January 1, 2008

Manchester City, part 2 (1956-2007).

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 12:09 am


Winning the 1956 FA Cup would prove to be the high point of Les McDowell’s tenure as manager of Manchester City.  They finished in 4th in the League, that year.  In 1957, they slid all the way down to 18th place, but righted themselves, with a 5th place finish, in 1958.  City would not finish any higher than 12th, in the next 4 seasons, though, as the club failed to adequetely replace their aging squad.  Manchester City was relegated, once again, in 1963, and McDowell left.  His replacement, George Poyser, failed to improve the club’s standing.  The low point of this era had to be an 8,015 attendance, at Maine Road,  in January, ’65.   And so, after an 11th place (2nd Division)  finish, in 1965, Poyser was sacked.  His replacement was Joe Mercer.

Joe Mercer had a successful career as a defensive half-back, at Everton, and Arsenal, from 1932-’55.  He won championships with Everton and Arsenal; as well an FA Cup with Arsenal, in 1950.  After retiring from play, he managed Sheffield United; and Aston Villa, whom he led to victory in the inaugural League Cup, in 1961.  Mercer suffered a stroke in 1964.  He recovered, and went against his doctor’s orders by returning to sidelines.  But the board at Villa sacked him.   He arrived at Manchester City in the summer of 1965.  That first season, Mercer, and assistant manager Malcolm Allison, made two crucial aquisitions.  First, they procured fiery winger Mike Summerbee from Swindon.  Then, early in 1966, midfielder Colin Bell was bought from Bury.  Bell would prove to be Manchester City’s greatest-ever player, scoring 117 goals, in 394 league appearances for the club (1966-’79).  He became known as “the King of the Kippax,” (after the Maine Road stand renowned for it’s boisterous fans).colin_bell.gif

Mercer’s first season as manager was a success, as City won the Second Division, and returned, once more, to the top tier.  [Note: Manchester City's 7 second division titles is a record.  In Manchester City's entire history, the club has been relegated to the 2nd Level 10 times, and relegated to the 3rd Level once.  They have won promotion to the top flight 11 times.  (The term yo-yo club was pretty much invented for them.)]   The club’s first season back in the First Division (’66-’67) was a struggle, and they finished in 15th place. 
In October 1967, stocky forward Francis Lee made his debut for the club.  Man City paid Bolton 60,000 pounds for him, a club record.  It became money well spent, as Lee became a crucial part of City’s 5-man attacking formation.  With Colin Bell as midfield general, Mike Summerbee and Tony Coleman on wings, and Francis Lee and Neil Young up front, Manchester City played a fluent passing game that got better as the season progressed.  In December, on a frozen Maine road pitch, they schooled Tottenham, 4-1.  It was called “the ballet on ice,” and Spurs legend Jimmy Greaves remarked how the City players “had moved so gracefully in those conditions, while we were falling about like clowns at the circus.”ice_match.gif 

In March of ’68, Manchester City faced reigning champs (and local rivals) Manchester United, at Old Trafford.  George Best scored in the first minute for United, but City recovered, dominating the rest of the match, and racking up three unanswered goals.  But Man City had started the season so poorly, it took the full season to make up lost ground, and outldistance Man.United.  City won the Title on the last game, 3-4 away to Newcastle, thus beating United by 2 points.  So in April, 1968, 31 years after their first crown, Manchester City won their second National Title.

To see Nigel’s Webspace Man City trading cards gallery, from 1968-’69, click here. 

The following season (’68-’69), City fared poorly in the League, finishing 13th.  But their fine FA Cup run led them all the way to the final, where they faced Leicester City.  Assistant manager Malcolm Allison had the idea of the club wearing a change strip of black-and-red stripes, like AC Milan, in order to inspire the squad.

**Click here, for highlights of Manchester City’s 1969 FA Cup victory**City’s league form for the 8 seasons after their 1968 Championship was mediocre, at best, with an average finish of 9th place.  They did finish in 4th place, in 1972, though.  I have included a Youtube highlights of a Manchester derby from that season, mainly because I enjoyed watching it, and it gives a good portrayal of that era.  **See City v. United, November, 1971, here.**However, Manchester City did win more silverware during this time.  In March, 1970, they won the League Cup, beating West Bromwich Albion, 2-1.  One month later, they won the the now-defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup, 2-1, over Gornik Zabreze, of Poland.  City had to beat Athletic Bilbao, of Spain; and Schalke, of Germany, to get to the final**See Man City demolish Schalke, in the 1969-’70 ECWC Semi-Final, 2nd Leg, at Maine Road, here. **   The 2 successful Cup runs help to explain why City finished in 10th place in the League, that season.

No on knew it at the time, but City were about to start their long spell as hapless underachievers.  There was one more moment of glory, though,  when the club won their second League Cup, and last trophy, in 1976.  They beat Newcastle, 2-1.  The next season, Man City just missed winning the Title.  Liverpool beat them out, by one point.   The club’s only appearance in a Cup Final since then was an FA Cup replay loss, to Tottenham, in 1981.**Click, here, for a good article about Maine Road.**Here is a 6-part documentary, about the 1980-’81 Manchester City club. ** CITY ! Part One, click here. (time-9:34).    CITY ! Part Two, click here. (time-8:43).    CITY ! Part Three, click here. (time-8:53).    CITY ! Part Four, click here. (time-8:13).   CITY ! Part Five, click here. (time-8:42).   CITY ! Part Six, click here. (time-7:46).    The years from then to now can best be summed up by the fact that since Manchester United hired Alex Ferguson, in November, 1986, Manchester City has fired 13 managers.  Maybe new manager Sven-Goran Erikksen is the one to change Manchester City’s culture of failure. BBC Man City picture gallery, from 2003, click here.Thanks to:  (historicalkits[dot]co[dot]uk)- the 5 kits on the bottom left of the chart are copyrightt Historical Football kits, and reproduced by permission; (colours-of-football[dot]com);  (webbaviation[dot]co[dot]uk);  (happyaxeman[dot]co[dot]uk/mcfc/);  (rtfact[dot]com);  (viewimages[dot]com);  Nigel’s Webspace; bbc; wikipedia; and (uit[dot]no/mancity).

December 23, 2007

Manchester City FC, part 1 (1880-1956).

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 7:11 pm

Historical Football Kits, Manchester City page.

In 1879, Anna Connell, daughter of St. Mark’s Church rector Arthur Connell, formed a social association for young men, in Manchester.  After the success of their cricket team, a football club was formed the following year, 1880.  It was named St. Mark’s (West Gorton) FC.  In 1887, the club changed it’s name to Ardwick AFC, and they moved into their new grounds, Hyde Road.  The grounds’ first seating area was built in 1888, for 1,000 spectators.   But the swift rise in popularity of the club would result in numerous upgrades in the facility, and by 1904, Hyde Road could accomodate 40,000.

Ardwick FC  joined the Football Alliance in 1891.  They joined the Football League in 1892, in the newly created Second Division.  After financial troubles, the club was re-formed, in 1894, as Manchester City FC.  They adopted Cambridge Blue (sky blue), and white as their colors.  Five years later, in 1899, Manchester City won the Second Division, and were promoted to the First Division.  Though they finished in 7th place there in 1900, they were relegated back to the second tier in 1902.  They bounced right back to the top flight in 1903, and almost won the national Title in 1904, finishing in 2nd place.  They did, however, win the 1904 FA Cup, beating Bolton Wanderers 1-0, in front of 61,000 at the old Crystal Palace.  This was the first time the Final featured two clubs from Lancashire.  City’s best player, captain Billy Meredith, scored the goal in the 23rd minute.  machester_city_1904_fa_cup.gif

The club stayed competitive the following two seasons, with 3rd and 5th place finishes.  But a scandal erupted in 1906, when the League penalized 17 Manchester City players and 3 club officials for financial irregularities.  The club had been found to be paying players a higher wage than was allowed.  All the players were suspended for 18 months, and banned from the club. 

