Colin The King

I know I’ve written plenty about Colin Bell over the years but, to be frank, you can never read or write enough about Bell. So for today’s subscriber article here’s a 1,900 word piece (plus videos of the Ballet On Ice game and his first return game v Derby in April 1976 – yes that’s right!) on the legendary Manchester City and Bury footballer. Enjoy!

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Manchester City versus Chelsea – The story so far…

Tomorrow (5 January 2023) Manchester City play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League and so I thought I’d post a few connections, historical moments and memorable game details here. So here goes…

All-time Record (all first team competitions)

City wins 62, Chelsea wins 71, 39 drawn.

League – 154 played, 53 City wins, 62 Chelsea wins, 39 drawn.

FA Cup – Played 7 (there’ll be another this coming weekend!), 4 City wins, 3 Chelsea wins

League Cup – Played 4, 3 City wins, 1 Chelsea win.

Champions League – Played 1, 1 Chelsea win. You can read about that one here:

ECWC – Played 2, 2 Chelsea wins.

Full Members Cup – Played 2, 2 Chelsea wins.

Community Shield – Played 2, 2 City wins.

Game One

The first match between the sides was on 7 December 1907 in Division One.  Chelsea had been promoted the previous season, and the match ended 2-2 before a 40,000 crowd at Stamford Bridge.

Debuts

City debutants in this fixture include Rodney Marsh, whose first game was the 1-0 victory over Chelsea on 18 March 1972.  Local hero Tommy Booth netted the winner in front of 53,322.

Marsh was a high profile and expensive signing back in 1972. He was signed shortly before the transfer deadline back then. Another major signing who made his league debut v Chelsea was Robinho who joined the Blues on transfer deadline day back in 2008, marking his league debut v Chelsea with a goal that September.

On 14 November 1959 in a 1-1 draw, Alan Oakes made the first of an incredible 665 (plus 3 as substitute) appearances for the Blues – sadly he gave away a last minute penalty, but Bert Trautmann saved it!  You can read more on that game here:

A little over 30 years later Howard Kendall signing Niall Quinn marked his debut with a goal in another 1-1 draw.

Others to have made their debuts include Tosin Adarabioya, Aleix Garcia & David Faupala (scored on his debut). Those players all made their debuts in the FA Cup game on 21 February 2016. 

Television

The first City-Chelsea game to be shown on BBC TV was on 1 October 1955 at Stamford Bridge when Chelsea beat City 2-1. The commentator was Kenneth Wolstenholme. 

The first meeting of the sides to be shown on the BBC’s Match of the Day was 1 October 1966, when Tommy Docherty’s Chelsea beat City 4-1.  Chelsea’s scorers were Tambling, Baldwin, Kirkup and Osgood, while the dependable Neil Young netted for City.

The first live match was on Friday 4 May 1984 with a 7.15pm kick-off, again on BBC.  This Division Two match ended in a 2-0 victory for 2nd placed Chelsea, and the result ended City’s dreams of an immediate return to the top flight.  Chelsea clinched the title that season on goal difference from Sheffield Wednesday and the live game became noteworthy as it was the first Second Division match shown live on television.  Interestingly, the BBC recruited Bobby Charlton as their City ‘expert’ for this game.

Connections

Kevin De Bruyne (made three League appearances for Chelsea), Willy Caballero, Frank Lampard, Scott Sinclair, George Weah, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Nicolas Anelka, Wayne Bridge, Danny Granville, David Rocastle, Gordon Davies, Clive Allen, Clive Wilson, Terry Phelan, and Colin Viljoen are some of the players to have appeared for both clubs.  Further back amateur Max Woosnam had appeared for first Chelsea then City.  He was City’s captain for a while, and was given the honour of captaining the Blues in their first match at Maine Road.  A good all-round sportsman, Woosnam was a Wimbledon doubles champion, and Olympic gold medallist.  He also captained England.

Highest Attendances

The top five attendances for this fixture are:

85,621 – FA Cup semi final, 14 April 2013, City 2 Chelsea 1 

81,775 – 2019 League Cup final, 0-0 City won 4-3 on penalties

72,724 – 2018 Community Shield, City 2 Chelsea 0

68,000 – The highest crowd for this fixture at the old Wembley; the 1986 Full Members’ Cup Final.  

64,396 – 26 March 1948 meeting at Stamford Bridge; a 2-2- draw.

