In the 1980s Manchester City fans demonstrated the positive side of football during a troubled decade for the sport. Despite being one of England’s top four clubs and the third best supported side in the League, the Blues suffered a shock relegation in 1983. Financial issues and an inability to invest meant the club relied on two of its greatest strengths – youth football and the loyalty of City’s fans. Young players like Paul Simpson, Paul Moulden, Ian Brightwell, David White, Paul Lake and Andy Hinchcliffe, ensured the Blues had a chance of re-establishing themselves on the pitch, while off the pitch a dedicated following was the envy of the majority of clubs.
City fans not only turned out in their numbers – they were the sixth best supported side in 1983-84 and 1988-89 (second tier seasons) – but they also brought great humour to football. The most newsworthy story involving fans during this period was the inflatable banana craze.
Rather than spell out every moment from that era, here are a few snippets on how the craze started and how it progressed.
– A dedicated City fan called Frank Newton took a 5ft 6in demonstration banana to City V Plymouth on 15 August 1987. It caused some amusement.
– Newton took the banana to away games, including the match against Oldham at Boundary Park. The fans were drenched; morale was low as Oldham equalised; and yet the banana continued to be waved throughout the game, bringing much needed humour to a depressing game.
– Other inflatables began appearing and by the end of the season a chant for striker Imre Varadi to the tune of the Israeli folk song Hava Nagila was adapted with the word banana replacing Varadi. The banana craze was not a tribute to Varadi (this has frequently been misreported in recent years due to an incorrect news report from the period that wrongly claimed the craze was a direct tribute to Varadi – it wasn’t), but chants utilising his name could easily be adapted to use banana instead of his surname.
– For the last game of the 1987-88 season the City fanzine Blue Print, edited by Mike Kelly, urged fans to take a blow up banana to Crystal Palace on the last day of the season. Around 50 bananas made it on to the terraces that day and the scene was set for supporters to enlarge on this in 1988-89.
– By the time the new season began the inflatable bananas had grown in number but so too had the variety of inflatable – sharks, Frankensteins, crocodiles, dinosaurs plus many more.
– The craze grew throughout 1988-89 and then on Boxing Day an appeal by the fanzines led to over 12,000 City fans in fancy dress and carrying inflatables, descending on Stoke’s Victoria Ground. The capacity was a little over 24,000 and Stoke handed over two full sides of the ground to City fans. Even the players came on to the pitch with inflatables (which they also did v Leicester in January 1989).
– A company that made inflatable bananas increased production to help satisfy the craze, while Fyffes began to sponsor games at City. Thousands of inflatables appeared at some games.
– The craze was copied across English football but it was City fans that were heralded as the ones who had put the fun back into football.
During a decade of disaster, tragedy and much negativity within football City fans demonstrated there could be another way and fans became internationally renowned for their humour. The craze ultimately died out, although bananas continued to appear on occasion or in limited numbers over the years.
In 2010-11 City’s FA Cup run brought the bananas back as a nostalgia craze and this has continued to some extent, though nowhere near in the numbers of the late 1980s.Maybe it’s time to bring back the inflatables in great numbers?