Why Blue seems a strange question to be addressing after fifty years of supporting City but it is a subject worth thinking about. What is it that pulls the affection of a fan to one team and then holds it through the years – years of mediocre performance, ups and downs between First and Second Divisions – highlighted now and then by a cup win or a game where the team played like world beaters?
In my case the origin of Bluedom had a family connection. My grandfather played part-time professional for City when they played as Ardwick in the early 1890’s and joined the Football League. My father took his serious interest in the game between WWI and WWII when City were the unquestioned best side in Manchester. It was natural that when league and cup football started again after WWII he took me to Maine Road early in the 1946 season. City shared Maine Road with United – United being gypsies due to the bombing of Old Trafford – and we went to many games involving both teams, but nothing compared to seeing those blue shirts come out of the tunnel and start warming up. My father had been in the all-time largest English crowd outside Wembley – over 84,000 fans for the City vs. Stoke City cup replay in 1934 – and we were at Maine Road together in the largest crowd ever to watch an English league game, a crowd of 82,370 for United vs. Arsenal in 1948. I was in the crowd at the Charity International – England vs. Scotland played at Maine Road for survivors of the Burnden Park disaster in 1947.
The predominant memory of those early years as a fan can be summed up in two words – Frank Swift. He kept City in the First Division for several seasons just by being the world’s best goalkeeper. Swift could keep any opposition at bay and he did – season after season. The winter of 1947 was one of the bitterest for weather anyone could recall and the shortages of fuel etc. remaining from the war years hadn’t been alleviated. Our school, just across Alexandra Park from Princess Parkway and Maine Road, suffered from the fuel shortages to the point where the lucky pupils were often sent home for half days off when the heat couldn’t be provided. One such half day off coincided with a City vs. Oldham cup tie replay. Two of us had sixpence each for bus fare to get home but instead we walked to the ground, spent the “tanners” on entrance money, and saw City win 1-0 on a pitch covered with 4 inches of snow. The whole field was white, with only the lines marked out in sand. Skill for the players consisted of just staying on their feet long enough to control the ball, pass or shoot. Missed tackles or missed kicks resulted in spectacular slides for 10 yards or more. City scored early in the first half and Swifty kept Oldham out for the rest of the game. No floodlights in those days so, with a 1:30pm kick-off, I was walking home to Chorlton by 3:30. Bitter cold and, in the educational era of short pants – grey socks, freezing around the knees but I never felt warmer. We’d won and it was on to the next round! Best of all, my mother didn’t ask about the bus fare money and with another “tanner” next morning, I could still get the bus and I didn’t have to walk to school or back home for the rest of the week.
The last memory of Frank Swift though is one of deep sadness. After retiring from City, he reported on football for the Evening News and lost his life in the Munich air crash. The whole of Manchester was in shock with the loss of so many United players and other members of the travelling party. A few days after the accident, my fiancee (now wife) and I were on my motorbike going to Nell Lane Hospital where she was a nurse on night duty, 11:00pm start. Going down Barlow Moor Road toward Princess Road at 9:30pm we saw the first of the car headlights turn into Barlow Moor Road from the Parkway. A police outrider flagged us down and explained that this was the cortege of the victims, whose bodies had been returned to Manchester earlier in the evening. We stood in silence watching the long, long line of hearses pass slowly and almost silently. News of the return must have been on the TV or radio earlier. Lights came on in almost every house along the route, people came out and stood at their front gates watching the seemingly endless line pass by. One of the saddest sights I have ever seen, but I did get the chance to say “Goodbye Frank and Thanks.”
Later came the glory years of the Revie Plan – disappointment in the 1955 Cup Final, but triumph in 1956. What a final! Bert Trautmann playing injured, Bobby Johnstone and Joe Hayes scoring. The year before, after losing to Newcastle, Roy Paul promised the fans City would be back next year and he certainly made good on that promise. The testimonial match when Bert Trautmann retired was an emotional experience with the crowd singing “Auld Lang Syne” after the game, standing in front of the main stand. Bert Trautmann was the finest goalkeeper in the world during his playing days and it is one of the great tragedies of the game that he couldn’t appear as an international player, given the way the rules were in those days. It was a privilege to watch Trautmann play and he performed heroics for City backing up the Revie Plan.
The Mercer / Allison era started shortly before we went to live in the USA in 1967. The Bell, Lee, Summerbee, Heslop, team they put together played beautiful football, wonderful stuff. The last live game I saw at Maine Road was in 1969, when the Blues started on their European Cup Winners’ Cup year. Since then it has been a case of following their fortunes from afar, buying the New York Times on a Sunday just to see the results – a good Sunday when City won, a bad Sunday when they lost.