The scandal was a huge blow to the club, made worse by the fact that several of the players (including Meredith) ended up on cross-town rivals Manchester United.       City were relegated in 1910.  But they won the Second Division in 1911, and returned to the top tier.  In 1915, at the onset of the Great War (now known as World War I), Manchester City finished in 5th place.  After the war, Manchester finished 7th in 1920, and in 2nd place in 1921.  There was a fire at their Hyde Road grounds in November, 1920, which destroyed most of the main stand.  The club began planning for a new stadium.  In 1923, Manchester City moved into their new ground, Maine Road, in the Moss Side district of urban Manchester.  Maine Road was the second largest stadium in the country, with a capacity of 84,000.   Center-back Sam Cowan debuted for Manchester City in 1924.  He would make 406 appearances for the club (from 1924-35)  {See Sam Cowan bio, here}.  But the new ground failed to energize the club, and Manchester City were relegated in 1926.

That season the club had a good FA Cup run, though.  They made it to the 1926 FA Cup Final, once again playing Bolton.  This time, the Wanderers won, one-nil.  It was a bad spring for Manchester City: losing the Cup, and being sent down. mancity1926.gif

Two years later (1928), Manchester City gained promotion back to the First Division.  They finished in 3rd place in 1930, but slipped to 8th place in ’31, and 14th place in ’32.  That year Wilfred Wild became manager {see Wilf Wild bio, here}.  In 1933, the club had another bad season in the league (16th place), but their cup form was good enough to get them to the FA Cup Final.   However, they were defeated handily by a strong Everton side, three goals to nil.   The next season (1934) saw a vast improvement in league form, with a 4th place  finish.  And Manchester City returned to the FA Cup Final (1934), where they faced Portsmouth.  The pitch at Wembley was muddy, and parts of the match were played in a thunderstorm.  Portsmouth forward Septimus Rutherford scored in the 26th minute,  to the consternation of Manchester City’s 19-year old goalkeeper Arthur Swift.  At half-time, City’s forward Fred Tilson famously told Swift “you don’t need to worry, I’ll plonk two in next half.”  Tilson kept his word, scoring a brace: one in the 73rd minute, and the winner in the 87th minute.  At the final whistle, Swift promptly fainted, in relief.  {See this article on Manchester City’s 1934 FA Cup victory.}manchester_city_1904-26-33-34_fa_cups.gif 

[The four kits above: copyright Historical Football Kits (historicalkits[dot]co[dot]uk), and used by permission.]
Historical Football

In 1935, Manchester City finished in 4th place, but slipped to 9th place in 1936.  The following season (1936-37), City won only 2 of it’s first 10 matches, and seemed headed for mid-table obscurity again.  But Fred Tilson came back from injury, and the squad went on a 22 game unbeaten run, from Boxing Day (Dec. 26.) to the end of the season.  In March, Eric Brook (Manchester City’s all-time leading scorer; {see his bio, here}) had a hat-trick, as City beat Liverpool.  On 10 April, they beat giants Arsenal (who won 5 league titles in the 1930′s) 2-0.  A fortnight later, they clinched the league crown with a 4-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday.  So in the spring of 1937, Manchester City FC were Champions of England for the first time.  The following season they were relegated. 

Manchester City has the unwanted distinction of being the only reigning champions in English football history to be relegated.  The 1938 squad is also the only team to have been relegated from the English First Division while leading the league in scoring, or with a positive goal difference (of +3).  Manager Wilfred Wild was not sacked, though.  The next year (1939), City finished 5th, in the Second Division, on the eve of World War II.

Wild decided to step down when league play was resumed after the War, in August, 1946.  That season (1946-47), with former player Sam Cowan as manager, Manchester City won the Second Division, and were promoted.  Cowan decided to step down, and retire.  The new manager was Jock Thomson, who lasted 3 seasons.  He is best remembered for bringing in German goalkeeper Bert Trautman, in 1949.  Initially, it was an extremely unpopular move, as Trautman had fought for the Germans in WWII.  But the goalie spent 15 seasons at City, and was crucial to the club’s later Cup success.  {See this ESPN article about Bert Trautman.}  Thomson was sacked when City were relegated, once again, in 1950. . bert_trautman2.gif

Les McDowell took over as manager that year, and led Manchester City back to the First Division the next season.   McDowell had played for City from 1937-48.  In 1954, influenced by the innovative Hungarian national team, he started tinkering with Manchester City’s formation.  Wing backs were deployed,  with a deep-lying central forward playing behind the strikers.  The ball would be kept on the ground, and attacks were built up in a slow, deliberate way. This would counteract the stodgy W-M formation, with long booming kicks (ie, “Route 1″ football), that was the absolute norm in the British game.  In 1953, at Wembley, the Hungarians had demolished the English national team 6-3.  With their fluid formation,  the “Mighty Magyars” ran circles around the England squad, passing and setting up attacks at will.  The style the Hungarians used was a precursor to the Dutch “total football” of the late ’60′s/early ’70′s.  But in the mid 1950′s, few English coaches at the club level were willing to take the leap and employ it.  

In July, 1954, McDowell had the Manchester City squad in 2 weeks early, to learn the new system.  The new formation became known as “the Revie Plan,” for the deep center-forward, Don Revie.  In the 1954-55 season, the plan was met with harsh criticism from the fans at Maine Road.  And early on, 3 big losses, giving up 5 or more goals with the with the new formation, didn’t help.  But as the season wore on, City began getting results.  The team would finish in 7th place, an improvement of 10 places from the season before.  And their cup run that season took them all the way to the 1955 FA Cup Final.  However, Manchester City lost to Newcastle United, 1-3. manchester_city50s_cups.gif

[The two kits above, copyright Historical Football Kits (historicalkits[dot]co[dot]uk), and used by permission.]

The following season (1955-56), Manchester City improved 3 places, to 4th in the league.  And they made it back to the FA Cup Final (1956), facing Birmingham City.   Striker Joe Hayes scored for Manchester City in the 3rd minute, from a Don Revie back-heel pass.  But Birmingham equalised in the 15th minute, with a goal by Noel Dyson.  Manchester City’s methodical passing game began to tire out the Brummie squad, and just after the hour mark, City scored twice in three minutes.  In the 65th minute, Jack Dyson scored.  In the 68th minute, Dyson fed a pass to Bobby Johnstone, who scored to give City a 2-goal lead.  But Trautman had to repel a late Birmingham onslaught.  The keeper injured his neck when saving what looked like a sure goal, colliding with Birmingham’s Peter Murphy.  In an era of no substitutions, Trautman played on, though in obvious agony.  The 3-1 score held up, and Manchester City had won it’s third FA Cup.  An X-ray 3 days later revealed that Trautman had broken his neck in the match, and had risked his life remaining on the pitch.   bert_trautman_save_56cup.gif  **{Click here, to see newreel footage of Manchester City’s 1956 FA Cup victory.}**                                        {See this article on the match.} manchester_city56cup.gif

End, Part 1.

Thanks to: (historicalkits[dot]co[dot]uk);  Sven A. Hanssen’s excellent Manchester City FC Supporter’s Homepage (;  (mancityprogrammes[dot]co[dot]uk);  Chirk Colliers AFC site (chirkaaafc[dot]com);  (viewimages[dot]com);  (fa-cupfinals[dot]co[dot]uk);  BBC.   

December 19, 2007

Manchester United FC, part 4 (1986 to 2007).

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 5:34 pm



Alex Ferguson’s first few seasons as manager of Manchester United were not successful, and he was on the verge of being sacked in early 1990.  But a good Cup run kept him from getting the hook.  United went on to win the 1990 FA Cup, over Crystal Palace, in the replay, with Lee Martin scoring the lone goal.  During this period, their goals came primarily from Brian McClair, who was the first player since George Best to score 20 goals in a season for the club (McClair netted 24 in the League in ’88). 

