Wednesday, August 20, 2014

THE CULT OF THE QUIET MAN

"My hair used to be that colour, you know"
The smoke rising from the fat cigar came accompanied by a self-satisfied smirk. Peter Swales scratched the side of his face languidly where his improbable haircut began its journey over the top of his head and addressed his fellow directors, Chris Muir and Ian Niven, "I think we've got a good'un here, gents. I just know we're going to be ok with this fella..."

Swales, a man blinded by the glamour of big time football after a career spent bigging up his Altrincham-based household appliances kingdom, had just completed a busy 24 hours of typical City negotiations, swapping the larger than life Malcolm Allison for the larger than Norwich John Bond. It was a like for like downgrade, with Bond's faux-football-theorocracy slotting in nicely to the gaping wound left by Allison's second coming. Big Mal had at first created a transfer war chest by selling the household silver, then blown it all on a set of plastic beakers. Out went the class and international experience of Kidd, Channon, Hartford, Barnes, Owen and Watson. In came the curly hair and beaded Balkan slippers of Shinton, Robinson, Stepanovic, Daley, Wiffill, Sugrue and dear old Stuart Lee. The only one who couldn't speak Englsih, the moustachioed Stepanovic, immediately became captain. It was how Mal liked to organise things.

That Bond failed in a cloud of stolid rhetoric and false promises was what City were all about under Swales. All fur coat and no knickers, cuban heels with half mast socks badly in need of some imergency darning.

If the glitzy sheen of all this ersatz glamour attracted the simple attention of the likes of Peter J Swales, it has to be said that the Timperley Toupé also tried the quiet route at City. When Bond left abruptly after an FA Cup tanking at Brighton, where the ex-City plodder Michael Robinson (one of Allison's unlikely purchases) suddenly turned in a wholly unannounced Rob Rensenbrink performance, Swales turned unashamedly (it was of course the cheap option) to John Benson to see out the season. Benson, Bond's assistant, was a naturally retiscent man with very few words to offer, none of them of the hyperbolic variety that Maine Road press conferences had been stuffed with for the previous years of "Big Mal" and "Johnny Bond". As the loquacious Bond's assistant, it was not his place to actually say anything. Many will remember being surprised by his voice when he finally did arrive before the cameras, so rare had his press appearances been. Benson continued to say little, his team contimued to move little and City went down to the second division with very little fight. It had been a quiet revolution, in a contrary sort of way.

Bond: so confident, he bought his son
But for all the association with the champagne and dancing girls of Allison's ilk, it can be argued that City have fared best when driven forward by men of few words, the hapless Benson excepted. The epic four years under Allison's first reign brought every trophy available and became synonymous with the flowing drinks and happy smiling crowd of gaily painted well wishers that occupied Manchester's hotspots in the late sixties and early 70s. Let us not forget that, even then, as Allison slugged Dom Perignon from the bottle and charged around Manchester with a medallion hanging from his open necked shirt the size of a penny farthing wheel, the steadying hand on the good ship Maine Road's tiller belonged to Joe Mercer.

Mercer, hardly retiscent when a microphone was available to talk into, was nevertheless the polar opposite of Allison: quiet, measured, polite and unassuming. "Genial Joe" was the good cop, but he was also the template for several important stepping stones to where City now stand, as one of the English game's foremost exponents of successful, watchable top level football.

Before Allison's disastrous second coming, Swales had conjured more prescient thoughts in offering Mal's old right back Tony Book the manager's hat. Book, a man who had played top flight football only at the tail end of his career, had still managed to be present at all of City's crucial moments, making him a surprisingly well decorated footballer, despite his late, short spell as a first division footballer. None of this glory had rubbed off on the quietly spoken Devonian in the slightest. A more self-effacing gentleman you could not have wished to meet. Book, capable of all sorts of hard nosed decisions in the quiet of the Maine Road corridors, interviewed like a man appearing from a mine after rescuing a Jack Russell. There was not a hint of the "me" City fans had come to live with - and love - from Allison's stint in charge.

In fact, put in front of the tv cameras, Book would sometimes become gauche and tongue-tied, only saving himself when offered the outlet of tactical analysis in place of media friendly tittle tattle. In the safe cocoon of football talk, he could praise his players' work and talk about how the game had been won, drawn or, occasionally, lost, but given the opportunity to ridicule the next opponent or laugh at a freshly trounced adversary, Book usually turned to chalk.

Here was a man who preferred to let his team do the talking for him and, by the mid-to-late seventies, they were not just talking but shouting from the Manchester rooftops. Book had constructed a side that Allison would later dismantle in rude haste, which came close to overhauling the incredible Liverpool side led by Bob Paisley, finishing a solitary point off the top in 1977 and 4th just a year
It was funny at the time
later. These were days of yore, when City fans could shout from the highest pillar about their club's exploits, whilst the manager kept his profil very much at ground level.

