Newsletter #479

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A perhaps unsurprising result on Saturday, considering our suspensions and the Spireites impressive home record – a match report is included. Once again there have been no further developments on the transfer/loan signing front, though Peter does speculate on a ‘investor deal’ and whether it’s alive or dead. We also have a squad update; an unpleasant report of racist abuse from Chesterfield; Mike Barnett clarifies his ‘contribution’ to the risible ‘Cups for Cock-ups’; whilst Noel Bayley muses on his relationship with the club, both past and present. Lastly, there’s plenty of opinion – mainly concerning the club’s Internet match commentary, but with a forthright view of City fans’ attitude to Macc Town.

This one reaches 2,370.

More Why Blues needed please!

Next game, Northampton at home, Saturday 6th March 1999

MATCH REPORT – ‘LIVE’

CHESTERFIELD vs. MANCHESTER CITY, Saturday 27th February 1999

Overall a fair result on performance and chances created. A pity though that City couldn’t manage to sustain any sort of pressure, as a couple more clear chances might have produced a winner. As it was, Chesterfield will feel that they should have won, especially after wasting a couple of golden chances, one in each half.

Things started badly, as though the players replacing those suspended were not familiar with each other. Chesterfield quickly forced two breaks down their right and send half decent crosses over in the first few minutes. More pressure followed with a couple of Chesterfield corners, and from one the ball was cleared weakly and the home side missed a good chance with a shot from around the penalty spot going wide. At this point in the directors’ box, Bernstein was chewing his nails and Joe had his hands over his eyes.

Edghill was captain in the absence of Morrison. It’s got to be said he’s in a good run of form at the moment, but I really don’t see him as captain material. For a start, a good captain must have a commanding presence, also my view is that he should be playing in midfield or central defence. I don’t think Edghill imposed himself or actually led the team very much, at least I didn’t see it if he did. Wiekens would have been a better choice, or possibly Brown.

Which leads me on to… Wiekens had his usual imperious performance, hardly put a foot wrong. But… if I had to sound a critical note I’d say it was a mistake of his that led indirectly to the Chesterfield goal. He put a colleague under pressure with a pretty poor pass, possession was lost, and from the resulting attack they scored. Moral – never say anyone’s perfect as that means they can’t get better!

Quite a bit of City pressure later through the first half, with Brown in particular playing well and combining with Edghill on the left. But not much in the way of chances created. Cooke wasn’t really fizzing (he was subbed) and Goater and Taylor weren’t really doing anything clever. Now here’s a point – there’s been lots of criticism of the standard of refereeing in this division, but I thought today was quite well reffed. We got free kicks for quite a few incidents where I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them given the way of the home team.

Anyway half time came, 0-1.

Second half started, Joe had put Tiatto on for Mason. Couldn’t complain as I’d forgotten Mason was playing. However, slight worries as Tiatto is not my favourite player, I think he’s dirty, impatient and although he shows keenness to attack, I don’t think he’s actually a very good defender.

But hey, bugger all that because he started the half like a train on fire! We poured forward down the left and cut through with several attacks. I think what had happened is that Joe had spotted the problems Brown had caused for their right hand side in the first half, and decided to put more pressure on down that flank. Well it paid off because suddenly Crooks found himself out on the left side with their defence backing off. He cracked a pearler from 30 yards, in off the inside of the post for the equaliser.

Memo to Richard Edghill – remember you’ve never scored for City. Try to copy this.

There then followed a scrappy, niggly, dirty period of the game. It seems like about 50 City players got booked. There were some tackles that made me wince, and I’m serious when I say I’m surprised we ended the game with 11 on the field (by the way this is the only time when I can remember Edghill actually doing something as captain – i.e. arguing with the ref to try to make sure he didn’t send Taylor off for one incident).

After creating the pressure that led to the goal, Tiatto did nothing, apart from elbow someone when the ref was about 5 yards away (same as he did against Darlington at Maine Road and got sent rightly sent off for it).

Joe brought Dickov and Allsopp on later for Taylor and someone else (can’t remember!). In one very late attack, Goater totally cocked up by falling over the ball comically, but then managed to poke it out to Dickov who unleashed a whipped shot from Crooks distance, just palmed round for a corner.

Weaver rushed out to make a save right at the end and was badly injured, with play held up for about 5 or 6 minutes before he got back to his feet. Bloody typical the day after we sell Wright. But hopefully he’ll be ok.

So – final impressions? Well I know the recent run of results has been great, but to me I’m sorry, this was not a side that’s storming to promotion. Be honest, the top 2 places are sewn up so it’s play-offs or nowt. If we win the play-offs then today’s performance will not have the 1st Division putting on the brown trousers in anticipation.

