IN SEARCH OF THE BLUES – Mike Summerbee (interviewed in April 2005)

Mike Summerbee was the second player, after Ralph Brand to join Joe Mercer’s City in 1965.  Over the following decade he became a major star and played a significant role throughout the Mercer-Allison glory years.  Always the entertainer, Mike featured in the classic footballing wartime adventure film “Escape To Victory” and today assists the Club’s commercial activities.   In April 2005 Gary James caught up with him at the Manchester City Experience.

Let’s start with “Escape To Victory”.  How did you get involved in the filming of that movie?

It was Bobby Moore who got me involved.  We’d known each other since I was 16, and we both had a similar outlook.  The makers of the film had got several Ipswich Town players involved, plus Pele and of course Bobby.  They needed another familiar British player and Bobby suggested me.  He called me and said:  “How do you fancy being in a movie with Michael Caine?”  And that was it.  Within three weeks I was on my way to Budapest for filming.  I had no idea at the time that this would become one of those films still being shown and talked about twenty odd years later, but it has become a cult movie with websites dedicated to it.  It’s the sort of film that many other people would have wanted to be in.  I know for a fact that Rod Stewart wanted to be in it.

Why do you think the film is remembered so affectionately?

I don’t want to give too much away – everyone should come to our special showing and see the movie and hear my reasons then – but the film is like a Boys’ Own adventure.  It’s got drama, excitement, and is a traditional film.  It doesn’t rely on bad language, sex, or extreme violence, and it really does appeal to everyone.  Don’t forget it also contains some great actors – everyone remembers Stallone and Caine but look at the other cast members as well – and then there are some very well known footballers including Pele.  

I loved making the film and one of the great aspects for me was that when we came to the football scenes we were told to go out and play the game.  John Huston – a great director – wanted it to look as realistic as possible and so we played a real game.  Inevitably we had spells concentrating on tackling or shooting but much of the game came from real play.  Pele’s wonderful overhead kick goal was natural and was done only once.  We didn’t take ages setting up, re-shooting etc.  It was done for real and only in one take.  John Huston had cameras everywhere and tried to make sure everything that took place on the pitch was filmed from every angle.  That makes it so much more real.

You have a speaking part in the film, did you know about that before you accepted?

We were told to let the actors act and they were told to let the footballers play.  That way we all did what we were good at.  Then when it came to the dressing room scenes Michael Caine said to Huston that it didn’t feel right for only the actors to talk and he said that a couple of us should speak.  When it came to half time, I congratulated a couple of players on their play – that was natural not planned – and that stayed in, and then other lines were given to us.  It felt strange, but when you watch the film it makes much more sense to have us speaking.  I loved making the film and there are so many different aspects to talk about, but we’ll save that for the 5th May event.

Moving back to your playing career, we all know that you came from a footballing family, but did that mean it was something you had to do?

My dad played professionally and so from an early age it seemed natural to play.  All boys loved playing back then anyway, so there was nothing strange about that, but I suppose when you are young whatever your father does has a greater importance.  My brother was a better player than I, although he stopped playing when my Dad died, and we used to play whenever and wherever we could.  I’d get to school as early as possible – not for the lessons, I was a dunce! – but for the kickabout.  We’d have a tennis ball and play until we had to go in.  I also played cricket, athletics and other sports, but football was my best.

Your progression into professional football seems rapid – you were a key feature of the Swindon team in your teens – were there any setbacks?

I’d had a spell at Bristol City when I was 15, but I was so homesick I had to give up on it.  My mother worried about me and suggested I kept out of the game.  She knew about the problems and difficulties a footballer could have because of my father’s career, and then the opportunity came with Swindon and everything started going right for me.  I joined them at a time when they were ready to give youth a chance and I made my debut at 17.  

Was life relatively easy for you then?

The life of a footballer was not as glamorous or financially rewarding as it is today.  I loved playing and I loved the camaraderie of it all, but we all had to have other jobs to keep us going outside of the season.  I used to end up working for the Corporation cutting grass, painting, oddjobs, and digging graves!  It kept you in touch with the fans – both the living and the dead! – and I actually loved all of that time.  We didn’t have flash cars or anything then.  In fact Ernie Hunt and I had a tandem, and we used to cycle together on our tandem to the ground.  It was a great, fun time, and I have very fond memories of it all.

One of the significant angles is that Joe Mercer was interested in signing you from fairly early in your career, were you aware of his interest?

To some extent yes.  Joe had played with my father at Aldershot, and then Swindon played Joe’s Aston Villa in a testimonial game.  We won and I scored a couple, and Joe even played wing-half for Villa.  After that I was told he wanted to sign me for Villa and that he’d made a bid but nothing further happened.  I don’t know if it was problems at Villa or what but some time after that Joe moved on, and then in 1965 he got the City job.  I was in Torquay and I gave him a call – I thought it was time to make the move and chance my arm a little.  Joe said he’d be in touch.  Then serious interest came from City and I was off.  

Did City mean much to you as a boy?

Because of where I lived I’d travel to Birmingham to watch games and whenever City played Villa I used to enjoy seeing Bobby Johnstone, Ken Barnes, Bert Trautmann and the rest.  They were such a great and in many ways glamorous side to watch, and the pale blue shirt – a colour I still don’t believe we’ve managed to recreate properly – was so memorable.  No other side could match that colour and City were unique.  All of those great memories were in my head and I was desperate to play for City when Joe came here.  Although they were in Division Two when I arrived they were a major, major side with a great stadium.  I loved Swindon, but City were something else.

Everyone talks about the atmosphere around the place, how did you find it?

