or the ramblings of a long-time Blue
After a lot of prompting from Don to write a “Why Blue”, I have finally put pen to paper. What started as a few paragraphs quickly expanded to such an extent that I have had to re-title it, hopefully not boring ramblings.
My first visits to Maine Road must have been around 1942/43. Nothing organised, just nicking in at three-quarter when the gates opened. With the crowds being large and me being small, I saw very little until I could burrow down to the front near the wall. It wasn’t until funds were available that I was able to pay to watch a full game, sitting on the wall at the Platt Lane End.
Though United were sharing our ground, it never occurred to me to go and watch them, except on derby days. All my friends, both at home and at Wilbraham Junior School, supported City. Thinking back, I can’t recall knowing a Red supporter. It wasn’t until I changed schools to Chorlton Central that to my amazement, I met lads who actually supported United. City though, was pre-ordained, long before I was born.
My father was a Glaswegian, Rangers supporting, shipyard worker who played, I am told, to a pretty high standard for Clydebank. Unfortunately like many of his contemporaries in the early 1920s, he found himself out of work with very little prospect of yards opening to a reasonable level of employment. He then decided to cut his losses, move South, come to Manchester and join the Police. As luck would have it, he secured lodgings in Claremont Road, the year that City moved to that brand new stadium at Maine Road. His love affair started then. Without doubt, he was a major influence in my early years, on all my thinking in matters football.
It may have been different though. In his first year in Manchester, he apparently gained a growing reputation in local football. To such an extent that United offered him a professional contract. The insecurity of professional football, the security of the Police and his experience of being out of work in Glasgow, decided him to stay as he was. That, though, was 10 years before I was born. For him to have played for United doesn’t bear thinking about!
I was brought up on his recollections of teams of the 20’s and 30’s and his visits to Wembley for the 1933 and 1934 Cup Finals. In fact, I used to be able to rhyme off the ’34 team and I still have a souvenir brochure, published after winning the Cup that year.
My parents moved twice, as the family increased. First to a flat off Whitmore Road and then to the house where I was born. This was in an avenue near the Fallowfield Hotel. So we were never more that ten minutes’ walk from Maine Road. That was the basis of my love affair with City.
Like all love affairs, the road of true love is never smooth. Supporting City is no different. The Kevin Keegan alleged “rollercoaster ride” is not new to City supporters. The ups and downs only stiffen the resolve. For example, I was allowed to extend an illness by a day, to go to Maine Road with my dad on a Wednesday afternoon to see the second leg of the wartime cup against Bradford Park Avenue. We had beaten them 3-1 on the previous Saturday. We promptly lost 8-2 at Maine Road! As my younger sister once remarked “Anybody can support a continually successful, pot-hunting team, but to support City, you have to have character.” Therefore there was never a chance of my allegiance being other than City.
I have some abiding memories of my early days of going to Maine Road, during the war and the early post-war period. Few matches stand out, but events and happenings are still vivid.
In order to get as near as possible to my great hero, Frank Swift, it was imperative to get to the ground early, to secure a place on the wall closest to the goal, at the Platt Lane End. The tide of spectators drifting from one end to the other at half-time. The idea being, they would be behind the goal that City attacked. Opponents’ supporters would be doing the same thing, in the opposite direction.
The programme was a single sheet leaflet and the team changes were announced by means of a chap, walking round the running track with a blackboard on his shoulder. Only now do I wonder how the spectators at the back of the Popular Side (the Kippax) managed to decipher the names chalked on the blackboard.
The disappointment at having to regularly cross out the name of the legendary Peter Doherty. Apparently, he was unable to get leave from the RAF and turned out as a guest for Derby. Incidentally, my dad always maintained that Doherty was the finest penalty taker he ever saw.
Before the game, kids kicking-in at the Platt Lane goal, with a tennis ball. Did this really happen?
Trying a cup of Bovril/Oxo for the first time and being so repelled by the taste that I’ve never tried it since.