The main thing is the so called “strikers” – they don’t seem to do much actual striking. Teams around us in the top 6 are winning games by 4 or 5 goals. Now look at our “goals for” compared to teams around us. It’s obvious isn’t it? The question is – dare Joe make a drastic change and risk upsetting a good run of results?

For example, lots of mentions in MCIVTA about Craig Russell, but personally I’d like to see Joe making sure that there was always a different attacking option at least on the bench for every game now. In the ideal world he’d change the strikers every game until he got a pairing that clicked together. But at least try new people from the bench. This should include not just Allsopp, but try giving Russell a 15-minute run out, also even the youngster Wright-Phillips, or any of the other reserve strikers.

Well I think I’ve chuntered on for long enough now, this was only supposed to be a short match summary and a quick bit of comment.

Steve Maclean (stevemaclean@stm1.freeserve.co.uk)

NEWS SUMMARY

Crooks Strike Earns A Point

Saturday’s trip to Saltergate saw a suspension-hit City side manage a repeat of the 1-1 scoreline from the season’s first meeting with Chesterfield last September, stretching the current unbeaten league run to ten matches. As at Maine Road, David Reeves gave Chesterfield the lead before half time. This time it was Lee Crooks, picking an opportune moment to register his first senior goal, who rescued a point for the Blues with a spectacular long-range strike six minutes into the second half. Bournemouth’s home victory meant that City dropped to sixth in the table, with the gap between us and second-placed Preston widening to thirteen points after North End followed up their midweek rout of Lincoln with another home win against Oldham. We can’t be complacent about our play-off prospects either. Gillingham and Bournemouth are continuing to pick up some decent results, while until their defeat on Saturday Walsall looked to be over their dip in form round the turn of the year. Behind us, Wigan have gone on an excellent run and would overhaul us on goals scored by winning their game in hand against relegation-threatened Lincoln on Tuesday, while our friends from the New Den have stubbornly remained in play-off contention despite losing to us three weeks ago and though Stoke have lost a surprising eight of their last ten games and appear to be in free fall, they do have a couple of games in hand.

Nevertheless, I feel Saturday’s point represented a respectable return for a weakened line-up against hosts with a good home record, and I don’t think we could reasonably have asked for more from the team since Christmas. Of our ten unbeaten games, seven have been against teams in the section’s top ten and six have been away from home. In those circumstances, the return of 22 points (better than Championship form) is highly creditable. We now have the opportunity to take advantage – of our last fourteen games, eight are at home and only six away, and each of the home games is against an opponent currently below us in the table. If we manage to dispatch most of our visitors, we’ll be well on the way to a play-off berth, although we know that with our not-always-endearing eccentricity, this is far from a foregone conclusion. Automatic promotion is still looking a more remote prospect, though with many of the teams above us still having to play each other, hopes we can make an assault on the top two still haven’t disappeared entirely. If it’s to happen, though, we’ll almost certainly need to capitalise on the next four games, of which three are at Maine Road, and all of which are against opposition from the bottom third of the table.

Royle Denies Cooke Story

Joe Royle is denying reports that he and Alex Ferguson have agreed a fee of £400,000 to make Terry Cooke’s transfer from Old Trafford permanent. With the player out of contract in the summer, it’s the prospect of him being snatched from under City’s noses when he’s a free agent which is prompting speculation that Royle will move now to guard against this possibility. To my mind, this would be eminently sensible – Cooke’s a quality player, and the sooner we secure his signature the better. However, City appear unlikely to be shelling out any money in transfer fees until an injection of cash into the club is sealed.

Joe Looking For Loan Signing

This doesn’t, however, preclude bringing in a fresh face on a temporary basis. After admitting last week that he was looking to bring in another loan player, Royle tried but failed to land a new man in time to bolster City’s suspension-hit line-up at the weekend. However, there’s speculation a loan signing may arrive in time to feature against Northampton on Saturday. Sheffield United’s Nick Henry, formerly a mainstay of Joe’s midfield at Oldham, was mentioned at one point, though Royle denied the interest. With Kevin Horlock able to return to the engine room next week after suspension, it seems more likely that any new recruit would be a front player. One man it won’t be is Everton’s Danny Cadamateri, linked last week with both City and Huddersfield. Goodison boss Walter Smith has emphatically denied that the player will be leaving Merseyside even on loan. Scunthorpe’s Jamie Forrester is still being mentioned as a possible target for Royle, though presumably his club would only allow him to leave in a permanent deal. Incidentally, on Saturday, Forrester ended a personal two-month scoring drought by notching his side’s only goal in a 2-1 defeat at Mansfield.

