Bobby Johnstone – Better than Carter, Doherty, Finney, Steele or Matthews?

On this day (22 September) in 1959 Manchester City’s Cup final hero Bobby Johnstone returned to his former club Hibernian after 50 goals in 137 first team appearances for the Blues. Here are a few details on him and a quote saying he was better than Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney & others. Enjoy…

At the start of that season there had been indications that 29 year old Johnstone was nearing the end of his Maine Road career.  He had made only 18 League appearances and scored four goals during the 1958-9 season and, although he was vital in a number of games, City were beginning to look to a future without him.  Les McDowall had already started looking at a nineteen year old striker playing for Huddersfield.  He appeared to offer a great deal, the only problem was the price.  City would have to pay a considerable amount to sign the young, exciting forward.  His name?  Denis Law. It would take McDowall some time to sign the youngster, but as the close season began he considered City’s strengths and weaknesses. City was in a period of transition.  Old campaigners like Johnstone were on their way out.  Indeed he left for a fee of £7,000 on this day in 1959.

Later Roy Warhurst, the City half-back signed from Birmingham during the 1957 close season, described the Scotsman as the greatest player he ever saw: ‘Johnstone was the greatest footballer I ever played with or against. I was 29 when I came to City and I’d seen all Britain’s best. But there was nobody to compare with Bobby, when he felt like turning it on. Not even Carter, Doherty, Finney, Billy Steele or Matthews. They couldn’t touch him.

‘My first game for City was a tour game in Holland. Bobby was brilliant. As the locals cheered him off the park I kept thinking “this is some great outfit I’ve joined.”  It was the greatest display I’ve seen from any player that night.’

It is widely known about Bobby’s goals in the 1955 & 1956 FA Cup finals but here’s a couple in a thrilling game v Newcastle in 1957. City lost 5-4 but it’s well worth watching for the drama of it all. Look out for the crowd scenes, especially the exaggerated acting by a lad after about 1min 25 seconds who spills his drink!

https://www.britishpathe.com/video/man-city-v-newcastle-aka-manchester-city-4-v-newca

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6-5 in your Central League Derby!

I was recently asked by Brendan Gahan if I ‘had any details of a Central League derby at Maine Rd that finished 6-5 to City. I think it was either 66/67 or 67/ 68, there was a decent crowd of around 20,000.’ We’ll, I do. The answer is…

The game was played on 15 April 1968 and was watched by 2,503 (not quite the 20,000 remembered). City’s scorers were Mundy, Clay, Jones (2), Cunliffe and Bingham. The City starting 11 included Ricky Hatton’s father Ray: Dowd, Hutton, Woods, Jeffries, Booth, Mundy, Glennon, Clay, Jones, Cunliffe & Bingham.According to the programme (provided by Dave Masey) the half time score had been 5-4 to City and the United scorers were Herd 3 and Gowling 2.

I have statistics for most Manchester City Central League games (and first team of course) into the 2000s. If you’re a subscriber to my site and have a query get in touch and I’ll see if I can answer your query. Thanks.

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Charles’ Investiture

I was recently asked by Tony Whiston on Twitter about a memory he had of Manchester City playing a game to mark the investiture of Prince Charles as the Prince Of Wales in 1969. The answer to the query is:

The investiture was on 1st July I believe and on 18th of that month City played a Carnarvon select XI, drawing 1-1 before 3,000. Bell scored for City.

The City starting 11 was: Dowd, Book, Pardoe, Doyle, Booth, Oakes, Summerbee, Bell, Lee, Young & Coleman.

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Read more of this website when you subscribe today. £20 a year (about £1.67 per month) gets you access to all the articles, interviews, books & more already published on this site and those published over the next year. You’ll also be supporting my research and writing. I am not employed by anyone to do this research, so your subscriptions help enormously.