The club finished in 13th place in 1990.  They started heading in the right direction though, with finishes of 6th place, in ’91, and then 2nd place, in ’92.  But a late season slump saw them lose the Title to rivals Leeds United.  There was some consolation in winning their first League Cup that year, though.  They beat Nottingham Forest 1-0, with McClair scoring.  The club aquired striker Eric Cantona from Leeds in November 1992, much to the dismay of Yorkshire fans, but the mercurial Frenchman had butted heads with management there.  Actually, Cantona had butted heads with a lot of people, and had come to England to resurrect his career.  Cantona energized Manchester United, racking up goals, and providing opportunities for the rest of the team.  He formed a formidible partnership with forward Mark Hughes.  **{ See video highlights of Eric Cantona.  The Long version, hereThe one goal that sums up Eric Cantona, here.}**  The squad also featured Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel (who some say was Ferguson’s greatest discovery); defenders Dennis Irwin, Steve Bruce, and Gary Pallister; midfielder Paul Ince; as well as the young midfield prodigy Ryan Giggs.  Manchester United won the Title that season (1992-93), their first League crown since 1967.  92-93_man_u.gif

A 17-year old David Beckham made his debut for the club that season.  That summer, Roy Keane joined the club, from Nottingham Forest, for a then-record 3.75 million pound fee.   Ferguson pegged Keane to replace long-serving field general Bryan Robson, who was nearing the end of his career.  Notable players who would make their debuts for Manchester United in the next couple years included fullback Gary Neville, in 1992; defensive midfielder Nicky Butt, in 1993; unassuming midfield wizard Paul Scholes, in 1994; and fullback Phil Neville, in 1994.  Together with Keane, Giggs, and Beckham, these players would form the core of Ferguson’s championship-winning squads for years to come.   As with legendary manager Matt Busby, Ferguson would build his dynasty on a foundation of home-grown talent and youth.  **{See video highlights of : David Beckham, hereRyan Giggs, hereRoy Keane, here.  Paul Scholes, here.}**man_u_new_crop2.gif

1992-93 season had been the inaugural season for the Premier League.  In a few years, it would be as if Manchester United owned the new league.  They repeated as champions the next year (1994).  They were pipped by surprise Blackburn Rovers on the final day, in 1995, but then won back-to-back Titles in ’96 and ’97.   They finished second to Arsenal in ’98, and then won the Title three straight years: 1999, 2000, and 2001.  They finished third in 2002, but bounced back to re-claim the crown in 2003.  That made it 8 championships in 11 years, an unprecedented feat in English football history.  During this period, Manchester United also made it to 4 FA Cup Finals, winning 3.  In 1994, they beat Chelsea 4-0, with Cantona scoring twice from the penalty spot, and Mark Hughes and Brian McClair also tallying.  The next year (’95), they lost the Cup Final to Everton, 0-1, but the following year (’96), the club won their 9th FA Cup, beating Liverpool 1-0, with Cantona winning it in the 85th minute.  They won their 10th FA Cup in 1999, beating Newcastle 2-0, with Teddy Sheringham and Paul Scholes scoring.

1999 was Manchester United’s greatest season.  After winning the League, and  the FA Cup, they made it to the European Cup Final, at the Nou Camp, in Barcelona, Spain.  Their opponent was Bayern Munich, the biggest club in Germany.  An early goal by Bayern’s Mario Basler seemed to be about to hold up, as stoppage-time began.  German fans had already begun celebrating, lighting flares.  Manchester United won a corner, and Teddy Sheringham re-directed a Ryan Giggs mis-hit into the net to even the score.  About 2 minutes later, as time was almost up, another corner as won by the Red Devils.  David Beckham arced the ball in, which was head-flicked by Sheringham right into the path of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in front of the goal.  The Norwegian instinctively stabbed the ball into the net.  In virtually the last play of the game, Manchester United had won it.  It was one of the greatest comebacks in the history of cup football.  Manchester United had won the Treble.  **{See the highlights of Manchester United’s 1999 European Cup victory, here.}   {See a tribute to the 1999 Treble.}**  

By this time, Manchester United had become one of the biggest sports clubs on the planet.  The club began ambitious plans to expand Old Trafford.  The stadium reached a 68,000 all-seating capacity in 2000.  And in 2006-07, the upper-tier quadrants were filled in, making the present capacity 76,000.  (Further plans for expansion are being hampered by railway tracks, and residential housing, behind the South Stand.)




Manchester United was the object of a successful takeover bid, by American tycoon Malcolm Glazer, in 2005 {see this article}.  The club failed to win the Title for a 3-year spell, from 2004-06.  But they won the FA Cup, in 2004, beating Milwall 3-1, with goals by Ruud van Nistelrooy (twice), and Christiano Ronaldo; and the League Cup, in 2006.  By this time, Alex Ferguson had re-built the squad.  Wayne Rooney (the best young player in England); and Christiano Ronaldo (the Portuguese phenom who was voted FIFA 3rd best Footballer of the Year for 2007) led the squad to their 16th League Title in 2007. 

Alex Ferguson had planned on retiring in 2002.  He doesn’t talk about that too much these days, but he is getting on in years (he will be 66 on New Year’s Eve).  He has recently said that the current squad, bolstered by new additions like Argentine sensation Carlos Tevez, midfielder Owen Hargreaves, and the young Portuguese winger Nani, is the best he has ever assembled.

Frequently Asked Question: Why are Manchester United called “the Red Devils” ? {Click, for answer.}

Thanks to: Historical Football Kits (historicalkits[dot]co[dot]uk): the 5 older kits on the chart are copyright Historical Football kits, and used by kind permission:;  Colours Of Football (colours-of-football[dot]com): the newer kits on the chart are from this fine site;  BBC (bbc[dot]co[dot]uk);  Man. United Zone (manutszone[dot]com);  Bob’s 1970-71 Footballers (bob7071[dot]co[dot]uk). 

December 17, 2007

Manchester United FC, part 3 (1959 to 1986).

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 8:48 am


In 1958-59, the first season after the Munich Air Disaster, Manchester United produced a surprise finish of second place, with Bobby Charlton scoring 29 goals, and the team netting 103.  Huge crowds showed up at Old Trafford, in the wake of the tragedy, and the team must have fed off the moral support.   The following season (1959-’60), Dennis Viollet scored a team record 32 goals, and the club finished in 7th place.  A new addition the next season was a hard-tackling full-back named Norbert “Nobby” Stiles, a local product {see his bio, here}.  The club had another 7th place finish in 1961, but United plummeted to 15th place in 1962.  That summer, the club signed Scottish forward Denis Law from the Italian club, Torino, for a then-record 115,000 pounds.          **{See this Denis Law highlights reel}** (Trust me, it’s so good, you’ll play it twice.)denis_law.gif

Law was a prolific scorer, but he didn’t get many opportunities until Paddy Crerand arrived, from Celtic, in February 1963.  Man. United, whose poor form had left them in a relegation battle in the League, did so well in their FA Cup run that they made it to the FA Cup Final.  Their opponent, Leicester City, were heavy favorites, but Manchester United beat them, 3-1.  United’s goals were scored by David Herd (twice), and Denis Law.  **{See highlights of the 1963 FA Cup Final.}**  They were Cup champions, yet they finished 19th in the League.  Home attendance was poor: their 33,400 league average was the club’s lowest in the post-war era.

In 1961, Manchester United’s scouting network had found a gem in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by the name of George Best.  **{See video tribute to George Best, here.}**george_best.gif  

Best debuted in September, 1963, and the much-improved club, with the “holy trinity ” of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, and the 17-year old Best, rocketed up the table, to 2nd place.  Losing twice to Liverpool that season was decisive, as Manchester finished just 4 points behind their Merseyside rivals.  The following season (1964-65), Manchester United battled Leeds United for the crown.  The two clubs ended up tied, and Man. U. pipped Leeds on goal average.  It was Manchester United’s 6th League Title.  Denis Law scored 28 goals that season, and was named European Footballer of the Year (for 1964).  For Matt Busby, the Title meant another chance at his holy grail, the European Cup.  But Manchester were beaten in that competition the next spring by Benfica, of Portugal.  They sputtered in the League that year (1966), as well, finishing 4th.

