Newsletter #430

This issue is rather a large one, mainly due to the inclusion of a substantial article which appeared in the Guardian. I did anguish somewhat over publishing this, but it’s so good that I’ve taken the risk of doing so,in the knowledge that all due acknowledgement of copyright has been given.

This issue has news of the Eastlands move and a simple email poll, which is being conducted by Stephen Bolton; this will be passed to the club. We also have a match report and a matchview, a passionate piece on MUFC PLC and more opinion. Much of the latter concerns Simon – an issue which I hereby officiallly close!

This one reaches 2,223.

Next game, Bournemouth at home, Tuesday 8th September 1998


MANCHESTER CITY vs. WALSALL, Wednesday 2nd September 1998

Earlier in the day I had been in the Midlands, in Birmingham in fact and was relieved to get an early train home, back in the house by 4.30. I hadn’t heard the news on the radio about the planned move to the new stadium until I caught the local TV news and saw Bernstein being interviewed. Well it seems like a good move to me and the picture on the front of the Manchester Evening News certainly looks good; if you know what the Reebok looks like, then think of that only bigger and better.

Anyway, a good turnout at tonight’s match – 24,021, not bad really for a midweek game in the Second Division. The fact that the weather was mild meant jackets were not required and the only sensible use for the scarf was to drape it out of the car window to show our allegiance as we made for the Academy.

What a start, a bit like the Wrexham game really, totally outplayed them and I have to say it was a poor do that we went in at only 1-0. Plenty of good build up play but some sloppy last passes and some glaring misses. We made endless chances, with Walsall doing nothing. They did play more openly than Wrexham but were unable to do anything of any significance. The first goal was a fine header from Goater after about 30 minutes and I don’t think I was alone in expecting at least one more before the interval. Walsall had only two chances in the first half, the first an open header that the Walsall player who went up for it used the opportunity to do a fine impression of Goater and sent the ball well wide, the second just before the whistle brought a fine, confident save from the City goalie.

The second half saw City a changed team, Walsall had plenty of chances and for the first 20 minutes or so they could have drawn level; we still made chances with Dickov guilty of missing the most glorious open goal but we seemed to have lost our way and I have to say I feared the worst. Bradbury was substituted early in the second half, immediately after he was booked (harshly in my opinion). Allsopp came on, looked lively and combined well to see Goater score on 71 minutes, at which point a collective sigh of relief went round the ground. Three minutes later a good goal from Dickov made us relax a little only to see the Walsall player Rammel score at about the 80 minute mark. We didn’t look like we would throw it away and indeed the score stayed the same. Now on 8 points, we have moved up the table, a win against Bournemouth (in second place) will do us the power of good next Tuesday.

Danny Tiato looked good and seemed to bring some balance to the attack. I have to say I am concerned how we will fare when Pollock takes his suspension; he was solid again tonight. Goater will get his 24 goals this season but to be honest I think that’s more a reflection on the Second Division than on his skills. Dickov worked hard, Mason continues to impress and Edghill continues to make me nervous.

Overall, well the three points are vital, but we must start to take our chances, and at the moment we just don’t seem to be able to do that; we may well regret that later on in the season. Finally, credit to the Walsall fans – there were a good few there and they made plenty of noise. The move to the stadium looks like being in about five years; current form suggests yes we’ll be back in the First but we have some work to do before the new stadium will see Premier football.

Tony Burns (


This was the sort of game we have to keep winning if we are to progress back towards the First Division. Walsall were previously unbeaten before the game and were looking to top the table if they were to win at Maine Road. As it turned out, they were no better than Notts County had been on the Saturday, and offered little resistance to a relentless City attack which was kept up for the major part of the game. Having said this, the City finishing was poor and it was largely due to Allsopp’s pace and strength after he came on as sub. which kept the momentum going to give us the second and third goals.

General Comments…

Tannoy Announcements

We all want City to be back to be in the First Division, but let’s wait until we are back there by rights before we start making the announcements! None of us think we should be playing teams of the likes of Walsall, but for the person operating the tannoy system to put in the tape announcing: “Welcome to Maine Road for Manchester City versus Sunderland” was yet another sign that the attention to detail at the club is still lacking!


Why do we persist in trying to get Edghill forward with the ball when he is not physically capable of putting a decent cross into the box? Yes, he might be fast, and yes he wins a few challenges now and again, but going forward he wastes 95% of his effort due to an appalling final ball. Personally, I wouldn’t let him out of our half – he should just collect and pass forward.


Fenton had a fine game and if there are more products of the youth system like him to come then I have few worries for the long term future. He has looked extremely self-assured in the two games I have seen him play in first hand (Notts County and Walsall) and could have a big future. Let’s hope we hang on to him.


Weaver seems to be an excellent shot stopper and some of the efforts that he actually caught rather than palmed away really impressed me. Having said this, he still seems a little unsure whether or not to come for crosses, but he should learn in time. Another with a big future and I’d rather have him in the team ahead of Wright any day of the week.


