Monday, December 9, 2013

The Monday Mystery: Why did Steve Coppell resign?

October 6th 1996. In the wake of the disastrous reign of Alan Ball, City were managerless and in 14th
place in the second tier of English football. But the six-week wait for a new manager - which had seen a
staggering 35 names linked with the vacancy - had finally come to an end.

In his first press conference as City's new manager, Steve Coppell exuded confidence as he spoke with
relish of the challenge ahead. Bright and articulate, the 41-year-old had taken Crystal Palace to the
Premier League in 1989 and the FA Cup final in 1990 - with only modest resources. Despite being
"excited about the potential" of City it seemed clear that he realised the size of the task that awaited
him. Luckily, Coppell appeared to be in it for the long haul. "I'm an animal who tends to roost wherever
he stays," he told reporters. "I was at United and Palace for nine years apiece, and I hope that City is
a long-term rather than a short-term move."

Just 33 days later Coppell quit - a decision that not only shocked City fans, but those closest to him at
the club. "There was no indication whatsoever that he was going to walk away from the club," said Eddie
McGoldrick, whom Coppell signed from Arsenal for £300,000 on Oct 25. "Everything seemed fine, so it
was a total shock, especially for me. Steve was just beginning to turn things around and get his way,
gradually stamping his authority on the football club." Even more shocked was Coppell's assistant, Phil
Neal. "He just came to us in training and said: "You take the first team. I'm going," Neal said. "I just looked
at him and said: 'WHAT?' It was a bolt out of the blue and he didn't explain his decision at all."

                                                                           The Rumours 

Before exploring the reasons for Coppell's departure, it's probably best to get the matter of the lurid
rumours out of the way. These were sparked by Coppell's physical appearance at his final press
conference, one which shocked assembled reporters. In Blue Moon Rising, BBC GMR journalists
Andy Buckley and Richard Burgess give a first-hand account of his physical deterioration: 'Coppell,
looking pale and gaunt, twitched nervously as he sat down next to his chairman... Glancing up just
briefly, he barely paused as he read out a pre-prepared statement word for word.'

Paul Hince, the former City player-turned-reporter went even further: "He looked physically ill. Really ill. He had lost a great deal of weight in a short time, and I'm not talking about a pound or two. He looked almost skeletal."

In Stuart Roach's Steve Coppell: On a Wing and a Prayer, Hince reveals more detail: 'We were told that there was no point asking a question because it wouldn't be answered and that, coupled with how ill he looked, was what led to rumours that there was something seriously wrong with him. All sorts of rumours started to circulate, not least AIDS. Our news desk reporters were phoning all the AIDS hospitals and asking: "Can you put me through to Mr Coppell?"'

As the AIDS rumours began to spread - fuelled by the new internet -  so too did the assumption that Coppell must be gay. And with one small leap of the imagination, the rumours of a gay love affair with City player (insert name here) took hold. It should be pointed out that not a single scrap of evidence has ever been produced to support the rumour, which really now needs to be dismissed completely.

                                                                         The Impossible Job

Coppell was cautious on his first day about the need to rebuild. "I don't know if I'll be dipping into the
transfer market yet," he told reporters. "I want to see what talent I've got here before I start spending
money." But he quickly discovered that talent was in short supply. In the opinion of Hince: "The whole
team needed to be rebuilt".

Proven Premier League players Paul Walsh, Terry Phelan, Tony Coton, Garry Flitcroft, Keith Curle
and Niall Quinn had been sold the previous season. Ball's replacements, which included Gerry
Creaney (signed from Portsmouth for £400,000 cash plus £700,000-rated Walsh), Martin Phillips
(£500,000 from Exeter) and Nigel Clough (£1m from Liverpool) were proving far from adequate.

