?’ and I said to him, ‘I didn’t actually say anything!’ He said, ‘you must have sworn at him,’ and I replied, ‘I didn’t say anything to him.’
“Then the referee’s report came through and his words were that he’d sent me off for walking towards him in an aggressive manner. Which is bizarre, isn’t it? I walked fairly quickly towards him, maybe. I’ve got one leg shorter than the other, so maybe it looked like I was being a little bit aggressive.
“But I was just going to ask him about a foul previously. It’s something that everyone remembers and it’s funny now. But it wasn’t at the time when I ended up missing a few games because of it.”
* For details on how to get a copy of this or any other of David's works, click here