It was through rugby league that I first became a Blue. My dad was an amateur league player in Eccles, and when I was young my Saturday afternoons alternated between The Willows and Station Road to watch Salford and Swinton. I ended up as a Swinton supporter, partly because they nearly beat the Australian tourists – that shows how things have changed since the 1960s – and partly because I didn’t like Salford’s red shirts compared with Swinton’s blue with a white V.
However, when I went to Eccles Grammar School in 1965 everything was different. Rugby didn’t count and football was everything, with Man United as the default choice. I was bewildered, and my first real friend there, Tom Murray, told me about City – unfashionable, like Swinton, played in blue, like Swinton, and had curiously loyal fans, like Swinton. From then onwards, he and I were the only Blues in a classroom full of Reds.
Tom’s hero was Johnny Crossan, who I ended up idolising without ever seeing. My dad would never take me to a City game, and said I was too young to go alone, so I followed the Championship season of 1968 on Grandstand and the Light Programme. But then he agreed to take me to the post-season friendly with Bury where the Championship trophy would be shown to home fans after the 4-3 at Newcastle, and once I’d seen the brilliant green of the Maine Road pitch and the real sky blue, I was fully hooked. Bobby Owen scored for Bury in a 4-2 defeat, and it wasn’t much of a surprise when City signed him in the summer.
The next year was different. I saw pretty much every home game, and every cup match apart from Newcastle away. Luton at home, the Newcastle replay – with Pop Robson hitting the bar, and Bobby Owen scoring the second after Neil Young’s opener – Blackburn away in the snow after the postponement, with Tony Coleman’s cheeky fourth and Francis Lee’s blockbuster – Spurs at home, with Lee squeezing one in past Pat Jennings. And then the semi-final at Villa Park, the first game I’d gone to without my dad, on the Fingland’s coach with my school friend Mark Simpson. Tommy Booth’s last minute winner against Everton, nearly getting crushed against a floodlight base, the singing trip home. And the final, again with Mark, in the crowd behind the goal where Neil Young scored and Andy Lochhead missed.
I was on a roll. I went to reserve games to get vouchers, and bought away programmes to make sure I would have enough credits for big games. The next season, there were the home games with Bilbao, Lierse, and Schalke in the Cup Winners’ Cup, the League Cup run beating Liverpool, Everton and QPR in successive home ties and the semi-final against United. I was in the scoreboard end at Old Trafford when Ian Bowyer scored, and Mike Summerbee whacked in the rebound from Francis Lee’s indirect free kick to get us to the final. And the final itself at Wembley, one of the best football games I’ve ever seen on an atrocious pitch, with Doyle and Pardoe giving us a very, very deserved win.
Maybe I was spoiled. I went to University in 1972, coming back to Maine Road in the holidays. I remember the Joe Royle-inspired semi-final League Cup win over Middlesbrough in 1976, seeing Denis Law come back in 1974, and – after moving to London for work – making the pilgrimage back to Maine Road through a train strike to the Charlton game that guaranteed promotion in 1985. Every ex-pat City fan seemed to make that trip, with an over-capacity crowd of 47,000 watching a 5-1 win.
A few more memories. The Kippax last stand, where I bought a flag and a replica shirt for my daughter before the 2-2 draw with Chelsea. The 4-3 League Cup game with Wolves, after being 3-1 down. The incredible 2-0 win over Gornik with half the team injured, after losing the first leg 2-0. Watching Colin Bell play in any game, but particularly the towering headers against Derby and West Brom, and the goals against United. Rodney Marsh scoring goals in successive games against Sheffield United and Newcastle that would have been goals of anyone’s month or year. And more than thirty years of excitement, disappointment and joy.
I’m glad I met Tom Murray, although I never saw Johnny Crossan. I’m glad to be a City fan. And I still watch for Swinton’s results, even now.
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #859 on