After a game, Frank Swift making we kids form an orderly queue whilst he patiently signed autographs. Then he would walk home to his Corporation house on Lloyd Street. Changed days.
Waiting, unsuccessfully, for Alex Herd to score another 40-yard rocket, as he had in the 1934 Cup run. A goal my dad never tired of recounting. I read in a newspaper report after the match that Alex Herd had forgotten his “shooting boots”. My young mind couldn’t understand why, as he only lived across Lloyd Street in a terrace house, he hadn’t gone home for his shooting boots. Then there was the time, Tommy Lawton of Everton put the ball in the back of the City net, with Big Swifty lying on the goal-line, having hit his head on the post, I couldn’t believe anyone, let alone Tommy Lawton, could do that with God prostrate.
I wonder if there are many older fans from my era, who remember collections for wartime charities being taken around the pitch on the running track. Usually, these collections were performed by teams of lads from the likes of the Naval Cadets, Army Cadets or A.T.C. (Air Training Corps). They would walk round the pitch with a tarpaulin stretched between them. Coins were thrown from the crowd, into the blanket. Any that missed were picked up by spare bods following and then put into the blanket. Thinking back, it must have been a dangerous occupation. Fans throwing coins today would risk arrest.
Another regular was the guy selling “Tip-Top Tablets” cough sweet. He walked around the running track with a tray, in the same way the girls in cinemas used to sell ice-creams. You threw or passed your money down to him, and he would send back a small packet of cough sweets. Hardly sophisticated marketing, but it seemed to work.
The team sheet during the war would contain “guest” players. A regular guest was Billy Williamson, a more than useful centre-forward from Rangers. I don’t know what happened to him after the war. He certainly played at least one post-war season for Rangers. Other names that come to mind are City players who disappeared from the scene after the war. Players like Jimmy Constantine and Jack Boothway, both were centre forwards. Another was Jimmy Heale, a Police colleague of my dad’s. Jim was signed from Bristol City in 1936 and played until a serious leg injury finished his professional career in 1938/39. He would turn out for City during the war, to fill-in when they were short. Jim was, in fact, an all round sportsman, having been an opening bat and spin bowler for Gloucester II’s.
The first post-war season saw the return of the pre-1939 leagues and we again had competitive football. City therefore resumed as a Second Division club. The 1946/47 season was probably the last season I was able to attend Maine Road on a regular basis for many years. I was playing for the school in the morning and the following season I also started playing in an amateur league on Saturday afternoons.
That season, City had a great team. Looking back, I realise it was an ageing team. For most of them, their prime was during the war. Frank Swift was in goal. The full backs were Bert Sproston and Sam Barkas. That was a formidable defence. Swift was superlative, Sproston was uncompromising and Barkas was more the classic footballer. In derby matches, Charlie Mitten, United’s very good left-winger, would disappear from the game after Sproston put him into touch, usually in the first five minutes. Bert would be red-carded today. The half-back line, depending on availability, included players like Joe Fagan, later to become manager of Liverpool, Les McDowall, future City manager, and Billy Walsh, an Irish international. Up front on the right wing, was a little whippet, Maurice Dunkerley. George Smith, who only had one hand, having been badly wounded in active service, but still managed to score plenty of goals. Andy Black signed from Hearts. A tremendous header of the ball. Alex Herd, must have been playing his last season at City, was inside right. The position where we were weakest was at outside left. This was rectified at the end of the season by signing a young Welsh lad from Cardiff City, Roy Clarke.
Though my spectating on a regular basis was to be drastically curtailed, I was never to lose the fanaticism for City that has been bred into me. The 1946/47 season was the first of the wonderful “highs”. This being a Manchester City story, there were plenty of “lows” to follow.
It’s the downs or lows, that only serve to stiffen the resolve. If it doesn’t, you’re not a true Blue! But when the good times come, God, do they taste sweet. Pure nectar.
First printed in: MCIVTA Newsletter #851 on