Borussia Mönchengladbach, City and Romark’s curse!

Today (7 March) in 1979 Manchester City faced top German side Borussia Mönchengladbach in the first leg of the UEFA Cup quarter-final at Maine Road.

There was a 39,005 crowd present and the City team was: Corrigan; Donachie, Power, Reid, Watson, Booth, Channon, Viljoen, Kidd, Hartford & Barnes.

Believe it or not (this may surprise a modern audience but leading clubs often did what I’m about to say) Liverpool, in particular Bob Paisley, had spent considerable time helping the Blues prepare for this match by providing vital information on the West German side.  

Liverpool had faced Mönchengladbach on five occasions, the most famous was the 1977 European Cup final and the most recent being in the 1978 European Cup semi-final.  Paisley told City that the game would be tough, and outlined the players to watch.  He also suggested that Dave Watson and Tommy Booth might be the key men in City’s side as the Germans seemed to lack ability to attack the ball in the air.

While City had Liverpool doing all they could to help there was someone who was becoming a bit of a thorn in the side of Malcolm Allison. That was hypnotist Romark. Romark had previously ‘cursed’ Allison while the City man had been manager of Crystal Palace (a really interesting story which I covered in my biography of Peter Barnes, published in 2021).

The Peter Barnes book is available here:

The hypnotist had offered to help Allison but Big Mal was having none of it. The following year Romark helped Halifax Town defeat City in the FA Cup! If only Allison had not angered the hypnotist all those years ago. Maybe life would’ve been so different for City!

The first leg saw Malcolm Allison, who had returned to the Blues in January as the self-styled ‘coaching overlord’, perform one of his many shock moves when Nicky Reid was thrust in to the spotlight at the age of 18 for his debut.  Allison selected him to mark Allan Simonsen.  It was an amazing selection at the time, but Reid did enough to justify Allison’s bold move.

Nicky Reid

Mike Channon, who was rumoured to be unhappy at the Club,  managed to give the Blues a 1-0 lead.  Unfortunately, the highly disciplined Mönchengladbach kept the pressure on and managed to snatch an equaliser and the often vital away goal.  

The second leg of the tie took place 13 days later, on 20 March 1979 watched by around 30,000. The City team was: Corrigan; Donachie, Power, Viljoen, Watson, Booth, Channon, Reid (Deyna), Henry, Hartford & Barnes

Nicky Reid retained his place for the second leg (but still didn’t make his League debut until eleven days later when he scored against Ipswich).  He was clearly a talented player but his arrival in the heat of European competition without even making an appearance in the League did raise many questions about the way Malcolm Allison was influencing things.  Reid went on to captain the Blues to the FA Youth Cup final the following May, and was voted City’s young player of the year.

Malcolm Allison made yet another surprise selection as Tony Henry – another reserve who up to that point had only featured in two League game (once being substituted by Kenny Clements, once coming on for Asa Hartford) – was included while experienced European campaigners Deyna, Bell, and Kidd were left on the bench with Paul Futcher.  

It was not a good night at all for City and having so much experience on the bench seemed baffling to fans, the media and also most of the players. City were very much the underdogs throughout and were losing 3-0 when, late on, Reid was substituted by Deyna.  The experienced Pole provided City’s only goal of the match, but it was too late and City were out of Europe.

Kenny Clements explained to me when I interviewed him years later: “I broke my leg a few weeks after Milan so that made life a bit difficult for me, but the big problem was the return of Malcolm Allison.  I know he was a great coach first time at City, but second time he really did ruin everything.  All the older players told me it’d be great having him back, and then when he was back they all admitted they were wrong.  I think he’d become too hung up on new ideas that he forgot about the basics.  I remember he used to give us homework.  He’d tell us to go home and write “I must win” or “I will win” a thousand times, then the next day he’d ask us if we’d done it.  

“I always used to say ‘yeah’, but some of the younger, more impressionable lads would produce their lists and some would even write out twice as many lines!  He insisted we drank coffee before a game to keep us alert, and brought in lots of motivational people.  It didn’t motivate me I’m afraid!

