Showing posts with label Premier League. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Premier League. Show all posts

Thursday, June 26, 2014

CEPHALAPOD MOLLUSC AHOY



I have been dying to use that headline for some time now. Anyone, who has had the pleasure of being given a handshake by an octopus will know exactly what it's like to play football opposite Fernando Francisco Reges, Manchester City's new all-action midfielder.

It was around the time Fernando, born in Alto Paraíso, Brazil, earned praise from all quarters for his tireless tracking of Manchester United’s star men in a 2009 Champions League quarter final ultimately lost by his club FC Porto, that his star really began to rise and in particular, his unfeasibly telescopic legs began to take on a life of their own. Industrious, energetic and originally highly effective in a restricting no holds barred midfield role, he became known amongst the Porto faithful as o polvo, or the octopus, his gangly legs seen as gadgets for getting in the way of even the trickiest opponent bearing down on the home goal. The ability to extend a long limb to remove the ball from an opponent or fly in with a trademark double footed lunge whilst keeping the feet low and facing sufficiently downwards to avoid sanction have made him famous in Portugal. He possesses an uncanny ability to slide in and wrap those legs around flying limbs and ball and steal it like a midnight thief.


As time has gone on and his role at the then Portuguese champions began to evolve, football watchers in Portugal became aware of other facets to his game. Far from a useful and reliable nicker of balls from the feet of advancing strikers, the then Brazilian was full of energy and could gallop up the pitch in no time at all. The initial safe short passes out of deep lying midfield began to take on more dimension too and he has developed into one of the best all-purpose midfielders of his type in the Portuguese league and beyond.

 
Fernando enjoys a moment of notoriety v Sporting

Fernando’s record at the Dragão is impressive: in seven years with the club he has won the Europa League, four Portuguese League titles, four Portuguese cups and five Supercups (the local equivalent of the Community Shield, which always counts as a trophy at City), whilst at the same time also gaining another valuable asset for City, Champions League mileage, in total 34 games’ worth. As time has gone by, Porto’s well-defined methods of finding young South American talent and moving them on to the bigger European leagues at a huge profit, has meant that Fernando, along with goalkeeper Helton, have become the club’s most experienced players. Not only that, in the midfielder's case, but also one of the playing staff’s most discreet members off the pitch and one of their number's most consistent on it. 

As the call to play for Brazil never came, Fernando took the step on 15th December 2013, of taking out Portuguese nationality, not an uncommon move for Brazilians plying their trade in this part of the football world. Indeed Deco had done the same thing at Porto whilst wiry attacker Liedson also made the move at Sporting and current international Pepe is also a naturalised Brazilian. This decision not only supposedly made him available for Paulo Bento’s Portugal but meant that any move to another European country would not be tied up in administrative red tape. Having grown up as a footballer in Portugal, he has remained a staunch admirer of the skills of Dunga and Gilberto Silva, other master craftsmen in his position on the pitch. Ironically the Brazilian national team has gone from one that placed little emphasis on the need for a holding midfielder to the current situation where Luis Gustavo, Paulinho and City’s Fernandinho are all high profile parts of the Selecção's game plan.

Like many of his kind, Fernando left Brazil at a relatively early age, having played for Serie C (third tier) Vila Nova in Brazil, but was bought by Porto ostensibly on the back of a string of eye-catching displays for Brazil in the 2007 South America Youth Championship. After a year on loan with the now defunct Estrela de Amadora in Lisbon, Fernando began to forge himself a reputation in the north, picking up admirers at Juventus, Inter, Roma, Liverpool and Manchester United as his match time at Porto increased. 

Under the stewardship of wily old Portuguese coach Jesualdo Ferreira, Fernando gained an increasing amount of playing time, inheriting the octopus moniker for his ability to stick out his so-called tentacles and wrap them around the ball. A reputation as an arch tackler and tidy-up merchant did not do him justice, however, as his present day incarnation is much more mult-faceted than that. Once Jesualdo gave way to younger coaches in the shape of André Villas Boas, Vitor Pereira and Paulo Fonseca, it became evident that Fernando had become an undroppable fixture in the side. As the official FC Porto website still claims today, 


Fernando reads the game as few do, recovers the ball with incredible ease and rarely commits fouls, making him one of the least booked players in the League. He is also capable of keeping it simple and is an efficient passer. The number 25 is omnipresent and has evolved into a player who can also create in the attacking part of the pitch”.

 

But there is another side to the player’s career that needs addressing too: while he has an innate ability to clear up muddles on the pitch, off it is another story altogether. He has never played for Portugal because of a wrangle about documentation and dates between the FPF (the Portuguese Football Federation) and FIFA. After three months of FIFA pondering an announcement was made: Fernando was not officially Portuguese at the time of being involved in the afore-mentioned Brazilian Under 20s tournament and thus could not play for Portugal. 

When negotiating to move to City last December, the transfer also became bogged down in an unholy mess of paperwork, resulting in the player eventually re-signing for FC Porto, to enable them to continue to demand a transfer fee come the summer (his contract was set to run out in June). In some ways the renewal of the contract told City that they would get their man, albeit at a price. That price, just €15 million euros, is still something of a snip. Porto hold 80% of the player’s registration and it is understood that City have bought him outright, as no other scenario would be possible thanks to premier league registration rulings. If his recent career has been blighted by red tape, and the occasional red card, it is clear that Porto’s omnipresent number 25, will be a good fit in the Manchester City number 6 shirt, vacated this summer by stalwart defender Joleon Lescott. 

So, is Fernando purely cover for Fernadinho and Yaya Touré? The latter’s announcements via his ever-comical personal representative Dimitri Seluk are becoming hard to decipher. After cake gate, a small storm is now brewing over complaints about City restricting the time he could spend with his dying brother. Whether these are odd moments of preamble to yet another contract negotiation, or the big Ivorian really wants out, only time will tell, but, interestingly, as Portuguese football expert Vasco  Mota Pereira says, The one aspect where Fernando may suffer is City's tactical formation: He has always proved to play exponentially better when acting on his own (usually in a 4x3x3). In the words of the great Fernando Redondo, playing him alongside another midfielder "is like playing with one eye closed". 