Joe lifted the spirits of everybody, that was clear, and Malcolm Allison was so ahead of his time and knew all about psychology.  He knew what players needed, and he always knew the best way of getting more out of me was by winding me up.  I think I was a consistent player, and at half time in one game we’d had a bit of a bad spell.  I’d played well, but one or two players had struggled and we all knew it, but in the dressing room Mal went up to the two players and told them they were doing well and that they just had to keep plugging away.  He was boosting their confidence I guess and they certainly were more confident in the second half.  When he came to me he said I was playing the worst game ever and that I was letting everybody down!  It wound me up so much I had a go back at him, and then when we got on the pitch I pushed and fought for everything to prove how wrong he was and I gave 120% – his trick had worked!

During your first year at City (1965-66) England manager Alf Ramsey came to watch you play, and eventually you became the first City man since Don Revie in 1956 to play for England.  Were you aware of the attention?

When Ramsey came to watch me the attention was good and, considering Alf concentrated on his ‘wingless wonders’, it was great for me a winger to be considered.  I’d been included in the squad from almost immediately after the World Cup win, then I made my England debut against Scotland at Hampden (February 1968) in front of about 150,000, alongside the likes of Moore & Charlton.  I was very nervous but they helped to calm me and at half time both Bobbys told me I was doing well, so that helped.  In the end every one of my England appearances came at centre-forward, so I guess the style of play limited my opportunities, but I loved playing for England.   

What was Alf Ramsey like as a manager?

He was definitely a ‘player’s manager’.  He handled us well, and I believe that he was, in the end, treated appallingly be the FA.  He treated us exceptionally well and he was a great man to play for – I don’t believe that England have ever managed to find a permanent manager who can match him.  He had the same sort of authority as Joe Mercer, but they were different characters.  Joe was wonderful with the media and the public, while Alf was primarily a players’ man.  There was one time, we’d lost 2-0 at Katowice (1973) and I’d been on the bench.  We were pretty down.  Alf knew how low we were but because we were playing in Moscow a couple of days later he told everybody to get to bed early, no drinking or anything.

We all sneaked into Bobby Moore’s room and had a few gins.  Sir Alf caught us and we thought he was going to have a go.  He said:  “I thought I’d told you not to drink!  But in the circumstances I’ll have a large gin and tonic please.”

Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, City never seemed to fear any opposition, is that something that came from the players?

Obviously, Joe and Malcolm bred a certain atmosphere which boosted confidence.  Whenever we played United we’d get to Trafford at 12.30 simply to soak up the atmosphere and to be ready.  Mal would swagger to the Stretford End before the game to tell them how many we’d win by, and we’d go out there and match his score, although we used to encourage him to keep the expectation down a little!  For us it didn’t matter whether we played Shankly’s Liverpool, Busby’s United, or any other team because we knew we were more than a match for any of them.  Some of these teams possessed better individual players but, particularly at Old Trafford, we were always the better side.  We had a great team spirit.  People always talk about Lee, Bell and Summerbee like Charlton, Law and Best, but our side wasn’t about three players, it was about the whole team.  Oakes, Pardoe, Young…. You know all the players.  Unfortunately the 3 player line is a good one for the media to focus on, but for the players it was always about the team.  I always think it’s wrong to talk about Lee, Bell, & Summerbee.  We were part of a great, strong side and, although the 3 of us were well known, we needed that entire side to bring City success.

Finally, you’ve always been known as an entertainer, and always had a great rapport with fans and the media, presumably this is a very important aspect to your life?

As a player I used to meet the fans as often as possible – we all would.  We’d have lunch in the old Social Club all mixed together, we’d attend supporters & Junior Blues meetings; take part in the pantomime every year; and generally be out and about.  We also used to get on well with the media.  The journalists were always good honest judges back then – people like Frank McGhee and Richard Bott always talked truthfully about your performance.  If they said I’d had a bad game, I knew I had.  They weren’t out to knock you, or to build you up.  They spoke honestly and so I enjoyed talking with them.

For me football is entertainment and the game itself is sometimes less important than everything that surrounds it.  I don’t miss playing, but I do miss the camaraderie we had.  I miss the team spirit we had with City, England, and even during the filming of Escape To Victory.  It’s the same camaraderie fans feel on the terraces.  That’s why I enjoy my involvement with the Club today because it’s all about the fans, the City spirit, and the wonderful life that surrounds the game.

IN SEARCH OF THE BLUES – Alan Oakes (interviewed February 2005)

Alan Oakes joined the Blues at the age of 15 in 1958 and made his first team debut in November 1959 when he was 17 years and 2 months.  He stayed at Maine Road until July 1976 by which time he had made a staggering 564 League appearances.  In February 2005 he was inducted into City’s Hall of Fame, and author Gary James met up with him to discuss his career.

To begin with let’s talk about your childhood, did you come from a sporting background?

We were all very sporty and my father and others played local football – nothing professional – and as a boy I’d play cricket in the summer and football in the winter.  The usual sort of thing – coats as goalposts – and I loved playing.  I progressed into the Mid-Cheshire Boys side and then one day I got the shock of my life when City’s scout Albert Kavanagh knocked on the door and asked me to join the groundstaff.  He’d watched me play at Broughton, Salford, and seemed to like what he saw.  I was astounded and delighted at the same time.  This was a dream moment.

Coming from a Cheshire village like Winsford in the 50s to a big city like Manchester must have been a bit daunting, how did you and your family feel about the move?

It was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.  Other teams showed interest but City meant so much to me.  I’d been to Maine Road a few times – I stood on the old Kippax before it had a roof – and loved the Club.  I wasn’t blinkered though because I also went to Maine Road to watch some of United’s first games in Europe.  Remember they used City’s ground because they didn’t have floodlights and a lot of Blues went to watch the European sides.