“By the time of the next UEFA match (Mönchengladbach) I was fit but didn’t start, and then for the second leg both Brian Kidd and I had to sit it out while Nicky Reid made his debut marking one of the greatest players of all time.  When we were two goals down Kiddo threw his shirt at Allison in anger.”

For many connected with City Mönchengladbach became the game that would be quoted when they discussed how things had changed following Allison’s return. Tony Book had developed a good team with a nice blend of young up-and-coming talent, like Peter Barnes (who was still only 21 but an exciting England winger), with the older experienced internationals like Dave Watson, Brian Kidd, Asa Hartford. Book’s team had been runners up to Liverpool in 1977 and had impressed with many great individual victories since then, especially that Milan victory of course, but the return of Malcolm Allison changed the dynamics at the club.

Ah well! Without that I guess City wouldn’t have what they have today, but for those of us who lived through the 70s to the present, it was the return of Allison that started the process of transforming City from regular challenging giant into a club that had lost its way. The 1978-79 Mönchengladbach games are a reminder of what we were, what we lost, but also of what we have now. Let’s ensure we enjoy the present because, as Allison once said to me: “Celebrate every success as if it’s your first, because it could be your last!”

When City walked out to face Mönchengladbach in the quarter final none of us, especially Allison, expected it would be our last European tie for 25 years! To read about the significance and facts of City’s European heritage (there are a few points that may surprise fans of certain other clubs) then take a look at another post:

The results of City’s 1979 meetings with the German side are:

7/3/1979 City 1-1 Mönchengladbach (UEFA Cup)

20/3/1979 Mönchengladbach 3-1 City (UEFA Cup)

On This Day (5th January) in 1980 – Allison’s Nightmare at Halifax

Malcolm Allison’s multi-million pound Manchester City side were humbled 1-0 at Fourth Division Halifax Town in the FAC.

At Christmas 1979 big spending Manchester City were 12th in the League. Malcolm Allison was in charge of the most expensive British team ever assembled up to that point and 12th was disappointing but it wasn’t the end of the world. In those days a decent run in the League could easily lift a team (similar to the 2020-21 season in terms of the number of clubs capable of winning the League at Christmas). Sadly, City collapsed in the weeks that followed.  

A 1-1 draw at Stoke on Boxing Day was disappointing, but it wasn’t the end of the world.  Then a 4-1 defeat at First Division newcomers Brighton knocked confidence at an important time.  The next game was the third round F.A. Cup clash against Fourth Division Halifax Town at the Shay.

In his programme notes for the match Halifax Manager George Kirby predicted a shock:  “In today’s F.A. Cup 3rd round the only certainty is that there are going to be some surprises, especially with the wintry conditions underfoot.  I like to think that we are among one of the possible giant killers.  This is because we are playing against one of the certain to be ‘top teams’ of the 80s.  A 4th Div side at home to a 1st Div outfit with such stars as Joe Corrigan, Steve Daley, and Mike Robinson is a possible shock result.  It only needs an off day by a key player and Halifax are in the hunt.”

Kirby was determined to defeat football’s biggest spenders and even brought in an hypnotist, Romark (who had previously ‘cursed’ Allison while the City boss had been manager of Crystal Palace – a really interesting story which will be covered in my biography of Peter Barnes to be published in 2021), to get his players in the right frame of mind.  The game itself was played in horrendous conditions, with multi-million pound City struggling to achieve anything.  In the 75th minute it was all over as the ex-Birmingham City player Paul Hendrie converted a cross from former City schoolboy Andy Stafford to give Halifax a 1-0 victory.  It was the biggest result in Halifax history, and the most embarrassing City defeat of the Allison period.  Even today the name of Halifax and the sight of the Shay brings back nightmares for a large number of Blues.

Subscribe to get access

If you have enjoyed this then why not subscribe and read content like this plus more in-depth material. It’s £3 per month or £20 a year with access to every post so far and many hundreds to come.