I have a lot of sympathy for Bradbury. Aside from personal terms – and I don’t know what he is earning per week – it was not him that set his transfer fee – it was Portsmouth and City, and City agreed to pay it – we didn’t have to. Bradbury has obviously struggled to perform since he arrived at Maine Road and it may be that he won’t find the touch that brought him his 20 plus goals at Portsmouth. Any striker can have one good season and to buy such a striker before he is proven will always either be a gross misjudgement or a great success – at the moment it is the former. However, you don’t pay that much money for a player in his early twenties unless you want to nurture him and bring out the best in him. He is in a very unfortunate position now – we need the goals this season, and his place is in jeopardy to an unknown player that cost us 10,000 pounds. At the other end of the spectrum, Danny Allsopp has absolutely nothing to lose.

Personally, I think the strikeforce of four that we have at the moment – Goater, Dickov, Bradbury and Allsop can work together, regardless of what each one cost individually. The transfer fees have been paid now, so they are all City strikers. Each has their faults – Goater looks slow and can’t run with the ball, but he can finish; Dickov’s finishing is poor and he relies on close range chances to get his goals, but his enthusiasm lifts the team and the crowd, and his workrate often leads to chances for others; Bradbury’s finishing may be poor, but his workrate is also good, especially when coming on for the last twenty minutes when defenders are tired; Allsopp seems also to be enthusiastic, as well as strong and pacy, though again his finishing is suspect as yet. Injuries permitting, I would play Goater and Dickov for ninety minutes and alternate Bradbury and Allsop for a portion of the game each. The main thing I feel is to carry on playing three up front as it gives us so many more options. This was proven for our second and third goals against Walsall – goal number two, Allsopp crosses, Dickov misses and Goater puts it away; goal number three Allsopp crosses, Goater misses and Dickov finishes.

I would urge fellow Blues to stop seeing Bradbury as an individual, but as part of the City strikeforce, which I personally believe is strong enough to bring us the goals we need in this division, as long as JR sticks to the three up front policy. We make a lot of chances with this system and will continue to do so. Unless we bring through a young striker from the reserves this season, I wouldn’t advocate buying another front man – I can’t see anyone of sufficient quality wanting to join a club in Division Two!

CTDGSFH (City ‘Til Dickov Grows Six Foot High) Mark Stangroom (


I found this article in the ‘Briefs’ section of the Melbourne Age on Friday 4 September:


Daniel Allsopp, the 18 year-old former Carlton and Port Melbourne striker, has been the hero for English Second Division side Manchester City, coming off the bench to set up two goals in the 3-1 victory over Walsall.

A tiny morsel to brighten up my morning. It seems Australians like to follow the fortunes of our players getting a game with overseas clubs. And with both Allsopp and Tiatto starting to show a bit of form maybe we’ll see some more press on City from this side of the world (other than the negative kind).

Any chance of a few Australian flags being put on display at Maine Road to spur them on?

Sebastian Harvey (


I thought you might be interested about the running track of the new stadium. When the Commonwealth Games are finished the track will be taken up and the whole internal area will be lowered as per Barcelona.

The seating will be taken to the edge of the pitch. Hope this little bit of imformation will be of some interest.

Les Saul (


On our way home from the match, Ashley and I usually tune into GMR to listen to supporters ranting and JR’s opinion of his team’s performance over the past hour and a half. Last Tuesday evening the topic for discussion was, not unnaturally, the question of the club moving to the new stadium after the Commonwealth Games in 2002. Should Manchester City FC up sticks and move to Eastlands? If so what should the stadium be called? There were some irrational ranting responses from supporters of other clubs, but this aside, those callers in favour of the move outweighed those against by about 10:1. So, what do you think? Mail me at with either “YES” or “NO” as the subject and your ideal name for the stadium in the body of the message. Do it now. I will count up the replies and pass them on to the club. Do it now.

Steve Bolton, usually sbolton@buxtonrd.u-net.combut for this exercise:


Don’t you just wish you had bought a few thousand Rag shares a month or so back? Just imagine, selling them out to old Rupe and raising enough to pay for your season ticket all at the same time.

Over the last few years, the average Rag has done more than his/her fair share to ruin the national game. They bought the shares, the shirts, the wallpapers. They bleated on about best team in the world, they gloried in the ever increasing club revenues, their ability to buy any and every player on the market. They excused the odd Kung Fu kick and psycho player. They submitted totally to the hegemony of MUFC. Football wasn’t important, only MUFC was important. At this minute they are probably watching Breakfast With Crerand (or whatever) on their own TV channel.

But the money was never used to buy players, it was used to promote the MU name, and to fill shareholders’ coffers. In reality, this poor mass of credit card wielding turnstile fodder have done nothing more than delivered their own beloved mistress, prettied up and perfumed to the bedside of the arch rapist Murdoch (or whichever other big d**k greases Edwards the pimp’s palm).

Let us all have a good look at and enjoy the sight of the fat tart (because the rest of us know she is neither pretty nor sweet smelling) of English football being shafted stupid; for what comes next will not be very nice for the rest of English football either.

This is the further dismantling of the great British game in England. The current trend of money, money, money madness will continue, even accelerate, as the likes of Murdoch use the product of football to increase their own wealth and political influence.

Amateurish outfits like the Premiership and the FA are utterly powerless to resist forces that can weald the odd half a billion to buy a football club. But there again it isn’t a football club anymore is it?

It is a product that will be advertised and franchised across the world. For MUFC read Coca Cola or MacDonalds, they are all just brand names that the naïve seek allegiance to because someone else tells them it will improve the quality of an impoverished lifestyle. The franchise of MUFC will move to Wembley (or Beijing for that matter) if that is what suits its owner. Every other kid in China will be given last year’s away strip free if they sign up for satellite TV.