O JOGO, Porto's daily football paper, carries the news today


City’s liking for a roaming supposedly defensive midfielder (Touré) and one with more fixed responsibilities (Fernandinho) does not immediately tally with this. However, Manuel Pellegrini’s liking for fast raiding players coming from deep to support the front four, will certainly click with the new improved attacking aspects of the ex-Porto man. Mota Pereira continues “Fernando is probably one of the best (and most underrated) holding midfielders in European football at the moment. His evolution at FC Porto over the past few years was nothing short of astonishing, as he progressed from an exclusively defensive midfielder to a ball-playing one. Under Jesualdo Ferreira, he learned to master defensive actions and positions to perfection; under André Villas-Boas and Vítor Pereira, he was asked to be the primary hub of these possession-oriented sides and given the possibility to roam forward. Despite his improvements as far as technical skills are concerned, he cannot be considered a master of the art, particularly in a team like City. Not unlike Javi García, Fernando excels when his team are compact but the Brazilian-born midfielder is able to sweep and press higher up due to his more adventurous positioning and physical skills. On the other hand, while the Spanish midfielder is not exactly comfortable on the ball, Fernando is always willing to provide an out-ball to his team-mates.” 


 Whether he is seen as a stand-in for one or the other part of the traditional two man City central midfield or a starter in his own right, City fans are set to see yet another impressive performer striding the Etihad pitch come August.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

WOODWARD WOULD, BUT WOULD ANYBODY ELSE?



Mr Ed Woodward has systematically announced, proclaimed and stated that Manchester United Football Club will be “right back into single digit league table action” next season. In a hot and highly inspirational press conference, the football accounts whizzkid laid bare some other facts for the hungry press pack, suggesting that “the football club will be doing its utmost to appropriately extend economically sound applications” wherever it sees fit, that is to say completely generate future-proof aggregates for our multi-digit masses of customers, users, clients and partners worldwide”.

At an early part of the proceedings a perceptibly flustered Sir Bobby Charlton was led away by a gaggle of security guards after blurting out “I GUARANTEE WE WILL FINISH ABOVE CITY NEXT YEAR!!!!”. Looking troubled and having to wipe away sweat from his astonishing dome, Woodward shuffled closer to the bank of microphones and, waiting for an unfortunate facial tick to die away, said, “That is to say, Sir Robert of Charlton expects the football club to be able to in one form or another administrate granular internal or even organic success over a sustainable period of up to triple digit years. At least that is how you should understand it and you can quote me on that, oh yes”.

At this point squeals could be heard from behind the giant white canvass at the back of the stage, where Charlton was being administered with a family bottle of Lucozade and some Manchester United sponsored wet wipes.
Quizzed on the whereabouts of new coaching supremo and overlord Louis van Gaal, Woodward explained that the Dutch coach with no visible signs of a chin fungibly welcomed pioneering aspects of what might well be a matrix interactive leadership pogron and that he would be signing "sometime after the Equinox game".

Woodward concluded the plenary session with a dramatic Churchillian sweep of his rather short arms, opining: “in order to appropriately develop multifunctional platforms and strategize innovative client-based applications, relationships and best practices, we are all firmly agreed that the first thing to do is take a really cold bath. Only by doing this, can I come back into contact with some of my internal organs. Thank you and see you in a double digit future sometime in August”.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

SCHOOL OF SCIENCE V. ACADEMY OF HARD KNOCKS



Following Manchester City, one is often struck by how odd football is, but truly in the last week or two, strange powers have been at work that our feeble minds know little of. As long as it works like this, I’m not at all sure I want to know either.

Thick smoke, mirrors and women with long beards were obvious by their absence at Goodison Park, as was the usual bear-pit atmosphere, replaced by a jolly end-of-term-sports-day sort of air. Gone too was David Moyes’s chased-by-the-yard-dogs-experience. Instead Roberto Martinez opted for a slightly odd three centre-back set-up and an afternoon of crisp passing triangles to full backs, handily placed to help the home side morph from a 5-man defensive block into a well-staffed attacking force. We had already seen at the Etihad this season that, whilst playing eminently better football, this Everton is right up City’s street. No roar, then, no slapdash midfield muddle. No Gareth Barry. No Darron Gibson even. The only recognisable element of a normal trip to Merseyside, in fact, was the almighty knot in the stomach. It may seem petty, but things like this can make something of a difference at a place like Goodison, with its steep stands and pop-eyed denizons. That partizan gale of noise can knock you off your feet, knock you out of your stride. Here, there was noise of sort: the knocking of knees and the gnashing of teeth in the Bullens Road, as City’s afflicted yet robust support set about calming its nerves with a song or two about Liverpool’s talismanic horizontal midfielder.   

Pre-match had been a festival of conspiracies waiting to happen, Everton lying down and dying being the top one. Once the energetic Ross Barkley had swung one in from 25 yards, it was clearly apparent that at least one of Everton’s men had not read the proper script. Lukaku, however, lumbering aimlessly upfront and giggling at Kompany when he was dispossessed, seemed in a different frame of mind. Nevertheless, young Barkley would continue to play the game of a man whose mind was not thinking about anything but the three points on offer.

With concession of the opening goal as a starting point, City were obliged to do the rest in City style. From a goal down, a plucky equaliser from Aguero, who promptly pulled something, a towering header and close in stab from Big Match Player Edin Dzeko and a sleepy denouement that nearly landed the whole story back in the melting pot.

It was a true thing of dreams. Manchester City dreams, with crazy-eyed hobgoblins, trumpeting elephants and shimmering women in translucent dresses with pitch black eyes that say touch this and think of Mel Machin. There was nothing you could trust except the clock. Sit there, shake, fidget, holler and wait.