The club bounced back in the 1966-67 season.  They won their seventh League Title, and were back in the European Cup.  This time they went all the way to the final, in May, 1968.  It was their good fortune that the final was held in England, at Wembley Stadium.  Again, they faced Benfica.  Bobby Charlton scored in the 53rd minute, but Graca equalised in the 75th minute, and the game went into extra time.  George Best scored in the 93rd minute, with a fine individual effort; 19-year old Brian Kidd headed in a third goal one minute later; and Charlton added the fourth soon after.  Manchester United were, finally, Champions of Europe.  They became the first English club to do so.  Matt Busby had at last realized his dream.  He was knighted soon after.  **{See highlights of Manchester United’s 1968 European Cup victory.}**busbys_grail2.gif

United finished second in the League that year.  1968 produced the club’s highest league attendance to date: they averaged 57,500.  But by the next season, the squad seemed to have run out of steam.  They finished in 11th place.  Matt Busby retired as manager, staying on at the club as director.  The club then finished in 8th place for 3 straight seasons (1970, ’71, and ’72), before a slide down to 18th place, in 1973.  It got worse, as the club was relegated in 1974, on a goal scored by ex-United star Denis Law, who had returned to his former club Manchester City. Law executed a backheel flick to score it.  **{See it, here.}**

Manchester United only spent one season in the Second Division, though.  By this time, all the stars of the latter Busby era were gone.  The squad, now managed by Tommy Docherty, featured Stuart Pearson at striker, and a young Steve Coppell at right wing.  The club roared to a 3rd place finish, and made it to the FA Cup Final.  Heavy favorites, they lost to second-division Southampton, 0-1.  The next year (1977), they dropped to 6th in the League, but won the FA Cup, over Liverpool, 2-1.  Goals were scored by Stuart Pearson and Jimmy Greenhof. 

For the next decade, although they would make it to the FA Cup Final 3 times, Manchester United would frustrate their fans by failing to win the League Title.  The closest they would come was 2nd place, in 1980, and 3rd place, in 1982 and ’83.  The club lost the 1979 FA Cup Final 1-3, to Arsenal.  Four years later (1983), under manager Ron Atkinson, they won the FA Cup, in the replay, 4-0, over Brighton.  Goals were scored by Bryan Robson (twice), Norman Whiteside, and Arnold Muhren.   And Manchester United won their 6th FA Cup two years later, in 1985, with a 1-0 win over Everton.  Norman Whiteside scored the winner in extra-time, with a sublime curling shot **{see it here}**.  Key players from this period also included Mark Hughes, Paul McGrath, and Gordon Strachan. 

But the club had not won the League Title since 1967.  This title-drought would eventually reach 25 seasons, the club’s second longest period without a league crown.  For a club as huge as Manchester United, this was simply unacceptable.  And so, after a terrible start to the 1986-87 season, with the club in the relegation zone, Atkinson was sacked.  His successor was a 44-year old, who had recently led Aberdeen to back-to-back Scottish League Titles, named Alex Ferguson.

End, Part 3.

Thanks to: (telegraph[dot]co[dot]uk);  (Empire-uk[dot]com);  (viewimages[dot]com);  (manutdzon[dot]com).

December 15, 2007

Manchester United FC, part 2 (1940 to 1959).

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 8:08 am


Matt Busby’s playing career was spent at Manchester City (226 appearances), and Liverpool (118 appearances), from 1928-40.  He enlisted in the King’s Liverpool Regiment during WW II, and was an Army instructor at Sandhurst Military Academy when Manchester United informed him of their managerial vacancy.  League play resumed in the late summer of 1946, and fans, hungry for entertainment after the War, flocked to the stadia.  Due to the extensive damage the Luftwaffe had visited upon Old Trafford, United had to play their matches at Maine Road for three seasons. 
Busby did not make wholesale changes with the squad, but several players were re-positioned.  His first move was to make former West Bromwich Albion player Jimmy Murphy the assistant manager.  Busby had met him during the War, and he saw in Murphy the ideal right-hand man.  He also began phasing in young 16 and 17-year olds into the squad.  It was this youth policy that led to the later squads being called “the Busby Babes.”  Busby also put together a group of forwards that would be called “the famous five.” These were Jimmy Delaney, Stan Pearson, Jack Rowley, Charlie Mitten, and Johnny Morris.  United started out strong in the 1946-47 season.  They eventually finished second to Liverpool.  The following season (1947-48), they were runners-up again, to Arsenal.  Their 1947-48 FA Cup run was hindered by the need to find alternate venues (like Everton’s Goodison Park, Huddersfield Town’s Leeds Road, and Aston Villa’s Villa Park), but the team overcame these obstacles.  Busby’s mix of established veterans and young local lads went on to win the 1948 FA Cup, 4-2, over Blackpool, at Wembley. man_u_48fa.gif

Goals were scored by striker Jack Rowley (twice), forward Stan Pearson, and winger John Anderson.  “The News of the World” called the match ’Wembley’s finest.’  It was Manchester United’s first major honor since 1911.  In 1949, Manchester United finished second in the League for the third straight season, behind Portsmouth.  The rebuilt Old Trafford opened in August, 1949.  The return to their home grounds failed to energize the team, though, and they dropped to 4th place. 

Manchester United were back as runners-up in 1951, behind Tottenham.  This was their third 2nd-place finish in four seasons.  The youngsters in the squad began to emerge, notably Roger Byrne and Jackie Blanchflower.  Byrne scored 7 goals in the final 6 games of the 1951-52 season, and Manchester United won their first League Title in 51 years.  But the club had a poor follow-up season, and finished 8th.  Attendance dropped 12%.  Busby acquired Tommy Taylor from Barnsley, for the then-record fee of  29,999 pounds.  That season, 16-year old Duncan Edwards debuted for the club, the youngest player to ever play in the First Division, at the time. 


Finishes of 4th and 5th places followed, in 1954 and ’55.  But by the summer of 1955, the young squad had gelled, with Eddie Colman, David Pegg, and Mark Jones, all products of Busby’s youth academy, as regular starters.  The team started the 1955-56 season poorly, winning only 3 of the first 8 games.  But the young squad found their confidence, and lost only 4 more the rest of the way.  They had pretty much sewed it up by Christmas, and they clinched it at Old Trafford on April 7, 1956, when 62,000 fans watched them beat second-place Blackpool.  Busby’s team played swift attacking football, with an abilty to clamp down defensively, then spring for a counter-attack.  The team, with an average age of just 22, scored 102 goals that season.  Dennis Viollet, Manchester-born, led the squad with 20 goals in this his first full season.  United were repeat winners of the League the next season (1957), and almost won the Double:  they lost the 1957 FA Cup Final to Aston Villa.  Their goalkeeper, Ray Wood, was injured during the game, and in an era of no substitutions, United was forced to use Blanchflower in goal.  They lost 1-2 {see highlights in this newsreel footage}. 

Busby now had his sights set on what to him was the the ultimate prize: the newly created European Cup.  This competition (the forerunner to today’s UEFA Champions League) was started in 1955-56, after the concept was proposed by the editor of French sporting magazine “L’Equipe,” Gabriel Hanot.  Real Madrid would go on to win the first 5 European Cups.  And it was Real who knocked out Manchester United in the 1956-57 competition.  After United breezed through to their second straight domestic Title, in 1957, Busby left no doubts to observers that what he wanted most was the crown of Europe. 9goals_at_highbury2.gif

Their 1957-58 European campaign led them to Yugoslavia, where they faced Red Star Belgrade, on February 5, 1958.  After a 3-3 draw (which assured them passage to the next round), the team set out for their flight home.  The plane stopped in Munich, Germany, to refuel, but when it tried to take off again, ice and snow on the runway prevented the plane from reaching speed.  The plane crashed, but before it burst into flames, goalkeeper Harry Gregg managed to pull the unconscious Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet out to safety.  23 passengers died in what has come to be known as the Munich Air Disaster: 8 Manchester United players, 3 MUFC staff members, and 12 other passengers.  The 8 players who died were: Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, and Billy Whelan.  Manager Busby almost perished as well.  He spent over 2 months in the hospital, and was even given last rites at one point.