There will be a European elite of franchises that will be stuffed down the throats of TV addicted fans across the world. Rules will be tinkered around with to provide ‘excitement’ when the attritional 0:0 draws prove to be less than compelling. The competitions will be run and controlled by the companies who also control the franchises, who by co-incidence are the same people controlling the media over which the games are broadcast.

What symmetry. The clubs receive loads of money from broadcasters anxious to create pay per view strangleholds over the sport. The clubs then pay dividends to their shareholders who just happen to be … the monopolistic broadcasters.

The franchises will be immune to relegation (or early exit from knockout competitions), they will control the cost of viewing at both ground and armchair level (TV and radio), they will outbid allcomers for the best players (who will all be free agents able to walk out on lesser clubs at will), and they will ensure that the marketing hype and sponsorship surrounding their own stars will garner an ever greater audience of impressionable dickheads (such as the modern day Rag fan clad head to toe in tasteful red and black regalia).

The idea that this elite will be able to co-exist with the remainder of their national leagues is laughable. Just imagine what dross Taggart would put on display for a wet November night at Selhurst Park a few days before a Super League tie.

The Premiership could turn out to be a competition for Murdoch United Reserves, while the more expensive and pampered players put their feet up waiting for the Euro games (Spice Boy and the like probably not allowed to play games with the rough boys).

Could the Premiership even consider relegating these clubs if they end up bottom of the pile? Just think of the loss of TV revenue, not to mention the loss of a potential TV deal controlled by the offended owners.

Who is there to stop this doomsday scenario? Tony Banks – don’t make me laugh, it’s Mandelson who has the last say and can you imagine him putting the Murdoch back up when there is an election to be won a few years down the line.

The FA, by banning players from playing for England? That will really hurt Chelsea. Teams would just choose non-England players.

I confess to being at a loss trying to figure out what should happen for the best. Maybe we should just let them all quit the Premiership for the Super League, and get on without them.

Let the Rags and the rest of their ilk play turgid close two-legged ties (no body contact in the penalty area, no passes over 40 yards etc.) with similar outfits (extra time and exciting penalties will probably be compulsory – extra TV time); and leave the real product – English league football, the one universally acknowledged as the most passionate and committed in the world to the rest of us. Liverpool and Arsenal (vintage 97/8) would be a loss, but who else would? And would Liverpool go?

Football has always been tribalistic and passionate. How does any Chelsea fan retain his or her attachment to a club when no players have anything other than a very transient financial link? There was that pointless cup final they played a few weeks back – on free TV – and I couldn’t even be bothered to switch on.

The monster that is cable/satellite TV, with its interminable adverts, saturation semi-illiterate punditry, and timetable domination has all but ruined the home product of football already. True, it’s rich and crowds are good, but can anyone say the apparent strength is based upon anything other than transitory TV over-exposure? Is the game any better now than five years ago?

Just like the crash of an over-valued stock market, some small event will cause an adjustment, and many of the ‘froth’ fans will move on to some other pastime. But by then it will be too late.

The Rags and the rest will be marketed across the globe (in a game of their own), the likes of Coventry and West Ham will be left in dire trouble (no more big gates, reduced TV contracts, large staffs of overseas high earners).

But somewhere down below will be growing a leviathan, still attracting 30,000 nutters showing their passionate support for a real football team, playing a real game of football.

The future of English football rests more than ever before in the hands of those like us who support the game and its ideals. Real teams with real fans, who enjoy the passion and partisanship, who love the winning, and accept the losing. They do not need some over inflated fantasy football style sorry excuse to fill in for a losing life.

Murdoch and United deserve each other. The shagger and the shaggee, be sure to tell that to any red dressed bridesmaids you see in the office today. Then give them directions for Maine Road, and let them get a life.

CTID, Martin J Beckett (


Earlier this year I wrote a couple of pieces about my life teaching Raglets in a Salford school, and the 15 years which was described by Ashley as a “life sentence”. Well, I’ve actually made it – I have managed to escape! When I went for the interview for my new job, I was asked to see the boss for what was described as an “informal chat” prior to the formal interview. Imagine my horror when I went in his room to be met with copious quantities of Rag memorabillia all over the walls – signed pictures of Eric “the King”, etc. I felt like saying, “Well, THAT lot’ll have to come down for a start”, but decided to be more subtle. I said “Ah, I see you’re a Manchester United supporter.” He smiled proudly and confirmed this. I replied with “Well, I’m not.” At this point there was a short silence during which I realised that my rather impulsive behaviour may have cost me the job I so badly wanted. However, after a moment he said “Don’t tell me – you’re a BLUE!”, and the whole situation became good humoured.

So what special qualities do City fans possess? I told him that we were eternally optimistic individuals with genuine vision. We are patient and passionate. Times may be stressful, but we can cope. We share a brilliant sense of humour, and are totally dedicated and loyal. Surely these are qualities that anyone would want in an employee? Must have worked, he offered me the job and I am now a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University where I will be training music teachers. Quite a few are from London and the home counties, though, so I suppose I’ve just swapped Raglets for fully grown Graduate Rags. I’ll do my best to educate them about all things football.

