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.

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.

Aguero’s 200th (& 201st)

Today (5 August) in 2018 Sergio Aguero scored his 200th and 201st goals for Manchester City as they defeated Chelsea 2-0 in the Community Shield. You can watch the goals here:

https://www.mancity.com/citytv/match-highlights/2018/august/chelsea-v-man-city-community-shield-extended-match-highlights

The League Cup: The First Major Trophy

Today (March 5 2022) Manchester City’s women’s team takes on Chelsea in the 11th final of the FA Women’s League Cup. This is a hugely important trophy to Manchester’s Blues and to commemorate today’s final, here’s a piece looking at the history of the competition from Manchester City’s view point. The League Cup, sponsored by Continental during the seasons Manchester City have won the competition and therefore known as the Continental Cup, was the first national competition won after the relaunch. As such it became highly significant.

City supporter David Sheel explains how the first final was viewed: “The club put on some coaches for us. It was night match – that doesn’t help. It was played at Adams Park, Wycombe Wanderers’ ground. There were two coaches. The first was full of parents and young academy girls and a few supporters with the second just supporters. All free. We went – sadly a lot couldn’t go because it was a week night – and we played against Arsenal. A team full of established top players who had beat us 4-0 at City in the League. But, like semi final win over Chelsea at Hyde, there was just something about that night. Arsenal were all over us at times and did everything but score. Our defence was outstanding but we also had a few chances at the other end. Got to half-time nil-nil and you’re thinking ‘just one chance, please.’ I can remember the goal… Joey Johnston went down the line, whipped the ball in and Izzy Christiansen, the smallest player on the pitch, headed it in. There were four of us sat together – the coaches had arrived just before kick off so we’d had to leg it in and grab the first spaces you could find. The four of us jumped up but we were surrounded by Arsenal fans. They started giving us some abuse. The goal was in the 73rd minute and we hung on. 

“When the final whistle went I was as proud of that achievement as I was in 2011 when the men won the FA Cup. To me personally it was the same. I never ever felt I’d see the men win anything in my life and then the same was true with the women. I was so proud of the club. After that they did the trophy presentation and I picked up some of the tinsel that got fired out of the cannons when they did the presentation. All the players came over to the side afterwards. Jill Scott was showing me her medal. They shared it with the fans. They even let me put my hands on the trophy. We were all there together. A bit like the men and their success in 2011 I think this told the outside world that City were here to do business. Inside the club the ambition was there but until you win a major trophy the other clubs may not take you seriously.”

When I interviewed her in 2018-19 player Abbie McManus remembered: “That feeling of beating Arsenal, who have dominated women’s football for years and years. At the time we were perceived to be a bunch of nobodies that have just thrown a team together and everyone was saying you’re just throwing money at it. I didn’t actually play that game. I got sent off the game before so I missed it! But watching the game and the feeling of that win. Being the underdog. I don’t think that feeling will ever come back.”

Izzy Christiansen scored in the final and told me how she felt: “An amazing feeling to score in that game. There’s no other words to describe it. It was just probably one of the best days of my life, the fact that the ball hit the back of the net. The fact that it meant that we, as a team, and a club, got our first trophy. That kind of set us off on our journey really.  We had a taste of success at the start and that’s where we’ve stayed, wanting success.”

The Blues went on to win the Continental Cup in 2014, 2016 and 2019. City’s finals:

2014 City 1 Arsenal 0

Goalscorer: Christiansen (73)

Attendance: 3,697 (Adams Park, High Wycombe).

Referee Nigel Lugg (Surrey)

2016 City 1 Birmingham City 0 (aet)

Goalscorer: Bronze (105)

Attendance: 4,214  (Academy Stadium, Manchester). 

Referee Rebecca Welch (Durham)

2019 Arsenal 0 City 0 (City won 4-2 on penalties)

Attendance: 2,424  (Bramall Lane, Sheffield). 

Referee Lucy Oliver (Newcastle)

Let’s hope the Blues can add another piece of silverware today. Thanks to Dave Coop for the photo at the top of this page.

You can find out more about the history of City Women in my book Manchester City Women: An Oral History. Follow the link for details of how to buy:

Premier League Domination?

