Manchester City Who are You?: ‘1973 memories make hairs stand on end’

Jake: 'do the business, Vito'
Jake: ‘do the business, Vito’

A warm welcome back to these pages to Simon Curtis*, an exile in Portugal who still manages to get to numerous City games. His visit here in late 2012 won second prize in the annual ‘Who are You?’ awards, one judge – Jeremy Robson – hailing ‘the finest Who Are You? article which has ever appeared on the pages of Salut amidst the best series we have ever had the pleasure to read here’. And ahead of the league cup final, Simon offers another hugely entertaining read with great reminiscences of the impact Sunderland had on him in ’73 …

Jake demands answers
Jake demands answers

Salut! Sunderland: That’s it for the quadruple then? All but out of the CL, underdogs in the league cup, Premier title in doubt. Would the FA cup suffice?

Haha, that Wembley Here I Come confidence! The cheek of it. I’ll grant you the Champions League looks a goner, although I and 4,500 others will be there to make sure nothing stupid happens at the Nou Camp. As for the rest, I don’t see why City cannot compete in all three. One game and a 50:50 chance of winning the League Cup; a home draw v Wigan in the FA Cup to take us to a Wembley semi final and very handily placed in the league.

Would the FA Cup suffice? Naturally. It’s not so long ago that putting this question to a City fan would have had you carted off to the nearest shrink, so of course it would. But that would mean we had lost the League Cup final and all of that scintillating football this season had not won us the league, so there would be “slight” regrets I would imagine!!

How much of a blow was it to lose at home to Barca. worse than being beaten by Chelsea?

I think we might have expected the worst against Barcelona, so it cannot be worse than have José Mourinho turn up with his five-year-old’s mind games and win. We have since righted that wrong, but the Chelsea defeat showed how it is possible to beat City with .. well you lot don’t need lectures on how to beat City, do you?

For Chelsea to win the league with their brand of percentage football ahead of the next three, who have all played wonderfully entertaining games, would be the biggest blow I think. But just imagine Sunderland in the Champions League….. Exactly. Just standing there in Munich, in Madrid, in Barcleona is enough to reduce men of our age to tears.

But you wouldn’t trade it for City of old, would you?

I miss the City of old quite a lot actually. That bumbling mess of a club that almost nobody had a bad word to say about. Now that we have more or less buried all of that, we discover what it is like to have loads of people suddenly filled with hatred for us. The fall out from the Newcastle game was weird. So much bile and spittle. Again you (and Newcastle’s police horses) will already have a fair idea of how that one goes. I guess it goes with the territory, but it seems odd having so many younger fans hating us for being big bullies. Jesus, how many times have I stood/sat in some dive and watched all around me going berserk as City fell apart at the seams yet again….I kind of miss the incompetence of it all.

Jake: nearer and nearer
Jake: nearer and nearer

Now tell me how important or otherwise the Capital One cup is to you

I love it. It’s the League Cup, by the way. You lot might know it as the Milk Cup. That’s a clue to why I love it. Brought up on a solid diet of 70s football, City were one of the League Cup teams with three final appearances between 1970 and 1976, two of them won. As a kid, the League Cup was just about the only thing we were good at. Glyn Pardoe, Mike Doyle, Dennis Tueart’s overhead kick. Cracking memories. Even the defeat to Wolves in 1974 is a vivid memory because of our ultra cautious line up that included Bell-Marsh-Lee-Law-Summerbee all going forward at the same time. Defensive midfield? Pah!

Will you be there? How do you see it going?

I have a bit of a Wembley jinx to sort out, having been there for Wigan but missed the Stoke final. Maybe I should stand outside and listen to the crowd instead.

At the old Wembley you could go in and out as you pleased, but with this one, once you’re in you’re in. I think it’ll be very close. Neither side is playing its best football at the moment. I didn’t see your game at Arsenal but City’s last five have seen injuries pile up and goals dry up. It’s down to which team is up for it for the 90 minutes and as you lot have a passionate manager, passionate support and a hungry team, there is sure to be some fire in the Sunderland bellies. Fireworks, noise and heart stopping excitement. Perhaps extra time.

Something extravagant to finish off. Maybe Edin Dzeko with a twenty yard back heel miskick into the top corner off Bardsley’s ear. That’d do me.

In all honesty, how far are City from being the next Bayern or Barca?

Quite a way off when you see what Edin came up with against Stoke! Some of our football this season has been mouthwateringly good, the players are like nothing I have seen in 35 years following the Blues, but games against the two sides you mention prove that there is still some way to go.

