Geoffrey Ireland

Why Blue?


1942 – the year I started my Maine Road adventures some 60 years ago, and who were the names I remember – Breedon, Billy Porter, Wroughton, Roach, Jack Smith (no. 9) – all Reds! Yes, it was wartime and United were using our hallowed Maine Road turf, and the pals I was going with were of that ilk. My dad, a Blue, had a baker’s shop so Saturday was a difficult proposition until one day a certain Stanley Matthews was playing for Blackpool against United. Dad finished work as early as he could; we had a taxi to the ground and had seats! United won 5-3, a hat-trick being scored by their outside left, Bellis, a guest from Port Vale. He looked good but disappeared soon afterwards. Not so the great Stanley – the first British international superstar – whose career was to last so long.

However, I am getting ahead of myself. My pals, Jack Cunningham and George Whalen, also took me from 1942 on, to the intervening City matches, and names like Jackie Bray, Nobby Clark (a full back), George Smith and Jack Boothway (no 9) spring to mind – also occasionally, when on leave, Frank Swift, Peter Doherty and Alex Herd – great pre-war City names.

It was the no. 9 shirt that had all the glamour to me though neither Smith (United’s Jack) nor Boothway (whose goal per game ratio was 75%) was a particularly elegant player. They did nonetheless know how to put the ball in the onion bag. Incidentally George Smith (No.10), a City goal-scoring inside left with Boothway, had a 45% strike rate.

Before and after World War 2 a lot of attention (and later money) was paid to no. 9, the centre forward, the man expected to be top scorer at the end of the season, viz Lawton, Milburn, Rooke, Rowley, Drake, Bentley, Mortensen, Swinbourne, Lofthouse, Holden, Pointer, Fenton, Ford, Dodds, Dooley, Allen R., Lewis.

City had Constantine (strike rate 72.2%), Jackson, Andy Black, Eddie McMorran, Verdi Godwin, Bill Sowden, Denis Westcott, Don Revie, Bill McAdams, Bert Lister, Paul Aimson, Andy Kerr, Gerry Baker, Alec Harley (65%), sometimes partner, Peter Dobing (34%), Jimmy Murray, partner Derek Kevan, (no.10, 71%), Francis Lee, Bobby Owen, Wyn Davies, Barney Daniels, Joe Royle, Ron Futcher (70%), Michael Robinson, Kevin Reeves, Derek Parlane, Imre Varadi, later Niall Quinn and Uwe Rösler – all wearing the no. 9 shirt with varying degrees of success.

There were some who should have worn the shirt to conform with expectations, like Denis Law, Joe Hayes, Derek Kevan, Jimmy Tolmie and Brian Kidd. Then there were others who should never have come near it like Don Revie and Steve Mackenzie who wore it for some esoteric tactical reasons – though in Revie’s case the tactic did seem to work in the mid-fifties for a very attractive team (Trautmann, Paul, Barnes etc.) in which he was a really scheming midfielder.

When the squad system came into force, numbers came to mean very little though I seem to remember Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee staying in the middle most of the time they wore no. 9, and Mike Doyle donning it when selected as centre forward.

The strike rates of some old-timers make interesting reading: Peter Doherty 61%, Horace Barnes 53%, Tommy Browell 47%, Tommy Johnson (holder of 38 in a season record) 47%, Frank Roberts 58%, Fred Tilson 48%, Billy Gillespie 57%, Colin Bell 31%, and then the goal-scoring wingers: Meredith 38%, Brook 36%, Tueart 41%.

They are very interesting statistics and of course, not foolproof: goalscoring depends on service and opportunity, and then if a substitute, how long on the field.

It’s a far cry from the days when full backs (numbers 2 & 3) were not expected to advance in front of the workers, their wing halves (numbers 4 & 6), or wander across to the far side. The no.5 was the iron man centre half (often the captain). The inside forwards were the brains of the team, and the fast and/or twinkle-toed wingers all conspired to provide the glamour boy no.9 with the goal chances. This system was at all levels from the local park to the international scene.

I wonder if Shaun Goater ever asked for the magical no.9 shirt!

First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #894 on


Geoffrey Ireland