Recently it has been fashionable for some to talk of the Premier League being dominated by a single club or that the competition is no longer as entertaining as it was because the same old club(s) win the League. Well, this is absolute balderdash of course, but rather than simply say that I thought I’d look at the facts and the supporting evidence. So, if you’re someone who thinks football is more one sided today than it’s ever been, or someone who wants to challenge those who do, then please read on…

The idea that the League is a one club competition is usually stated in relation to Manchester City these days and recently, as City have increased their lead at the top, the view has been expressed over and over again by rivals and some journalists. Yet, the evidence shows otherwise. 

Firstly, at the time of writing Manchester City are 10 points clear of second placed Chelsea. However, if Liverpool win their game in hand then City will be only 8 points clear. I say only because 8 points is less than 3 victories difference and City still have to play both Chelsea and Liverpool, plus of course other potential rivals including Manchester United. 

I also say ‘only’ because we can all come up with seasons when one club has been eight points or more ahead and still lost the League – Manchester United fans will not need reminding about how far ahead they were in the 2011-12 title race as it entered its final weeks, only to see City snatch the title in dramatic fashion. 

Eight point leads are great to have but, at this point in a season, they do not mean you will be successful. Personally, I hope City are successful but no one seriously believes the title race is over and if they do then they really have not watched enough football!

Alongside the ridiculous view that the League is over there has been a frequently aired view that the League title is less competitive now than at any other time in history. Again, this is a ridiculous view that does not match with the evidence.

Much has been said by City’s rivals and others about how having one team dominating can be boring for English football. Whether that’s true or not is debateable but it’s worth pointing out that since City first won the Premier League in 2012 then five different clubs have won the competition (three of these being first time Premier League champions too!).

Five teams in a decade may not sound like much variety to some but it is better than the 2000s (1999-00 to 2008-09) when only three clubs won the League. Even worse between 1995 and 2004 either United or Arsenal won the title and their duopoly was only broken up when Chelsea became a force following their investment. Even then only those three teams won the League between 1994 and City’s first PL title in 2012! 

Had Chelsea not come along would United and Arsenal still be the only teams winning the League? The investment in both Chelsea and City has helped open up the League and, with a greater variety of clubs challenging, the League is now much more open. At the start of each season there are more teams perceived as potential title challengers than in the 2000s.

Did anyone say back when United and Arsenal had a duopoly at the top that the League was boring because it was the same old champions? I don’t remember leading journalists say that then so why now when the PL has had more variety of winners?

Even if City’s rivals or those critical of City’s success accept that United and Arsenal dominated the League back in the 2000s until the ‘new money’ of Chelsea and City came along they tend to suggest that previous decades had enjoyed more variety. Well some did but not all. The 1980s are perceived as an era when the League was varied yet only four clubs won the League during that decade (1979-80 to 1988-89). 

So the last decade has not been such a one-sided race after all and is better than the 1980s and 2000s for a start.

Those figures may surprise or shock some who believe City’s rivals or those who promote the view that City dominate the League like no other club ever has. However, I’m sure some will say ‘but it’s not just about League titles, it’s about trophy hauls too!’

Well, as a Manchester City fan I am proud of the success City have achieved during the last decade and I also recognise that they have not dominated in a way that other clubs have in previous periods. 

In terms of the most successful club of each era, well, Chelsea and City have clearly been the most successful during the 2010s (2009-10 to 2018-19). Their trophy hauls during this time are (excluding one-off competitions like the Community Shield or European Super Cup):

Chelsea: 10 major trophies (includes 3 major European trophies).

City: 10. 

Thinking of domination, it is worth highlighting that neither side has yet won as many trophies in a single decade as Manchester United did between 1989-90 and 1998-99 when they won 12 trophies. They also won ten trophies in the decade that followed. 

Again, I don’t remember negative coverage of United’s domination but somehow it seems fair to say Manchester City dominate today yet their trophy haul has not reached the heights of United yet, plus their trophy haul during the 2010s was the same as Chelsea’s anyway (and since then Chelsea have won another European Champions League of course!).

But what about earlier decades and domination? Well, the 1970s (all trophies won in 1969-70 and 1978-79) – an era generally regarded as one of great variety with several clubs challenging – Liverpool won three times as many trophies as their nearest rivals (Manchester City were actually joint-second most successful English club during that period!). 