Amid rumours of the club being forced to fold, assistant manager Jimmy Murphy took over the team while Busby convalesced.  In spite of the tragedy, and the decimation it did to their squad, a makeshift Manchester United made it to the FA Cup Final that year.  They lost to Bolton Wanderers, 0-2.  The club finished 8th in the League.  UEFA offered to allow Manchester United to compete in the 1958-59 European Cup, along with English champion Wolverhampton.  It would be in tribute to the dead at Munich.  But the English FA refused.  The next season, amazingly, Busby was able to field a squad that competed for the Title.  They came up short, though, finishing in second place, to repeat winners Wolves.  Matt Busby was now faced with rebuilding Manchester United, again.

{see this video tribute to the victims of the Munich Air Disaster}.

End, Part 2.

Thanks to: “Inside United” magazine (manutd[dot]com);  (manutdzone[dot]com); (redcafe[dot]net);  (viewimages[dot]com);  (empire-uk[dot]com).

December 13, 2007

Manchester United FC, part 1. (Newton Heath L&YR FC, est. 1878/ Manchester United FC, est. 1902).

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 8:00 am


Rail workers of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway depot at Newton Heath (3 miles northeast of Manchester city center) formed a football club in 1878.  The club called itself Newton Heath L&YR FC, and played in green and yellow halved jerseys (the colors of the railway).  For their first 15 years, they played on a small, run-down field near the future site of the Manchester Piccadilly railway station.  Their nickname was the Heathens.   {click for L. & Y. R. history}   {click for map of L. & Y. Railway}
After falling out of favor with the L. & Y. Railway, the club moved to the Bank Street Grounds in 1892, in Clayton, 3 miles east of the city.  They switched to red and white quartered jerseys, and changed their name to Newton Heath FC.  The next season, 1892-93, Newton Heath were elected to the Football League, and were allowed to bypass Division 2 straight into one of the two new vacancies in the expanded First Division.  But they finished 16th place two straight seasons, and were relegated to the second division in 1894 [by election].  The club would spend 12 seasons (1894 to 1906) in the second tier.  In 1902, Newton Heath was in debt, and facing dissolution, with their grounds shut by the bailiffs.  They were rescued by local brewer J.H. Davies.  At a board meeting in April, 1902, it was decided that a change of name was in order to reflect the fresh start, and the name Manchester United FC was agreed upon.  The club adopted the uniform of red jerseys and white pants. 

{All images above copyright Historical Football Kits (www.
                                                                        In the fall of 1902, the club appointed Ernest Mangnall as manager.  Over the next couple years, he brought several new players over to the club, including Charlie Roberts from Grimsby Town, in 1904, for a then-record 750 pounds.  The club had been steadily improving, and in 1906, they made it back to the First Division for the first time as Manchester United.  It was during the 1906-07 season that the Football Association penalized cross-town rivals Manchester City FC for financial irregularities.  The club had been paying over a dozen of it’s players a higher wage than was allowed.  5 Manchester City officials, and 17 players were banned from the club.  Manchester United signed several of the players after their suspension ended, most notably Billy Meredith and Sandy Turnbull.  The newly bolstered Manchester United squad went on to win their first League Title the next season (1907-08). 


The following year (1909),  United won it’s first FA Cup.  They defeated Bristol City 1-0 at the old Crystal Palace in London.  Sandy Turnbull scored the goal.  1909fa_cup_2.gif Click the icon to see Manchester United’s 1909 FA Cup jersey.

By this time, Manchester United had outgrown their Bank Street grounds.  They had become a hugely popular club, and were able to draw upwards of 30 to 40,000 for big matches, such as FA Cup ties, and the local Derby (Click here).  The Bank Street Grounds were notorious for becoming a quagmire during the wet winter months.  So in 1909, plans were made to move, and land was purchased in the town of Stretford, in the borough of Trafford, southwest of the Manchester city center.  Once again, J.H. Davies came through, with a 60,000 pounds loan.  The stadium was to be called Old Trafford, and built to hold 80,000 (a capacity never reached).  It opened on February 19, 1910, before a crowd of 45,000, and with defeat to Liverpool, 3-4.  But United would not lose again there until October.  The new stadium provided the club the impetus for a title run, and they won the League in their first full season at Old Trafford, 1910-11.old_trafford_early.gif

  This was a heady time for the club, and few would have foreseen that this second league crown would be their last for half a century.  The first blow was the departure of manager Ernest Mangnall, across town to rivals Manchester City, in the summer of 1911.  United had a huge debt from the building of their new stadium, and were forced to sell off good players.  The club began a decline which left them in 18th place at the start of the Great War (WWI), in 1915.  After the war, they slipped further, and were relegated to the Second Division in 1922.  Manchester United only stayed in the 2nd tier for three seasons, though.  They were promoted back up in 1925.  But they remained a mediocre club, and began to fall out of favor with their supporters.  By the start of the 1930-31 season, the Supporters’ Club had issued a five-point plan for revitalization of the football club.  The board of directors chose to ignore them, and refused to meet with them.  With the team in free fall, losing their first 8 games, the Supporters’ Club issued a boycott of games, and by the second half of the season, attendance was below 10,000 for all matches save the Derby.  The club was relegated.

Manchester United spent 6 of the 7 next seasons in the Second Division.  They made it back up in 1939.   But the club, one of the biggest in all of England, had become chronic underachievers.  World War II interrupted League play until 1946.  Manchester United had hired former Liverpool coach Matt Busby in 1945, and he started the post-War era with some decidedly unorthodox ideas.  First of all, he insisted on being able to choose his own squad, from players he had selected to sign for the club.  All this had been done by the board.  This stance had led to his departure from Liverpool, but the board at MUFC decided to give him free rein.  A more successful club at the time might have not done so, but by 1946,  with no silverware since 1911, the board at Manchester United was probably willing to try anything.

End, part 1.

Thank you to Historical Football Kits (historicalkits[dot]co[dot]uk), Lancashire & Yorkshire Railways site (lyrs[dot]org[dot]uk); (viewimages[dot]com); (manutdzone[dot]com).

December 12, 2007

Middlesbrough FC.

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 6:26 am


In 1876, members of the Middlesbrough Cricket Club organized a football team, to stay fit during the winter months.  This club became Middlebrough FC.  The club remained amateur in it’s first two decades, and twice won the FA Amateur Cup: in 1895, 2-1, over Old Carthusians; and in 1898, 2-1 over Uxbridge.  Refusal to turn professional resulted in a group breaking off to form Middlesbrough Ironopolis FC, in 1889.  Ironopolis joined the Football League in 1893, but folded in 1894.  MFC turned professional in 1899, and that same year were elected to join the Second Division of the League.  They were promoted three seasons later, in 1902, and remained in the First Division for 18 seasons.  Their best finish was in 1914, at third place.  The Great War (WW I) intervened soon after.  The club was relegated and then promoted, twice, between 1924 and 1929.  George Camsell, from nearby County Durham, scored 59 goals to help Boro get promoted in 1927.  He went on to play 14 seasons for Middlesbrough, scoring 325 league goals (5th highest, all-time). {see George Camsell bio, here}  They stayed in the First Division from 1929 to 1954 (18 seasons). 