I miss the City shrine in the print room, and all the happy (?) times we shared reading match reports at lunchtime, but it was time to move on. I’m delighted to say, though, that I have today met some fellow Blues, incuding the House Steward and an art lecturer who are both season ticket holders. We all believe that good times are on the way – no matter what, we just love our team. And if any of you Blues are going for a new job, just remember what fantasic personal qualities you possess!

CTID, Jules Price (jprice6936@aol)


A quote from the Guardian’s ‘Fiver’ email:

‘And finally, Rodney Marsh is to become managing director of Doc Martens’ League Ashford Town. Showing the sort of ambition that has seen him represent both Queens Park Rangers and, more recently, Sky Sports with such outspoken flair, Marsh said he wants to make Ashford “the Macclesfield of the South.”

When will City come up against them then…

Colin Paxton (


As you are all aware, this week we will be balloted on the proposed move to Eastlands. Naturally everyone has an opinion; here’s mine presented in the singularly unhilarious form of a two-legged match played at both stadia.

Maine Road 5 Eastlands 0

  1. It’s where we’ve always watched City play (well most of us).
  2. It’s steeped in history – league titles, 5-1, 10-1 etc.
  3. The food on Wilmslow Road is fantastic.
  4. Local pubs aren’t bad either.
  5. Travelling time will increase. Then again, how many fans live in MossSide these days? For out-of-towners like me another ten minutes on a twohour journey is neither here nor there.

Eastlands 17 Maine Road 0

  1. Maine Road is not the same ground since the Kippax became all-seater.
  2. We can’t play any worse at Eastlands than Maine Road.
  3. We need change on and off the pitch, into the new Millennium and all that.
  4. The ground is a mess. Four mis-matched stands with a meccano set in the corner.
  5. Hands up all those whose cars have been broken into during a match.
  6. They need us as a tenant so we should have clout.
  7. The car minding is just not what it used to be.
  8. The new stadia like the Reebok, Pride Park etc. look excellent both inside and out.
  9. If England get the World Cup, we’d get some games – no chance at Maine Road.
  10. Chance of other future Internationals as it should conform to any Health & Safety standards.
  11. 3rd biggest stadium in the Country.
  12. Prestige of having a high profile stadium which has been seen all around the world during the Commonwealth Games.
  13. A decent scoreboard and video screen will naturally be part and parcel.
  14. It’s a straight swap for Maine Road. Just think of the difference in value.Try actually getting this talked about £28 million for Maine Road.
  15. Top outdoor concert/prestige sports events venue for extra income.
  16. Ticket office can’t be any worse. That said, Dial-a-seat are pretty sound these days.
  17. The key thing is that things will be purpose built. So the shop won’t be the old Social Club.

So there you have it. A crushing 17-5 aggregate win for Eastlands.

Certain things need to be ensured and it will be important if we do move for the fans to keep these issues at the forefront.

  • Stadium name – The Joe Mercer Stadium’s a good starting point.
  • Stand names – Trautmann Stand, Kippax Stand, The Bell End (ha, ha) etc.
  • Bar names – See above.
  • Seat colour – Must be our blue (whichever shade is in vogue) with club/stand name inset.
  • Franchises – Sell Boddies and Hollands pies.
  • Toilets – end up with the right ratio for a football crowd, not an athletics crowd.
  • Parking – must have enough – see Brittania Stadium/McAlpine etc.
  • Museum – not exactly in the Real Madrid class but there’s plenty of memorabilia around.
  • Fanzines – covered area for sellers when it’s raining (that OK Noel?).
  • Boxes – big source of income these days (so I’ve heard). Make sure there are enough.
  • Ticket prices – this shouldn’t be an excuse to hike up the prices.
Andy Noise (


The following was sent in by TM and was recommended by several others. It’s a long but excellent piece by Bill Borrows which appeared in Saturday’s Guardian newspaper. We don’t have permission to publish it, but as it’s already appeared in print, is no longer available (unless someone knows a good source of Guardian back numbers), and we have diligently acknowledged its origin, I hope the wise men of that august organ will look upon us with kindness!


Manchester City were once among the greats of English football. But now, the Sky Blues have been relegated to the ranks of has-beens. What went wrong? And could it all have been avoided but for the ego-driven mismanagement of their former chairman, Peter Swales? One thing is for sure: it will take more than another round of corporate schemes and cold handshakes to stop the rot that has infested the heart of Maine Road.

By Bill Borrows

Thinking about it now, he must have been a senior official with the AC Milan delegation. At the very least, a prosperous second-generation Italian restauranteur with a distorted sense of self, caffe-latte tan and – notable, this, in the north of England at the onset of the Winter of Discontent – a hat with a purple ostrich plume.

“Move,” he said. Just like that, as if Solomon in all his glory…

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said move,” he repeated, adjusting his silk scarf. “What? Are you deaf?”

All this without either deigning or daring – probably the former – to make eye contact with my father, the man whose hand I held in a rigor-mortis grip in the manner of most ten-year-olds in the midst of a huge crowd of adults and cocky teenagers on their way to a football match.

There was something in the air. You couldn’t cut it with a knife, thankfully, but you could still smell it the next morning.

I can still smell it now. In hard times, northern men retreat into themselves, hands in pockets and shoulders hunched, bending into the wind like one of Lowry’s factory workers. On this December evening in 1978, however, the sheepskin car-coats and wind-cheaters, the denim jackets and tank-tops were walking tall and talking back.