Clearly, you saw a wealth of talent during this period, but who were your heroes?

Ken Barnes was a brilliant player and by far the best in his position, and Bobby Johnstone had an amazing footballing brain.  They were great players to watch and later I was fortunate to play with Ken, but my boyhood hero was always Billy Wright from Wolves.  There was something special about Wolves.  They brought over several top European sides for friendlies – I guess they paved the way for the European Cup – and they won so many fans.  They were a great, entertaining side and Billy Wright was their star.  I was still a City fan, but I recognised the quality of Wright and Wolves.

Still only 17 you made your debut in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea, how did you feel about your performance?

I felt okay, but I gave away a penalty!  Fortunately for me Bert Trautmann – the greatest ever keeper – was in nets and he saved the day.  As a member of the groundstaff I’d clean Bert’s boots and even that felt like a great honour, so you can imagine how grateful I felt when he saved the penalty.  The Chelsea game was a one off – I think Ken Barnes was injured – and so it was a few weeks before my chance came again.  I felt a lot of satisfaction that I was in the reckoning though.  When I arrived at City there were 55 professionals and about five teams to progress through to reach the first team.

How did you find the management and coaching staff in those days?

They were all ex-City players and so that was important.  Fred Tilson and Laurie Barnett had played in the 30s finals and coached us, and manager Les McDowall had been a good player in his day.  Clearly the coaching techniques they used were not a patch on Malcolm Allison, but they did what was right for the period.  They also treated me well and looked after me.  I found it difficult adjusting to life in a big city.  I lived in digs for a while, and then moved back home and travelled by train and, eventually, car.  

By 1963 you were a regular but City were entering a difficult period, did that come across to you?

We had a lot of quality in the side but seemed to be conceding too many goals.  We knew we were struggling but we always gave it our best.  After we were relegated in ’63 Derek Kevan and Jimmy Murray arrived.  We were doing really well, then Jimmy did his cartilage in – that was a major blow – and we tailed off.  We missed promotion (6th place) and we couldn’t get it going again until Joe and Malcolm arrived in ’65.  

Although you were still relatively young, you were one of the more experienced players, how did the arrival of Mercer & Allison go down?

It was a great lift of course, but I know we were wary of Malcolm at first.  He had all these ideas and it seemed so different to what we were used to, but within a week or so he’d won everybody over.  The transformation by the two men was so fast – before we’d completed our pre-season games we were convinced we would win promotion.  We couldn’t wait to get started.  The confidence flowed and then Malcolm tackled our fitness.  Of course we won promotion easily, and then held our own in 1966-7.  Don’t forget we had faced a couple of big tests in those first two seasons – We took a strong Everton side to 2 replays in the FA Cup while we were still in Division Two and narrowly lost to Revie’s Leeds the following year.  We lost 1-0 to Leeds with a Jack Charlton goal that should have been disallowed.  So we came away from those games confident we could face any side.  There was nothing for us to fear.

Of course, the Championship followed in ’68 and all the other successes of that great period, which one means most to you?

The Championship and European successes were both very important.  This is a difficult one really, but because I was there during the dark days, I think the most important one had to be the promotion in 1966.  My reason is that without that none of the rest would have followed.  Joe and Malcolm didn’t just get us promoted, they first stopped the rot.  We were going downhill fast and they stopped that, changed gear and pushed us forward quickly, and it wasn’t done with negative play.  A lot of teams pack the defence and try to ensure they don’t lose, we always went out to win and never contemplated holding out for a point.

Throughout your City career people commented that you were a quiet, unassuming, perhaps shy player, was that fair?

I think I was a good professional.  I used to simply get on with it.  I was dedicated and tried to give everything for the Club.  I believe I was a good, honest pro.  If I was asked to do an interview, I’d do it, but I never sought the headlines.  Media coverage was not as it is today, so it was easier in many ways, but I would do it when needed.  More than anything I wanted to make sure my role on the pitch spoke for me.  

By 1973 the Mercer-Allison partnership had ended and some of the other players started to move on, did you contemplate leaving?

Never.  You were worried that you’d be dropped or the next one out, but I never thought about choosing to leave.  Why would anyone want to leave the best club in the country?  I remember thinking that somebody would take my place and that I had to keep performing at the highest level.  In some ways I liked to push myself by thinking of all the people who could take my place, but I never, ever thought about leaving until after the League Cup final of 1976.

The team had changed significantly by 1976, and you were clearly one of the elder statesmen of the team, how did you find that period?

I enjoyed it all, and I remember playing a few games with Peter Barnes in front of me.  I loved that.  He was such a gifted player and it was great for me to play behind someone that exciting at that stage in my career and in his.  I know this came a couple of years after I’d moved on, but it irritated me when Peter Barnes was sold because I believe he could have helped City to real success.  He was the sort of player you built a team around.

While I’m thinking about this, I also believe Mike Summerbee and Francis Lee were sold far too early.  Francis had so much more left in him – he proved that at Derby – and so the break up of the Mercer-Allison team came too rapid.

In July 1976 you moved to Chester, why did you make the move?

I’d had a great season.  I’d played 39 League games and won the League Cup and so there was no pressure to leave, but I did think that I may have blocked some other gifted players coming through.  I was also aware that I’d be 34 when the new season starts and that I may not be up to it in the way I would normally expect.  Chester City were just up the road and for me it was a nice move.  I do remember thinking ‘what have I done?’ because I’d gone from a First Division palace to play at Third Division grounds, but the move was a good one.  Looking back though I was perhaps wrong to leave when I did.  My advice to any player now is to remain playing at the highest level for as long as you physically can.  Those days are precious and should not be cut short.  