World War II interrupted an up and coming Boro side that finished 4th in 1939.  In 1951, the club achieved their highest attendance, averaging 36,100 (they finished 6th).  Relegated in 1954, the club would remain out of the top flight for 20 seasons.   Middlesbrough was relegated in 1954.  The club would remain out of the top flight for 20 years.  In 1958, a young Brian Clough (pronounced “Cluff”) debuted for the team.  Born in Middlesbrough, he would go on to score 197 goals in 213 games for his home-town club, before moving on to Sunderland.b_clough6.gif

In 1973, World Cup hero Jack Charlton took over as manager, and guided Middlesbrough back up.  The club finished in 7th place in 1975, their first season back in the First Division.  But by 1982, Boro was back down to the second division.  In the summer of 1986, Middlesbrough faced it’s darkest hour.  Relegated to the third tier, the club had severe financial difficulties, and faced liquidation.  The club was actually dissolved.  However, a group led by Steve Gibson was able to gather the support necessary to register the club for the next season.  The newly re-formed club became officially known as Middlesbrough Football and Athletic Club, and their new crest showed the year 1986 on it.  The club gained promotion back to the second division the next season, and in 1988, Boro made it back to the top flight.  They only stayed there one year, though, and for the next decade, Middlesbrough became the classic yo-yo club.  They were relegated, and promoted back, three times between 1989 and 1998.  In 1994, former Manchester United star Bryan Robson took over as player/manager.  In 1995, Riverside Stadium was opened, with a capacity of 30,000 .  The club made the surprise signing of 22-year old Brazillian footballer of the year Juninho Paulista.  In 1996, they finished 12th in the Premier League.  The next season (1996-97) showed promise, but ultimately turned out to be a disaster.  The club had strong cup runs in both the League and FA Cups, but were deducted 3 points for failing to fulfill a fixture.  They ended up losing both Cups: the FA Cup 0-2, to Chelsea, and the League Cup 0-1, to Leicester City, in the replay.  And those 3 points proved to be devastating, as they finished 19th, and were relegated by 2 points.  They made it back to the League Cup Final the next year, while in the second tier, but lost to Chelsea 0-2, in added extra time.  Nevertheless, Boro gained promotion back to the top flight that year (1998), and haven’t been down since.

Middlesbrough has been a decent mid-table Premiership club throughout the last decade.  In 2001, Steve McLaren was hired as manager.  Under him, they finally won a major trophy, in 2004, claiming the League Cup with a 2-1 victory over Bolton Wanderers.  They then signed Australian striker Mark Viduka, and in 2005 finished 7th, good enough to qualify for Europe, in the UEFA Cup.  Their 2005-06 UEFA Cup run produced two stunning results.  They came back from 3 goals down (aggregate), twice in a row.  First, they did it versus FC Basel, in the quarter finals.  Then they did it versus Steaua Bucharest, in the semi-finals  {see these highlights from the Middlesbrough v. Steaua Buchrest 2006 UEFA Cup semi-final}.   Even so, they were outclassed by repeat winners Sevilla, in the 2006 UEFA Cup Final, 0-4.  In early 2006, Mclaren left to become manager of the national team of England, and captain Gareth Southgate was made manager.  In 2006-07, the club finished in 12th place.

The city of Middlesbrough is, to put it mildly, charm-deficient.  It has much heavy industry, but little in the way of amenities.  The city was voted the worst place to live in England, in a recent Channel 4 program.  Attracting top shelf players is not easy.  So it is a good thing that Middlesbrough FC has made it a priority to have a solid football academy.  It is, in fact one of the best in the country, and it’s system has produced more Premier League players in recent years than any other club’s  {see chart, from a recent issue of FourFourTwo magazine, below}.  Players like Lee Catermole, England international Stewart Downing, David Wheater, and the promising young forward Adam Johnson.  Their academy should be able to provide enough talent to keep manager Gareth Southgate’s team in the top flight for the foreseeable future.

Thanks to: Historical Football Kits for the 5 older kits on the chart (historicalkits[dot]uk[dot]uk); Colours Of Football for the 3 sets of newer kits on the chart (colours-of-football[dot]com).  Photos: Stadium Guide (stadiumguide[dot]com); Groundhopping Blog (btsv[dot]de); (rovers[dot]premiumtv[dot]co[dot]uk); Middlesbrough FC website (mfc[dot]premiumtv[dot]co[dot]uk); Ayresome Park tribute site (ayresome[dot]co[dot]uk); FourFourTwo magazine.

December 10, 2007

Newcastle United FC.

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 7:02 am


In 1881, the Stanley Cricket Club of Byker (an inner-city ward of Newcastle) decided to form an off-shoot of the club, to play football during the winter.  In 1882, they changed the name to Newcastle East End FC.  Another cricket club in the city formed Newcastle West End FC, also in 1882.  East End turned professional in 1889.  West End avoided dissolution by merging with East End, in 1892.  This club became Newcastle United FC, and wore red, then red-and white vertically striped jerseys.  The club joined the Second Division in 1893.  In 1894, they adopted their famous black-and-white vertically striped jerseys, after frequent color clashes with other clubs in red kits.  Also, their hated local rivals Sunderland AFC had begun wearing red and white stripes (in 1886).  It is for this black and white scheme that the club is known as the Magpies.  In 1898, Newcastle was elected to the First Division.  By the early 1900′s, with a squad dominated by Scotsmen, Newcastle became a football power.  They won the League Title in 1905, 1907, and 1909.  In the FA Cup, Newcastle were runners-up in 1905, 1906, and 1908.  They won their first FA Cup in 1910, beating Barnsley 1-0, in the re-play at Goodison Park (in Liverpool).  They were runners-up in this competition again in 1911.  The FA Cup Finals, from 1895 to 1914, were played at the old Crystal Palace, in south London.  Newcastle played 6 Finals there, the most of any club. 

Newcastle’s form dropped after that, and for the next 13 seasons they were basically a mid-table club.  They won their second FA Cup in 1924, defeating Aston Villa 2-0, at the old Wembley Stadium.  Three years later (1927), Newcastle won the League Title, their fourth.  And the Magpies won their third FA Cup in 1932, with a 2-1 victory over Arsenal.  However, they were relegated two years later.  From 1935 to 1939/1946 to 1948 (7 league seasons, with WW II in between),  Newcastle was in Division Two.  Their first season back in the top flight, 1948, Newcastle had an astounding average gate of 53,800, the nation’s highest.  The club won back to back FA Cups in 1951 (2-0, over Blackpool), and 1952 (1-0, over Arsenal).  By the mid-fifties, the club was mired in the bottom half of the league table, but they still won the FA Cup again, in 1955 beating Manchester City 3-1.  {see this newsreel of the 1955 FA Cup}  The club was led by Jackie Milburn and Bobby Mitchell.  This was their sixth FA Cup.  It was also their last major trophy.
Through the late 1950′s, the club continued to slide down the league table, and was relegated in 1961.  They returned to the First Division in 1965, but remained as a bottom-half-of-the-table club.  However, they did win the Inter-City Fairs Cup in 1969.  This defunct trophy was the forerunner of the UEFA Cup (the second echelon championship of Europe).  They defeated Sporting (Lisbon), Feyenoord, Zaragoza, and Rangers on the way, and Ujpest, of Hungary, in the final.   The squad was led by Welshman Wyn Davis.  The Fairs Cup is not recognized by UEFA as a trophy.  The Magpies made it to 2 “real” Cup finals in the 70′s, though.  But they lost both: the FA Cup, in 1974, to Liverpool; and the League Cup, in 1976, to Manchester City.  From 1971-76, Malcolm McDonald was the driving force, scoring 97 goals in 5 seasons.  But Newcastle was relegated once again, in 1977.  After 6 seasons they were promoted back to the first tier, in 1984.  It was Kevin Keegan, in the twilight of his famous career, who led the club back up.  {see this 1983-84 highlight reel.  There are nice background views of St. James’ Park at the link.  Even then, the stadium had a lop-sided shape, with some large stands, and some smaller.  (#9 in some of the goals is Chris Waddle)}

  But it was back to the second level in 1989, with the club in massive debt, and forced to sell off players like Paul Gascoigne.  In 1992, Sir John Hall took over the club, and appointed Keegan as manager.  His heavy investment in the club saw quick results, as Newcastle went from 20th to 1st place, and were promoted to the new English Premier League, playing an exciting brand of attacking football.  The next season, Newcastle continued their impressive form, finishing 3rd best in the country.  A dip to 6th place, in 1995, was answered with the signings of David Ginola and Les Ferdinand.  In the 1995-96 season, the club looked set to finally regain the crown.  They led the league by as much as 12 points, but squandered the lead, and finished second.  One game stands out, a 4-3 loss to Liverpool that many call one of the greatest matches ever {see this footage}.  The club then signed Geordie Alan Shearer for a then-record 15 million pounds.