Having lost Aguero, we lost Yaya Touré. No more strikers for Manuel. Fernandinho's arrival raised an eyebrow but quickly also raised several question marks in the Everton side. As City's shape changed, Everton lost impetus. With Nasri bewitching young John Stones on the edge of the box to set up Dzeko's second, things were getting seriously weird. Kolarov was asked to replace Yaya in a swap of Machiavellian beauty.

There is, however, still no need for any City fan to be presumptuous about anything this club does. It holds a well-earned reputation built solidly on doing the wrong thing at the right time, of slapstick and tragedy, of inept timing and living with the inopportune. Balloons pop when they are supposed to float, they score goals against us when they are supposed to decorate the place. Modern times have disfigured our City into a far sleeker beast, but it still carries the heavy burden of being watched and exhorted to its best efforts by thousands of human beings so warped in their historical sense of fate and its flabby backhanders that anything can still go wrong.

In our minds.   

Evidently, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, steeped in slightly different City traditions after many years of sky blue action, will have an idea of this club’s great and illustrious past, but even these most decorated long-servers cannot fully grasp what this club has put the rest of us through. They need only look into our eyes and they would get an idea.
 
So, when they put you through the wringer again, as they surely did here, when they creep up and overtake the Liverpool side who had won the league long ago and had it confirmed by beating us at Anfield, when they finish the season with home games against appallingly flaccid Villa and West Ham teams that were at least alive enough to crawl out of the relegation area before meeting us, when they tease us with all of this, we still don’t take the bait. We refuse to believe these miraculously God-sent moments are for us.

But somehow they are: Naismith arrows in a shot. Joe Hart employing elastic fingertips stretches it past the post. “The save of the season”, Martinez would later call it. Two minutes later it was 3-1 and not 2-2. Gods above, what are you doing to us. The crowd sings in praise of Steven Gerrard yet again. The world spins slightly too fast for a Saturday at six-forty-five in the evening.

You look for certainties. That crumpled Peter Barnes poster. The scrap of paper with Ian Bishop’s hurried autograph on it. The scarred page 14 of your fabled Edin Dzeko Book of Time Wasting (“..if in doubt about the referee’s attentions, bury your face in the turf and pretend you have dislocated your shoulder...”). The door knob you stole from the corridor at Notts County that time you decided to invade the pitch with 5,000 others, got carried away and ended up in the dressing room with Jimmy Sirrell and his loud hailer. We drape ourselves in those important ephemera that serve as stabilisers in this chaotic world of shouting and screaming. And we hold on for dear life. I hold onto a stolen doorknob from 1985.

But all of this nonsense is just us. The players, with pristine hair and straightened shirts, have done what they were paid to do. “Competitive courage”, Daniel Taylor would later call it in the Observer, “to see off opponents who deserve better than the debate about whether or not they were entirely committed”. Well that it most certainly was, added to ice cold nerve, raw commitment, and a will-to-win that seems to be deserting some of the more lauded title chasers at the very worst moment. This indeed was the epitome of a “brave performance”.

But, despite all of this, despite Norwich drawing at Stamford Bridge, impoverished, embarrassing Norwich with their fans in green and yellow wigs; despite Nigel de Jong heading the winner in the Milan derby; despite the moon going into its third phase and the equinox emptying itself almost entirely onto Sale Road, we know that this is nothing more nothing less than Pellegrini’s “huge step” in the right direction. We know, all of us, in our heart of hearts, there is till a bump and a twist to come, but we also know that City have players who appear to be reading from a different script to the rest of us. That they don't appear to know any of these things is just fine by me.

So sleep peacefully, gentle folk. You will almost certainly need the rest, for in the words of the great philosopher Brendan Rodgers, tomorrow we go again.


Monday, April 28, 2014

OF MONKEYS, MICE AND MEN


Mind games. They’re all the rage. You can’t park a bus without people looking at you in a strange way and woe betide anybody who decides to attempt such a manoeuvre at Anfield these days. Do so with a funny look in your eyes and you will find yourself derided for playing anti-football, as the poor embattled souls of Chelsea were or, worse still, have a band of miniature scoundrels test the perspex of your own coach's windows, as a City minibus experienced two weeks ago.

We walk, some of us, on a sheer knife edge between over-confidence and self-assertiveness. Others amongst us are left to our own devices, whilst a lucky few apparently never walk alone and therefore are not afraid of the dark.

Are the fine words offered in the vortex of battle great lines of exhortation? Or are they empty rhetoric? Worse still, are they blocks of amateur psychiatry cooked up to look like a would-be champion's lunch-time snack? Do I need my tub thumping or my back patting? Am I dealing with monkeys, demons, hobgoblins or simply the memory, sharp and precise, of last week's open goal miss-kick? If I lose my head whilst all around are also losing theirs, what will that make me?

Liverpool supporters have been singing “We’re going to win the league” in their frantic, ever-so-slightly pre-ejaculatory giddiness for some weeks already. Head onto YouTube and you will find it horrendously heavy with clips of the Liverpool bus arriving at a dead slow stop pace through red smog and electrically charged chanting. You will see people in Liverpool Premier League Winners T-Shirts and others reeling around from the sheer enormity of it all. This has been going on for weeks and weeks. The old place was absolutely heaving against City and it obviously helped the side tear into the Blues from the off. That the same thing did not happen against Chelsea can be put down to a variety of factors. Firstly, the away side was not interested in going toe to toe, as City had done two weeks earlier at Manuel Pellegrini's behest ("we go there to play our normal game"). For good reason, José Mourinho chose to be pragmatic. His side is midway through a Champions League semi final and the number crunching told him that it only required to appear from Fortress Anfield with a point to thrust his side right back into the swarming whirlpool of this dramatically fluctuating title race.