I was in Munich, was at the Barça game and will be at the return and you can see something extra in the way these teams carry themselves. Certainly the club as a whole is moving in that direction, with a philosophy of playing style, of growth and of investment in facilities and youth. It’s pretty impressive stuff when you think of the rain sleeting in on Windy Corner in the olden days as Terry Phelan punted another clearance into the crowd.

And do you enjoy lording it over united?

No not at all. I feel really sorry for them that they had to take the ticker down, and that the “not arrogant just better” and “chosen one” banners have been misunderstood by people who can’t see the bigger picture. I think throwing the crown jewels at Rooney has underlined how level headed their new approach is. It must be terrible having fans like Sunderland’s celebrating the results of another team like they did two years back as well. There should be some sort of law against it and I fully expect United’s cavalcade of top administrators to do something about it shortly.

Seeing United outside their beloved top three places makes a little bit of me weep inside. Ince, Hughes, Bobby Charlton, Cowpat Crerand, Schmeichel, Cantona with his stiff collar, Ferguson, Martin Edwards, the Glazers, Rooney, Bruce and Pallister, Lee Sharp, Roy Keane, Mike Phelan doing the interviews, they’ve given us all so much down the years. I hope United can soon improve a little so that we can get back to disliking them with a passion instead of ignoring them completely. They always used to tell us their most important game was Liverpool and now it is! Oh the irony.

Jake: 'trust in Gus'
Jake: ‘trust in Gus’

Countdown to Wembley: click along this line to see all articles in the Countdown to Wembley series

What was your minimum expectation for this season?

This is still City, so minimum expectations are still oddly low amongst those of us who still haven’t quite got over the custard-spilling days. With the focus on Champions League and not failing to get out of the group stage again, maybe it was that plus fulfilling the potential better than last year when we became distracted by the Mancini situation.

Which players have lived up to the billing and who hasn’t?

Well, there are some players like Yaya, Silva, Kompany and Aguero, who make the whole thing work, phenomenally gifted players, but you can’t ignore Zabaleta, who runs through walls every week and Nasri, who has found some terrific form this season. Negredo has proved a great buy too, although he has lost it somewhat since the unnecessary shoulder injury in the semi final against West Ham. Pellegrini has even got Kolarov ticking along nicely.

Those who havent? Until this season I’d have said Nasri, but not now. Garcia has taken stick but I think he’s doing a pretty good job, same with Demichelis, who has been caught for pace but also been exposed by team mates not covering. Nastasic is not reaching last season’s levels and Rodwell does not seem destined to do it at City.

Pellegrini: great manager or flawed, flattered by the resources?

I think he’s a good manager. Obviously, with resources of this magnitude, you and I might make a decent fist of it, but the way the side has been playing, the avalanche of attacking football, it has been quite a sight to behold. Mark Hughes didn’t manage to produce this sort of spectacle with the same resources and even Roberto Mancini’s brand of football was more measured and patient, so I think praise where praise is due, Pellegrini has been put under pressure to produce beautiful football that wins trophies and he seems on track so far.

It’s not easy when expectation go through the roof and this can cause some weird reactions amongst fans who begin to expect success rather than hope for it.

Greatest City players you have seen or wish you had seen?

Colin Bell, Dennis Tueart, Dave Watson, Mike Doyle, Peter Barnes from the days watching as a kid. Kinkladze from the horror days of the 90s. Which brings us up to the present and the players I have had the most pleasure watching have been Tevez, Aguero and David Silva.

And worst?

With a recent past like ours, you’d expect there to be few ringers flying around, so take your pick from two separate periods of absolute dross, the mid 80s and the mid to late 90s: Mike Walsh, Duncan Davidson, Graeme Sinclair, Barry Siddall, Gordon Dalziel, Geoff Lomax, Trevor Christie, Tony Cunningham, Neil Heaney, Buster Philips, Lee Bradbury, Jamie Pollock, Barry Conlon, Jason van Blerk, Bob Taylor. A true cavalcade of wingnuts.

Thoughts on Sunderland – club, city, region, PDC, Poyet?

As i replied last time you asked a season or two back, almost always positive memories. Mine start with that great side of 73, putting City out after two herculean games of football. The 2-2 at Maine Road was an absolute cracker. The Sunderland side from the final, I can more or less name off pat without heading for Wikipaedia. Of course with Watson, Tueart and ahem Micky Horswill joining us in Manchester soon after, it has extra resonance.

Whenever those red and white stripes turned up at Maine Road you knew there’d be plenty of atmosphere and a good tough game. I remember also the game in 91 when we won 3-2 and you lot went down, but backed by a wall of noise.

