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Manchester City – A New Appreciation of the League Champions / Manchester City – A New Appreciation of the League Champions

Manchester City – A New Appreciation of the League Champions

By on 23 August 2018

When Manchester City won the First Division title in the 1967-68 season, it had been 31 years in the waiting since their last one. It was considered then that the balance of power had very much shifted from the red to the blue half of Manchester. This article by regular contributor and respected football writer, Geoffrey Green, appeared in the October 1968 issue of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly and very much talks up the new and exciting times in store for City under Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison.

Sadly for City fans the title success was short-lived and they would have to wait another 44 years for their next top flight championship win. Not only that but Mercer’s bullish predictions on their prospects for the European Cup fell a little flat when City crashed out at the first hurdle to Fenerbace of Turkey – then very much a lowly side in European eyes.

We can’t forget the fact that the modern City side has been put together using billions of pounds of Sheikh oil money but, leaving that aside for a moment, the article from 1968 does throw up some interesting comparisons between Mercer and Allison’s team and that of Guardiola’s City today. You can read the article in its original form by clicking the pages here or for ease of reading Soccer Attic has stripped the text out.


Manchester City – A New Appreciation of the League Champions by Geoffrey Green

A HOME “cartel” has been broken, and for the first time a new name moves into Europe—that of Manchester City. Not new, of course, in the British scene; but fresh to Continental challenge. It was 31 years ago when City last won the League championship for the first time in their history. It has been a long wait.

Now they have sneaked the tall trophy from their famous neighbours, the United, and taken it across the city from Old Trafford to Maine Road. For much of the last 20 years City have lived in the giant shadow of United—apart from a couple of years in the mid-1950s when they reached the Wembley Cup Final in successive seasons, based upon their tactical “Revie plan”. For the rest they have been the poor relations of Manchester, living, as it were, on the wrong side of the tracks since the war.

But before analysing the present and considering the future, let us look back briefly to those years of 1937 and 1938.

They were pregnant with events. In that first date of ’37, while City were getting their name on the League title for the first time, United were actually tasting relegation. How odd that seems now!

But even more remarkable was ’38. City themselves were then relegated with virtually the same side that 12 months earlier had taken the country by storm. Nothing like that has ever happened before or since. Talk about the see-saw of life and football!

But it is today and tomorrow that matters now. City are a force once more and for this they can thank the emergence of a dynamic partnership—the company of Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison unlimited. Manager and Assistant at Maine Road, they have made things buzz again at Maine Road: they have proved the perfect foil to each other.

Joe, the older, wise in the world, sensitive and bruised by past events, but honest, intelligent and a born leader of men, as befits perhaps the best captain in his day that England ever had:  Malcolm, young, brash, even ruthless, full of drive and vitality, a symbol of the jet age. Each respects and admires the other and they are complementary.

The whole football world is happy for Mercer. Life has not always been kind to him since that tragic day in April, 1954, when, as captain of Arsenal, he was carried from the field of Highbury on a stretcher, a leg shattered and his playing career ended for ever. Later, manager of Sheffield United and  then of Aston Villa (where he tasted relegation right away but took his club back first time) he savoured the ups and downs of football administration. Crushed by day-to-day worries and pressures, he suffered a breakdown in health. It seemed that he was lost to the game he loved.

 But after a rest the call was too great: football was in his blood and he went to Manchester City to face one of his greatest challenges.

It was in July, 1965, that Mercer arrived at Maine Road. City were then at their lowest ebb, a great club struggling amongst the also-rans of the Second Division. Gates had slumped to an average 8,000; the crowds were hurling abuse at the Directors’ box and throwing stones and bottles at the club offices. This was the nadir of their long existence.

One of the conditions laid down by Mercer on his new appointment was that he should immediately recruit Malcolm Allison as his first lieutenant, the intelligent young power-house whose abilities were being squandered as manager at struggling Plymouth Argyle. So was forged this vibrant new partnership. Their dual command was simply divided, the terms of reference clear.

While Mercer is in command of the overall policy of strategy, style, tactics and administration—providing the essential blue print of success—Allison is responsible for the detail and application of the broad plan. The relationship has worked wonders.

In 1965, the year of their arrival, Manchester City at once gained promotion to the top drawer, where they rightly belong. In 1966 they contented themselves by sniffing the rarefied air and finding a foothold for their new feet. And now, remarkably, they are the champions, with average gates up to 39,000 and more obviously to come as they catch the sweet smell of success.

Manchester City, in their distinctive sky blue shirts have brought a breath of fresh air to the game. They have done so for one good and simple reason. They have won the prize with a policy of uninhibited attack, much in the way that those other City masters of 1937 did so—Peter Doherty, Eric Brook, Toseland, Herd and Tilson, a forward line of artistry and power that brought life to the game.

The City of today are also happiest moving forward. No back pedalling, suffocating defensive tactics for them. They live by that oldest of cliches—”attack is the best . . .” They are also old fashioned in their simple philosophy of having five forwards up in a line.

But there is a new look to the tactic, streamlined and modern, a type of ‘W’ formation that flattens out into a straight line with all the forwards in firing position at the height of the attack.

Nor do they stick slavishly to their ordered positions—as of old—like trams for ever following their same straight lines. Numbers 7, 8, 9, 10, & 11 might just as well re-align themselves 9, 11, 8, 7, 10 at the point of maximum impact and explosion. And the hub of this whole attacking wheel is the free-wandering Mike Summerbee, converted from outside-right to centre-forward so successfully. With him there has emerged that other fine young England player Colin Bell, who must surely be a certainty for the World Cup in Mexico in 1970.

City, in fact, attack on a broad front which makes it difficult for opposing defences to seal off any particular sector. Figures prove the truth of this. Hence the goalscorers, reading right to left, have been: Lee 17, Bell 18, Summerbee 20, Young 21, and Coleman, at outside-left, 9. And behind this nap-hand are two fine young wing-halves Alan Oakes and Mike Doyle, with Glyn Pardoe at left-back another powerful player who has already won England Under-23 honours.

But what about this season’s European Cup and the first round tie against Fenerbace of Turkey? Will the accepted defensive tactics employed when playing an away tie on the continent bring a change of policy to City?

Says Joe Mercer : “We shall treat it on its merits. We feel our present style suits us best. But we may have to be tight and mean at the back.

“Our aim is to play even better in the future, knowing it will all be the harder with everyone shooting at us.”

If Mercer is philosophical, his young lieutenant Allison lives by the saying:

“Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes …”

His attitude to the Continental challenge is bold and abrasive: “We shall attack, and scare the pants off those Europeans.”



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