Two close encounters with the Blues though, internationally. In 1969, I had a business trip to Bilbao in Spain. The week before, City had tied in Bilbao in the European Cup Winners’ Cup and the return match at Maine Road was played on a Wednesday night, while I was on the night sleeper between Madrid and Bilbao. At 6:30 Thursday morning, as the train pulled into the Bilbao Station, newspaper sellers began selling the morning papers and across the back page, bordered in black, the words “Athletico Eliminidad – Manchester City 3 Athletico 0.” The locals were not too thrilled to say the least. My interpreter knew that I came from Manchester and was a City supporter. Things went well until lunch when the talk turned to football and the result the night before. Someone asked the interpreter a question and he laughed – “He wants to know where you are from in England” he said. Before I could get a word in, the interpreter turned back to the locals. “Manchester” he told them. “City” he added with a grin. Snorts and glares ensued, which didn’t subside for the rest of the day, especially from the most senior engineer present, a dyed in the wool Athletico fan. Two years later, I was sitting by the pool in the Lisbon Hilton when, directly in front of me, the senior engineer emerged from the water. I recognized him straight away and greeted him with “Buenos Tardes Senor ——–.” He frowned for a moment and then snarled. He said two words “Manchester City” and stalked off.
The other City-related incident occurred in the USA several weeks after City beat Leicester City 1-0 in the ’69 Cup Final. ABC Television’s “Wide World of Sport” show announced that they were going to show the “highlights” of the English FA Cup Final Saturday evening between 5:00 and 6:30. In those days very few people took an interest in “real” football in the US and highlights usually meant just the goals of any game shown. Since there had only been one goal, chances were that there would be a very short clip shown. We had to take the kids to some event at the major shopping center several miles away from home and I wanted to make sure we were back for the game. However, as things usually are with several young children to organize, we started back home late and I pushed the old Chevvy station wagon harder than it had ever been pushed in its life. 50 yards from our turn-off from the major highway the police car appeared, lights flashing, siren wailing. I pulled over and the cop pulled in behind. He got out of the car, big man, big gun, big paunch and Smoky-the-Bear Hat. “Where the hell’s the fire” he asked, after demanding my license and registration. Visions of missing Neil Young’s goal flashed through my mind and the situation needed resort to desperate measures. Summoning up the most “frightfully far-back” English accent I could, I explained that the soccer team I had followed all my life was about to be on TV, winning the FA Cup, which didn’t mean anything to him. But the sporting instinct is strong in the US of A regardless of which sport. He looked me in the eye and handed the papers back with the comment “Crazy English Bastard! Don’t speed around here again.” We made it home in time to see the highlights and the goal.
Now, thanks to the wonderful world of technology and working in Singapore, I get to see the Premier League Match of The Day live every Saturday, courtesy of Indonesian TV. (I can’t get our local Singapore channel that carries the game) and I saw the Blues several times last season. Now I have to rely on City match scores announced during the game and BBC World Service Radio for the summary of all results, Saturday midnight or 01:00 Sunday morning local time.
Where do we go from here? Hopefully not down to the Third Division (alright Second Division if you believe the modern numbering system). Embarrassing though the present situation is, both on and off the field, we must hang in there for now. Things will turn round primarily because of the quality of support the club receives from the supporters. We may not be promoted this season but I don’t think we will be relegated either. Things will not be improved by the acquisition of just one individual be he manager or player, but by the club playing as a team including the board as well as the players. At the moment, the board don’t appear to be able to manage a p**s up in a brewery, so they had better get their act together very, very soon. Meanwhile, the rest of us must keep supporting the club, which will still be around when the present board and playing staff are history and the present troubles are a bad dream.
One of our sons, who still plays Sunday football in the USA, is a keen City supporter and follows the team’s fortunes via the Internet and, when possible, ESPN. He managed to see a couple of home games at Maine Road at the start of the season while on holiday in the UK. This summer, the wheel turned full circle for the family. For his birthday, we bought our grandson, who lives in Glossop, a lifetime membership in the Junior Blues. His mother is a keen City fan and has taken him to several games this season. When his younger brother is of an age to take an interest, he will get a Junior Blues membership too. Tradition carries on and they will have a future to cheer about – watching City make it back to the Premier League and onwards to triumphs yet to come.
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #252 on