Those special days. Back to them. The first was March 15, 1947. The second was the Trautmann Cup Final of 1956. I went alone to Wembley – I was in the RAF at the time at North Weald in Essex, and an RAF mate got me a ticket somehow – sitting half-way between the Royal Box and the goal where City scored their brilliant first, and where Bert had his neck broken. I had been heartbroken the year before when City’s 10 men ran out of gas and went down to Newcastle 3-1, but had only seen that on a girlfriend’s b/w TV. Everything about that day in 1956 is as clear as that first day at MR in 1947. And it was Birmingham again. I’d never seen anything like it – the pageantry, “Abide With Me,” the huge, welling hope that this time we could do it, Wembley packed, its grass greener than seemed possible, the great new strip City wore, the 3 superb goals, the performance of the team overall, Bert’s terrible injury and the deeply touching way Dave Ewing, Bill Leivers, Roy Paul and the others protected him through the final 15 minutes as he staggered, barely conscious, around his goal. The sight of Paul holding the Cup over his head. I was nearly 20, but the tears were running down my face. It’s a day I visit often, and, as I type this, a photo of that day’s team sits on the wall in front of me. It is, in all my years of watching City, my favourite team. The Bell, Lee, Summerbee team I didn’t see as much of, though they were brilliant, and hadn’t seen it develop slowly the way I had the 1956 team. The 1956 team had balance, heart, skill, excitement, and the players were decent blokes, as well as fine players. I don’t recall Revie’s sourness the way others do – it never showed itself to me on the pitch – and the way City revolutionised English football by changing the traditional 3-2-2-3 “W” formation to the “M” with Revie, then Johnstone, as deep centre-forward serving 2 strikers, had defences at sea. It was a great year. And I recall a 5-0 win at OT in the mid-50s, too!
Incidentally, the two “half special” days I referred to at the start were at Anfield in a 5th round replay when I was standing in the Kop trying to keep quiet and City were saved in the final second by an unheard ref’s whistle as Billy Liddle’s drive beat Bert. The other was a semi-final at Villa Park when a brave diving header in thick mud from an exhausted Roy Clarke put us at Wembley. Two great days, but not in the same league as the big two I’ve described and which still fill my head so often.
I couldn’t be at Wembley for the 1969 Final – I was, from 1959 to 1962, in the United States (though I did come back each year and saw some matches), and from when I married (January 1st, 1963) until coming to Canada in 1969, in Glasgow and Cumbernauld in Scotland, only seeing City when we could afford, with our two new sons, to travel down to Manchester. My wife – from the USA – has only seen City once – in 1963, I think it was – and they put 8 past Scunthorpe, Derek Kevan running riot. She thinks, I suspect, that that should happen every match. Perhaps I should take her again to see if fate repeats itself! I have only, sad this is, seen City live twice in the past 32 years, since we came to western Canada – in the 1974-5 season when they beat Burnley 2-0 at MR with Colin Bell scoring a screamer from 25 yards, and in the Full Members’ Cup Final at Wembley in the mid-80s when we lost to Chelsea. That was the first time I’d ever seen hooliganism and mass fighting at a match in my life. And I’m glad. It wasn’t pleasant. In the 1970s and 80s, we’d get the scores in the papers here, and I always get a British Sunday paper on Monday to read reports, and we saw the Cup Finals each year on the day after the actual match, as they had to fly the film across the Atlantic! So I saw us get robbed, Hutchison, Villa, etc. It has become a lot better in the past 10 years, and I used to see all City’s Premiership goals, and, last season, quite a few live matches. So the City of the 1970s and 80s is not too well known to me, though I kept up as well as I could. I went into coaching over here when my sons started playing, and got great satisfaction from doing that, though people do say that goalies make lousy coaches! Both kids were fine young players and represented the city of Calgary in tournaments all over North America. One, a goalie (!), played for the Alberta Under-17 team that won the Canadian championship; the other, a tricky ball-playing forward or attacking midfielder, would have done so too except for bad shin-splints.