The there was the atmosphere. Once again the Kop was a sea of banners and scarves, the feverish ambience lending itself to a big occasion, perhaps one bigger than this one. This of course can be a double edged sword, as Steve Peters, Liverpool’s mind games expert and supposed champion of all our internal monkeys will testify. What he has been teaching the players and staff of Liverpool has obviously had an invigorating effect on the likes of Jordan Henderson and Glen Johnson, who previously found a scoreless draw at Fulham sufficiently appealing . Liverpool have been unrecognisable this season from the slumping also-rans they had turned into over the last quarter century.

But what happens when this premature euphoria has the opposite effect? Logic not emotion, you could almost hear Peters whispering under his breath, logic not emotion. Take the sting out of the occasion before it eats you for lunch. Peters’ famous Foundation Stones have brought athletes from many disciplines through to the very top of their professions, making them aware of who they are, how they best perform and where the demons lie. Here there were demons flying out of every crack of the old stadium's red brick walls. It was emotion not logic and there was such a strong tide of it running that it was difficult not to throw down your towel and stride naked into the throng shouting "get me to the Kop on time".

But after the initial spurt, the giant mass fell silent, the atmosphere changed and all the impartial observer could hear was the gentle knocking together of Scouse knees. Steven Gerrard heard this ominous sound too and joined in the fun. The pressure, as it often does, was getting to the league leaders and Chelsea and their boisterous fans were feeding on it lustily. For the Londoners - and indeed to a lesser extent, City – have been here before. In beating Bayern on their own ground in the final of the Champions League, Chelsea proved beyond any necessary doubt that they have the balls for the big occasion. In fishing their own first league title for 44 years out of the Manchester Ship Canal after the world and his dog thought that boat had already sailed, City too revealed a mettle that only big time athletes can produce. Whilst onlookers were wilting with the pressure on that sunny May day v QPR, others were winding themselves up for the kill. It took the breath away but remains as a testament to what positive thinking and a little touch of Mario Balotelli can do for you.
Monkeys are funny creatures with long arms and cauliflower bottoms. Inner monkeys, it seems, can be even more ridiculous. Look at the video below. How would you feel if you were inside this bus? The date is 26th March, some six weeks before the destination of the title is due to be decided..

 
March 26th before Liverpool - Sunderland. Yes, March. 

Manchester City's Monkeys - some might want to call them gorillas - have been doing an impeccable job, for and against the club, for a number of years. The mind drifts back to the last title winning season's blur of tear-stained action. Last gasp winners v Chelsea and Spurs as Samir 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 delicious late flurry of activity at Old Trafford; then there was that strange old day in May to cap it all off.

By that tumultuous denouement, City had hoisted themselves not only into first place, but also to the top of the rankings for late match 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?

Long-term masochists will well remember two games versus Birmingham City in the late nineties, where the club had managed to cultivate the exact opposite of what we see today: a deadly ability to concede when it was least needed. Dele Adebola. A name never to be forgotten. The mists of time clear to show us 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 went on to lose that game, rather predictably, two-one. 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 absolutely inevitable. Unstoppable until it rolled to its own halt. There were monkeys, albatrosses and vampire bats everywhere you looked. This is why the resurrection since then has been nothing short of breathtaking.

Liverpool – fresh from their very own Dele Adebola moment - now face a trip to Selhurst Park, seemingly a daunting task, but one which City sailed through at the weekend like a flotilla of white-slacked students larking about on the river. If a tray of Pimms had been served to celebrate Yaya Touré´s majestic second goal, nobody would have batted an eyelid. Palace, on a run of 5 consecutive wins, looked like little boys who had lost the front door key. Shut out for ninety minutes, whilst City went about their business with a quiet efficiency, which will have been noted amongst the frothing denizons of the Annie Road. City have done this before, of course. Two years ago, a succession of unlikely victories (six consecutive wins, to remind you) brought a momentum that carried them to the title, but even then a twist in the storyline of the very last game ended up ageing every City supporter by half a lifetime in the space of ninety minutes. It is this mental strength in adversity that now kicks in for the team that believes it can be done.

Liverpool, flowing freely for half a season, have suddenly had the carpet removed from under their feet  How does one react to that with two games to go? Do you fold or do you come out at Palace with all guns blazing? Or do you start taking corners a little bit like Iago Aspas did v. Chelsea? Will the fans stop singing about winning the league and will this add to or deflate the pressure? Will Chelsea, having dented Liverpool’s title hopes, now go back to coveting that Champions League trophy? Or will last weekend’s win fire them for two more league successes to keep the pressure on, despite Mourinho’s insistence that they can only finish 3rd? Can City overcome one of their bogey sides on one of the club's least successful grounds to set up a two-home-game run-in towards an unlikely but successful finish? Will the City fans' innate sense of foreboding have a detrimental affect on their side or can the likes of Sergio Aguero manage quite nicely whilst the rest of us are all gnawing feverishly on the corner flag?

With two, and in City’s case, three games to go, having the initiative at this stage is worth its weight in gold. City’s players, who have admitted to watching bits of the Chelsea victory on the big screen at Selhurst Park as they were warming up, will have been given a colossal boost for that game and, with its smooth onclusion, for the three that follow it.

Everton away, Villa at home, West Ham at home.

That is all that now separates City from their second league title in three seasons. Negotiate those three games and the pot will once again be paraded around the Etihad. In Manuel Pellegrini, City have the ideal man to keep players focussed and with feet firmly on the ground. Whilst Mourinho creates his wars and Rodgers scatters clichés far and wide, the Chilean grunts his sweet nothings and disappears. The weather-worn face and gravel voice lend themselves to the general air of rien ne va plus. It is to him and to the calm authority growing from the likes of Martin Demichelis and Javi Garcia, to the great swirling limbs of the Elephant of Bondoukou and to the unstoppable punch of City’s inimitable forward five that one must now invest trust. 