I also missed Maine Road a lot when I left and I miss it even more now.  I regret the fact City have left that ground.

At Chester you moved into management, was this something you’d always wanted?

It was part of the attraction of joining Chester that I could become player-manager and I think in the six years I was there we had a great time.  Success is different for a team like Chester, it’s all about survival and so I had to do a lot of work in the transfer market.  I had another ex-City star, Cliff Sear, with me and we worked well together, and I loved every minute at Sealand Road.  Often I’d be trying to negotiate good transfer fees and working hard to sell a couple of players to keep us afloat, and so I got satisfaction from that when it all came right.  I still got a lot of satisfaction from playing as well, so it was a perfect role.

Ian Rush was one of your players.  Is it true he almost came to City?

Yes it is.  Whenever anybody with talent was due to leave Chester I would want them to move to a bigger, better club.  I still love City and so I wanted Rushie to go to Maine Road.  We were having a great cup run and Tony Book and Malcolm Allison came to watch him.  Rush scored twice and I met up with Tony and Malcolm afterwards.  Tony was keen to sign him but Malcolm didn’t rate him for some reason and it all collapsed.  He later went to Liverpool and the rest is history, but I wanted him to go to Maine Road and I wish that deal had occurred.  Of course, you never know how these things would have worked out.

Did you ever consider moving into a higher division as a manager?

Definitely – with City!  It must have been 1983 because I know Billy McNeill was given the job in the end, but I applied for the City job.  I desperately wanted the role because I loved the Club and because I believed I knew exactly what the Club needed.  I’d also served what I thought was a good apprenticeship – six years at Chester taught me a great deal about survival and transfer negotiations.  I knew City had financial problems and that someone with the right experience was needed – the last thing the Club could cope with was someone who needed to spend – and so I felt I was ideal for the role.  Don’t forget what I’d experienced as a player at Maine Road as well.  Most importantly, I understood the Club and all about Manchester football fans and their expectations and needs.   This remains the greatest club in my eyes.

I got an interview at Peter Swales’ house.  A few directors were there and I thought I gave a very good interview.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get the job.  I still wonder what might have happened.

Moving on to today, your son Michael has become a Premier League goalkeeper, is this something you’ve encouraged?

I didn’t push him but I did encourage him.  It’s a great game to be a part of and I love the fact he’s involved.  Joe Corrigan helped him a lot when he was young and so I’m grateful for that, and when he joined Aston Villa I was delighted.  Now he’s at Wolves and I do try to watch him but I find it very difficult.  I’m always in two minds as to whether I want the ball to be at his end of the field or not.  If Wolves are attacking I know he’s safe, but I also know he can’t demonstrate his abilities.  If Wolves are on the defensive I want him to have to make a great save but I’m also worried he’s going to be caught out.  I think he’s doing really well though.  

I once replaced Bert Trautmann in nets – it was against West Ham and he was sent off, so I deputised.  I can’t remember much about it now, but I don’t think Michael would have learnt much if he’d seen it!

Finally, you have made a total of 672 first team appearances for City (including 3 Charity Shield games), how did you feel when you first broke Bert Trautmann’s appearance record?

I was a little bit sad that I took the record off Bert because to me there was no finer ‘keeper and player for the Club, but obviously I felt pleased to have the record.  Personally, I’m looking forward to the day when the record’s beaten.  I know it will take a lot to beat but I hope somebody does it, and if the person who beats it has the same sort of career and enjoyment at City that I have had then he will have had a fantastic career.  This is a great club with terrific fans and I have enjoyed every minute of my time with the Club.

IN SEARCH OF THE BLUES – Colin Bell MBE (interviewed in January 2005)

Colin Bell MBE joined the Blues from Bury in March 1966 and went on to become a major trophy winner with the Blues and a star with England.  Gary James met up with him at the end of January 2005

Let’s start with your early life, was football everything to you from an early age?

From the moment I was born I wanted to play.  Actually, everybody did in those days.  Football was all you ever wanted and I always had a ball with me, so I could play anywhere.  No one ever pushed me; it was something I just wanted to do.  My mother had played ladies football before I was born and so did others in the family, so there must have been a natural instinct for the game.  I used to go and watch Sunderland when I could, although it would take about 90 minutes and three buses to get to Roker Park.  As a boy my hero was Len Shackleton and then Charlie Hurley. 

At the age of 17 (1963) you joined Bury.  There were other potentially larger teams interested, so what made you choose Bury?

The move had to be right and I was quite a shy boy in many ways, so I needed to go somewhere where I felt at home.  Bury were a homely club and made me feel so welcome.  I’d had interest from a few clubs – Newcastle offered me a trial but I heard nothing afterwards!  Arsenal were another.  I damaged my back shortly before I went down to London from my home in the north-east and that made me a little uncomfortable.  Their manager Billy Wright watched the games we played and selected the ones to stay, and then said to those not selected “I hope you join other clubs that are not as good as Arsenal!”

Both Bury and Huddersfield wanted me to sign, so I was totally open with them and agreed I wouldn’t make my mind up until I returned back home and looked at it objectively.  The Huddersfield experience went well, but Bury was so much more homely.  While I was there I knew I’d sign for Bury, but I wouldn’t tell them.  They kept pushing me, and I wanted to say yes, but I felt it was more important to stick to the plan.  So when I went home I told both clubs of my decision.

Presumably, you never looked back and felt Bury was the right choice?

Definitely.  My instincts were right, however I did still feel homesick.  It really hit me for about six weeks or so and I know that if my family had suggested I go home I would have done.  I’d have packed it all in because I hated that homesick feeling.  I’d have got that wherever I went, and I’m glad I chose Bury because in the end I couldn’t have had a better start to my career.  It was a great period once I’d settled and I felt I was so lucky to be paid for playing.  