I’ve been back to MR several times in the past 8 years but have always missed City or not been able to get a ticket when I’ve been there. I always go to the shop and have a shield, mugs, pennant, transfer on my car, photos, etc. And with the good old red rose crest on them all, too – not the current one that I detest, as it looks very much like that of Milosevich’s Yugoslavia. I miss the sky blue shirts even more, mind you. I miss City hugely, though this twice-weekly e-mail is great, as are Talkincity, and, for comedy and soap-opera, Blueview. For football, the Internet is brilliant. The supporters are still the way they were when I was at MR, though much has superficially changed. I worry that the new stadium will not have the same atmosphere as MR but I can do nothing but hope about that.
Why Blue? Because I care very deeply. Because, apart from the special days I’ve talked about, there’s a whole lifetime of living and dying with City’s fortunes. There’s something different about being a City fan which is hard to put into words but which is tangible. It has to do with the fact that City’s highs are higher and their lows lower; that we must constantly reposition our feelings when we are City supporters; that they always do the unexpected; that the rollercoaster ride reflects very closely the ups and downs of our life’s rhythms, with all the griefs and joys we live with.
Why Blue? Because it’s too easy to support other teams – too ordinary, too comfortable. City fans are a special lot, with, I think, deeper feelings, more gut-deep loyalty, than fans of clubs which are more predictable and less demanding on the nervous system. We expect nothing from City, but hope for everything. We don’t brag all that much, but are deeply proud. We are intrigued, sometimes shattered and sometimes ecstatic, by the yo-yo of the club’s fortunes, always uncertain what to expect, incredibly and magnificently elated when they’re successful, fragile and upset when they fail us. The heart-monitor spikes higher and lower with City. The university theses being written, the many books, the affection for City round the country – accompanied by that shake of the head at how weird City is! – are partly due to this marvellous unpredictability, as well as to the supporters’ astonishing loyalty. Also, perhaps, to the mordant City humour, resigned, dark, of the gallows, yet deeply understood by all of us who follow the team. The “another 10 minutes and we’d have had them” after a 5-0 thrashing; the “Hey, we can’t go yet, there’s 2 minutes left” when we’re winning 3-0; the long-suffering, mournful voice I heard in a sudden quiet in the 50s, and shall never forget: “For Christ’s sake do summat, Sambrook, if it’s only p**s!” The laughter is a shared and profound reaction to years of what is never a dull and steady marriage between team and fans, but a wildly ecstatic or numbly negative love-affair, tempestuous, with no predictable outcome. Being a Blue – a real one and not just some anti-Rag yobbo – gives us membership in a very exclusive club. I’m more proud to support City than I can ever explain. I’m told the psychologists call what we go through with City “intermittent reinforcement” – all I know is that it’s one hell of a ride and once you’re on there’s no getting off.
My memories must seem as distant to most of you as when I heard boring old farts talking about Tilson and Meredith. And I know some of you have supported the team without ever having experienced the great cathartic satisfaction of seeing them win Cup or League or trophy, but we share the important things, and our lives, I know, would be inconceivable without City. I remember being amazed at the first white footballs – “The referee has called for a white ball” – the first floodlit matches, the seats going in Platt Lane end, the roof on the popular side, a scoreboard, slow as at an old village cricket ground, put at the north end, the orange ball for snow-covered pitches. The closeness, week after week, with my father, sitting in the stand talking about my school, life, football. His parking our first car (1935 Talbot) in the little car park behind the Platt Lane Stand with one narrow exit/entrance. Our great goalies. My heroes. So much. I feel privileged to have seen what I’ve seen and felt what I’ve felt, but not as privileged as I feel to have had City in my blood since that glorious day, the day Manchester’s post-war grey turned sky-blue, when my dad said those casual, unforgettable words – “Get your coat on, son – we’re going to a football match” – and changed my life forever.
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #756 on