Royal Reactions (part one)

I’m sure we’ve all been watching some of the television coverage following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. With so much air time to fill we’ve often had angles put forward and debated for a few minutes or hours on TV and radio. So I thought it was time I put one (or two – part two will go into detail about royal visits to Manchester City) of my own on my website. Here goes… Someone asked me the other day about how Manchester City reacted in terms of performance in the days/weeks/months after a monarch’s death. So, if you’ve been desperate to find out, or are more likely to think ‘go on then, I’ll stick with it a bit longer’, here’s the answer:

Since Manchester City was established in the 19th Century there have been two British Queens and now five Kings. Detailed below are a few snippets from each of their reigns which may or may not be of interest. I’ll start with Queen Victoria.

Queen Victoria was on the throne throughout the birth of League football until her death in January 1901. These were the years when professional football developed and Victoria died only 9 years after the club had joined the League as Ardwick.

Major Trophies Won: No major trophies were won by City during Victoria’s reign but they did win the Second Division title in 1899 – the first national success of either Manchester club. The last complete season of her life saw City compete in the top flight for the first time. the first game after her death was a 2-1 defeat at Stoke.

King Edward VII was on the throne from January 1901 through to May 1910. He died in the close season as City were about to go on tour to Germany and Denmark. During Edward’s life City won the FA Cup in 1904 (Manchester’s first major trophy) and were runners up in the League that season.

King George V was the first monarch to visit a Manchester City game when he attended a 1920 League game between City and Liverpool at Hyde Road. During his reign City won the FA Cup in 1934 and George was present for that final. City had also appeared in two other finals and had finished 2nd in the League in 1920. He died in January 1936 and the following weekend’s FA Cup games went ahead as scheduled. Over 65,000 watched City defeat Luton 2-1 at Maine Road.

King Edward VIII was only on the throne for about nine months and abdicated in December 1936. City had finished ninth in the only season completed during his reign but the 1936-37 was to be a spectacular one, though the part of the season before his abdication was not so great for the Blues.

King George VI became King on the abdication of his brother and City were to go on an incredible run shortly afterwards. A couple of defeats came within a fortnight of him taking on the role but other than those City were undefeated for the rest of the season. An incredible run of 22 games unbeaten brought City the League title in 1937.

As the Duke of York George had attended the 1933 FA Cup final and had also attended a game at Maine Road that year too. George died in February 1952. The following weekend’s games were not postponed and City drew a goalless match with Blackpool.

Queen Elizabeth II became Queen in 1952 and during her reign City have found major success time and time again. Within 3 years of her becoming Queen she attended Wembley to watch City face Newcastle in the 1955 FAC final. Newcastle won that (their last major domestic trophy) but the year after she was at Wembley again to see City beat Birmingham in the Trautmann Final. Since then City have found major glory in the League and in Europe. Their trophy haul under Elizabeth includes:

1 European Cup Winners’ Cup

7 League titles

4 FA Cups

8 League Cups

City have won 1 trophy approximately every 3.5 years of her reign. When she died games were postponed the following weekend.

King Charles III – Of course it’s too early to say what success arrives during his reign.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this slightly odd football article. There’ll be a second part published next week. Watch this space. While you’re here why not explore the rest of the website. Thanks

On This Day: Bowles

Stan Bowles scored twice on his League debut as Manchester City beat Sheffield United 5-2 on this day (16 September) in 1967.  Three days earlier he also scored twice as the Blues defeated Leicester 4-0 in the League Cup – Bowles came on as substitute in his debut game.  Despite this tremendous start, Bowles never scored again for City and only made a total of 16 (plus 4 sub) appearances.

All Star Games

This week the new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly has been roundly criticised by former footballers, managers and the media for suggesting that the Premier League introduces an ‘All-Star’ game. His suggestion was based on similar games in the States and he hinted that a North v South All-Star game could raise money for the football pyramid. He suggested that English football could learn a lot from America and came up with other ideas too. His views were presented across the media in a way that implied ‘here’s an American coming over here to tell us how to run our sport that’s done okay for the last 150 years.’ However, had he framed his All-Star game along the lines of English tradition rather than along the lines of American pizzazz then he may have been listened to.

As a historian it irks me when people talk of a new idea, or bringing something different, when the truth is that these things have existed for decades – or even centuries! It frustrates me even more when ideas are then criticised with people commenting along the lines of ‘you can’t do that here. You and your American ways. We’d never do that’ and so on when we have actually done that – and done it well too!