Strong minds alone will not be enough, but they will surely now play their part. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

CITY V SOUTHAMPTON: GALLERY

Front cover of Match Weekly, featuring Steve Daley, making his debut against Southampton 1979-80 season. Seen here pulling away from Graham Baker, later to sign for City from the Saints. This match also marked the debut of Stuart Lee
Joe Jordan goes up to challenge Alex Williams, as Kenny Clements and Mick McCarthy add their support during a 0-3 drubbing at The dell in season 85-86. Saturday 7th September 1985.
Hassan Kachloul shields the ball from Alf Inge Haaland in a stultifying 0-1 home defeat for the Blues in 1990-00
Terry Phelan scores City's goal in a rain soaked encounter in season 93-94. the match ended in a 1-1 draw on Tuesday 28th December 1993
Steve Moran scores one of his hat-trick in 1982-83, as Tommy Caton arrives too late. 1-4
Shaun Goater holds onto possession with a young Joey Barton in support in the last ever match at Maine Road
David Phillips and Paul Simpson celebrate the winner in the home game in 1985-86 (1-0)
Sunday Express cutting from 1978-79 and a two-one home defeat which included an own goal from City midfielder Colin Viljoen. Saturday 9th December 1978
Shaun Goater waves goodbye as the last game ever to be played at Maine Road comes to a typically unsatisfactory ending. Saturday 10th May 2003. Not a dry eye in the house.
Alan Ball waves a finger at Kevin Bond as Southampton defeat city 2-1 at the Dell to top the table and stop City doing the same thing. Saturday 6th February 1982. Bobby McDonald got City's goal.
Richard Jobson keeps one step ahead of James Beattie in the League Cup encounter (0-0) in 1999. Wednesday 15th September 1999. Southampton won a scintillating replay 4-3 at The Dell.
Daily Mail report on the 93-94 clash at Maine Road, with picture showing Terry Phelan wheeling away at the North Stand end after scoring City's goal in a 1-1 draw.
Kevin Reeves gets his shot away at a sunny Maine Road in the 1981-82 season, watched by future City midfielder Graham Baker and team mate Martin O'Neill.
Paul Dickov leaves future City left back Wayne Bridge for dead in the clash at The Dell in 2000-01
 Mark Kennedy and Kevin Horlock initiate a left wing attack in September 1999 at Maine Road
Gerry Gow smacks home one of City's goals in the 3-0 home win in season 1980-81


Thursday, March 20, 2014

FULHAM TIMES TWO

Two matches from one season: FULHAM 1999-2000

Romance stirs by the sparkling waters of the Thames
August 14th 1999 dawned sunny and calm in London. By the banks of the Thames, Craven Cottage, newly restored to the second tier, looked forward to receiving Manchester City, also back in the big time after an eventful season attempting to avoid cowpats in the old third division. City had opened inauspiciously with a home defeat on live tv to Wolves, whilst Fulham had drawn 2-2 at Birmingham. A midweek blitz of Burnley in the Worthington Cup restored faith amongst jittery City supporters that the season need not be a complete disaster. Fulham, with the likes of Steve Finnan, Rufus Brevett, Chris Coleman, Lee Clarke and Geoff Horsfield, were tipped to be strong challengers, whilst City were looking for a season of consolidation after the ructions of 1998-99 had nearly caused us all seizures.

"The only noteworthy incident came in the 70th minute when Collymore went down in the box under a beefy challenge from Morrison. (...) When asked why he was sent off, Morrison said, "I haven't got a clue. Collymore just whistled..." - Mark Redding in The Guardian

Tiatto produces his usual half-hearted commitment
The game was to hinge on an incident in the 70th minute. Embroiled in a bout of pushing with Fulham's star man Stan Collymore, captain Andy Morrison, with a reputation for storing the shortest temper in football under his overstretched shirt, somehow ended up with his tongue in Collymore's mouth. As Morrison received his marching orders, it was unclear whether tongue kissing an opponent had been deemed a bookable or a sending off offence, as Morrison had been booked earlier. "We've had a player sent off for putting his tongue down another player's throat," exclaimed a mildly surprised Joe Royle at the end of a backs-to-the-wall 0-0 draw, which earned City their first points of what would turn out to be another one of those quite eventful seasons.

CITY: Weaver; Crooks, Tiatto, Wiekens, Morrison; Horlock, Jeff Whitley, Bishop; Dickov, Goater, Kennedy (sub used: Vaughan) 

By Sunday 16th January, an odd thing had happened. Fulham, as expected, had acclimatised well to their new surroundings and were well placed in a comfortable 10th place, City, though, had managed to do the usual trick of surprising everyone, this time in a positive way, and lay in an incredible 2nd place in the table, a single point behind leaders Charlton. City came into the Fulham game on the back of a salutary lesson in the 3rd round of the Cup, where David O'Leary's brilliant young Leeds side had thrashed the Blues 5-2 at Maine Road.

"We are not going to go out and meet teams the calibre of Leeds in this division (...) we have to find out strengths and play to them..." - Ian Bishop, previewing the Fulham game.
 "Well, they're hardly Leeds are they, Fulham?!" - Joe Royle previews the Fulham clash in his own inimitable way.
This match hinged on the performance of another high profile player. Whereas the away game had been dominated by Andy Morrison's romantic advances on Stan Collymore, this match was all about the incredible goal poaching of Shaun Goater. The Bermudan striker, with a knack for hitting the net with any part of his body, grabbed a brilliant hat-trick as City kept distance between themselves and the hard chasing Ipswich and Barnsley in 3rd and 4th respectively.

Shaun Goater carries out another unlikely finish, this time over his right shoulder

Taking his tally to 18 for the season with a neatly taken threesome, Goater was busy confirming his cult status amongst the City faithful. Again this match hinged on a sending off 20 minutes or so from time. With City one up, Chris Coleman was given his marching orders for a foul and hand ball double on Goater as he raced onto a cunning through-ball from Rodney Trotter look-a-like Tony Grant (a collector's item if ever there was one) and from that moment on City had it all their own way, scoring another three goals, with a penalty from Kevin Horlock completing the rout.

CITY: Weaver; Edghill, Wiekens, Jobson, Granville; Bishop, Grant, Horlock, Kennedy; Goater, Taylor (sub used Tiatto). An amazing six changes from the side that had played the August fixture.