The prolific scorer had just led underdog Blackburn Rovers to their first Title in 81 years.  Even so, in 1997, Newcastle finished second, again, to Manchester United.  More disappointment followed, as Newcastle lost back-to-back FA Cup Finals: to Arsenal 0-2, in 1998, and Manchester United 0-2, in 1999.   Sir Bobby Robson became manager in 1999, and the club improved from 13th to 11th to 4th place.  In 2003, they finished 3rd, and qualified for the European Champions League.  But failure to maintain this level cost Robson his job.  For new manager, the board, led by Chairman Freddy Shepherd, made an uninspired choice: the authoritarian Graeme Souness.  The taciturn Scot had left the Liverpool clubhouse rife with dissension, in the early 90′s; he left Blackburn in 2004 with bitterness all around, and the situation at Newcastle played out similarly.  Although the club made it to the semi-finals in the UEFA Cup and the FA Cup in 2005, by February, 2006, Newcastle was near the foot of the table, and Souness was sacked.  The signing of 2001 European Player of the Year Michael Owen had helped, but Owen was constantly being injured.  Glen Roeder was the next manager, and was instrumental in turning their season around: they finished 7th.  But injuries helped make the 2006-07 season into a disaster: 13th place, and Roeder resigned.  Sam Allardyce, former manager of the Bolton Wanderers, was hired.   Allardyce had worked wonders with Bolton, a medium-sized club that was traditionally a second division team.  He relished the opportunity to manage a big club, like Newcastle, with a big transfer kitty.  New ownership emerged during the summer of 2007.  Mike Ashley, a retail billionaire, took over controlling shares of the club, and appointed Chris Mort, in place of Freddy Shepherd, as Chairman.  Newcastle is now one of the richest clubs in England.  But big spending has not won anything during the half-century of underachievement that is Newcastle United.  This is a club that pulls in 50,000 per game, but continues to win nothing but media overexposure.  Bitter Geordie fans in the Toon Army are already calling for Allardyce’s head, as the club sits in 11th place.  You would think Newcastle supporters would give someone a little more time than 12 games to turn around a club that for 50 years has produced nothing but dashed hopes.

Thanks to Historical Football Kits, for the 5 older jerseys on the chart, reproduced by permission (historicalkits[dot]co[dot]uk); Colours Of Football, for the 3 sets of newer kits (colours-of-football[dot]com); Photos:  (soccerati[dot]net); (nufc[do]pics[dot]com),;(empics[dot]co[dot]uk, (stadiumguide[dot]com); (sporting-heroes[dot]net).

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December 7, 2007

Portsmouth FC.

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 7:11 pm


Portsmouth FC was formed in 1898, from the ashes of the Royal Artillery Football Cub, which was forced to disband due to breach of its amateur status.  PFC began play in September, 1899, in the Southern league.  For their first decade they wore pink jerseys with maroon trim, and were known as ”the Shrimps,” though the name “Pompey” has been associated with them from the beginning. {for origin of the name Pompey, see # 10 on this list}  In 1911, dissolution was averted by a new board, with guarantees to the banks for debts.  After the war (1920), the League expanded, and Portsmouth joined the new Third Division.  Four seasons later, in 1924, the club gained promotion to the Second Division.  They made it to the First Division,  for the first time, in 1927.  They did this by the slenderest of margins, a goal average only .005% higher than Manchester City.  Jack Tinn became manager that same year .  He would remain until 1947, and is credited for building the side that eventually won the Title (in 1949).  Portsmouth initially had to stave off relegation , though, with two successive 20th place finishes.  However, they did well enough in the FA Cup to make it to the final in 1929, losing to Bolton Wanderers 2-0, at Wembley.  Portsmouth began to secure their foothold in the top flight, finishing as high as 4th place (in 1931), and reached the top ten 6 times in 9 seasons (1931-39).  In 1934, another good Cup run ended with the club losing to Manchester City, 2-1, in the Final.  Pompey finally won the FA Cup in 1939, beating heavily favored Wolverhampton 4-1.  Goals were scored by ex-Wolves player Bert Barlow (twice), Jock Anderson, and Cliff Parker.

{Pictured above, the 1939 FA Cup winners.} 

From the… British Pathé archive: Portsmouth win the 1939 FA Cup.

War broke out soon after, and Portsmouth ended up holding the Cup until 1946, when the competition was finally resumed.  Portsmouth’s status as one of the nation’s chief naval centers meant an influx of investment and talent to the area during World War II.  In 1947, in recognition of the city’s association with the military, Pompey began wearing their distinctive red stockings (blue for navy, red for army).  After the war, the club improved from 12th (1947), to 8th (1948).  And in 1949, under manager Bob Jackson, Portsmouth won their first League Title.   The squad played an attacking style of football, and featured midfield anchor Jimmy Dickinson, bustling left-winger Jack Froggatt, fleet right winger Peter Harris, and prolific forward Duggie Reid  {see this article}.  The club also reached their peak attendance that season, averaging 37,082.  In 1950, Pompey repeated as champions, beating Aston Villa 5-1, on the final day.  This allowed them to finish 2/5ths of a goal higher than Wolverhampton, for the Title.  

 {Below is Jimmy Dickinson, who holds the all-time appearance record for Portsmouth FC, with 764 games played (1946-65), as well as 48 caps for England.}

As the 1950′s wore on, the club failed to replace their aging veterans, and Portsmouth’s decline began.  {here is Peter Harris, ca.1953}   Though they finished 3rd in 1954, by 1959 they were relegated.  And in 1961, it was back to the Third Division, with a second relegation in 3 years.  Portsmouth bounced back to the 2nd tier the next season, though.  There they remained for 13 seasons, with a forgettable average finish of 15th place.  A financial crisis in 1976 forced the club to sell off their best players.  The predictable result was relegation, to the 3rd Division, in 1976, and down to the 4th Division, in 1978.  Pompey began the climb back up, by returning to the third tier in 1980, and the second tier in 1983.

Portsmouth made it back to the top flight in 1987, under manager Alan Ball, but for just one season.  Back in the second level, the club spent 14 seasons barely treading water, with an average finish of 16th place.  On six occasions, they had to struggle to avoid relegation, most notably in 1998, when returning manager Alan Ball helped the club avoid the drop.  By this time, Portsmouth had became known as “the Sleeping Giant” of the south coast.  The one real highlight of the decade was a good FA Cup run in 1991-92, with Pompey losing to eventual Cup winner Liverpool, in the semi-finals.  In their centenary season of 1998-99, Portsmouth went into financial crisis.  Competing factions could not raise sufficient capital, and the off-field battle over control of the club affected on-field results.  The club was under threat of dissolution in their 100th year.  In December, 1998, Portsmouth went into financial administration.  In May, 1999, the club was rescued by Serbian-American Milan Mandaric.  Before owning the San Jose Earthquakes, of the North American Soccer League, Mandaric had made his fortune in Silicon Valley, as a manufacturer of computer components. After the NASL’s demise, Mandaric returned to Europe, first as owner of Standard Liege (Belgum), and then OGC Nice (France).  Out of the blue, Mandaric took on the task of bringing Portmouth FC out of administration, and began investing heavily in the club.  He was attracted to the English game by the passion of the fans, something he found lacking in Belgium and the south of France.