Personally, I’m not in favour of representative All-Star games as a regular fixture. We have Soccer Aid and that’s well-established and a great piece of entertainment, but representative League games are something else. There isn’t really room in the football calendar and so I’d worry about that but, as a historian, I know that these types of games have existed in English football since the 1890s and I also know they were immensely popular at times. 

Had Boehly done a bit of football research or talked to a football historian they may well have helped him present the same sort of idea in a more sensible, traditional manner. Likewise, had Jamie Carragher or any of the others criticising him done some research or consultation with a historian they may also have been able to talk about how these things existed in the past. 

So what am I going on about? I’m talking about the original ‘All-Star’ games that existed in English football – The Football League representative teams. These were established in 1891 to raise money for the Football League to carry out its duties – in effect similar aims to Boehly’s. The first representative game was the League against the Alliance League – so not a geographical All-Star match but certainly along similar lines. That was played on 20 April 1891 at Sheffield and the Football League side contained six Scottish players and one Welshman, plus English players. 

The year after the Football League played the Scottish League for the first in a long series of games between the leagues. Four Scottish players played for the League against Scotland.

Another game was played that year that is even more closely aligned with what Boehly has suggested – The Midlands v The North. There have been other representative games, such as the North v the South, some organised by the League some by other bodies such as the FA. A North v South representative game had been in existence from 1880. There’s lots more history to discuss, including the role of some of these type of fixtures in the selection of the English national team, but suffice to say these types of games have been in existence for a long time. Here’s a report of North v South from 1891:

So, again, had Boehly been aware of the history his suggestion could easily have been framed in a different manner. I wonder how people would have reacted had he said something like: ‘I’ve been studying English football and am fascinated by the representative and inter-league games that saw footballers from multiple clubs with varying nationalities play together. These began in the 1890s and were immensely popular with fans, raising money for the management of the game and helping ease the burden on less fortunate clubs. I’d like to bring back that tradition and believe they’d be popular again. Imagine De Bruyne playing alongside Salah and Ronaldo?’ 

From the 1890s these representative League fixtures grew in frequency and, as well as the Scottish League, other leagues were added. The Irish League became a regular opponent and there were games against the Southern League, the Army, Glasgow and the national leagues of Belgium, Italy and the Republic of Ireland (as well as the Irish Football League). There were combined Wales & Ireland teams, British league opponents and a Rest of the World game. The Football League representative team played their Italian equivalents on no less than 13 occasions.

There were also representative games between regions, including a series of Third Division North v Third Division South in the 1950s, though these were separate divisions of the League so more like inter-League games, nevertheless they are another precedent.

Over the decades these inter-league games faded, mainly due to fixture congestion, but one-offs appeared such as against a World XI to mark the centenary of the League in 1988. 

So there are historical precedents within English league football. Personally, I’d still worry about fixture congestion if something like this was re-introduced but I have to say that the criticism of the idea really should have been framed differently. Criticise the idea because of fixture congestion or worries about players, but don’t criticise it as a ‘coming over here telling us to introduce something American into our game’ when it’s actually an English concept that goes back to the early days of League football in our country. 

The great German goalkeeper Bert Trautmann often talked of his pride of playing for the Football League in one of these representative games in 1960. He had been prevented from playing for his national team due to football politics of the era but appearing for the Football League in what would now be termed an ‘All-Star’ game was a major honour. By the way, the game was described as ‘a star-studded’ match, so similar wording to Boehly too! No doubt there are many players today who would feel the same as Trautmann did if they don’t ordinarily get the chance to play for a national team in a high profile match.

Another German Jurgen Klopp, the manager of Liverpool, was dismissive of Boehly’s idea and seemed to suggest that players from rival teams like United, Liverpool and Everton couldn’t play in the same team, which is odd considering they can and do play in international matches together when they are supposed to be representing their country. Here’s what Klopp said:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/av/football/62900364

I don’t agree with Boehly’s ideas but dismissing them, in the manner some have is wrong too. His idea is not a new one, it was a part and parcel of league football for over a century. I also can’t help feeling that a modern generation of fans may actually enjoy seeing the best of the Premier League against the best of the Italian/Spanish/German Leagues if these fixtures occurred. Maybe some would prefer to see representative League teams instead of international games? If Boehly had suggested that he’d be condemned further but they’ve happened in the past.