How ambitious were you then?  Did you set targets and aims?

I took each day as it came.  That’s true of all my career.  I never thought about moving from Bury.  It never crossed my mind, and I certainly didn’t think about playing for England.  I didn’t even know City were watching me until the official approach came.  In fact it got to transfer deadline day and suddenly I had both City and Blackpool interested in me and I had to make another choice.  This time it was stay at Bury, move to Second Division City, or move to First Division Blackpool.

So what made you pick City, was the Mercer-Allison involvement the deciding factor?

At the time I didn’t know enough about Mercer or Allison to base a decision on, so my decision was based more on league position.  City were heading for promotion, while Blackpool were beginning to struggle (they were eventually relegated in 1967), so I thought it would be best to join a club looking forward rather than one heading for struggle. 

Was City as homely as Bury?

That’s something that was truly special about City at the time because even though it was a much bigger club, it still had that homely feel.  We were all part of the same family.  First team players would pop into the laundry room and have a cup of tea with the ladies in there.  Sometimes we’d just love being at the ground.  I do think football’s lost a lot by having training grounds some distance from the home grounds.  We felt part of the Maine Road furniture.  It was my second home and most mornings we’d get in early to get into the gym for head tennis.  If ever you arrived at the ground and found you’d arrived too late to make up a head tennis team you’d skulk around and plan to get in even earlier the next day.

You mentioned that you were homesick at Bury, how long did it take you to settle at City?

I arrived in March 1966 and it took me the rest of that promotion season to settle.  Promotion helped because I was part of the celebrations from the start.  The goal I scored at Rotherham guaranteed promotion and afterwards I tasted champagne for the first time.  I couldn’t believe how quickly I was part of a winning side.  Something major I realised at this time was that at Bury we’d go to away matches with the aim of getting a draw – at best – but with City we went expecting to turn over every side.  After a couple of games I felt this same level of expectation and I think that’s why we became so successful.  Malcolm stressed our strengths and used to say that he didn’t care how many we concede so long as we win.  If ever we won 4-3 he’d never mention the three goals, he’d only mention the four.  That was a great way to play and it continued throughout those successful years.

Both Mercer & Allison and most of the other players have often commented on your high level of fitness and your stamina, was this something you were conscious of at the time?

I think in games I was just as tired as the rest but I think I had a quick recovery rate and I never ever wanted to give less than the best.  I was always determined.  At training I never really thought about my own fitness, but I do remember that when Malcolm had us all running hard I’d give a commentary as we were running.  I’d be going “Bell overtaking Booky on the inside” and so on and I think that may have been a bit off putting for some of the others.  

In 1967-68 City won the Championship by two points over Manchester United with a victory over Newcastle, do you remember much of that day?

It was a great end to end game.  I’d never previously won at Newcastle and I know that beforehand I felt quite uncomfortable.  The great thing about football during this period was that every team in the League was capable of beating you on their ground, so it didn’t matter whether you were playing the top or the bottom.  Also, no side ever gave up, so we knew that Newcastle, who were about tenth, wouldn’t sit back if we took the lead they’d be going for it… and they did!  We beat them 4-3 but it could have been 5-4 or 6-5 – we knew we’d score one more than them, but both sides kept attacking, kept playing.  At no time did they give up. 

Presumably the Old Trafford derby match (March 1968) remains another great memory for you?

We beat United 3-1 and that really set us up, but we’d lost a goal right at the start.  I equalised, George Heslop headed a goal, and then late on I was brought down by Francis Burns.  As I was being stretchered off Francis Lee scored the penalty.  I went to hospital, had my leg put in plaster and then joined the rest of the players at the Fletcher’s Arms in Denton for a celebratory drink! 

Before the match Malcolm had stressed the importance of the game.  He told us they were beatable and once he’d convinced us of that nothing was going to stop us.  I think that helped the other teams as well, because once we started to beat them at Old Trafford – and remember I played 9 League derbies at Old Trafford and only lost the first – they realised they could do the same.

Winning so many trophies – League, FA Cup, ECWC, League Cup – during such a short spell was incredible, but which success brought you most satisfaction?

Each trophy was important but I judge success by consistency and when we won the League in 1968 we proved over 42 games that we were the most consistent side.  I have to say I’m also very proud of winning the Central League in 1977-78 because I was fighting to regain fitness and also because the side was a very good one.  It was great to play with some very enthusiastic young players.

Of course, each success means a great deal.  Winning the ECWC was great, but the 1968 League success was all about consistency. Our journey back from Newcastle after the last game was very memorable.  Coming down the A1 was superb.  There was a convoy of blue and white all the way back.

Moving on to international football, how did it feel when you first discovered you were in the England squad?

When the letter came through the door I couldn’t believe it.  Again, as with my early days, I never thought about anything beyond the next City game.  I didn’t think about England, but when the letter arrived it was a major, major honour.  In fact every time the letter came – even after 40 odd appearances – I still had the same excitement and same buzz I’d always had.  It was the highest honour you could receive.

When I joined the squad I remember sitting in the dressing room and seeing all those players who had won the World Cup only a year earlier.  These men had achieved so much and to be sat in the same room and to see my name on the squad list next to theirs was a real highlight.  Of course when there were other City players in the squad that helped as well, but it’s also worth remembering that every top division side had players who were either in the international squad or on the fringes, so you knew that you’d achieved something major if you got into Alf Ramsey’s team.

You made your international debut in May 1968 against Sweden, and went to the 1970 World Cup finals.  How did you feel about the way your career had developed?