Also we were your first opponents at the Stadium of Light in 97, this time a win for Sunderland and a goal for Georgi Kinkladze if memory serves. Remember also some great games in the early 80s, a couple of cup ties and a snowswept game at Maine Road where we “only” needed to win to go top, but lost to a last minute goal from a hairy young fella making his debut called Barry Venison.

Seem to remember also standing right in line with a piledriver from Gordon Chisholm around this time that would have taken my head off had it not gone in the net. If ever I was struggling to get to a game from daft places, I’d always make an extra effort to get there if Sunderland were coming to town. They just seem to have been an almost continuous thread in my football life since that 73 final win over Leeds. With David Coleman’s recent death, that “Porterfield! One-nil!” commentary came back to mind and is making the hairs stand up on the back of my neck just writing this down. Great, great days.

Catch the highlights – including a special goal from Billy Hughes – of that Maine Road game from 1973 …

What most inspires you about modern football, and what appalls?

The most inspiring has to be the quality of football on view these days. We have all sat through some rank stuff in the past, but with the money has come a different calibre of player. In the old days City’s foreign “stars” were Murtaz Shelia and Ronnie Ekelund. They wouldn’t inspire indigestion. Plenty of appalling things. The older you get the more appalling everything is!

I can’t stand the level of play acting and diving we have nowadays, absolutely hate the way safe standing continues to be ignored, yearn for the atmosphere created at some of the games mentioned above and hate all the preening and posing.

Colin Bell, the King of the Kippax, would score the most outrageously gifted goals, then raise an arm, accept a pat on the back from an excited team mate and trot back for the kick off. No knee slides, no look at me gesticulation, no read the name on my shoulders, no angry faces, no keep quiet gestures. Love a bit of passion and clenched fists, but what we have now is pre-fabricated, luke warm, televisually acceptable guff. We need more a) mud b) terraces and c) noise and less a) prima donnas, b) off field experts who know nothing and c) money being siphoned away to players and their agents.

Brazil: cannot wait or couldn’t care less?

Have always loved a World Cup and although they are obviously getting worse and worse, I think Brazil will be worth a watch, simply for the party the locals will turn it into. After that we have Russia and Qatar, plus a bloated Euros strung across the continent. At that point I may do something I always thought completely impossible: not even bother to watch it.

I came in with West Germany 1974, the tickertape of Argentina 78, Spain 82. There was a freshness, a naivety and an otherworldliness about the World Cup that made it special, unique and exotic. Thanks to the internet, we know every player right down to Cameroon’s reserve keeper, but mainly thanks to Splatter and Platini trying to “fix” something that ain’t broken, it gets worse and worse each tournament. Look out for the spectacle that will be Gibraltar v Germany in the next Euros, plus France playing but their results not counting. Bloody hell, what will these clowns come up with next?

* Simon Curtis on himself:

I still write a three-times-a week column for ESPN, like your good self, contribute to the official City website and programme from time to time and think I have stuff going into the programme for the Final of the Champions League in May and possibly the next issue of Champions Magazine.

I still post assorted bits of nonsense on a variety of football blogs and can’t get enough of City. They have been a constant passion in my life since 1973 and wherever I have found myself, I’ve never felt the need to lose touch with what was going on. Football has changed a great deal in the last 40 years, but the spectacle of the game itself remains the same. Let’s just hope this weekend’s match lives up to all the great names that have graced the sky blue and the red and white stripes through he ages. Although playing United at Wembley would have been interesting, many City fans are delighted it’s Sunderland and a proper old fashioned Wembley occasion between tow grand old sides.

Interview: Colin Randall

Campo Retro's prize
Campo Retro’s prize

Guess the League Cup final score – and win a shirt like this …

Or like this …2812-126

2 thoughts on “Manchester City Who are You?: ‘1973 memories make hairs stand on end’”

  1. Great stuff, laughing my little Red n White socks off, especially at the long awaited, genuinely heartfelt , United dissection . Only teams that have genuine arch enemies like ours,both Uniteds ironically , could appreciate that! Difference is, City’s United actually did win everything, ours just said they would! Can’t imagine the horror City fans went through ,revenge must be so , so sweet for them at the moment. Hopefully not to sweet on Sunday though, if City fans thought they’d been success starved, try being us!

  2. Yet again, an entertaining, club deprecating piece, which was a joy to read.

    When I read this, though, I wondered (not true) which player he’d copied?

    “Colin Bell, the King of the Kippax, would score the most outrageously gifted goals, then raise an arm, accept a pat on the back from an excited team mate and trot back for the kick off”

    There can only be one answer!

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