Those who have claimed in recent seasons that having one team dominating is boring may want to think back to how they felt during previous decades. 

Each era has its own successful teams but these vary over the decades with no club being regarded as a dominant club throughout its entire history. We’ve all experienced fallow periods or times of struggle, though some may not want to remember that.

Today, no team dominates English football (who remembers all those voices earlier this season telling us how open the League would be or that Liverpool/Chelsea/City/United/Tottenham would be victorious? All of whom could still win the League this year of course!).

There are plenty of issues with English and European football but can we all please remember that football domination has happened in the past and that the situation today is not as one (or two) sided as it was in some past decades. 

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Norwich Suffer

A flashback to a high scoring win for Manchester’s Blues on this day in 2013…

After the 2-1 last gasp defeat at Chelsea in their previous League game, manager Manuel Pellegrini took the decision to drop goalkeeper Joe Hart for this important match with Norwich. The decision brought much scrutiny City’s way but Hart’s replacement Pantilimon had little to do as the Blues thrashed Norwich 7-0.  The win lifted City to fourth in the League but more significantly demonstrated the fire power the Blues possessed and demonstrated to all that Pellegrini’s men were determined to mount a serious challenge for the title. Seven separate scorers – including an own goal – made this City’s largest top flight win since 1968. Afterwards Pellegrini was delighted that his side kept striving for more: “Normally a team 4-0 ahead finishes working.”

City had a 100% home record in the Premier League but away from home life was not so easy. At Sunderland in the next League game the Blues were unfortunate to lose 1-0. The BBC’s Sam Sheringham explained: “Referee Mike Dean’s leniency was on display once again in the build-up to the opening goal. The official opted not to penalise Bardsley when he appeared to bundle over Milner, allowing the full-back to race on to Brown’s long pass and curl a precise finish past Costel Pantilimon.”

The Blues were back down to eighth in what seemed likely to be a tight title race.

Match Stats:

2013-14

2 Nov   Norwich City (H)                        W 7-0 Silva, Nastasic, Negredo, Toure, Aguero, Dzeko & Johnson (OG)              47,066

10 Nov Sunderland (A)                         L 0-1                                        40,137

League Cup

30 Oct  Newcastle United (A)                 W 2-0 Negredo, Dzeko             33,846

Who Decides the Big Six?

Today I’m taking a look at the so-called current Premier League Big Six and the significance of football history. It frustrates me when people assume that any group of clubs have been the biggest throughout football history and so I’ve decided to post this article.

It considers the claims of the so-called Big Six and has some findings that may surprise fans of some of those Big Six clubs. This article is available to subscribers to my site. Subscribing costs £20 a year and subscribers have full access to everything posted on the site, including audio interviews with John Bond, Malcolm Allison, George Graham and others, plus the entire text of Manchester A Football History and a PDF of my first book From Maine Men to Banana Citizens. You can always try it out by subscribing £3 per month and cancel at any time. No matter whether you sign up for a year or a month at a time you get full access to everything for as long as you are a subscriber.

Anyway, here’s the article…

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Historic Name That Ground – Week 12 Answer

On Monday I asked: ‘Can you name the ground featured in the image above? This is tough because it doesn’t give much away, although the curve in the terracing may help.’ I also gave the following clues:

This image was taken in 1922 as the ground was being prepared for a major event; the venue is still used by a leading English club.

The answer is Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge. The image was taken as they were getting the ground ready to stage the 1922 FA Cup final.

While you’re here why not subscribe to my site and you can then access every article, interview, audio recording etc. already posted and those that will be posted during your subscription. It costs £20 per year (about £1.67 a month) or you can sign up on a monthly basis at £3 per month (you can cancel at any time, so you could sign sign up for a month, access everything you want and then cancel). You can subscribe below:

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I had planned to run ‘Historic Name That Ground’ only during the close season as in previous years, but it’s proving of interest so I’ll keep it going for a little while yet. If you have an old image of a ground that you think it’d be worth including in this weekly quiz then please get in touch. They don’t have to be from the 1900s to 1960s – even ground images from the 70s and 80s may prove a challenge to identify these days. You can email me at gary@GJFootballArchive.com Thanks.