Wright-Phillips Makes His Mark

If Royle is unable to bring in a new face, the search for alternative striking options may see 17-year-old Shaun Wright-Phillips become the latest City junior given a taste of first-team action. The youngster has already forced his way into the reserves and his manager has conceded that “his performances are putting him in the frame.” Wright-Phillips certainly seems to have made swift progress recently and has impressed members of the senior squad, prompting Royle to say “the fact that the first-team players have been talking about his emergence is a positive sign.” As the son of the West Ham and former Arsenal striker Ian Wright, Shaun certainly has a lot to live up to, and his famous father apparently receives regular progress reports from the City coaching staff.

Trial And Error

Anthony Fenton, who unlike his twin brother Nick appears to have no real future at Maine Road, has gone to Portsmouth on trial and is keen to earn a permanent move. He’ll find a couple of familiar faces at Pompey in addition to manager Alan Ball – former City reserve coach Kevin Bond is Ball’s number two while after his sacking as youth coach at Maine Road, Neil McNab assumed a similar rôle at Fratton Park. The equally out-of-favour Neil Heaney, meanwhile, has failed to impress Bristol City sufficiently in a trial at Ashton Gate for them to take matters further.

Wright Loaned To Wrexham

Reserve goalkeeper Tommy Wright, sidelined this season by the emergence of Nick Weaver, has joined Jeff Whitley on loan at Wrexham and made his début for the Welsh club in Saturday’s 3-1 win at Stoke. Royle prefers to name three outfield substitutes for league games, and presumably feels that it would benefit all parties for the player to be playing first-team football in the knowledge that he can always be recalled on 24 hours’ notice if necessary. For Wright, a former captain of the Northern Ireland team, it represents a chance to regain his place in Lawrie McMenemy’s set-up – when he joined City, Wright was his country’s first choice, but has now been usurped by Fulham’s Maik Taylor, a man who’s enjoying regular first-team action at club level. The move means that five City players are currently out on loan. In addition to Wright and Whitley, Craig Russell is at Port Vale, Chris Greenacre is with Scarborough and Alan Bailey is at Macclesfield.

Tskhadadze Out For Season

Georgian international defender Kakhaber Tskhadadze will undergo another operation after breaking down for the second time following his return from the knee injury he sustained in August. There’s now no prospect of the King of the Air making a return before the beginning of next season. And Peepo’s transfer-listed compatriot Murtaz Shelia has also been under the surgeon’s knife, having a hernia operation last week which will sideline him until the middle of March. Shelia’s ailment denied him a possible chance to put himself in the shop window with a rare first-team outing on Saturday. Instead, Nick Fenton profited from the absence of the suspended Morrison and Vaughan to make his first appearance since before Christmas.

All Quiet On Investment Front

Following David Bernstein’s comments a couple of weeks ago playing down the prospect of an imminent announcement of a cash injection, there’s been no further word at all on the story. So does this mean, as some seem to fear, that the prospects of an infusion of funds were another illusory product of the notorious Maine Road rumour mill? It wouldn’t be the first time, but I think not. Even if the outline of a deal has been agreed, this kind of transaction is complicated – to go from that point to the stage where everything is signed and sealed can take several weeks. Bernstein’s only comment on timing was to express the hope that the formalities would be completed in time for funds to be available for squad strengthening before the transfer deadline. If this date passes with no announcement, it would be appropriate to start voicing concern. As it is, I’m not unduly worried at the moment – Bernstein isn’t the type to shout the odds unwisely, and I believe that for him to go public on the possibility of investment, as he did in early February, the prospect must be a fairly strong one.

Incidentally, on my brief trip home last week I heard the GMR phone-in after the Macclesfield game, and presenter Jimmy Wagg referred to a conversation he’d had with Bernstein a couple of days previously in which the City chairman was still talking about the prospective cash injection. And had talks irrevocably broken down, the trading price of City shares would surely have plummeted towards the 70p for which they were changing hands just before Christmas rather than the 95p at which they closed last week. None of this means we can be 100% sure that the proposed investment and share purchase will definitely become a reality. It does, however, mean that we can justifiably still regard it as a very real possibility. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that City have managed so successfully to keep the story, and the identity of the parties involved, under wraps. Could this be a sign of Bernstein’s success in banishing the infamous fifth column?