Immensely proud, and looking back it’s incredible how it all developed.  Having said that I do feel a little aggrieved that when some people talk of the 1970 quarterfinal against West Germany they talk of the substitution of Bobby Charlton as some sort of turning point.  I came on for him and I know that he was absolutely drained.  Like me he would try and deliver more, but his age and the heat worked against him.  I personally think I should have come on earlier and maybe we’d have kept the score at 2-1, or even increased it.  Once I came on we still had a lot of play but they’d got to 2-2 and then unfortunately they scored the winner in extra time.  Apparently Brazil were delighted because they were convinced we were the best side in the tournament – they’d beaten us in the group stage but knew they’d been in a real game.

You made 48 England appearances and replaced Bobby Moore as captain for one game in 1972, was this something you had always wanted?

I always believed that there should be eleven captains in a side.  By that I mean every player needed to be interested and offer advice. There’s no point hiding, waiting for someone else to make the decisions.  Every player needed support at times and everybody needs to give advice in my opinion.  Tony Book was City’s great captain and a wonderful leader, but if you watch any of those games you’ll see we all act as a captain should.  Actually they used to go on about how loud I was on the pitch and how quiet I was off it.  

The England captaincy came against Northern Ireland and it must have been a one-off because Moore remained captain for the next year or so.  I’m not certain why I got the nod, but it was a privilege and I do remember Sir Alf Ramsey asking me to take on the role.

Moving on to your injury in the 1975 Manchester derby, we now know how serious it was, but how did you feel at the time?

I knew it was very bad, and I know that the physio Freddie Griffiths worked hard to try and get things working for me.  He and his assistant Roy Bailey really went out of their way to help, but it was a long and difficult recovery.  The TV programme Nationwide did a feature on me and I received lots of letters and cards, which helped – the fans were terrific – but it was the blackest moment of my life.  I had violent pains in my leg if I sat a certain way, and thanks to my wife and family they managed to keep me sane.  When I started walking properly I was so glad.  At one point I didn’t think I would walk again, let alone play sport.  

I tried a comeback towards the end of 1975-6 but after the fourth game (V Arsenal) I broke down.  It was too soon, and for the following 20 months the battle to return dominated everything I did.  

Boxing Day 1977 V Newcastle was your memorable return.  I know how I and most Blues felt that day, but how did you feel?

There’s always been something about Newcastle.  That day I came on as substitute and I could not believe the atmosphere.  The whole ground – including the Newcastle fans – stood and applauded and chanted my name.  I was at the Halifax Supporters Club a month ago and I mentioned the game and almost every person in the room talked of the day and how emotional they got.  There were at least two dozen people in the room who said they were crying when I came on.  Grown men admitted it and I was deeply touched.  On the day you could feel that emotion.  I don’t believe I did anything of note in the game.  I was a passenger, but everyone tells me it was great seeing me there and for me it was and will always be my number one game, and my number one memory of playing football.

Finally, I guess that Newcastle game demonstrated how fans truly felt about you?

The fans have been marvellous throughout my life.  The last four years they’ve helped to get me honoured as one of the Football League’s 100 legends; the stand has been named after me; and now the MBE.  It’s been an amazing four years.  I don’t believe there’s any other player anywhere in football who has the same bond with the fans, and I don’t believe any club has fans as loyal as ours.  City fans like players who give 100% and so long as you do that, you will always get incredible support.  I loved my time as a player, and I am delighted my bond with the fans is as strong – possibly stronger – today than its ever been.

IN SEARCH OF THE BLUES – Joe Corrigan (interviewed in November 2004)

England international goalkeeper Joe Corrigan made 592 League, Cup and European appearances with the Blues between 1967 and 1983.  Today he is a respected goalkeeping coach.  Farewell To Maine Road author Gary James caught up with him at Stockport’s training ground in November 2004

Let’s start with your school days.  I believe you went to a rugby playing school?

I went to Sale Grammar School and there was no football at all.  I played rugby union for the school and for Cheshire, and I guess that helped my ball control, catching ability etc.  Despite this, I always wanted to be a ‘keeper and I played football at any opportunity really.  When I started as an apprentice at AEI in Trafford Park the chance came to play for the works side and I played at centre-half.  I had no choice about that – I wanted to play ‘keeper.  I guess my size made me a defender.  

Then one day I had to go in nets at half time and I suppose I must have looked all right because I was encouraged to go for a trial.  Both City and United were contacted, and a reply came from Maine Road within a fortnight.  After the trial Harry Godwin, City’s Chief Scout, asked me to sign and I joined a youth set up that included Tommy Booth and Ray Hatton – Boxer Ricky Hatton’s dad.

United offered me a trial as well, but once City showed the interest they did I turned them down.  I wanted to be loyal and City had faith in me.  That mattered a great deal.

You mentioned you’d always wanted to be a ‘keeper, who were your early heroes?

There were two – Harry Gregg and Bert Trautmann.  I was fortunate enough to go on loan to Shrewsbury when Gregg was there and he taught me so much.  He really helped.  Trautmann of course was a phenomenal ‘keeper and a wonderful man.  Being a City legend he was the type of ‘keeper I aspired to.  He offered me good advice as well.

I remember one day after West Ham had beaten us 5-1 – it was Jimmy Greaves’ debut (21/3/70) – I felt awful.  It was my first proper season and I felt I’d ruined my chance.  This was the game when my clearance went straight to Ronnie Boyce and he sent it straight back over my head.  When something like that happens, being a goalkeeper is the loneliest job in the world.

Anyway, I was told that Bert was at the game.  He took me to one side and told me not to worry about that result or that goal.  He pointed out that these things can happen to any ‘keeper and that he’d had some awful individual moments.  I felt much better after that and, I guess, because he had said it, it meant more than if the manager or anyone else had said it.  Bert had been one of football’s greatest ‘keepers and so he knew more than most about how I was feeling.  Mind you, it didn’t stop the BBC showing the goal whenever they had the opportunity!