The season would end in tears for the third season running, but this time they would be tears of delight and disbelief after a roller coaster game at Blackburn saw City promoted for the second consecutive season. Fulham, finishing strongly in 9th, would miss the play-offs by nine points.

Friday, February 28, 2014

HIGH BARNET LOW EXPECTATIONS



You and I are in a state of considerable flux, aren’t we? We’re still not sure if this is meant to be or not. All these wins, all these goals, all these people liking us from afar and hating us from up close. It never used to be like this, in the cosy days of failure and flotsam. The days when Peter Swales talked us up to allow for an even bigger fall. In the days when Tony Book’s flares whipped in the wind like all our lost hopes, when the buzz was about Garry Flitcroft’s hair and Nigel Gleghorn’s goalkeeping gloves. When there was nothing else but Liam Gallagher and Richard Jobson.

Sunderland. Full of the passion of the underdog. Just look at them, lapping it all up. That should be us. That IS us. Only it can’t be anymore. We have left all that painful introversion behind in a cloud of Lamborghini dust (driven by five star clean as you like Abu Dhabi gasoline). We are no longer able to cavort around owning up to tied stomach muscles and lack of sleep. We cannot quote the law of the inevitable cock-up. We cannot stare wistfully at posters of Ken McNaught and Steve Kinsey and say, here come raggle-taggle City for their once in a lifetime tilt at glory. We cannot shout and scream like the eternal underdog, because we aren’t anymore. It was easy to flood through the opened gates and wait for hell to break all over us. Now a different hell awaits us.  

Gone are the Roger Palmers. Ten-to-two feet and all. Away with your Graham Bakers. Chubby cheeks all gone. Gordon Davies no more. All those little wafted back post misses from three centimetres. No longer.

Kun Aguero. Yaya Touré. David Silva. Smooth as silk. One two three.

So, now, brave friends, we must descend upon Wembley Stadium, our Wembley Stadium, and show the rest how it is done. Manchester United, Stoke, Chelsea, Wigan. Wembley Stadium. Again and again and again. The Green Man. Those little meeting points. The same bar staff, winking their hellos. The waves of recognition. The nods, the grins. The casual use of the London underground. Whatever happened to getting out by mistake at High Barnet and asking passers by where Wembley was and being told you were almost in the Midlands? What ever happened to travelling with maps and plans and packed lunches in case we went the wrong way yet again? What happened to the old Wembley, the only focal point we had? Full Members Cup in the grey incessant drizzle. Third Division play off final in the grey incessant drizzle. Wembley meant tension but it meant embarrassment too. Gillingham, for Christ’s sake. Chelsea with the prizes handed out by Dickie bloody Attenbrough. 5-1 down with two minutes to go. On a bloody Sunday. A day after the Manchester Derby. At Old Trafford. No royalty for City’s Wembley efforts. No royalties. Just Dickie Attenbrough in a flat cap and a long trek north with our tails between our legs, where they truly belonged.

Now the tail won’t sit down. It’s excited and wags like a Jack Russell in sight of its first chicken dinner.
  
Wembley meant Keith MacRae’s gingery bonce. It meant Rodney Marsh flicking the ball into John Richards’ path with the back of his heel. It meant bearded Ricky Villa and well spoken Garth Crooks and that damned awful Chas and Dave ditty with Ossie’s doleful cod-English. Wembley meant Tottinghem. In the Cap. In de cap. For Tottinghem. Tears and anguish, like it was always meant to be. Hope dashed, squashed and
Marsh: Heel of destiny
strangled at birth. The departure, energy sucked out of us, faces drained of blood, to search for coaches and trains and cars and the slog home in silence but for the occasional “not again, City, bloody hell”.

So where do we go from here, us lost souls, us drifting bits of anachronistic malcontent? Where do we take our long held doubts, our heaving unhappiness now? What do we do with our gallows humour and our belted songs of attrition? How do we hold onto that magical keep-going-and-be-damned attitude that saw us through disaster after disaster when the disasters are thin on the ground and all the world expects?

Not easy is it?

Manchester City runaway favourites. Manchester City the royal family’s team. Manchester City a dominant force in the Premier League. Manchester City, Champions League regulars. Manchester City, Wembley tenants. Manchester City this and Manchester City that.

So, this is how it feels. This is what we have been waiting for. The glittering football, delivered by a squad of global superstars (and Jack Rodwell), the pristine pitch, the flashlights, the screams of little people, the prestigious people, the friendship scarves with Barcelona and Real Madrid. A scarf, half Real half City! Half Barcelona (Barça to the regulars) half City. What a thing is this? What of our ski hats in 1983? Sat forlornly over our Morrissey quiffs and our Bunnymen side burns, our half Rangers half City tributes to tribal nothingness. Where are they now in this maelstrom of Champions league bric-a-brac?  

We groan at Javi Garcia and Martin Demichelis, nod knowingly as Micah flies though the air again, tut at a wayward pass from Gael Clichy, which fails to glue itself to Silva’s heel. We turn and ask our neighbours if 24 million pound Stevan Jovetic will ever be fit for purpose and what the actual use of that kid from the Ivory Coast is. We, who hold the dark secrets of Kenny Clements in our souls, who remember the silent anguish of Geoff Lomax and the wordless agony of Tony Cunningham. We cover and cower and turn away. The shame of it all is ours.

We are surrounded by kids with tatoos, kids with scarves, kids with phones. The gay abandon of youth, the free clear air of the unknowing. We do not burden them with Billy McNeill, or John Maddock, or Ian Davies, or Peter Bodak. We mention not the night we launched police crash barriers after Coventry or Oldham, or the afternoon we urinated on the torn down fences at Meadow Lane and screeched and bayed for blood until our faces looked like Roy Keane. We whisper the tales of Cold Blow Lane and Stamford Bridge (not the one of today with its high sides and five pound hotdogs, the old one with its painted barbed wire fences and twenty 
No more of this
metres of sand pit). We don’t talk about carrying a giant inflatable banana to Stoke (not the new *pretty* Stoke but the old Victoria Ground, with its sloping crumbling terraces and its flying bricks welcome) or freezing to the point of no return on the terraces at Grimsby and Middlesbrough (not the new *pretty* Middlesbrough but the old corrugated iron, barrel roof Ayresome Park, with its ramshackle pub on the corner and our blood spattered Pringle jerseys. We mouth sweet nothings into the wind. That’s all gone. It’s better that way.