Big Ticket Allocation For Crucial Match

Preston North End have angered their own fans by allocating 6,000 tickets to City for the vital Easter Monday game between the two sides. This will ensure that the Blues will have the backing of probably their largest away following of the season at Deepdale on April 5, with the whole of the Bill Shankly Kop occupied by City fans. The move has been prompted by the Lancashire constabulary’s fears of supporters travelling from Manchester without tickets. If this is a problem for a regular league game at a ground with a capacity of 18,700, imagine the potential chaos for the away leg of a possible play-off semi-final at a smaller ground like Bournemouth, Gillingham, Walsall or Wigan! Incidentally, the Preston game will have a noon kick-off and will be the third successive away game which won’t begin at the conventional afternoon time of 3 p.m. The visit to Colchester on March 20 will have a 6 p.m start to accommodate the Sky cameras, while a week later our match at Reading will kick off at 1 p.m. to avoid a clash with the televised England vs. Poland match at Wembley the same afternoon.

Pay-per-View Experiment Begins

The Colchester match, of course, is the second step in the experiment which will see up to six Nationwide League games offered by Sky TV on a pay-per-view basis before the end of the season. Saturday evening saw the first of them, by all accounts a fairly tedious 0-0 draw between Sunderland and Oxford. There won’t be any word on take-up for the clash at the Manor Ground for some time (strangely, several weeks are needed to gather information from the various cable operators), but if many Blues have their way, Sky will be disappointed with the response for City’s visit to Layer Road. A boycott is being urged in some quarters to stop this kind of event becoming a regular TV spectacle, while there’s a general hostility towards Sky from many Blues because of Rupert Murdoch’s intention to acquire Manchester United PLC. However, while it’s possible to envisage City fans turning their backs on the coverage of the Colchester game, would they be able to resist the temptation to shell out their £7.95 for more vital matches? An away play-off match at a ground which couldn’t accommodate our travelling army springs to mind, for instance, as does the season’s final away league game at Bristol Rovers (where the standard away allocation is a measly 800 tickets) should we have moved into the automatic promotion picture by then. Even if the response for the Colchester game is fairly poor, I suspect it won’t be the last time a City match is offered on pay-per-view.

New Kit Rumour

Despite rumours that City were set to ditch Kappa to sign a new kit deal with Adidas or that Kappa themselves were looking to end the arrangement with the Blues and were keen to start supplying Chelsea, it appears that next season will in fact be the third and final year of the current City / Kappa deal. The design process for new kits, of course, begins several months in advance and this week saw the first speculation about the look of next season’s home shirt. Given that in its first season our existing home kit was the country’s fifth biggest seller, the claim that the shirt will remain of a laser blue hue isn’t a surprise. The rumoured navy sleeves would certainly be a new departure, though. The reliability of this information may, needless to say, be open to doubt – autumn suggestions that this season would see City adopt a third strip which would be on sale by Christmas never materialised, for example.

Fans’ Committee

Many fans may not know that once a month, a committee consisting of fans and club representatives meets to discuss matters which may be of concern to supporters. The minutes can be seen on the Official Supporters’ Club section of the www.mancity.net website. In what I find a pleasing development, the club has now agreed to consider questions from Internet Blues at these meetings, and these will be passed on by Bob Young, who can be contacted at bob@mancity.net by anyone with a question they’d like to ask. Given the frustrations that some Internet Blues have expressed about the service provided by Planet on the official City site, maybe it would be a productive avenue to make the club aware of the problems.

News In Brief

Or, if you prefer, the stories which have come to my attention on Monday afternoon and which I don’t have time to write about in any detail … Nick Weaver needs eight more clean sheets from City’s last fourteen league games to break Alex Williams’ club record, set in 1984-85, of 21 shut outs in a league season … Weaver had stitches in a gash around his mouth following a collision with an opponent late in the match at Chesterfield, but the young ‘keeper will be fit for Saturday’s match against Northampton … Lee Crooks’ booking on Saturday has earned him a one match ban which will keep him out of the game at home to Oldham on March 13 – he’ll be the sixth City player to serve a suspension in a fortnight following the quartet of Morrison, Vaughan, Horlock and Pollock at the weekend, and Paul Dickov, whose yellow card in the reserves in midweek means he’ll be unavailable for the trip to Burnley on March 9 … Joe has reiterated that Gerard Wiekens isn’t for sale, and speculation is that City may offer the Dutchman an extension to his contract, which currently has two years remaining.

Peter Brophy (brophy_peter@hotmail.com)

TICKET NEWS

Burnley vs. Manchester City, Tuesday 9th March

Tickets for this fixture are now sold out. Supporters are advised not to travel without a ticket.

Reading vs. Manchester City

An allocation of approx. 4,000 tickets will go on sale to Regular Season ticket holders from 9.00am on Saturday 27th February. Supporters will require voucher ‘HH’ from their season ticket books.