If Book was a slightly reserved character, Mel Machin was a pillar of salt. Another Swales punt after all else had failed, the ex-Norwich schemer, assistant manager and manager joined City in another temporary dip, the late 80s sojourn in the second tier. After the loud Scots cackle of Billy McNeill and Jimmy Frizzell, here was a man, who could make a door close by itself from fifty yards. Machin was a football man through and through, with a voice so low that only bats could detect it. Many a television interview with him on Granada TV's Kick Off programme would be turned off as his low tone whisper just could not be followed by the naked human ear. Still he manufactured a side that came storming out of the traps and scored almost at will. It was under his watch that a young efforvescent City side knocked ten past Hudderfield Town and five past a young Alex Ferguson's Manchester United. Swales, never a man to be happy with the obvious, infamously sacked Machin for "a lack of repartee" with the fans. A man who had nurtured the likes of Ian Brightwell, David White, Paul Moulden, Paul Simpson, Andy Hinchcliffe, Paul Lake and Steve Redmond from Youth Cup winning days to the first team, and successfully added the likes of Paul Stewart and Tony Adcock to the brew, was deemed surplus to requirements and City once more looked to fill the most notorious mangerial vacancy in English football.

In one of his more cogent moments, Swales filled the void with ex-Everton supremo Howard Kendall, a man who had been responsible for the thrilling upsurge in the Toffees' fortunes from 1984 to 1988, winning the FA Cup, two league titles and the Cup Winners' Cup in Rotterdam. Kendall brought a steely, professional attitude to City's wobbling team and hauled them away from the verge of another relegation disaster with a string of unspectacular but well earned late season victories. Football supporters generally sniff the difference between a chancer and the real deal and Kendall's tenure featured a real upsurge in terrace support for the club, as a team built on solid ex-Evertonians like Adrian Heath, Peter Reid and Alan Harper got City out of trouble. With Swales now bedazzled by his England connections after somehow levering himself on to the board of the FA, he took his eye off the ball, allowing Kendall's advisers to insist on get-out clauses if certain jobs became available to him. Sure enough, Everton, suddenly suffering badly in his absence, were soon managerless and tempted him away before he could build on a promising start.

QUIET ONES AND NOISY ONES: CITY'S MANAGERS
Manuel Pellegrini - the current charming man

Roberto Mancini - thees ees a football

Mark Hughes - quiet but in a different way

Sven Goran Eriksson - big noise when the tea lady backed her urn up the corridor

Stuart Pearce - loud, proud and stupid

Kevin Keegan - avuncular to the point of ridicule

Joe Royle - hot on the soundbites

Frank Clark - Guitar strumming disaster fiend

Phil Neal - Mouth before brain

Steve Coppell - erudite, well spoken and absent

Alan Ball - voice that could put sheep in a pen from thirty five yards

Brian Horton - chatty, starey, stripy jacketed

Peter Reid - shouty and spitty

Howard Kendall - quietly searching for his wife

Mel Machin - no repartee, never mind rapport

Jimmy Frizzell - growly, shouty and gruff

Billy McNeill - Big Seizure

John Benson - glove puppet

John Bond - too big for Norwich

Malcolm Allison - this charming tan

Tony Book - silent witness

If we are judging City's historical liking for the quiet professional manager ahead of the cabaret act, it
Kendall: contractual clause for premature baldness
should also be stated that "quiet" alone does not quite get you membership of this club. Steve Coppell was quiet, for example, mainly because he had already left the building; Mel Machin because you just couldn't hear him. There is a distinct difference between Mercer, Kendall, Book and Pellegrini and the others. The quiet manager, be he Pep Guardiola or Mel Machin, has to let his teams do the talking for him, a challenge down the years for incumbents in City's dugout that has been too hot to handle for many. In Pellegrini, City's owners have taken a swerve away from the bright lights and soundbites of Mourinho, Van Gaal and Klopp, and decided to concentrate finally delightfully on just the football. This will have at last come to the surface during City's ill tempered game at Newcastle last season. With Alan Pardew ranting and raving along the touchline and eventually manouevring himself up to the Chilean and shouting a top grade obscenity at him, Manuel Pellegrini refused to react. Perhaps he had seen worse in the Chilean league, although I doubt it, for Pardew is quite a case. Whatever the reason, there is no tabloid story waiting to get out of Pellegrini. He is a quiet man of football, nothing more, nothing less.

For the travelling circus that has been Manchester City down the decades, that fact alone is blissfully good news.

2 comments:

  1. Lovely piece, Simon.
    At the time, who'd thought following the 5-1 thrashing of the most expensive team in the country, the casualty would be Machin?
    Kendall, like Hardy Kruger, was the one that got away, yet his returns back at Everton, like Mal's at City, were fateful.
    We are now letting our deeds from across the board do the talking for us. Long may it continue.

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  2. Mel Machin and Alex Ferguson (he was a man of few words then) were interviewed after the derby causing someone to write "If those two had addressed the Nuremberg rallies then the Second World War wouldn't have occurred.

    ReplyDelete

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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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