Here’s film of a 1905 inter-league game played at Manchester City’s Hyde Road ground in 1905:

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-england-v-ireland-at-manchester-1905-1905-online

As a final word I’d like to say that if you’re a football director, official, manager, player or a member of the media please consult a football historian if you have an idea or want to criticised an idea. Most things in football are not new. We pretend they are to gain headlines or to present ourselves as forward thinking, or as guardians of the game. The truth is that knowing and understanding football history, whether that be our own clubs or the game in general, allows us to make informed decisions and comments. Most football historians are keen to help so please call on this resource and let’s have sensible discussion or let’s make informed suggestions of how to improve the sport we love.

On This Day in 2003: Anelka

On this day (14 September) in 2003 two penalties from Nicolas Anelka helped Manchester City to their first League victory at the City Of Manchester Stadium (now Etihad Stadium).  The match with Aston Villa ended 4-1 and it also saw Anelka score the first hat-trick at the new stadium and the first penalty.

You can watch about ten minutes of highlights here:

Stan Gibson Obituary (former MCFC groundsman)

Born on this day (10th September) in 1925, Stan Gibson was one of the unsung heroes of Manchester football.  He was City’s groundsman for forty years and created a playing surface worthy of the club’s stature, particularly during the sixties and seventies when the pitch was possibly in its best ever state.  

Stan worked as a stoker during the war for the Navy.  Always a keen sportsman – he was a Naval boxing champion and had football trials with Burnley – but by his 30s was becoming well known as a groundsman.  He arrived at Maine Road from Chorlton Cricket Club in 1959 after a recommendation by City ‘keeper Steve Fleet, and in the years that followed he worked hard to create a perfect pitch.  

By the time of City’s promotion in 1966 Stan had made the surface one the club could be proud of.  Both Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison were keen to use Stan’s expertise to develop the pitch further, and thereby increase City’s chance of success.  Working with Allison, Stan made the pitch the biggest  – and many would say the best – in the League.  

Both Mercer and Allison recognised his contribution to City’s success.  It’s a little known fact that Stan was trusted with the job of looking after the FA Cup following City’s homecoming in 1969.  He chose to put the prized possession in the safest place he could think of, and the trophy spent its first night in Manchester locked in his toilet!

Stan loved City – he was even on the club’s books for a while in his youth – and felt the pitch was his own.  He could never relax during a match though:  “I watch the pitch rather than the game!  I shouldn’t really, because I get very upset if I see a divot, especially if it is the opposing side who have churned it up.”

Inevitably, the pop concerts in the 80s and 90s brought him a few headaches, but he welcomed other innovations, such as the undersoil heating implemented in 1979.

Stan was always an important influence and others often sought his views.  At one stage Rod Stewart tried to lure him away to tend his own turf, while Ken Bates was desperate for him to join Chelsea.  Stan would have none of it:  “I know I’m biased, but to me there’s nowhere better than Maine Road, and there’s nothing nicer than someone coming up to me on a Saturday and saying how great the pitch looks.  Makes all the toil worthwhile.”

His love for the club and Maine Road was never in doubt, and was perfectly summed up in 1994:  “City is my life.  That pitch out there is my baby.  I can’t keep away from it, and I couldn’t imagine my life without it.”

He leaves his Australian-based son Stuart and his daughter Janice – another popular face around Maine Road.

Stan passed away on Christmas Eve 2001 and this written by me as an obituary for him at the time. It was first published shortly after his death.

While you’re here I’d like to thank you for taking the time and trouble to visit my website. I have been researching and writing about Manchester football for a long time (no wonder I’m going grey!) with my first book published in 1989. I am not employed by anyone and I do not have sponsorship either and so I’ve set up this website to help share my 32 years plus writing and research. The intention is to develop the archive and to provide access to as much of my material as possible over the coming weeks, months & years. Subscribers can already access hundreds of articles/posts including the entire Manchester A Football History book and audio interviews with several people, including former City bosses John Bond and Malcolm Allison.  

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