The top five attendances for City V Chelsea at the Etihad are: 54,486 on 23 November 2019; 54,457 on 3 December 2016; 54,452 on 10 February 2019; 54,331 on 16 August 2015 and 54,328 on 4 March 2018. A reduction in capacity at the Etihad means that games from 2021 onwards cannot better these figures.

The highest attendance for City V Chelsea at Maine Road was 53,322 on 18th March 1972. 

Wembley ‘86

The only game between the two sides at the old Wembley Stadium was the inaugural Full Members’ Cup Final in 1986.  Despite taking the lead in the eighth minute, City were losing 5-1 with only five minutes left.  A Mark Lillis inspired fightback followed and he helped City achieve a 5-4 scoreline, before time ran out.  It was a thrilling match and it also helped David Speedie enter the record books.  His hat-trick was the first in a senior domestic final at Wembley since Stan Mortensen in 1953.

You can read about that one here:

Kippax First and Last

City’s first & last games in front of the Kippax Stand were both against Chelsea. The first came on 5 September 1957. City won that game 5-2 (goals from Colin Barlow 2, Fionan ‘Paddy’ Fagan 2 and Billy McAdams), attendance 27,943. The second was on 20 April 1994 – a 2-2 draw (City goals from Uwe Rosler and Paul Walsh), attendance 33,594.

Did You Know?

The two Second Division matches between the sides in 1927-8 were watched by a total of 104,643.  That season City, despite being a Second Division club, had the highest average attendance of all the clubs in the Football League.

Well I Never!

The last match of the 1993-4 season was the last played in front of the old Kippax Stand.  At the time, the Kippax was the largest capacity terraced stand in the country, and Chelsea supporters (dressed as Blues Brothers) laid a wreath in front of the famous old stand.  It was a gesture much appreciated by City fans.  The game ended 2-2 and afterwards supporters hacked off pieces of the old terracing.  Even the old “Colin Bell Bar” Sign was seen being taken towards the city centre after the match!

Feature Match

My feature match is noteworthy as it was played at a time when the Blues were suffering heavy fixture congestion, and squad rotation was still something for the future.

The match is the first leg of the 1970-1 ECWC semi-final.  City were cup holders, while Chelsea had qualified after beating Leeds in the FA Cup Final replay at Old Trafford played on the same night as City’s ECWC final in April 1970.

Malcolm Allison was banned from all football activity by the FA, leaving Joe Mercer in total control.  Joe always believed the strongest team possible should play.  He didn’t hold with the view that players should be saved for the important matches and, although his belief that every team should always field their strongest side was fair and just, in 1971 it was to cost the Blues dearly.  During a relatively meaningless 4 League fixtures over the Easter period injuries piled up.  By the time of the ECWC game Summerbee, Pardoe, Oakes, Heslop, Bell, and Doyle – all crucial players – were on the injury list, causing Joe to play a team of inexperience in the most crucial match of the season.  Shortly before kick off at Stamford Bridge he solemnly told the press his team and then said:  “And may God bless this ship and all who sail in her.”

Despite their naivety, Mercer’s Minors put in a good performance.  Goalkeeper Joe Corrigan, who played the game with his left eye half-closed through injury, was in exceptional form.  Dave Sexton’s Chelsea surged forward in the opening minutes, but Corrigan kept them at bay.  Gradually, the confidence of City’s inexperienced side increased, and at half-time they entered the dressing room still level.

Sadly, a minute into the second half Tony Towers was unable to intercept a cross from Chelsea’s Keith Weller to David Webb, and a mistake by Tommy Booth allowed Derek Smethurst to score for the home side.  It was the only mistake City made all night, and the game ended 1-0.  Joe was proud of his players, and looked forward to the return.

Sadly, others (Booth and Corrigan) were missing for the second match – played only 48 hours after a gruelling 2-2 draw against Liverpool.  Again Chelsea won 1-0, this time the replacement ‘keeper, Ron Healey, turned an inswinging free kick from Weller into his own net.

City’s dream of becoming the first side to retain the trophy ended – a feat no club ever managed to do – while Chelsea went on to beat Real Madrid in the final.

The 1970-1 season had also seen a ferocious boardroom battle tear the club apart, and for the first time had caused friction between Mercer and Allison.  A year later the partnership ended for good.