“I think you’ll have to repeat yourself,” said my father. Eye contact at last, and then a circuitous route, perhaps even a journey, around my father, all conducted with the affected Italian insouciance that the French strive to emulate and the English find risible.

The crowd, wending its way through the terraced streets around Maine Road – the Manchester City stadium which, at the time, was universally held to be one of the best in the country – walked with a certain sense of purpose. Peter Swales had already been chairman for five years, but was yet to embark upon the final stage of his foredoomed, ego-driven mission to eclipse their great rivals, Manchester United. The confidence on that night stemmed, in part, from the first leg of this UEFA Cup third-round tie, in which City had come within ten minutes of being the first foreign team to win at the San Siro in a competitive European tie, before characteristically spitting in the face of glory to concede two late goals and draw 2-2.

Whatever surplus attitude was in the air for the return leg derived from the achievements of the previous ten years, during which time the club had won the League title, the FA Cup, the League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup (in the same season – the first English club to land a domestic and European double), and then the League Cup again. In 1977, they finished runners-up to Liverpool. Hopes for this second leg were not so much high as unnecessary, like worrying about the rain when you’re carrying an umbrella. As expected, City ran out comfortable 3-0 winners in front of a crowd of 38,000 to go into the draw for the quarter-finals.

Next Saturday, Manchester City will travel 25 miles down the A34 to play Macclesfield Town in a mid-table Second Division league match in front of no fewer than 6,000 people. You must have heard the jokes. There is the one about the thieves who break into the trophy room at Maine Road (police are looking for two men with a light-blue carpet), the perennial Manchester City Oxo cube joke (laughing stock) and the story, probably apocryphal, concerning former chairman Francis Lee and an old woman laden down with shopping bags. This one was common currency for weeks after three high-profile managers publicly turned down the opportunity to join the club (Lee asks her, “Can you manage?” and she says, “No chance, you’re not catching me out that easily”). Most recently, there was the tale of the fan who threw his season ticket on to the pitch in disgust, and then received it back through the post three days later, with a short note that read, “I am returning your season ticket, because if we have to suffer this rubbish, so do you.”

All very amusing, but for the fact that the last one was actually a news story, and not a joke. “Bury had just scored the winner,” 36-year-old Chris Morris told the Manchester Evening News. “Another fan had ripped his ticket up on the pitch, and I couldn’t stand any more. So I took my ticket and ripped it up without thinking. People congratulated me. I had an immense feeling of relief, no more garbage, no more working around City matches, and no more overtime. But on Tuesday it arrived back in the post with the note… it seems you can’t get away from the club, no matter how hard you try, so I’m going back to Maine Road for the West Brom game next Saturday, and looking forward to it.”

There is never an impulse to invent stories about Manchester City, because the truth, based, as it invariably is, upon a cocktail of outrageous misfortune and breathtaking ineptitude, will always suffice. The club can legitimately claim to be home to the longest-running soap opera in the world. Manchester City remains the only club in the history of the Football League to be relegated the year after winning the title (1938), and the only one to both score and concede 100 goals in the same season (1958).

Some more improbable plots? In 1904, trialist Harry Kay scored four goals in a reserve game, only to be arrested as a result of the subsequent publicity. It transpired that he was an army deserter. Going head to head with Portsmouth for the last promotion place in 1927, City won 8-0 on the last day of the season, but still missed out by virtue of an inferior goal average of one two-hundredth of a goal. In the 1956 FA Cup final, former Nazi stormtrooper and prisoner of war, Bert Trautmann, playing in goal for City, broke his neck, but carried on playing. In the same spirit, City recorded their highest average attendance for 16 years last season, despite being relegated to the Second Division for the first time. That said, it was only marginally higher than the other peak average attendance from the past seven years, the season when they were relegated from the Premier League.

Understandably, the people who are addicted to this particular soap share certain character traits. “My work involves logic and rationality,” explains Howard Davies, chairman of the Financial Services Association and former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England. “Yet supporting City is clearly irrational. What is happening at the club is disastrous, awful, but, no matter how bad it gets, I have this emotional attachment to them that I cannot break… my support is not a matter of choice. I inherited two fatal flaws from my father: premature baldness and Manchester City, neither of which I can change.”

A certain stoicism is essential. Former derivatives trader Nick Leeson, a man with even less financial self-restraint than many of those who have signed cheques on behalf of the club he supports, opted to wear a Manchester City shirt on his way to prison to serve a sentence for what must still amount to the greatest embezzlement of the 20th century. “To wear the colours of a more presumptuous club might have been in bad taste,” he explained at the time. “To declare oneself a Blue seemed rather to take the edge off it [the crime].”

That is known as going for the sympathy vote, and is indicative of a requisite degree of self-pity. Meanwhile, Noel Gallagher, reprimanded by a steward for loutish behaviour at the recent Fulham-City game, has publicly voiced his concern at recent events in the City boardroom: “If I went in there tomorrow, the first I’d do is go, ‘You, f**k off. You, f**k off. You, make me a cup of tea. You, f**k off.'” That is the defiance and conviction that is an absolute must-have for every season. Noel Bayley, the editor of City fanzine Bert Trautmann’s Helmet, provides the final defining characteristic: hopeless optimism. “There are those who say we will never get back in the Premier League,” he sighs, “but that is not right. Supporting City takes a huge amount of faith, although faith in what, I don’t know. Of course we’ll get back.”