There was another relegation scare in 2001, when Graham Rix was manager.  A final-day victory, coupled with a Huddersfield loss, kept them up.  Mandaric hired Harry Redknapp as director of Football that summer, after he left West Ham (where he had managed for 6 seasons).  The inevitable happened the following spring, as Rix was out, and Redknapp in, as manager.  During the summer of 2002, Redknapp embarked on a flurry of transfer activity.  Svetoslav Todorov, an unknown Bulgarian striker, was bought from West Ham.  People wondered why, but stopped wondering after he ended up leading the second tier in scoring the next season, with 26 goals.  He sold Portsmouth’s most valuable asset to raise cash.  This was beanpole striker Peter Crouch (who now plays for Liverpool, and England),  dealt to Aston Villa, for 5 million pounds.  He unearthed gems in young left back Matt Taylor, whom he prised from  Luton Town for a mere .75 million pounds; and solid center back Arjan De Zeeuw, on a free transfer from Wigan.  Then he made the key signing of veteran midfield general Paul Merson, from Aston Villa.  Merson was faced with the prospect of spending the season on the bench at Villa.  He knew Redknapp was putting together something special on the south coast, and joined.  There were more brought in, most prominent being crafty midfieder Steve Stone, also from Aston Villa.  And the wily Redknapp wrangled deals that had Villa paying around half of Merson and Stone’s wages.  Portsmouth shot out of the gate, and never looked back.  The transformation in the club was astounding.   Merson captained a squad that simply dominated the league.  The club began scoring at a prolific rate, and ended with 97 goals.  They won the division by 6 points, and were promoted, along with Leicester City, and Wolverhampton.

Back in the promised land of the English Premier League, Pompey started out very good, but by January, 2004, they were in the relegation zone.  Young striker Ayegbeni Yakubu began to find his stride, though, and his goals helped propel Portsmouth to a strong finish: 13th place.  The next season started promising, but rumours began of a rift between Redknapp and Mandaric.  The problem was exacerbated when Mandaric hired the Croatian Velimir Zajec as Executive Director.  Redknapp bristled at this affront to his status, resenting the fact that there would be someone else, besides the owner, that he would have to answer to.   So he stepped down, in October, 2004, when Portsmouth was sitting in 10th place in the table.  Zajec, and assistant coach Joe Jordan co-managed the club, until Frenchman Alain Perrin was hired, in February, 2005.  Meanwhile, Redknapp angered Pompey fans by becoming manager of hated rivals Southampton.  Both clubs became involved in the relegation battle.  Pompey clinched safety on the second-from-last game; Southampton went down. 

 The next season, defensive lynchpin De Zeeuw left, returning to Wigan.  It surfaced that he disliked Perrin (he wasn’t the only one).  Zajec’s additions to the squad were by and large underwhelming, and Pompey sat bottom of the Premier League all though the fall of 2005.  Perrin was sacked in November.  And in December, the prodigal son returned: Redknapp resigned from Southampton, and was re-hired by Mandaric.  The club faced an uphill battle, but was helped by a cash infusion from Alexandre Gaydamak, who became co-owner of the club.  Three acquisitions from Tottenham proved crucial.  Sean Davis, Pedro Mendes, and Noe Pamarot strengthened the midfield and defense.  Mendes’ last second 30-yard strike against Manchester City, in March, 2006, was the impetus for Pompey’s miracle escape from relegation.  They had sat 9 points below safety, with 10 games remaining, but survived. 

That summer, there was a buzz around Pompey similar to the summer of 2003.  Good players started to want to be part of what Harry was doing, like goalkeeper David James, who put in a transfer request at Man City.  And Redknapp landed quality England international, and Arsenal ex-captain, Sol Campbell.  The 2006-07 season saw Portsmouth playing less reckless, and more defensively sound.  They were in the top 4 up until the Holiday season, ultimately finishing in 9th place, only 2 points shy of qualifying for Europe.  Mandaric sold his half-share to Gaydamak, saying his work was done.  He has since bought Leicester City, a club similar to Portsmouth, in a sleeping-giant sort of way.  Portsmouth currently sits 6th in the table.  Pompey has gone from the brink of liquidation, to the upper echelon of the Premier League, knocking on Europe’s door, in nine years.   

Thanks to these sites: The 5 kits on the lower left, on the chart: copyright Historical Football Kits, reproduced by kind permission. (historicalfootballkits[dot]co[dot]uk).  The 3 sets of newer kits: Colours Of Football (colours-of-football[dot]com),  Some People Are on The Pitch (spaotp[dot]com).  Photos: The Stadium Guide (stadiumguide[dot]com), (blogs[dot]warwick[dot]ac[dot]uk), (cache[dot]viewimages[dot]com), Pompey Web (pompeyweb[dot]co[dot]uk).

Special thanks to Pat Symes, who wrote “Sleepimg Giant Awakes,” published by the Parrs Wood Press (parrswoodpress[dot]com), and Mike Walker, whose great photos comprised the Portsmouth promotion run gallery here.

December 5, 2007

Reading FC.

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 7:58 am


Reading Football Club was formed in 1871.  The club remained amatuer for it’s first 24 years, and was a founding member of the Southern League, in 1894.  In 1895, they turned professional.  Reading’ s nickname throughout it’s first century was “the Biscuitmen,” after a local industry.  (They changed their nickname to the Royals in the 197o’s, as a reference to Berkshire’s status as the Royal County; Windsor Castle is located there.)  The highlight of their early days was a tour of Italy in 1913, where they defeated Genoa, AC Milan, and champs Pro Vercelli.  Reading was elected to the League in 1920, as part of a group of teams allowed to join, to fill the new Third Division.  They moved up to the Second Division in 1926, but only remained there for five seasons.  33 seasons (1931-1971) in the Third Division followed.  For the next 13 seasons, they vacillated between the 4th and 3rd Divisions.  In the 1982-83 season, the club was under the threat of dissolution.  Robert Maxwell, the nefarious press-baron, had recently bought the nearby club Oxford United, and tried to bring about a merger of the two clubs, as the Thames Valley Royals.  Supporters of both clubs were successful in preventing this.  The club won the Third Division in 1986, and reached the second tier of English football for the first time in 55 years.  However, they were relegated 2 seasons later.

In 1990, John Madejski bought the club.  He had made his fortune publishing a second-hand car magazine.  Five years into the new ownership, results could be seen: a doubling of the fan base (from 4,000 to 9,000 average attendance), and a return to the second tier.  In fact, had it not been for the streamlining of the Premier League, in 1995-96 (from 22 clubs to 20), Reading would have been automatically promoted.  Madejski has said, in retrospect, that this would ultimately have impeded the club’s progress, as their new stadium was not ready, and they surely would have gone straight back down.  As it was , the Royals did have another set-back, 4 seasons back down in the third level (1998-2002), before their next assault on the top flight.  By 2003, Reading was drawing 16,000, and their small-club days looked to be behind them.  Steve Coppell, a former Manchester United and England winger, took over from Alan Pardew, who left acrimoniously to West Ham.  A 7th place finish in 2005 was followed up by a record-breaking run: Reading clinched promotion to the top flight (on March 25, 2006) quicker than any club in the post-War era.  The next season, Reading’s first ever in the top flight, saw an essentially unchanged squad.  And not one player on the squad had a single game of Premier League experience.  Under the steady leadership of Coppell (see this article), and with very vocal and enthusiastic sell-out crowds behind them, Reading produced a string of results that saw them finish one point shy of qualifying for the UEFA Cup.  Under Madejski, and with Coppell, Reading had gone from a century-old football backwater struggling in the lower divisions, to 8th place in one of the 3 top leagues in the world.  From barely drawing 4,000 paid customers, to a sold out 24,000 seat stadium, with plans for expansion to 36,000, all in under 20 years. 

Thanks to Historical Football Kits (historicalfootballkits[dot]co[dot]uk) for the older kits (the 5 kits on the lower left of the chart), which are reproduced by kind permission.  Thanks to Colours Of Football, and Some People Are On The Pitch for the newer kits.  Thanks to (stadiums[dot]football[dot]co[dot]uk) and (readingfcpremiumtv[dot]co[dot]uk) for photos.

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