One of my strongest early City memories is of you watching Bert play in Johnny Hart’s testimonial in 1974.  How did that feel?

Bert was such a great player that I thought it’d be good to crouch on the touchline and just watch.  Even at that age – he must have been 51 – he was fit and agile and someone you could learn from.  The only problem was that I had to tell him he was coming off!  I went over to him and a bloke in the stand shouted, “leave him in nets, he’s still better than you!”  

Thinking about your early City days, you made a couple of League Cup appearances in 1967/8 and then 1969/70 saw you make your League debut.  You made 34 League appearances and also played in the ECWC Cup run.  Did winning the ECWC make you feel as if you’d ‘made it’ as a player?

Never!  I never felt that.  Even when I was playing for England I didn’t take anything for granted.  Playing in the ECWC final was awesome.  It was a terribly wet night and the crowd was low, but that didn’t detract from the importance at all.  To play in such a great side and at that level is a tremendous feeling but you have to keep your feet on the ground.  I’m glad I did, because it wasn’t long before it looked as if my City career was over.

You remained first choice for most of the period up to the signing of Keith MacRae in October 1973, did his arrival feel like the end for you?

Definitely!  They paid an incredible amount – I think it was a world record fee for a ‘keeper – so you know that he has to be first choice. You don’t pay that and leave him in the reserves.  Plus he was a great ‘keeper.  No question.

I was on my way out and this was a very difficult time.  The Club was also going through a few managerial changes, so it wasn’t easy. Then in 1975 Keith was injured shortly before the transfer deadline.  I thought I’d get back in, but I bought the Evening News and saw photos and names of a whole host of ‘keepers that the Club were supposed to be interested in.  It seemed to me at the time that anybody but Corrigan would do.  This was a tormenting time.  I couldn’t bear it.  Every night it was the same.

Fortunately for me transfer day came and went and no one was bought.  I don’t know if time ran out or what, but I know I was relieved.  

You got back into the side and retained your place when MacRae was fit.  What was the turning point?

I’d been working hard when I was in the Reserves.  I’d tried to develop and I was determined not to lose whatever opportunity came my way.  Having said that, we had mixed results and I was worried.  Then we played at Wolves and they were all over us.  I remember Dougan and Richards both came up for a cross and I was whacked.  The ball ended up in the net and I felt awful.  Then the ref blew for a foul on me and from that moment on the luck was on my side.  I truly believe that a lot of football is about luck and opportunity and that day everything switched to my favour.  We beat Chelsea and Burnley in the weeks that followed and I only missed 1 League game in the following 5 seasons. 

You became a major hero over those seasons, how do you think the fans treated you throughout your City career?

There were two definite spells.  The early years when received a lot of criticism – I accept that because if you pay your money you are entitled to say what you think, but it was difficult to take at times.  Then there were the later years when I had matured and developed, and the fans gave me incredible support.  I loved going to events like the Junior Blues and meeting real fans.  I think we had it drummed into us when we first arrived at the Club by Joe Mercer that supporters are the most important people – they pay your wages and you must never forget that!  Once the Junior Blues were created it was stressed that these children would in the future pay your wages.  They are not simply here for a party, they are here because you are an important part of their lives.  Every player should always make the effort.

I had it drummed into me by Mercer that you should visit hospitals and kids homes and the like.  It’s all great PR for the Club and the player.  Actually, when I was playing in the States at Seattle a local policeman was shot.  I was appalled and told the team I was going to see him in hospital.  They all thought I was out of my mind.  “Why do it?  What is he to you?”  I went to see him, invited him to a game, and he loved it, but I was stunned to find that I made the news.  The headlines read “Do Gooder Joe Corrigan” – they made out I was a saint, but all I was doing was the PR that was the norm at City.

Thinking of fans, Helen Turner (the lady with the bell) must hold special memories for you?

She always sat behind me in the North Stand and before every game she would give me a sprig of heather for good luck.  At away games she wasn’t always near me, so sometimes it was difficult for her to get the heather to me.  If I hadn’t received it by kick off time I’d be worried.  Partly I’d wonder if she was all right, but I also used to worry about my luck.  If ever we lost and I’d not seen Helen I’d believe that was the reason.  She’s a marvellous, devoted fan, and I know she’s done a tremendous amount of work for good causes.

Your career spanned several managerial reigns, is there one manager who stands out as the best for you?

Because the goalkeeper’s role is so specialised, I gained most from other goalies such as Trautmann and Gregg, but Joe Mercer was the greatest City manager of all time.  He was such a warm, nice man.  He knew how to tell you off as well, of course, but his enthusiasm and love of football was clear.  Malcolm Allison, as coach, was tremendous.  He was doing stuff in 1969 that coaches are only just introducing now and often they claim it’s a new idea!  He tried to make sure the ‘keepers received their own coaching and specialist time, and when Tony Book became manager he tried to ensure this developed further.  Coaches Bill Taylor and Ian McFarlane worked hard with me and I used to come in on the morning of a game to do additional training.  The view was that I would get used to the actual conditions of the day and this definitely worked.

If we were playing away I’d train in the hotel grounds, or in a park.  On the morning of the 1981 FA Cup final I was training in a public park.

Thinking of the 1981 final, one of my key memories is of you immediately going over to Tommy Hutchison when he scored the own goal.  You lifted him up, patted him on the back and whispered something to him.  What encouragement did you give?