For the club’s first game in what is effectively the third flight of English football, 32,000 supporters turned up to watch City beat Blackpool 3-0. Two weeks ago, they attracted the fifth highest attendance in the country, including the Premier League, for the visit of Wrexham. This is the perverse and almost preternatural environment in which the people who run Manchester City Football Club have to operate. The usual laws of business do not apply. It’s what Bayley means when he says, “I’ve thought about whether every supporter considers their club to be ‘special’ or ‘unique’, and I don’t really know the answer to that. I suppose they do, but what I can tell you for certain is that there is no other club like this one.”

Last season, one month into the job, current manager Joe Royle – the seventh in four years, but a former player with some knowledge of the place – diagnosed the club, with elegant use of understatement, as “poorly”. It has, however, rarely been in rude health. Its history can be summarised in less than 100 words: form; change name; win FA Cup; bribe scandal; sell best players to Manchester United; move grounds; start wearing sky blue; win FA Cup again, break (and still hold) English attendance record; win league; bad times; win FA Cup; Munich air disaster and subsequent canonisation of greatest rivals; bad times; some more bad times; arrival of Malcolm Allison and Joe Mercer; win everything; Peter Swales becomes chairman; win League Cup; ill-advised return of Malcolm Allison; terrible times; beat United 5-1; bad times; Francis Lee becomes chairman; really quite dreadful times and; to bring us right up to date, the very worst of times.

The current period of seemingly inexorable decline can be taken to have started in 1973 or, from the list above, with the words “Peter Swales becomes chairman”. He secured a seat on the board in that year by promising to act as a peacemaker between two rival factions who were attempting a takeover of the club. Involved in non-league football at the time, Swales’s rapid ascension to a position of influence at one of the biggest clubs in the country was, by his own admission, pure chance. “I was 38, and full of myself. I went into this pub and saw two City directors sitting there and I thought, ‘This is an opportunity.’ So I went over to them, and I said, point blank, ‘You know all this trouble you’re having, I could sort that out for you.’ I had no bloody idea, none whatsoever.”

Needless to say, he emerged from the stringent vetting procedure with a new job and went on to become the longest-serving chairman in English football. If longevity is a measure of success, then the appointment was a master-stroke. If rather more demanding criteria are required, however, then it can only be seen as an unmitigated disaster. The bare facts are that, under Swales’s stewardship, the club won the League Cup once, but was also relegated twice, and went 18 years without winning a trophy. In that time, he appointed 11 managers and sanctioned their judgment to the extent that City became the first English club to purchase three £1-million players, even breaking the British record for one of them, Steve Daley, who cost £1.4 million from Wolverhampton Wanderers. Daley failed so fundamentally in almost every regard that, almost 20 years later, his name, like that of Manchester City, is still synonymous in football circles with rank under-achievement.

Swales has said many times that his motivation as chairman was to overtake Manchester United, but it was, in the classical tradition of Greek tragedy, this hubristic flaw that was to lead to both his eventual downfall and the current plight of the club. The moment when that inevitable momentum became unstoppable was with the appointment of Malcolm Allison as coach. Allison had been one half of the managerial team (with Joe Mercer) that had delivered City’s glory years in the late 1960s. Allison and Mercer had split up as a partnership just before the takeover bid that brought Swales to Maine Road in 1973. But now, five years later, and with City having just finished runners-up and within touching distance of overhauling United’s average attendance, the temptation proved too great. In response to the incessant prompting of certain board members, if Swales is to be believed, he was going to bring the charismatic Allison back for the final push. As he put it himself years later, “It was a final bloody push all right.”

Allison promptly sold almost all the senior players, most of them internationals, and several highly rated young prospects (the father of one of them, Gary Owen, said that when he drove him away from Maine Road to sign for West Bromwich Albion, it was like taking a dog to be put down at the vets). City, not content with having one major character with a tragic flaw, had now recruited another. The club went into the transfer market led by the deal-making equivalent of Abbott and Costello. It was mischievously rumoured at the time (but never substantiated) that while Allison was negotiating to buy million-pound players for the club, the local branch of the Nat West bank had withdrawn his personal chequebook. Years later, he was to lose a fortune in the infamous BCCI collapse. Before he was sacked, he spent one for Manchester City. And, despite his subsequent protestations to the contrary, Swales let him do it.

Almost the whole of the next decade, but for one unsuccessful FA Cup final appearance in 1981, was a write-off. It was characterised by relegation twice, the familiar managerial merry-go-round, expensive signings for negligible returns and business decisions that could only charitably be referred to as naïve – selling off the rights to the club badge and agreeing a flat fee (still worth only £60,000 a year to the club in 1994) for the franchise to run the prime-site club shop, for example. To give some idea of the shortfall for the club, it is estimated that the new redeveloped merchandise operation will make £2.5 million this year.

This was one part of the legacy nurtured by Swales. Another was, as it is now fashionably termed, cronyism. That is to say, the accretion of a type of person, usually unsuitable and not upon a meritocratic basis, into the structure of an organisation by someone in a position of influence. These were the people Francis Lee would later call “the enemy within”.

As the team’s fortunes suffered, even a hint of the word “Swales” produced the Pavlovian response of “Out” from most City fans. Colin Schindler, author of both the best-selling book Manchester United Ruined My Life and the screenplay for the film Buster, is typical. “I hate him with a passion,” he says even now. “There used to be a magazine called Foul, and I was asked to write for them in 1974. I was the first person in print to slag off Swales. As soon as he took over and came on television, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this man makes City look like s**t.'”

