Monday, March 3, 2014

The picture that speaks 1,000 words

There's something quite special about this League Cup victory for fans of a certain generation, those of us who were children the last time we lifted the trophy in 1976.

While not as exhilarating as the recent FA Cup win and League triumph, in some respects it is more moving and more profound.

As the starting point to 35 trophy-less years that mocked us from a banner at Old Trafford, the League Cup trophy almost became a symbol of our lost hopes and broken dreams.

And I can't think of a more poignant image to encapsulate those broken dreams than this one.

Click on the image to enlarge 

It was taken outside Maine Road around the start of the 1977-78 season, as part of a series about City on BBC TV's top rated news and current affairs show, Nationwide.

And it is a picture of a club brimming with confidence.

After starting the previous season as League Cup holders, we ended it in second place in the League, just one point behind champions Liverpool. A solid financial foundation was also being laid. In 1977-78 City had a record 23,000 season ticket holders - the highest in the country and an increase of 8,000 in just two seasons. The club's development fund was awash with cash after being one of the first to take advantage of new lottery laws, while new supporters' clubs were opening at an expanding rate. Most importantly, the recently-formed Junior Blues was not only dominating Manchester youth football, but had become the envy of clubs both home and abroad.

United, on the other hand, were still attempting to repair the damage caused by the departure of a legendary manager, one that had resulted in them being relegated in 1974.  In 1976-77 City had finished four places above them, while the following season the gap had grown to six places.

Not only were we finally poised to overtake United again, but a period of sustained glory seemed to be just round the corner.

But then...

There's a lot going on in this picture. The first thing that grabbed my eyes were Tony Book's extraordinary Disco Pants. Then there's the cleaning lady hiding behind her mop (her son later told me that she didn't think she deserved to be in the picture so deliberately obscured her face).

But then I spot something even stranger. It's the sight of City coaches Dave Ewing and Bill Taylor standing behind Peter Swales with their initials emblazoned on their trackshirts.

Initials that spell the word DEBT.

It's almost as though the ghosts of City future had materialised with a grim warning of impending doom.

By 1983 City were broke, in the Second Division, and in crisis. The extent of the financial problems were revealed in the superb autobiography of chief scout Ken Barnes, who is standing on the far right of the picture. He recalls newly-appointed manager Billy McNeill popping into his office at Maine Road for a chat. 

“Ken, they’re telling me that there’s nothing at all in the pot,” McNeill began.

“You’ve picked a wrong time to come to me for sympathy, Bill,” Barnes replied. “I’ve just had my fuckin’ phone cut off.”

Which begs the question, why did it go so horribly wrong?

Let's take a look at the front of this photo again.

Pictured on the left is Ian Niven, a huge City fan and owner of City pub the Fletcher's Arms who, along with fellow director Chris Muir, was the driving force behind the success of the Junior Blues. Next to him is vice-chairman Simon Cussons, the managing director of the Cussons soap company, who was bringing new marketing ideas to City. Next is finance director John Humphreys, the managing director of shirt supplier Umbro. He was an astute businessman who once ensured that every team in the 1966 World Cup wore Umbro shirts. And just as astute was the man beside him, Robert Harris, the chairman of Great Universal Stores, who was renowned as a fierce negotiator.

Add to that the wise heads of directors Sidney Rose (a surgeon who helped upgrade City's medical facilities) and Eric Alexander, son of legendary chairman Albert Alexander, and you're looking at a pretty formidable board.

Swales too brought his own gifts to the boardroom, most notably his influence within the FA and an ability for raising City's profile in the media. The strength of the board was also keeping his love of a gamble in check (Swales often used to liken himself to the Cincinnati Kid).

However, the positioning of the directors in the picture is significant. Although this board had a good blend of experience and enthusiasm, it was also made up of two factions. Simply put, there was an old guard and a new guard. Niven, Cussons and Muir had all joined the board thanks to a takeover plot orchestrated by Malcolm Allison earlier that decade. In 1977 the group - dubbed the "Malcolm Allison fan club" - were joined on the board by Michael Horwich, another "fan club" member who had once got Allison off a drink-driving charge on a technicality.

The divided board is best illustrated by this picture, taken the same season.

The names in the caption are actually in the wrong order. On the left of the table are the "old guard" of Eric Alexander (nearest camera), John Humphreys, Robert Harris and the recently departed Sidney Rose. Sitting on the right are the opposing faction of Ian Niven (nearest camera), Chris Muir, Michael Horwich and Simon Cussons.

And in between the two deadlocked groups was Peter Swales, who at that time owned around 28% of the club's shares. Then, in February 1979, came the unexpected death of finance director John Humphreys, aged just 49. Humphreys was not replaced, and after his responsibilities were passed to Cussons, Swales was free to embark on a spending spree that was the ultimate cause of our failures over the next three decades.

But in the madness of the transfer spending that took place between 1979 and 1982, there was one vitally needed expense that wasn't catered for.

Amazingly, City at this time didn't have their own training ground.

In his autobiography, Please May I Have My Football Back, Alexander describes his efforts to rectify the problem. After an extensive fact-finding mission around Europe, he complied detailed plans for a new state-of-the-art training facility in Cheadle, which could have been built for around £400,000. 

The plans were never implemented. Instead, City moved into the goldfish bowl of the Council-owned Platt Lane complex, a place where passers-by could stand and hurl abuse at players as they trained.

The rest, as they say, is history.

But now, after beating a team in stripes from the North East thanks to a goal of wondrous beauty, it almost feels like we've come full circle. Except that all the obstacles to further success - the incompetent chairman, the divided board, the lack of adequate training facilities - have now been magically removed.

It's as though the footballing gods have decided they've had enough fun playing City on comedy mode and reset the game to 1976 - only this time they've given us maximum powers.

Buy my new book on City's origins

The 218-page paperback took me three years to research and two more to write and reveals significant new evidence about City's formative years.

A Man's Game also provides a social history of Victorian Manchester, examining how football was promoted by social reformers, with the aim of promoting a "Muscular" Christianity. It throws up many surprising finds, including the violent suicide of a St Mark's clergyman, a transvestite sex scandal and a lacrosse game involving Iroquois Indians.

It also solves the mystery of why Manchester City's forerunner, Gorton Association, wore a Maltese Cross on their shirts, tells the story of a women's football match that sparked riots, and reveals how the city almost hosted a rugby World Cup in 1880.

A Man's Game has been the bestselling City book on recently. You can read some of the reviews lower down the page.

Buy direct through the publisher for £9.75 + £2.75 P&P via the BuyNow button 
                                   ( price £10.25 + £2.75 P&P)
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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 italso 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 headteacher and 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.                               

1 comment:

Shaurya Singh said...

Thanks for sharing this informative info.
Man City Forever