So, we nod to the past as best we can. We stand upright in the present as best we can. We open our wallets towards the future as best we can. Silently, guiltily, we know the truth. There is no going back. What once was can never be again. Where we once strode, immaculate and proud, primed and set with the steely look of the terminally haunted, we now walk the walk of the unconcerned, nonchalant, self-confident, content. Bloated on our success, slow moving in our middle days, replete with days of glory to wash away the lifetime of hurt.

Now we are allocated pubs. Our pubs. City pubs. Blue pubs. In North West London. Time plays tricks on those of us who dinked and dived through the darkness of enemy territory, wondering whether the Dog and Crown or the Fireman’s Helmet would be a our last port of call. Wondering whether those dives on the way to Crystal Palace and that heaving place on a rocky desolate road outside Bradford would be the end of us. Just for the sake of an ill-needed pint and an ill placed flag.

Where we trod the mean streets of Wolverhampton and Derby and came away with our backsides tanned and our voices hoarse, now we sit in awe at the King Power Stadium remembering Weller and Birchenall and Lineker and twitch in a comfy row at Meadow Lane letting thoughts of Jimmy Sirrell and his loud hailer waft through our comfortable minds. No Lee Bradbury scuff, no Buster Philips trip can skew our confidence now. Steve Lomas moments are whispers in the wind.

No more of that. We mustn’t even mention it, for fear of tweaking the ire of the new age fundamentalists. No talk of that. No bloodshot eyes. No sweat stained shirts or ripped jumpers. No missing pin badge, simple, round, Maine Road maestros, yanked from its position by some eager beaver on the rainswept streets of Solihull or Huddersfield. No bleary yelling to the night sky. No never again Citys.

No, we embrace the new era, the dawn of prawn, the sun-up over SportCity, the ever-lasting glow of the wealthy, the healthy, the live-long-and-prospers. The sunlight gleaming off the glass sides of our palace reflects beaming faces, musicians and hand held mics. People jump up and down with their backs to the action where once we leaned forward to squint through the gales of attrition. Now we tread lightly the roads of combat, dancing, skipping, laughing, wearing painted faces and funny hats. Where once fear stalked, willing self-belief now reigns. No slinking down alleys, no peering around walls, no collars up, look left look right. No “where are you from, lads?”, no “what’s the time, boys?”, just backslaps, Opel Meriva hatchbacks and a light snooze and a pickled egg in the Family Stand.

And now Wembley beckons again, with its frills and its flapping hemline. It knows us now. Its comfy skyline of storage depots and ring roads embraces us. Welcome back, say the billboards and the off licences. Come on in and relax.

We can do this, can’t we? We should carry this off without too much problem, shouldn’t we? It’s horses for courses, isn’t it?

When the expectant noise of Sunderland wafts our way, will those once scorched lungs heave again? Can we make it matter as much as it matters to the men in red and white, whose place we occupied five short years ago?


Let us not ever forget who we are and how we came to be in this state. Open up your lungs, ladies and gentlemen and shout your pretty heads off for the mighty Blues, for, without the noise welling up from thirty years of foul failure, the feathery softness of this new comfort blanket will envelope us all.


  
       

Thursday, February 6, 2014

ODE TO THE SHEEP SHEARING DAYS

Cort McMurray takes a look at how perceptions of the Blues are changing and how we need to change with them:


Yesterday, I watched the Super Bowl.  I am not a fan of NFL football – it’s a brutal, pointless, mind numbingly dull game, an opinion that has nothing to do with my miserable and failed career as a Little League offensive tackle, I promise --  but I’m an American. The Super Bowl in America is like Christmas in Britain: even if you don’t believe in it, you put up the decorations.

Part way through the game, a brutal, pointless and mind-numblingly dull evisceration of the Denver Broncos by the Seattle Seahawks, the cameras flashed on celebrities in the crowd, witnessing the spectacle. There was Kevin Costner, wearing a black turtleneck with what appeared to be a gray shawl, looking dour and imperial, like Dame Judith Anderson with a manly haircut. There was Hugh Jackman, fashionably unshaven and jovial. 

And there was Paul McCartney.  

No longer one of the Four Lads Who Shook The World, Super Bowl Paul is wrinkled and jowly, his hair dyed an unnatural orange, glumly gumming a slice of pizza while a young woman I can only assume is his personal nurse stands by with his heart pills and diabetes medication.

This depressed me no end, this silent, sober reminder that nothing in our uncertain world is constant. Bright brilliant youth slumps into high trousered dotage. Things fall apart. Everything changes. I want the Paul of my childhood, jamming with the band on London rooftops and shearing sheep on the Mull of Kintyre. I want Paul the way he used to be.

Paul, Linda and a young Alan Kernaghan
Which brings me to the Premier League.

City’s recent rise to prominence, fueled by Chilean strategy, a United Nations of talent and several shipping containers of Abu Dhabian cash, has prompted much comment, most of it scathingly negative. It’s not mere criticism. Let’s face it, some things that have happened in the club’s last decade – City’s brief, uncomfortable association with a southeast Asian strongman, for starters – have been worthy of criticism. This more recent vitriol is beyond criticism. It’s ad hominem and angry and frequently scatological. And surpassingly ignorant.