Worse still, Coppell soon realised that City's resources were stretched to breaking point. In the week
he resigned, the club announced record losses of £2m for the year, while the debt had ballooned
to £26m. The perilous financial state was a result of the shocking neglect during Swales' last years as
chairman, detailed in this Bill Burrows article. Unbelievably, when Lee and his consortium took charge
of City in February 1994, they discovered that no money had been put aside to rebuild the Kippax,
despite the 1990 Taylor Report requiring clubs to have all-seater stadiums by August 1994. After
finding £11.5m for the new stand, Lee had precious little left for players.

The first game in charge: Coppell in the dugout during City's 2-2 draw at QPR
According to Hince: "The story at the time was that he'd given Coppell six matches to assess the team;
Steve must have gone and told him what he wanted and Francis looked at it and said "you're not getting
it". According to rumours, Watford's Kevin Miller, Coppell's first choice for a new keeper, was deemed
too expensive at £2m, as was £1m-rated Iain Feuer at Luton. Mark Schwarzer proved a more realistic
target at £250,000, but after spending a week at City he opted for Bradford.

                                                                               Problems Mount

If problems at work weren't enough, Coppell was also experiencing difficulties in his personal life. According
to PFA boss Gordon Taylor, Coppell placed huge importance on his family life: "Steve was very much a
family man. A lot of football things used to happen on a Sunday but Steve wouldn't attend. He was always
adamant that Sunday was the time with his family, especially his son." But Coppell's family life was now
disintegrating. After moving up to Manchester, his wife Jane remained in Surrey with their 10-year old son.
According to Harry Harris, who helped write Coppell's autobiography, Touch and Go: "During that time
at City he was going through a divorce and he was terribly upset at not seeing his son every day."

Lee and Coppell on his first day at City

Added to that was the strain of dealing with a hands-on chairman such as Lee. Although Harris did not
detect any awkwardness in his relationship with Lee, Dave Bassett, who had turned down the City job,
believed it had been a factor. "I was aware that Francis Lee would be too powerful and too demanding
for Coppell's personality which would result in wearing him out," Bassett told Roach. "I reckon Franny
Lee would have driven him mad."
                                                                   The Burden of Expectation

Coppell had never managed a club with such high expectations, and intense media scrutiny, as City.
According to Roach: 'City's expectations were hard for Coppell to live up to, while his own expectations
of the support he was to receive looked unlikely to be met'. "Looking back he looked like a man with
the weight of the world on his shoulders," defender Kit Symons recalled. "He lost a lot of weight, went
really gaunt and he didn't look good. He was normally such a healthy looking feller."

City had now slipped down to 17th in the league, five places off the relegation zone. According to Hince
there was a rumour that Coppell told Lee that City were going to go down with the resources they had
available and vowed: "You are not taking me down with you".

Roach concluded: 'Coppell wanted out, there and then. But Lee and his board were wary about treating
the British football public to yet another City circus. They told Coppell he was free to leave, but only if he
publicly shouldered the humiliation of  his departure. Desperate to get out as soon as he could Coppell
agreed and, in my view, he had regretted his agreement ever since'.

In a 2012 radio interview with GMR, Lee revealed that he got a phone call from a distressed Coppell the
evening before his departure. After sending a car to chauffeur him to Lee's home, Coppell spent the evening
explaining his predicament to the City chairman. The following morning Lee announced the manager had quit
on "medical advice", while Coppell, 'looking pale and haunted, read a prepared statement which revealed
that the pressures of the job had "completely overwhelmed" him and made him ill'. (To be fair to Lee, he later
offered Coppell a payment of £30,000, even though he was not obliged to. Coppell wrote back declining the
offer, "because I haven't earned it".)

About the only man who wasn't shocked by his departure was Alan Pardew, who played for Coppell at
Palace: "If he is not happy, if he doesn't feel right and doesn't think it's working, he will be man enough to
walk away," Pardew said. "I was at Barnet at the time and, although I never knew what happened, I just
remember seeing him on the TV and thinking, that is so Steve."