2021 Champions League Final

On Saturday May 29 2021 I attended the Champions League final in Porto. Despite the result (a 1-0 victory by Chelsea) it was a wonderful experience and so I’ve decided to post here my story of the weekend. I know every one of us who attended had a different experience but I hope this gives those who were unfortunately not able to be there a taste of what the trip was like. 

If you did attend and would like to talk about your experiences then please post them as comments to this piece or participate in the City Voices project and submit your memories. See this page for details:

Porto 2021 was always going to be a historical moment in the history of Manchester City but, because of Covid and the worldwide situation, it was one of the most challenging finals to stage, participate in and attend. All of us who travelled to Porto had to have numerous covid tests (and I have seen on the Bluemoon forum that some fans on various official and unofficial flights have received news that they need to isolate– I feel for anyone on there in this situation).

Fans travelling on the official day trip were told that if they took a Covid PCR test after 1pm on Thursday that should see them through for the journey out, stadium entry and return journey as a test had to be performed for each of these within 72 hours. I was flying out on Friday and returning on Sunday so initially I arranged for my PCR test to occur after 1pm with a company called Dam. At the time of booking they guaranteed that the result would be with me before midnight on the day of the test so that seemed fine but then, on the Bluemoon forum, fans were talking about a change in Dam’s level of service which meant results were no longer guaranteed that same day. Instead 24 hours was being stated by Dam, though when I discussed this with their helpline even the 24 hours could not be guaranteed. Panic followed!

I eventually moved my test to Wednesday afternoon and booked another via the Official Supporters Club offer with Blindspot which I intended dropping off at Bar Pop on Friday morning on my way to Manchester airport.

The Dam test came back on Thursday, meaning I could fly out, and I dropped off the second test at Bar Pop on my way to the airport. There were a few issues at Dam with the booking but eventually everything was sorted. The Supporters Club/Blindspot test and drop off went really well (though the Day 2 return test result has still not arrived – we’re on Day 5 at the moment) and I am grateful to those involved for sorting this all out. You did an excellent job at short notice and in a pressured environment. Thanks.

After leaving Bar Pop I travelled to the airport, making a detour to take a look at Maine Road and surrounding areas. Somehow it seemed appropriate that this journey to the most significant European final the club has ever been involved with should include a brief look at the site of so many wonderful moments over the decades. I saw my first European match at Maine Road (which also staged the first European Cup game ever played in England as well!) in the early 70s.

At the airport everything went smoothly and I was delighted when I realised that I would be flying out on the Etihad Manchester City plane. I had received an invitation from the club (for which I will be eternally grateful and I know how lucky I am) and to experience that flight, while seeking to chronicle this landmark historical moment, added enormously to the occasion. Thanks to those involved (you know who you are. Thanks).

The Manchester City Etihad plane

The flight included several former players, officials and key figures in the club’s development. Knowing City’s history, personalities, and key moments I recognise that it was no mean feat to have some of these on the same flight. It was remarkable that City remembered and acknowledged the contribution made by these people, which included Chris Bird, Garry Cook, Paul Dickov, Brian Horton, Francis Lee, Andy Morrison, Ian Niven, Dennis Tueart and Alex Williams. Others, including Pablo Zabaleta joined the group in Porto and stayed at the same hotel.

Once in Porto it was great to see so many City fans in and around the city, especially the historic area near the river. Over the weekend I bumped into several friends and faces from my City-supporting life including Jon Bell (Colin’s son), Howard Burr (and other Reddish Blues), Geoff Homer, Will Perry, John Stapleton, Kate Themen (one of the original Manchester City Women/Ladies players who played with my wife back in the late 80s and she was a drummer with The Fall), Dave Wallace, Steve Welch and of course lots of City staff.

On Friday night I was invited to a club event which saw most of the official party board boats at the riverside for a cruise. We had to walk through many crowds of Blues to board the boats and it was great to see and hear fans bursting into song whenever they saw Morrison, Dickov, Zabaleta and other members of the group.