It boils down to this: “City have always been A Certain Type of Club. How dare they change?” City aren't that club, anymore, no matter what twitchy Internet posters want. The change is confusing and uncomfortable, and it’s hardly happening only to City.  Just like seeing a septuagenarian Sir Paul forces everyone to consider their own mortality, a rampant, world class Manchester City forces fans of other clubs to recognize the fundamental changes happening throughout the Premier League: Twenty years ago, English football clubs were mostly managed by Englishmen, and mostly stocked with Englishmen, and mostly owned by Englishmen. They were essentially Mom and Pop operations, where even the biggest, most successful clubs had their shirts sponsored by the local newspaper or an automobile glass repair outfit.

Today, foreign tactics and foreign players dominate, fueled by scads of foreign money. It’s different. For some, it’s uncomfortable. That doesn’t alter the facts: the League isn’t Mom and Pop anymore; it’s a sophisticated cartel of multinational entertainment conglomerates, dealing in staggering amounts of money and exerting its influence in a dizzying number of countries. That may rankle the northern sensibilities of your typical Newcastle supporter, but it doesn’t change the reality.

Manchester City’s chief offence seems to be that, unlike, say, Cardiff City, or Hull City, it had the great good fortune to get foreign ownership who understands the supporters’ connection to their club, and actively works to both “grow the brand,” and nurture good feelings in the City community. That’s what generates the viciousness, the bitterness and the rancor: the change happened and other clubs got stuck with carpetbaggers and confidence men. And we got lucky. 

There have been missteps – Gary Cook was a mistake, and tossing over Umbro for the fleshpots of Niketown strikes a false note – but they have been few and fairly minor.  The Impeccable Sheiks seem genuinely committed to protecting and preserving City’s unique flavor. There have been no uncomfortable ad campaigns, in which the Starting Eleven was made to tout fried chicken, no outrageous replacement of team colors, no crest changes, aimed at improving souvenir sales in the crucial Asian markets. It’s a newer, bigger, brighter Manchester City, but it’s still City.  The Family Mansour has done right by the club and its supporters.

They have also positioned City beautifully to take a place on the international stage. Their “City in the Community” project has built soccer academies in underprivileged neighborhoods from Los Angeles to Miami, quietly establishing bastions of City supporters across North America, and their heavy investment in the MLS club New York City FC automatically makes the United States’s economic capital the club’s second home. Humanitarian efforts have raised City’s profile in Africa and Asia.  And of course, they play an inventive, exciting, deeply entertaining brand of football. While the London clubs bicker and snipe like the intermarried potentates of fading 16th century monarchies and the rotting empire in Salford slowly descends into mob rule and madness, City’s brain trust is quietly, competently gaining strength and influence.
Not tonight, City are playing

All of this is hard to take for the people who want everything to stay the same.  This is even true for City supporters. You cannot be City if you don’t love the underdog, don’t have a heart tuned to the irony of it all, don’t appreciate that sooner or later, Life will break your heart.  That is who we are. Winning trophies will not change that. But we aren’t in Moss Side anymore. Those days, those wonderful days, have gone.  Different days await.  If Maine Road was Our First Love, all scraped knees and grade school gangle, The Etihad is Our Grown-Up Romance: a tad frosty perhaps, but dazzling with sophistication and endless, elegant curves. It’s like we went away to University, and ended up dating a young Catherine Deneuve. Out of our league? Maybe.   

But how do you say no to a young Catherine Deneuve?


Saturday, January 18, 2014

VALLEYS AND TROUGHS

Much has been said about City's potentially record-busting afternoon against Cardiff City, but slightly less air has been heated on the subject of how difficult the Blues have found the Welsh side to beat down the years. Here are one or two memories.

This season's slightly surreal match aside, City and Cardiff have met only a handful of times in the modern era and the majority of those matches hold sour memories: In 1983-84, fresh from the ignominy of that Luton-soaked relegation, City opened with a defeat at a tatty and violent Ninian Park in the second game of the season. A real awakening for both players and the supporters, who made the long trip to swell the crowd to nearly 9,000. The enclosed report mentions an error by Alex Williams letting the hosts edge into a 2-1 lead, which they held onto through to the end of the match.

By the time the sides met again in March, City's dreams of promotion were fading. Indeed a wretched 1-5 reverse at Craven Cottage the previous week had underlined the sparse nature of Billy McNeill's squad. Cardiff arrived with the atmosphere beginning to turn sour at Maine Road, a particularly vitriolic welcome awaited Paul Power, whose stuttering progress down the left flank was followed by unfavourable noises from sections of The Kippax. That City dragged two points from a limp performance was down to the unlikely match winner, David Johnson, one of a string of free transfer additions to the ailing City squad. With early season hot shots Parlane and Tolmie wilting badly after Christmas, Johnson was one of several ageing strikers tried in an attempt to bolster forward impetus.
Paul Power promises to fight on to get fans back on his side

The following season, City again found the Bluebirds tough going, but at least managed a much more positive result from their early season visit to the Valleys, coming away with a 3-0 win thanks to goals from Gordon Smith, Clive Wilson and the new goal-scoring sensation Tony Cunningham. Again, the return game at Maine Road fell late in the season, as the promotion race again looked to be getting too much for the Blues. After leading two nil through the impish skills of youngster Paul Simpson, City fell apart, surrendered the lead and almost lost to the division's worst (and last placed) side. It was at this moment that Billy McNeill realised just what he had taken on at City.

City get a second half "towsing"from the visitors

Before any of these painful second tier encounters, City had played host to the Welshmen in the 3rd round of the Cup in 1981-82. This was to be the season City repeated their glorious journey to Wembley from the previous season, but with a happier final outcome. This match hinged on a robust challenge from the usually targeted Tommy Hutchison, whose lunge put Cardiff's main danger man Wayne Hughes out of the game. In a lively encounter, City progressed 3-1 only to be dumped out in the next round by Coventry City at Maine Road, the infamous game that put Peter Bodak on the map and on John Bond's radar.



As proved the case earlier this season, Cardiff City were a tough nut to crack and, on more than one occasion have refused to crack at all, leaving City with shattered teeth instead.

About Me

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

Followers