My own football interest was awakened in 1977 and the first game I recall was the Cup Final decided in United ‘s favour by a combination of Lou Macari’s boot and Jimmy Greenhoff’s backside. For a few short months I sniffed around the Cup winners suspiciously, wondering whether I should lay my footballing dreams at their feet, especially as my Manchester family were of that persuasion.
However, something wasn’t quite right about ’em and a benign influence was pointing me in a sweeter direction. This was an old white-haired gent who ran a sports shop in Nelson, Lancs by the name of Jack Bray. His window was always resplendent with a mannequin dressed in a beautiful all-sky-blue strip, with white diamond trim. Subbuteo figures in the same colours lay on the green baize below alongside golf balls and swimming goggles. Old Jack was an ex-City and England player he told us. A City Cup winner by all accounts. I always loved his shop: it was much better than the one belonging to Baldy Peter Noble in Burnley, even though he was the captain of that team at the time.
Anyway, I was wavering between the two poles, waiting for a sign. In about September 1977 it came as United were swept off the Maine Road pitch by Kidd and Channon. I plumped for the Blues and Jack was delighted.
For the rest of the 1977/78 season and the following season I followed City in the papers obsessively. We’d just been second and fourth. We bought Futcher and Deyna and Viljoen. They must be brilliant, I thought, or we wouldn’t bother buying them. At least as good as Dennis Tueart who’d left. Sadly we seemed to get worse rather than better. I felt the pain of first thumpings at Arsenal and WBA. I began to realise I hadn’t chosen an easy ride.
City featured on Nationwide every night I think that year as part of a special feature: that helped cement the bond. A distant relative got me a full set of autographs from the team. Fantastic. I couldn’t make out one signature!
A new season and diamond trim with concentric diamonds. This would be the year. I’d been patient for a whole year: a tenth of my life. I deserved a reward. However, City got worse. Liverpool wiped the floor with us. Asa Hartford got sent off. Kenny Clements broke his leg. How were we going to win the League now? Then “Kick Off” – a normal Friday tea-time – and Big Mal was back. A mythical figure for a ten-year-old… like Odysseus or King Arthur. There was a divine logic after all behind all the tribulations. In any case we were going to win the UEFA Cup! But no. Things weren’t better. What had happened to Kiddo, Asa, Mickey Channon? Peter Barnes looked like he needed to practice more with his ball-on-a-string. The League was slipping away.
Never mind, there was the FA Cup. The deep snows of early 1979 and returning from sledging to a half-time reverse at Shrewsbury. How charming. How many would we get in the second? None was the answer and the first true humiliation. Then a whipping at home by “them”: Big Joe rooted to the ground as Coppell lifted it effortlessly over him as the snows of winter turned to grey slush against the advertising hoardings.
The summer of 1979. What excitement. Shinton: he’d been good in all those cup-ties. Stepanovic: wow, he’s Yugoslavian. Robinson: scored a few blinders for Preston against err Aldershot? McKenzie: the best teenager in football? Barnes, Owen, Kidd, Channon, Watson. Clements, Bell all gone. Well… Mal is the man; he knows what he’s doing. Young Tommy. 16. Sounds fair enough.
Then up to Christmas you could see green shoots. Still remember beating Forest and them at MR. Then at last my first game, with my uncle from Failsworth. The Wolves on a grey December afternoon. Big Joe; Ray Ranson; Willie Donachie (soon to be off stateside); Tommy Booth; Caton; Steve Daley; Tony Henry; Paul Power; Kaziu Deyna and, for the first time at City, two black lads in the same team: Roger Palmer and David Bennett. We stood on the Kippax and the whole thing was awesome. The flights of narrow steps that I can still see when I’m queuing for a pie in windy corner. The pall of fresh cigarette smoke floating overhead like the incense in church. The pitch and the posts. Very far away the action unfolded: Palmer replied to Andy Gray’s early goal but City were always second best. 2-3 it finished in the gloom after Kazzie bundled one in at the close. A special day after which there would be no turning back. Thanks Jack.
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #918 on