Regardless of his popularity rating, however, while still backed by publicity-shy Manchester businessman Stephen Boler and Greenalls Brewery, both major shareholders, his position was secure. Until, that is, he sacked Peter Reid in autumn 1993, who had taken City to two consecutive top-five finishes in the Premier League and one ninth place in three years, and appointed a journalist, John Maddock, as general manager.

The unrest reached a new intensity given direction by the announcement of Francis Lee, a former player from the Mercer-Allison days and an England international, as well as a millionaire who had made his fortune from waste paper and, a nice touch this, toilet rolls, to buy into the club. The T-shirts on sale outside the ground talked of “St Francis” and “The Second Coming”, blasphemies excused by the presence of the Reverend Jim Burns, a vicar from Chorley, who initially became the public face of the soon-to-be-christened “Forward With Franny” campaign, a single-issue pressure group designed to oust Swales and install Lee as chairman, that would, it was generally conceded, solve everything.

Despite the urgent entreaties of the fans for Swales to leave, he clung on to power with unseemly determination. Even Nicolae Ceaucescu went with better grace. The situation was acrimonious and drawn out, and provided for everything from orchestrated press leaks to death threats against the main protagonists on both sides. It was all deeply unpleasant, and only came to an end when Swales finally agreed to stand down. Two years later, he confessed to Gary James, the author of Manchester: The Greatest City, the definitive history of the club, “Once Francis came in, I knew it was only a matter of time. He was the only man the fans would accept, and I knew that. It had to be Francis.”

Lee flew back immediately from a family holiday in Antigua and, having secured his permission to shadow him on the day he became chairman of the club he once played for, I met him off flight BA 254. It was eight minutes early. He was tanned and relaxed, travelling light, and was through immigration before the bags hit the carousel. “I’m hoping this will be done and dusted within an hour,” he said, as he made for the shuttle up to Manchester like he was late for a funeral. He was talking about the paperwork necessary for him to secure control of the club. It would eventually take nearly 14 hours. On the plane to Manchester, he talked about his plans for the future, a new infrastructure at the club, impressive corporate facilities and the imminent departure of certain members of staff (or “real s**ts” as he called them).

On his arrival, the press corps were waiting, and he gave the first of several identical interviews that day. The rest of the day was taken up with meetings. The first, with the other members of the consortium – former City winger Colin Barlow and John Dunkerley, a small man with the nervous energy of Joe Pesci. Then to the bank to present them with a guarantee. Then there was haggling over the final details in a city-centre solicitor’s office (Swales, thinking big to the bitter end, was holding out for a car-parking space and a table in the pre-match hospitality suite before every home game) before Lee decamped to a country pub in Cheshire where, at half past midnight on Saturday February 5, 1994, he finally (in the words of the hastily-prepared press release) “acquired 112,337 ordinary shares in the club from each of Mr Peter Swales and Mr Stephen Boler at a price equivalent to £13.35 per share”. It went on, “Mr Francis Lee has been appointed to the board of the club as chairman.”

For me, the abiding memory of that night, however, happened half an hour before the various factions approved the press-release. As I walked into the gentlemen’s lavatory, I saw Swales at the urinal opposite. He looked over his shoulder and into my eyes, in the hope of identifying a glimpse of recognition, and delivered a weak smile. I smiled back. It was one of his last moments as chairman of Manchester City. He looked haggard and beaten. And small. The campaign to get rid of him, or rather his attempt to cling on to power, had exacted a shocking toll. Less than two-and-a-half years later, he was dead – his own personal tragic curtain-call.

Gary James conducted the last ever interview with him. “It killed him,” says James. “The struggle to stay on killed him.” Only in retrospect has it become apparent that the battle for the control of Manchester City Football Club was, as somebody once said about the Falklands war, nothing more than two bald men fighting over a comb.

“Do you know what I had to deal with at my first board meeting?” asks Francis Lee now, four years later, relaxing in the living room of his luxurious Wilmslow home as the former chairman of Manchester City. Before I can answer, he continues. “I’ll tell you, one of the directors wanted 15 grand to repair the boiler. Apparently, it had been in need of repair for three years, and some of the visiting teams had complained about having to wash with cold water. Washing with cold water at, supposedly, one of the best grounds in the country. I went down to have a look at it, and there were bits of sticking plaster all over it, it looked like the African Queen… the club needed saving because they needed to build a new stand, but couldn’t afford it. They were right on the limit of the overdraft. In fact, we had to change banks to get better terms. They owed money for players which had been spread over two or three years… Let me give you an example: if Keith Curle had been picked for England on a regular basis, he would have bankrupted the club, because we had to give [his former club] Wimbledon a certain amount of money, tens of thousands, every time he won a cap.”

The legacy of the Swales era has fully matured by the time of the Lee takeover to include a crippling wage bill, alarming levels of debt, and a number of people associated with the club that Lee will only refer to as “reptiles”, a word he can deliver with real venom. I remind him of our conversation on the plane the day he took control of the club, and of the hit-list of people he had determined to kick out. He sighs, possibly at my naïvety, possibly at his own. “They are not doing anything right up front, they’re not saying anything behind your back, but last Christmas they were dying for the team to lose. They all come out of the woodwork or slithering out from under the stones when you’re not there. That is the atmosphere, and you can’t get rid of them. All you can do is ban them from the club, but what do you ban them for? The moment you ban them from the club they pick up the phone to the tabloids and say, ‘I’ll give you all the dirt you need on that club.'”