My view was that we still had a few minutes left.  We’d still been on top for most of the game.  We could still win.  I also knew that what had happened to him could have happened to any one of us.  So I just told him to “get up, get on with it.  It’s only 1-1 and we are still going to win!”  He was devastated to be fair, but we did almost win it in the dying minutes.  Personally, I believe the game should have been played to a conclusion on that night.  The FA Cup is all about the Saturday and I know we would have won had it gone to a conclusion.  I never liked facing penalties – I think I only saved two – but that night we’d have won.  No question.  The Saturday was our day, after that it all switched.  

Tottenham had no travelling to do; their fans could buy tickets from either Spurs or directly from Wembley’s allocation; and our fans were simply outnumbered in the replay even though we were by far a better supported team.

Despite our eventual defeat, you were made ‘man of the final’ for your performance.  That must have felt like a great achievement.

Obviously, it does mean a lot to me, but I’d rather have won the final.  After the second match I was presented with it by the Spurs manager Keith Burkenshaw.  I remember thanking him and then saying something like “Good luck in Europe next season” and at that very moment it hit home to me what had happened.  I suddenly realised that we’d lost and that we wouldn’t be playing in Europe.  I was devastated.  It was an awful feeling.  I missed out in another way because the game went to a replay.  England were playing Brazil at Wembley on the Wednesday after the final and, although there was nothing official, I understand I was due to play, but the replay (played the following night) meant I couldn’t play.

You played during many great seasons, what were your own highlights?

There were two great sides – the one I joined in the 60s that had already achieved so much and the mid to late 70s.  Both sides were tremendous and the players really knew how to entertain.  Colin Bell was a truly great player and I’m certain he would have gone on to captain England had it not been for that horrific injury.  Losing him was the biggest blow this club has had to face.  He bridged the two great sides and had he been fully fit he would have helped that late 70s side achieve the League title.  People often forget how good that late 70s side was – Dave Watson, Dennis Tueart, Joe Royle, Willie Donachie and the rest.  

The John Bond transformation was great as well.  Steve Mackenzie’s goal in the 81 replay has to be one of the greatest Cup Final goals of all time.  The problem with that replay was that Hutchison and Gow had given so much in the first game that they must have been drained for the second match.  They still did well, but they didn’t have enough time to recover in between games. Kevin Reeves was injured early on and that was a major blow – he is one of City’s most underrated players.  Reeves was a very, very good player.

Let’s talk about England.  You were unfortunate to play when there were so many great English ‘keepers.  Do you ever wish you’d played at another time?

No.  I enjoyed playing when I did.  It was good that there were so many great ‘keepers around because that pushed you more.  Sadly, for me it meant I’d have to try and reach a level above Shilton, Clemence, Parkes, and Rimmer.  If I’d been an outfield player, it may have been easier because with a goalie there is only one place to fill.  When I did play for England it meant more than anything else – in football playing for the national side is the highest honour you can have.  One of my favourite performances was when I played against Brazil – the best team in the world at the time by a long way – and we managed a 1-1 draw.  I was under pressure the whole time and remember a couple of saves I am particularly proud of.

Did you enjoy being under pressure more than trouble free games?

Sometimes ‘trouble-free’ games are the worst because you have to be more alert.  It would be easy to sit back and focus on other things, but then if you’re tested you could fail.  I remember one game I had no saves to make at all, but I acme off the pitch totally drained.  Everyone said ‘what’s up with you, you’ve done nothing?’  I would much have preferred to be under pressure for 90 minutes. 

Eventually you left City.  First for Seattle Sounders and later for Brighton, why did you move on?

I think I should have left a little earlier.  I love City but it got to the stage where I knew I wasn’t really wanted here.  The fans were marvellous; the players were great; but maybe it wasn’t really my time any more.  I was approached by Spurs, shortly after the Cup Final, and then Liverpool after we’d beat them 3-1 (Boxing Day 1981) but both moves were blocked, so that made it clear someone still wanted me, but then when Seattle made their approach in 1983 I was told I could go.  Something had changed.

At Seattle I had a great time and the pressures were completely different.  It was a wonderful time.  Sadly, City were relegated while I was away and I felt awful.  It really hit me.  I know I wouldn’t have changed things – Alex Williams did an excellent job – but I felt the same pain I would have felt had I been here.  I worried about the fans.  Funnily enough when I was in the States I played a game at New York and I wasn’t happy with our performance and tactics and I shouted a bit of abuse at the bench.  My own supporters started booing me and telling me I shouldn’t swear at a football match – in my early days at City I was given abuse for being too quiet!  It was all so different.

You eventually moved into coaching – something you still do today.  Presumably, you enjoy putting something back in to the game. 

That day when Bert Trautmann came to offer advice and reassure me in 1969 meant so much to me that I guess I’ve always felt I should do the same.  Bert and the other ‘keepers taught me more than other coaches could because they had been there.  They had experience what I was experiencing, and I feel that I need to do the same.  I’ve coached all over the UK and, at one point, I was flying to Scotland, driving to Yorkshire and the north-east the next day… every day I was on the road.  Then I had ten very enjoyable years at Liverpool, and now there’s Stockport and Chester as well.  It’s great to put something back.

Finally, you were one of the inaugural entrants in to City’s Hall Of Fame.  You received the 3rd highest number of votes after Trautmann and then Bell.  How does it feel to still be remembered by fans in this way?

The Hall of Fame is such a wonderful honour.  On the night I had no idea.  I was interviewed by TV and thought I was making up the numbers but then I was the first one up.  I was choked, truly choked, and couldn’t get the right words in to my head.  Can I take this opportunity to pass on my thoughts to Norah Mercer – Joe Mercer was a fantastic man and he made such a big impression on me when I was first starting out.  Also, I’d like to thank all the players who have worked with me, and of course the supporters.  I was deeply touched by the award.  

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