Ticket Office – Manchester City

CITY ‘TIL I DYE (MY SKIN WHITE)

In the week when racial awareness was pretty high on the agenda, I found myself near two other City fans at Chesterfield who were also aware of the issue. Every time Shaun Goater touched the ball one of them shouted: “Fu** off, you bag of soot.” Occasionally in an attempt to vary his banter he would shout: “Don’t fu**ing give it to that bag of soot.”

I told a police officer at half time that he might like to join us for the second half where he could hear this bile for himself. He told me that he couldn’t move from his position (a lie), but if he heard it from where he was, a hundred yards away, he would ‘have a word.’

Halfway through the second half, after another fu**-off-you-bag-of-soot remark, the racist’s mate said with a smirk: “You’re not allowed to say that this week.”
“Oh yes,” came his response; “Fu** off Goater, you not-white cu*t.”

This is hardly an isolated incident. We hear racist abuse more and more from City fans these days. It is impossible to confront these people yourself. I’ve tried it in the past. In my experience more fans will side with the racist, generally in shut-up-and-watch-the-game-we’re-all-Blues-aren’t-we kind of way. Nothing an individual says will ever change their poisonous minds. It’s getting to the point where I don’t want to be with City fans at away games. I don’t want to be associated with people whose views are so at odds with the way I and all my friends and work colleagues lead our lives.

The only way racism will be eradicated from the stands/terraces will be with support for those people prepared to confront the issue. There is no point in saying it’s not my problem. It’s everyones’ problem. I’m sick of feeling that I am fighting a lone battle. Don’t just mutter about it in the pub after the game. Report anyone you hear using racial abuse. I know it’s difficult but it’s a fight we have to win.

Name witheld by request

‘CUPS FOR COCK-UPS’ – PUTTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT

I’ve just read Peter Brophy’s review of Ashley Shaw’s truly dismal book, ‘Cups for Cock-Ups‘ in MCIVTA 478. How right he is. There are times when Desktop Publishing has a lot to answer for. I made the point (privately) to an MCIVTA subscriber a couple of months ago about the book’s one-sided and ill-informed nature. In a nutshell, nobody of any influence or importance was prepared to speak to him, hence the book’s lack of balance. As for a foreword from Dante Friend, a man who implored City fans to cause trouble at away games last season in his fanzine, words fail me.

Readers may have noticed that I received a ‘thank you’ at the back of the book. I would therefore like to share with MCIVTA subscribers our conversation. For a bit of context, Shaw had written a piece in When Saturday Comes (which self-mockingly advertises itself as ‘the half-decent football magazine’) on City bemoaning its lack of involvement with the local community (honest!) and the club’s poor record in fielding young local black kids in the first team. As well as being just a little unfair, the piece managed to ignore the serious non-football related social problems in and around the Moss Side area, which presumably went over Ashley Shaw’s head.

Barnett: “I see you’ve got a piece in the current When Saturday Comes.”
Shaw: “Yes, I have.”
Barnett: “Is that right they call it ‘the half-decent football magazine’ because they employ writers like you can only manage to get half their facts right?”
Shaw: “Very funny.”

And for that, more or less, I got a thank you.

Mike Barnett (mike.barnett@timewarp.co.uk)

SQUAD DETAILS

Changes since last squad:
Tommy Wright loaned to Wrexham
Anthony Fenton has been transfer listed and is on trial with Portsmouth
Stephen Rimmer transfer listed

Tommy Wright             Loaned to Wrexham
Nick Weaver
Steven Hodgson
Michael Brown Transfer Listed
Gerard Wiekens
Tony Vaughan
Richard Edghill
Lee Crooks
Anthony Fenton Transfer Listed, on trial with Portsmouth
Nick Fenton
Richard Jobson
Danny Tiatto
Kakhaber Tskhadadze
Andy Morrison
Shaun Holmes
Stephen Rimmer Transfer Listed
Murtaz Shelia Transfer Listed
Kevin Horlock
Jamie Pollock
Gary Mason
Jim Whitley
Michael Brown
Ian Bishop
David Laycock
Tony Dunfield
Christopher Shuker
Andrew Porteous Transfer Listed
Terry Cooke On loan from Manchester United
Neil Morley Transfer Listed
Neil Heaney Transfer Listed
Jeff Whitley Transfer Listed and loaned to Wrexham
Paul Dickov
Shaun Goater
Danny Allsopp
Gareth Taylor
Shaun Wright-Phillips
Leon Mike
Chris Greenacre Transfer Listed and loaned to Scarborough
Mikhail Kavalashvili Loaned to Grasshoppers Z

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