The boats then dropped us off at a venue where City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak made a brilliant, heartfelt speech about his journey with Manchester City, recalling the moment he was asked by HH Sheikh Mansour to become chairman and his first day in Manchester when he was taken to Carrington, Platt Lane and the stadium. He talked with real passion for the club, its people and the fans. He recognised the history of the club and the journey that we’ve been on paying particular attention to some of the people who had helped along the way, including many of the officials and former officials in the room, as well as fans of course.

There was also a speech by CEO Ferran Soriano about the development of the City Football Group and a video was played about the Champions League journey over the last decade. 

DJ Yoda put together an excellent mix of City related music, videos etc. including the recent footage of Pep and his cigar (if you don’t know what I mean do a few internet searches, it will soon appear). It was a definite highlight and something that added a bit of humour to the event too.

Saturday was of course match day. I spent some time in the City Fanzone, where I chatted to a few longstanding Blues I know, but also time around the city. Close to the bars at the historic centre there was a small group of local musicians going around playing City chants/songs such as ‘Singing the Blues’ and Blue Moon. Fans were joining in and it seemed quite bizarre hearing these musicians belt out most of the words to ‘Singing the Blues’, hoping to engage a few fans. A little later, as I wandered further down the river I spotted the same musicians doing similar with Chelsea chants/songs – you’ve got to admire their entrepreneurial skills! I can imagine them on the night the final was moved to Porto rushing to the internet to seek out MCFC & CFC songs. They must have made a few Euros from us all. 


The entire atmosphere, as far as I could see and experienced, was positive with City and Chelsea fans enjoying being there. Personally, this was my first trip outside of England and Wales since November 2019 (when I talked at a film festival in St Gallen about the Bert Trautmann film I was a consultant on and then met up with a few Blues in Zurich). It was great to be outside of the UK and wonderful to finally get to see other human beings and to share an experience with fellow City fans. 

I loved the way former players like Paul Dickov, Andy Morrison, Pablo Zabaleta and Shay Given were spotted by fans who, without fail, would burst into a chant or song about them. Some were mobbed too of course. At one point, I saw a group of fans opposite our hotel do an impromptu Poznan which I know was loved by the former players and staff who saw it.

Porto seemed like a fairly normal environment. Obviously, like all those attending I tried to ensure I kept to the usual social distancing rules and wore my face mask etc. but this was not always possible, especially when queuing to get into the stadium. I know others were on crowded buses too.

In comparison with the League Cup final at Wembley, it did feel as if UEFA had picked the wrong stadium. Looking around the venue it also made me realise how fantastic the Etihad Stadium is. We take it for granted but our facilities are considerably better than the majority of venues. 

If we consider all the extra requirements placed on fans then UEFA definitely picked the wrong stadium and it seems so obvious, particularly with some of the stories coming from Chelsea and City fans about being told to isolate on their return, that the final should have been held in the UK.

The decision to stage the game at Porto was made exceptionally late and, because of this, both clubs were unable to prepare in the way they would have liked. I am aware from City personnel of the short notice they received about tickets, travel and so many other logistical areas. I can only admire the work they have done and the efforts they made to ensure they could get fans to the final and back again. Inevitably, there will be some who had issues (I’m aware of the delays to flight 12 which, from what I hear, has created a sort of Dunkirk spirit amongst those involved) but I do think the ordinary staff and management at City deserve praise for all they did.

As I arrived at the stadium on the coach, which had been delayed due to a traffic accident, we saw Jeremy Clarkson rushing down towards the turnstiles. 

Security seemed tight and men and women were separated into different queues with somewhat zealous security types objecting to many, many items. Inflatable bananas, lipsticks, perfumes and many other items were cast aside before intrusive searches were performed (it reminded me of Leeds away back in 1983!). After security we got into the ground with about fifteen minutes to spare.

The Marshmello video was shown; the UEFA anthem was played (City fans started booing it and the volume seemed to be turned up to drown out the booing!); fireworks went off and then we were ready.

The game itself… Ah, I think we all know how we feel about that. I was on a coach going to the ground, close to a couple of former players when the team news came through. I read it out to those around me and one of the former players immediately asked about Fernandinho. He described how things would go and predicted the result immediately. Sad to say, he called it spot on. He wasn’t the only one of course. 