Stats:  ECWC Semi-Final first leg 14 April 1971

Chelsea 1 City 0

Scorers – Chelsea: Smethurst

City: Corrigan, Book, Connor, Towers, Booth, Donachie, Johnson, Hill, Lee, Young, Mann

Attendance: 45,955 

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

Boxing Day is a day that will forever be a reminder of the great Colin Bell and his return to the Manchester City first team after the devastating injury that came in the November 1975 Manchester Derby. Colin did return briefly at the end of the 1975-76 season but that was a comeback too early. To remember Colin and everything he achieved at Bury and City here’s an interview I did with him in January 2005. This was published in the City match programme back then and you can read Colin’s views on his career here as published at the time. Enjoy!

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.

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If you’ve enjoyed this piece then why not subscribe and read the rest of the great material on here. At the same time you’ll be supporting my research and writing (I’m not employed by anyone and my research/writing is self-funded). It costs £3 per month (above) or £20 per year (here; access everything posted since December 2020). You’ll also get to read all content posted during your subscription. Thanks.

Stan Bowles

On this day (24 December) in 1948 the great maverick Mancunian footballer Stan Bowles was born. Here’s a profile of him…

Bowles joined City as an amateur on 27 July 1965, becoming an apprentice on 1 October 1965 and then professional on 29 December 1966.

Then in 1967 things really began to happen and Bowles’ first game was as a substitute in a League Cup tie at home to Leicester City. He scored two goals in the second half and the following Saturday he made his League debut another memorable one. He scored two again!

Lots of stories have circulated over the years about his time at City. Like Mario Balotelli many years later some are truthful; others are exaggerations and some are completely make up.

The stories go that Bowles once missed a flight to Amsterdam where City were to play against Ajax, and that Bowles’ interest in the horses led to Joe Mercer saying: ‘If Stan could pass a betting shop like he can pass a ball, he’d be a world beater.’ Suspensions and other issues led to Stan refusing to sign a new contract and he asked to leave. That in itself led to him being suspended for 14 days on the advice of the Football League.

Inevitably Bowles moved on, first to Bury (July 1970) and then to Crewe (September 1970).

A spell at Carlisle followed and then in September 1972 a bid of £110,000 took him to Loftus Road where he won five England caps as a QPR player.

Seven years later Nottingham Forest’s Brian Clough bought him for £210,000 but sold him again less than a year later after further issues. Further spells were reported at Orient, Brentford, Hounslow and Epping.

In 2015 it was announced he was suffering with Alzheimer’s Disease, like his former boss Joe Mercer.

At City Bowles made a total of 20 first team appearances, scoring 4 goals, but he remains recognised as a hugely talented player.

There are articles on this site mentioning Bowles. Here’s a selection:

Allison Wins Bet With Crerand!

Today’s the day (27 October) in 1965 when Malcolm Allison won a significant bet with Pat Crerand about attendances at Manchester City. The Blues had drawn 0-0 with Norwich at Maine Road, ensuring City were top of Division Two and looking like promotional hopefuls. A crowd of 34,091 watched the match and Allison was delighted with that figure. The attendance had won him ten pounds off Manchester United’s Paddy Crerand who had told the City coach that City were a ‘dying club’ and bet him the Blues would never get a crowd above 30,000 at Maine Road again!  Later that season 63,034 watched City play Everton – an attendance greater than any domestic crowd at Old Trafford that season. Allison had the last laugh of course!

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Happy 80th Alan Oakes (Interview Feature)

Happy 80th birthday Alan Oakes. Alan has made more appearances for Manchester City than any other player but more significantly he’s an absolute gent. Here to commemorate his birthday is an interview I did with Alan.

This interview occurred in February 2005 and we discussed his life and career. This appears here as it was originally published.

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.

On this day… Malcolm Allison joins Manchester City

On this day (July 20) in 1965 Malcolm Allison was formally interviewed by the Manchester City board to be manager Joe Mercer’s assistant. Mercer had wanted to bring Allison in since he took the job earlier in the month. Here is a feature I did on Allison back in January 2005.

I first interviewed Malcolm in 1991, and, using material from several conversations with him, and in 2005 I took the opportunity of a MCFC v Crystal Palace game to remind everyone of his significance. Today, for subscribers, I’m posting it here.

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IN SEARCH OF THE BLUES – Bobby Kennedy (Interviewed in April 2005)

Defender Bobby Kennedy proved to be a popular player after joining the Blues in 1961.  He went on to make 251 (plus 3 as sub) appearances for City over a seven year period and was a key member of City’s mid sixties side.  In April 2005 Gary James caught up with him at the stadium.

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