In Alan Ball's autobiography, the chapter dealing with his time at City was called 'My mistake'. I believe
that Coppell too had realised he had made a big mistake coming to the club. The twin pressures of being
trapped in a job he didn't want, while watching his family life disintegrate 200 miles away, was taking its
physical toll.

And the only way out of his personal hell was through the front gate.

Order my new book on City's origins in time for Christmas

Called A Man's Game: The Birth of Mancunian Football and the Origins of Manchester City FC
(Books & Doxey), the 218-page paperback took me three years to research and two more to write.

I'm pleased to say I'm getting very positive feedback so far, and have had three people tell me the book
was hard to put down (though one was my sister). You can read some of the reviews lower down the page.

                  Buy direct through the publisher for £9.75 plus £2.75 P&P via the BuyNow button 
                                                            & Save £0.39 on price
                                      Copies purchased through Buy Now are signed by the author
                                           & will be dispatched by 1st class post the following day 

                    UK Customers
  Also available at

        Worldwide customers  h
       or Amazon's Createspace


MCFC Official Programme

"An essential purchase for any fan interested in the early days of association
football in Manchester.

Old Newspaper clippings and Ordnance Survey maps from the 19th century provide
a glimpse into the past, with Keenan's considered commentary and analysis adding
fascinating insights into the formation of the club, and even the naming of Maine Road".

New light on an Old Subject 
Emeritus Professor Steve Rigby (Manchester University School of History)

Andrew Keenan manages to unearth a mass of new material about the origins of the
club and offers a number of important and original interpretations of City's genesis, in
particular challenging familiar views about the part played by St Mark's church, West
Gorton, in the club's formation.

Keenan locates the development of football in Victorian Manchester in the wider context of the city's political
and social history but his background in journalism means that the book never becomes dry or overly
academic even though it is based on original research into the primary sources.
(Steve's two-page review is in the current issue of King of the Kippax, available here.)

Brilliantly Researched & Well Worth A Read
Lee Hayes (co-owner,

This book is not just for fans of Manchester City, anybody with an interest in the
history of the beautiful game will find it to be a brilliant and interesting read.

The amount of research that has gone into the book is staggering, and is backed
up with evidence such as newspaper cuttings and old maps. As well as introducing
new evidence on some aspects of City's history it also challenges important information such as how and
when the club actually came into existence.

If you think you know all about the history of MCFC, read this book and I guarantee you will learn
something new.

Great Read
Jon Camden (assistant headmaster and former history teacher)

I love social history and I love football and if, like me, you do you'll love this book. A Man's Game is an
extremely well researched, interesting read. Keenan successfully weaves the story of the origins of
Manchester City with the wider social history of Lancashire and Manchester to produce a fresh, fast
paced, and fascinating account of the beginnings of Association Football in the North West. Sex, religion,
politics and football: a winning combination.

 I read this relatively short book cover to cover in a few hours and found it hard to put down. And no,
you don't have to be a die-hard City fan to appreciate it, I'm a South London Palace fan, this book has
a broad appeal to anyone interested in the history of football.

An Original, Well-Researched and Engaging Read
Michael Marriott (history graduate, Exeter University)

'A Man's Game' ... skilfully weaves the club's history in to Manchester's rich
socio-religious past. The author is not afraid to slaughter sacred cows; the book
reveals shocking truths about Arthur Connell, one of the Eithad's historical heroes.

What is most notable, however, is the way in which the author substantiates his arguments
with an impressive array of original contemporary sources; newspapers, correspondence and photographs
are all used to better illustrate his points. It is through this fastidious research that Andrew Keenan succeeds
in providing a more nuanced and sophisticated history of Manchester City Football Club.

                                                                                     ~ ~ ~
                         You can contact me at akeenan(at)manchesterfootballhistory(dot)com.
                                  I'm also on Twitter @mcfchistory and on Facebook here.

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