The segregation in some areas of the ground seemed somewhat questionable. I was in level one on the side opposite the tunnel, close to the corner. On both sides at that level there seemed to be alternate Chelsea then City blocks. The block I was in was close to the main Chelsea end (to our right as we looked at the pitch) and there was another Chelseablock to our left. The same seemed to occur in the opposite stand. Why UEFA did this I don’t know but common sensewould say that these blocks should’ve had all Chelsea closest to Chelsea fans and all City closest to City fans with genuine neutral blocks in the middle (like Wembley does for major finals).

There were no major issues where I sat but we did feel somewhat drowned out by celebrating Chelsea fans from the moment the goal was scored.

At the end of the game Fernandinho came over to the section I was in; climbed over the barriers and hugged his son. Understandably, they were both emotional and the sight of a player searching for his son so that he could comfort him really got to me. As a parent seeing your child upset is one of the hardest things to experience and I loved how in this moment Fernandinho was not a footballer, he was a dad. Other players, including Ederson and Kyle Walker also came over to console family members.

I think we all saw how emotional our team was, especially Sergio. Like all fans I wish his City journey had ended with Champions League success.

As soon as it seemed right I left the stadium, went to my coach and waited to travel back to the city centre. I was invited back to a post-game event where the mood was understandably and appropriately muted. Wingman (Nigel Clucas), who had worked hard in the fanzone earlier in the day, got the mood spot on by playing The Smiths ‘Heaven knows I’m Miserable Now’; The Cure ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and similar songs. Wingman did an excellent job that day and must have been exhausted.




The next morning we boarded our coaches and headed back to the airport. Both check in and security were somewhat time-consuming but, to be fair, many staff at the airport had probably been overworked for much of the night.

Compared to Porto, security at Manchester airport seemed a doddle (so long as the correct documentation had been completed beforehand) and within minutes of arriving at security I was on my way home.

Since then I have performed my Day 2 covid test, as required, and sent that off. Now, on day 5, I am still waiting for the results. From many Blues I’ve heard from it does seem like this part of the process is failing and may be something the Government needs to address if they expect UK residents to do these tests when they return from holiday overseas over the coming months.

There’s been the news that Portugal has now been removed from the UK Government’s green list. The cynic would say that the decision to stage the final in Porto influenced the decision to make Portugal a green list country in the first place. For me I don’t know what political decisions have been made and how they’ve been influenced but it does seem somewhat odd. Of course, we all know that logically a final between two English clubs which would see in excess of 12,000 travelling from the UK in the middle of a pandemic should have been staged in the UK. UEFA can say all it wants about fans being at the heart of the game but the bottom line was that the final was staged outside of the UK for the benefit of UEFA officials, sponsors and their friends. If they really wanted to help fans it would have been staged in the UK.

Ah well… Politics, hey?

So Chelsea won the trophy and while the result was a painful one for City fans it must be stressed that Chelsea are one of Europe’s elite and have now won more European trophies than Manchester United. In fact they are the second most successful British club in Europe after Liverpool and, like City, they won a major European trophy BEFORE Liverpool, Juventus and many other clubs. Chelsea’s fans, like City, have seen some dark days (most notably in the 80s) and we should all remember that their development, since the investment, is a few years ahead of City’s. If their achievements in Europe are an indicator of progress then clearly City are not too far behind.

Finally, I know this has been a lengthy piece but I just wanted to throw a few thoughts, memories and comments down. If you’re one of the people who managed to get to Porto I hope you managed to enjoy it despite the result. I was extremely fortunate this year (this is the first time I have ever been a guest of any football club for an away fixture and I know how lucky I was – I will never forget it).

Here’s to the next major final featuring Manchester City who, let’s face it, have won more trophies in 2020-21 than any other English club and have been incredible champions. It could be argued that the ONLY club that stopped them from winning all four major trophies was Chelsea (though Leicester may have in the FA Cup final of course) and they are the European champions.

The 1986 Full Members’ Cup

Today (23rd March) marks the anniversary of the first Wembley meeting between Manchester City and Chelsea.  That was the 1986 Full Members’ Cup final. Here for subscribers to this site is an article on the competition and some film of the final:

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