Why should a boy born in Swansea, who spent the first 10 years of his life in London, spend the next 28 supporting The Only Team In Manchester? I could claim a subconscious link as my mum was a regular at the Vetch Field in the late 40s and one of her favourites was Roy Paul, one of the men immortalised in plastic on the Corgi Fingland’s coach. And the Swansea left back in the first Football League game I ever saw, home to Wrexham, was Vic Gomersall, signed from MCFC. But it really comes down to instinct: like so many other Why Blue? contributors, I was taken to The Swamp (versus Arsenal) and didn’t like it one bit. Maine Road, however, felt like home.
We moved from London to Cheadle Hulme in late 1968. I’d been to the odd game in London (including seeing Allan Clarke play for Fulham) but since there was no dominant team at our school in Morden (the southern end of the Northern Line), I arrived in Cheshire unscathed and ready to choose between the European and English champions. Both next-door neighbours supported the Rags, so my choice of City seemed all the wiser when we beat Leicester to win the F.A. Cup several months later: they didn’t want to come out and play football that day!
My earliest live memory is FHL heading the winner against Southampton, seen from the Kippax on a sunny day, reinforced by the mad Stuart Hall’s radio description of “Lee leaping like a salmon at the far post” – more like Harold The Helicopter as I recall. Another neighbour had previously treated us to a seat in the Platt Lane end but it must have been a rare boredraw: my memory is blank. The 70’s were magic, apart from not winning the League. Not much luck getting to finals: had to wait until the Thursday night – unthinkable in the Sky age – to see the Cup-Winners’ Cup Final highlights; working for the Sunday Mirror the day we won the League Cup vs. Newcastle.
Favourite 70’s memories: Dave Watson powering a header in from the edge of the box to win the game (vs. Ipswich?) just as I was about to leg it for the bus; Dennis Tueart at the start of countless matches, waving to the Kippax as we sang “King of All Geordies”; Colin Bell’s comeback against Newcastle, the most atmospheric football match I’ve ever attended; Tueart getting a hat-trick against Hartlepool in the F.A. Cup then getting sent off for head-butting his alleged best mate from school (BM was sent off on a stretcher for hacking DT down!); Mickey Doyle “professionally” elbowing Tony Woodcock off the ball; losing to Liverpool nearly every season 4 or 5-1 – no wonder Dalglish could wave happily to us in reply to the Kippax chant of “… you’re a w**ker”!
I “returned” to London in ’76 and followed the Blues to most away games in the area, usually finishing with a miserable trip back to Lewisham from Selhurst Park or Highbury. 78-79 was spent in Hamburg, watching Keegan lead HSV to the championship, following City’s last European campaign (we went down in Mönchengladbach, Nicky Reid’s first senior game I think) on the medium wave.
On moving to Cheltenham in 1980 I fell in with yet more Blues in exile, prime mover being a Glasgow Rangers fan whose girlfriend was in Manchester – at the F.A. Cup 6th Round replay in ’81, passions were high, so when Gow (or was it Bobby MacDonald or Tommy Hutchison?) was fouled by an Evertonian, my mate yelled something about “dirty English bastards”, to be reminded that “there’s 30,000 of us in here, pal!” The first 80-odd minutes of my only Cup Final were great: we were well and truly robbed that day, and in the replay – why no breathalyser for Ricky Villa? Clearly drunk in charge of a football when he scored the winner!
Maybe it was the 250-mile round trips but I have particularly fond memories of the League Cup run in the late 80’s when we were in the old 2nd Division: home wins against Watford and Forest (a 3-0 crusher), then going out away to Everton. That team had so many promising young players (Hinchcliffe, White, Redmond, Lake, Brightwell) that I really felt we were on the verge of great things again. Little did I know that Whitey would blow his one chance for England, Hinchcliffe would have to wait many years for an England cap and then get it with Everton, and Paul Lake, the best of the lot, would have his career ended by a seemingly innocuous fall.
Since then I’ve agonised as we’ve habitually turned victory into defeat (second half against Bournemouth, 3-0 up to 3-3 in 45 minutes, must be an obligatory lesson in how not to play football) and occasionally rejoiced at some improbable victories (4-2 away to Oxford that same promotion season, 3-2 away to Blackburn in ’95, Whitey’s 4 in the 5-1 at Villa). As someone said on Saturday when Ndah’s header hit the net, “Why do we let them do it to us every week?” I don’t have a logical answer: it must be the same reason that made one of my university mates hitch from Workington to Old Trafford for every home game in the early 70’s, when they were winning nothing – you didn’t choose the team, it chose you.
It’s different now, with TV supporters who buy the shirts but not the match tickets. My son is 4 and will doubtless be under pressure at school in Cheltenham to be a Rag or a Mag or a (insert Premier League Champions 96-97, 97-98 etc.). But: he’s been a Junior Blue since he was a couple of days old (thanks, Cliff!), can spell Kinkladze, and knows that Rösler used to wear 28. And I’m sure that in a few years time a couple of trips to The Academy will either make him a true believer or provide conclusive evidence that his dad really knows nothing about decent football but can at least buy him a decent bag of chips!
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #268 on