These kind of people are usually small-minded panjandrums, anxious for status by association with a professional football club. Even Manchester City. More often than not, they are local businessmen with little capital input and a friend on the board. They believe the club is run exclusively for their benefit, that the paying supporter is a necessary evil, to be exploited at every opportunity, and will do whatever they can to keep it that way.

Lee believes his job was made unnecessarily difficult after Swales embarked upon the commercial equivalent of a scorched-earth policy before he surrendered control of the club, and he was forced, he says, to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get out of long-term contracts that were renegotiated and signed in the month before the takeover. What did he expect?

The facts remain that, in his four years as chairman of the club, it has been relegated twice, currently languishes in its lowest ever position and, including caretaker managers and Steve Coppell, who only lasted 32 days before apparently experiencing some kind of nervous breakdown (a record even at Maine Road), witnessed the appointment of another six managers. It is this record that John Hawkins, a veteran of several attempts to oust Swales (and also a founder member of the “Forward With Franny” campaign and, effectively, an adviser to the “Free The Manchester 30,000”, which last year sought to secure the resignation of Francis Lee), feels lays the former chairman open to charges of betrayal. More than that, Hawkins claims he received assurances from people close to Lee that there would be £50 million to spend on players. He says now, “They promised that it was just for starters, but then they also said that Franz Beckenbauer (legendary former player and coach of the 1990 German World Cup-winning side) would be manager.” I also remember being tempted by the possibility of the latter.

Lee issues the strongest denials. Hawkins asserts his conviction that Lee only returned to the club to make money, which the former chairman counters with the suggestion that he has lost money and that, if he really wanted to make money, he would have waited until the club had been relegated before buying it from Peter Swales at about half the price. I ask him if he considers his period in charge to have been a success. “When you look at what has happened to the club in terms of the actual league position, then, no, fair enough. If you think that, when I went there, the turnover was £6 million, and this year it will be £15 million, and that’s on the back of failure, well… the average gate last year was over 28,000, the average gate in the Premier League is 23,000. That’s marketing.” And, of course, the preposterous of Manchester City supporters.

The achievements just keep gushing forth. “In this time, we’ve built a new stand, which cost £13 million… The club is virtually a Premier League club, apart from where it is in the league, and what you can do about that, I don’t know. We gave the last manager [Frank Clark] £10 million to spend, and he bought ten or 11 players and, to be honest, if I’d have had a say in it, I might have bought one of them. I thought, with a bit of good luck and a bit of careful planning, we could go somewhere. But all you need to do is make a few bad buys that don’t come off, and then you are in trouble. That is the hardest thing in the world, the £2.5 million coming from the merchandising side of things every year can be blown on the whim of the manager’s phone call.”

To put all these figures into perspective, Manchester United, the very apotheosis of the modern professional football club, is currently valued at £420 million. As football went big-time and it became paramount to be in the top division in order to share the millions flowing into the game from television rights and other lucrative deals, City, endearingly, opted for relegation. Twice. Even by their standards, the timing left something to be desired, and something had to give. Somebody had to carry the can. And that person was Francis Lee.

As he tendered his resignation after months of pressure from the fans to step down, the traditional riots outside the front of the ground (still protected by the steelwork the previous incumbent had erected), death threats and personal abuse paying eloquent testimony to a dramatic fall from grace, he drew the attention of the press to “enemies of the club within and without” and the failure of his managerial appointments to buy enough “quality players and organise them right”. His vice-chairman, David Bernstein – also the chairman of retail/mail-order clothing company French Connection and initially involved with the club during the Lee takeover but now more closely allied with other major shareholders – replaced him. He explained, with a professional accountant’s gift for non-ironic restraint and dispassionate analysis that, as he had been a passionate supporter of the club for 40 years, he was “acutely aware of the depth of feeling resulting from our lack of success”.

Feet up in the refined and expensively decorated front room of his north-London home just days before the new season, Manchester City’s new chairman is a picture of calm, a crisis manager in a job that will thoroughly test his current perception of the word “crisis”. The club is, for the record, “in a satisfactory, stable position, financially speaking”, and he cannot be drawn on the comments about “enemies within” made by the departing chairman, or the observation of former manager Frank Clark that, “It will take a very, very long time to sort things out… it is a rat-infested place.”

“Stability is what is required now,” says Bernstein, the fact that a major new input of capital will probably result in his replacement, by yet another chairman, notwithstanding. “I won’t comment on the past. There were a lot of changes in the club, even before Francis left… we’ve got an excellent board and we’re highly organised. It’s being run as an efficient, 21st-century corporation.” There is no flicker of a smile. He means it.

So, although fans of this particular soap opera might conceivably have to live with less sensational storylines in the short-term, there is no reason to despair. Manchester City Football Club will always be an organisation that inspires a loyalty in those who, pathetically almost, strive to keep it alive in inverse proportion to the efforts of the constituent parts of that organisation, from the boardroom down to the playing staff, to satisfy even their most basic requirements. the thing is, however, the fans who recently queued up from 7am to buy tickets for the Macclesfield Town game, wouldn’t have it any other way.