Graham Stephenson

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Why Blue?

My cousin, Bill Borrows, who has inherited his father’s mania for all things City, has sent me a couple of the latest issues and suggested that in view of the flavour of some recent contributions that the site is rapidly becoming “a rest home for formerly elderly distressed Blues” and that maybe I might add my own two-penneth. So here is my nostalgia-riddled best effort.

I suppose it was only when I cried at the age of seven at the end of the FA Cup Final in 1955 that I truly realised I was a City supporter. They had lost 3-1 to a good Newcastle side including Jackie Milburn, uncle to the Charlton brothers, having played most of the match with ten men (still some time before even one substitute was permitted) after the hapless Jimmy Meadows had to go off with what turned out to be a career-finishing injury.

Mum and my Uncle Bill both tried to console me with the seemingly unjustifiable prediction that they would be back next year and would make up for this tear-inducing defeat. In those days it was still traditional for a losing/winning finalist team from Manchester to get off the return train at Wilmslow and then proceed by open top bus along the A34 (Kingsway) parading with or without the Cup as the case might be. As I was dragged up in nearby Burnage, I went to give the team a consoling cheer. The next year of course, as both wisely and unwisely promised by my mother and her City-fanatical brother, we were back and winning this time against Birmingham City by the same score (Johnstone, Hayes, Dyson) – tears of joy on this occasion plus another brief walk to Kingsway to see both the team and that Cup on the way to the Town Hall.

I imagine that at that time I was not conscious of another team with ‘Manchester’ in its name but I doubt that this would have made any difference to my allegiance as the Borrows family had lived in and around Ardwick from early into the last century. I was born into and brought up in a set of staunch City supporters. My mother, approaching 90, is still fanatical, likewise my two daughters and their offspring are continuing the tradition even though they do so from remote areas of Hertfordshire and Hampshire. My 9 year old grandson has really only known the success of the last two seasons. If only…

My first visit to Maine Road took place in August 1956 when, in the company of my Uncle Bill and my dad, I remember seeing them play Aston Villa, the late Roy Clarke scoring City’s only goal in the 1-1 draw. Thereafter, visits to the Kippax were with mates but these were infrequent as I played for the school team on Saturday afternoons when I was older.

I have seen only three Manchester derbies at Stretford over the years. As you would expect I remember these well enough. The first was in 1962 and we had made an appalling start to the season, losing the first fixture at Molineux 8-1, followed by defeats at home by Villa 2-0, Liverpool and Spurs away 4-1 and 4-2 respectively and 6-1 at home to West Ham (we also lost the away match by the same score right at the end of the season and were relegated) and after 8 games had amassed only 4 points out of 16. The Board I recall issued an ultimatum that things had to improve. Next up a trip to Stretford! I decided to go but I had to leave early to deliver the Pinks and Greens as part of my paperboy duties. We were losing 2-1 when I left in a despondent state of mind. I was barely out of the ground when a large roar went up so my mood was not improved. About halfway down Warwick road came another roar, 4-1? I eventually got back to the newsagents as miserable as it was possible to be to be met by the owner saying: “What a great win for City”. It transpired that Alex Harley and Joe Hayes had turned the match round.

My second away derby was a poor game in September 1966, the season after promotion back to the top flight, settled by a solitary Denis Law goal. The third was, by contrast, another highly memorable one. March 27th 1968 lingers long in the memory. It was the Easter vacation before my university finals and I had a ticket for the match on the evening of that day. My friend Phil was also home from Edinburgh university, having somehow managed to tear himself from his girlfriend for a few days. He came with me and we managed to get him a ticket at face value from a generous City supporter. We were at the scoreboard end of the Paddock. As a consequence we did not have a particularly good view of Best rounding Tony Book and slotting home in front of the Stretford End after two minutes. City came back, Bell crashing home the equaliser into the roof of the net from 20 yards or so. My recollection is that we dominated the second half with goals from the ponderous but highly effective centre half Heslop and Lee (1 pen) after Bell had been brought down in the area. I can remember our catching a bus into town and racing euphorically into the nearest pub somewhere on Oxford Road. With still 9 matches to go I don’t really think that we considered winning the title was on, so we just savoured the moment for what it was. The last match of that season I was at Bramall Lane watching Sheffield United (leading 1-0 at half time) lose to Chelsea (Houseman, Osgood, Harris etc.) 2-1, snatching relegation from the jaws of safety in the last 20 minutes. That match over, we had an anxious wait listening to a car radio for the 5 O’clock Sports Report. That night I was at the 21st birthday party of one of my best friends at university – yes, he was a Salford Red!

I also recall fond memories of several matches in the 1965/66 promotion season after the arrival of the Mercer/Allison managerial partnership, following years of disappointment at the hands of Les McDowall and then George Poyser. McDowall bought a lot of Scottish players in the early 60s but, with the rare exceptions of Denis Law and Alex Harley, rarely got it right. Allison and Mercer would go on to build a famous team but first they had to get us out of Division 2. Summerbee and Heslop were brought in and towards the end of the season, Bell. We were painfully short of a centre forward so Doyle was for a spell cast in that rôle and did well enough. I did not see any matches before New Year as I was desperately trying to find my way into a University team in Sheffield so I did not go home until the end of the autumn term.

By that time City were well placed but if I remember correctly Huddersfield were top of the table and we were due to play them at home on New Year’s day 1966. There were over 47,000 of us in the ground that day and the New Year started on an auspicious note with a well-deserved 2-0 scoreline. I have to admit I did not remember the scorers, Doyle and Crossan, without looking it up.

As I did eventually succeed in getting into the University Freshers team the next term I did not see any games until Easter. I saw the home match against Bury, which we won totally undeservedly 1-0, courtesy of a Summerbee strike. The return match a few days later at Gigg Lane was also a travesty but this time City completely outplayed the hosts but lost 2-1, Summerbee also getting that goal. I distinctly recall Alec Lindsay (later of Liverpool) finding Mike simply unplayable that day. The following weekend, having dreamt of a 4-1 win, I saw them beat Bolton at home by that score, with the visitors’ goal coming in the last minutes. I like to think it was Franny Lee who scored that goal but maybe my memory is letting me down and it was really Freddie Hill. Can anybody out there enlighten me?

City were due to play Rotherham at Millmoor on May 4th, an evening kick off. If we won, promotion was definite and as we were only across the city from the ground a fellow football-mad friend (Burnley supporter) came with me. When we got to a turnstile we were told that the match had been made all-ticket. However, in exchange for the normal entry fee the official allowed us to climb over the turnstile. I have no doubt he pocketed the money but who cares? I got to see ‘Nijinsky’ score the only goal in what must have been an excruciatingly boring match on a poor, bare end of season pitch. We were back and we had the World Cup to look forward to next.

Finally, one match that I did not go to but have fond memories of took place in the 1967/8 title winning season. No, it is not the celebrated ‘ballet on ice’. I had at last managed to establish myself in the Sheffield University first team and we were on a good run. We played at Salford University on a soggy, muddy pitch on Saturday 11th of November and I had one of my best games, scoring two, and we had a good 4-1 win. We piled onto the team coach and drove over the Snake Pass and then stopped on the outskirts of Sheffield at a pub. We managed to get the results and City had beaten Leicester 6-0 at home. I began to realise then that something big was happening. That result came in the middle of an unbeaten run by City stretching from October 7th until Boxing Day, including that famous 4-1 win over Spurs on a skating rink.

In view of recent events and, in particular, that amazing day last May I wonder what memories my daughters and grandchildren will have to tell about?

First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #1883 on

2013/02/03

Graham Stephenson
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