Book review: The Battle for Manchester City

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Review by: Kevin Duckworth

TITLE: The Battle for Manchester City
AUTHOR: Alec Johnson
PUBLISHER: Mainstream Publishing Company (Edinburgh) Ltd. 7 Albany St., Edinburgh EH1 3UG, Scotland.
ISBN: No 1 85158 6547
PRICE: £12.99

book-battleformcfcThe battle for Manchester City, you would think is an account of Francis Lee’s successful fight for MCFC and with that in mind I purchased the 187 page book. Unfortunately, only 5 pages at the end relate to the bid, the rest of the book being more of a history of Manchester City.

The story begins in 1922, just before the move to Maine Road. Misfortune was to plague the new ground immediately. A group of gypsies were passing through and camped on the site. An official was sent to ask them to leave and was told politely they would move in a couple of hours. Not happy with this the official told them to move immediately. A curse was put on the men. “Hear this. No good will come to anyone who will dwell here.” — I wish someone had told me this story when I was 8; I could have been a Stalybridge Celtic fan.

The book goes on to describe the rift between Mercer & Allison, which started on 11th December 1971 in a bar in Malta. Years before, Joe had told Allison that one day he would be manager. Malcolm was now claiming the crown. The board was split, with Eric Alexander backing Joe but wanting Allison as Team Manager. When Joe was told to choose his own title as long as it did not use the word manager, he moved to Coventry City. “All my life I had been known as Mercer the footballer or Mercer the Manager, now suddenly they can’t find a title for me.” The rift spread to the rest of the players and morale in the dressing room was at a low. Players like Summerbee, Lee & Book all recognised City were making a great mistake.

Personally, I don’t remember the pre-Mercer days, but they seem to have been even worse than the Swales era! George Poyser resigned at Easter 1965 (anyone know what happened to him?). What is interesting is the men who applied for the vacant post: Bill Shankly and ex-City favourite Don Revie. In spite of Mercer’s problems with hypertension, he was given the job against the better judgement of Nora “Without soccer my life is not worth living” (I can’t believe Joe would say soccer).

I include quotes from the book because I feel it gives some insight into the character of Mercer & also the few anecdotes are the book’s only redeaming factor. For example, the time Allison wanted to sign Tony Book. “He’s 32, past it” said Joe.“How old were you when you signed for Arsenal from Everton?”, said Malcolm. Joe was 39. “OK, sign him.”

The book talks about the team and the games of the late 60’s through to early 90’s. I had just finished the biography of Joe Mercer, ‘Football with a Smile’, and so a lot of what is written on the 60’s was just a repetition of chapters in that far superior book. I don’t intend to cover this area, although if anyone wants an appraisal of the different managerial eras, I could do that.

During the Allison/Mercer conflict, Peter Swales was to be invited onto the City board as a white knight and arbitrator between warring factions. Whilst he was chairman, Allison went, followed by Johnny Hart after an illness. Swales then turned to Saunders. After clashes with many players, Swales held court inviting all the staff, including juniors, to give their views on Saunders (in the absence of Ron). When Lee heard about this he told Swales what he thought of the whole affair. This was probably one of the causes of future bad relations between the 2 men. Another quote when Saunders signed: “If he goes down, I go with him” (PJS).

The book continues with player & game profiles whilst intermittently sparing a couple of paragraphs on behind the scenes events. The last 5 pages on the takeover tells us nothing we don’t already know, and unless you are looking for a bit of history of City, I would pass this book by.

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