Manchester City F.C. or ‘the Citizens’ as they are affectionately nicknamed have had one of the most tumultuous histories of any football club still open for business in the modern game. Often described as ‘everybody’s second club’ due to their inimitable ability to throw away seemingly unassailable leads, sign poor players for inflated prices and sack managers with alarming regularity, Manchester City are certainly the source of much mirth. However, despite their recent lack of success and the almost unbearable glory of city rivals Manchester United, their fans have, for the most part stayed remarkably loyal and continue to turn up in droves to chant their own famous rendition of ‘Blue Moon’, a classic pop song written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in 1934 and adopted by City fans in the 1980’s during yet another unsuccessful spell for the club.
Ardwick and ‘ardship
Like many English football clubs, Manchester City comes from humble origin. They are one of the oldest professional clubs in Britain and can be traced back as far as 1865 when St Mark’s Church opened in Clowes Street, West Gorton, a district in East Manchester. This event would ultimately lead to the formation of Man City, as fourteen years later a woman by the name of Anna Cornell, along with two wardens of the church set up working men’s meetings at St Mark’s which led to the creation of St Mark’s Cricket Club. Barely a year later and St Marks of West Gorton Football Club was born. They quickly expanded and in 1887 the churchmen and patrons of West Gorton moved to their first properly enclosed ground at Hyde Road in Ardwick just to the East of the city centre.
To reflect their new surroundings St Marks of West Gorton changed their name to Ardwick AFC and gained a snazzy new kit into the bargain, changing to blue and white stripes instead of their usual black. Ardwick joined the Football League in 1892 as founding members of the Second Division and, rather typically as it has proved over the years, a financial error that caused much amusement to their rivals, led to them reforming as Manchester City F.C in 1894. They were now a limited company and had chosen the colours of sky blue and white for their strip, Manchester City was born, ready to take on the rest of the country and do the city of Manchester proud.
Triumph and heartbreak
The first step for the blues was to gain promotion from the Second Division and join England’s elite, something that their size and the stature of the city in English culture demanded. They achieved this admirably in 1899, winning their first honours with the Second Division title and also becoming the first ever side to gain automatic promotion into the bargain. They also became the first Manchester side to win a major trophy by triumphing in the 1904 FA Cup final against Bolton Wanderers which, at the time, was held at Crystal Palace rather than Wembley.
Sadly it all fell part the following season as, dogged by accusations of financial irregularity, the club came within a whisker of falling apart as the Chairman, manager, two directors and seventeen players were suspended and fined. Further tragedy followed in 1920 as fire destroyed the main stand at their beloved Hyde Road ground. By 1923 the club was packing its bags and moving house again, to a new purpose built stadium in the heart of Manchester’s urban Moss side district, called Maine Road.
Maine (Road) men
Maine Road will forever live on in the hearts of every Manchester City fan as a song that is still sung home and away highlights:
“We are City, super City, we are City, from Maine Road”
Put simply, Maine Road was revered as a tough place to play, passion oozed from the terraces as a sea of blue scarves and shirts could be seen cheering on their heroes. The attributes of the club did not alter drastically despite the change of address and they continued to delight and despair their fans in equal measure. Some notable milestones from their first quarter of a century at Maine Road include the season in 1926 they became the first Manchester side to play at Wembley despite being managerless, recording the highest Manchester derby win (6-1) and suffering relegation in the same season.
Two successive FA Cup finals followed in the 1930s; the first in 1933, they lost to Everton, it was also the first time ever numbers were worn on football shirts, Everton wore 1-11 and City 12-22. In the second they beat Portsmouth to claim the cup for the second time and, in the same season, a record provincial crowd of 84,569 packed Maine Road to the rafters to watch City entertain Stoke. Just three years later City were recognised as the best supported club in the football league and the hoards of fans were in raptures as they won the League Championship for the very first time. Just as in 1904, years of silverware and glory seem to lie before them, surely this time nothing could go wrong?
City were relegated to the Second Division the following season.
Lee, Bell and Summerbee
Before the arrival of the three greatest City legends of all time; Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee, there was time for the club to reach another two consecutive FA Cup finals, once again the citizens would lose the first but claim the second. Newcastle United beat Manchester City to claim the 1955 trophy but in a memorable 1956 final, City overcame the challenge of Birmingham City 3-1, famous for City’s German giant of a goalkeeper Bert Trautmann playing on with a broken neck. In the early 60’s City were relegated to Division Two after a winter of discontent that they never recovered from, but a change of management saw an upturn in fortunes that few could have predicted apart from the long-suffering City fans used to the turmoil.
Former England captain Joe Mercer along with ambitious young coach Malcolm Allison were appointed as the new management team. In the eyes of most City fans they could have turned water into wine, such was the miracle they performed at the club. In their first season they claimed the Division Two championship, restoring City to the top flight at the first time of asking securing the important signings of Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee along the way. Once Francis Lee was added in 1967, Mercer and Allison had created a terrific trio of international footballers who added guile, flair and goalscoring ability to the famous sky blue shirts. Amusingly, whilst trying to sign Bell, Allison attempted to ward off other potential suitors by claiming that he, “can’t head, can’t pass it, he’s hopeless”. Allison of course knew differently as Bell’s 117 goals in 394 appearances for the club as well as 48 caps for England attests.
With these three players in the side, glory was never far away and a phenomenal period of success followed. City were crowned league champions in 1968 after a pulsating 4-3 victory away at Newcastle United on the final day of the season. They followed this up with yet another FA Cup success at Wembley the following season before becoming only the second English club to claim a European and domestic trophy in the same year by capturing the European Cup Winners Cup and the League Cup. Despite not quite managing to maintain the intensity of those three wonderful seasons, City did continue to challenge for honours throughout much of the 1970’s, finishing one point behind the league champions on two occasions and losing the 1974 League Cup final to a resurgent Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Manchester City is renowned for being a club of managerial instability and the early 1970’s and the entire decade of the 1980’s is the reason why. Joe Mercer left in 1971 to be replaced by his protégé Malcolm Allison who struggled without the mercurial Mercer. Johnny Hart, Tony Book in a caretaker capacity and Ron Saunders all had a go in the hot seat without much luck before Book was given the job full time in 1974. Amazingly Book, a true stalwart of the club has been manager on no less than five occasions! He did remarkably well in his five-year tenure from ’74 to ’79, claiming the League Cup in 1976 thanks to memorable goals from Peter Barnes and Dennis Tueart.
Then a comedy of errors began, which City fans attribute largely to the indecisiveness of the board at the time, fronted by the at-first popular and then increasingly berated Peter Swales. Swales took charge of the club in 1973 and after Book left he attempted to regain favour with the fans by reappointing Malcolm Allison who’s second spell as manager was as unconvincing as the first. John Bond then took the reigns and managed to survive a little over two years, largely thanks to him steering City to another FA Cup final, the hundredth ever in 1981 which they lost in a replay to Tottenham Hotspur. Bond left with City struggling and John Benson could not stem the tide of disappointment, with City once again relegated after a dramatic last day of the season against Luton Town. Billy McNeill brought City back up before being shown the door with the club once again struggling in the top flight. It was left to the hapless Jimmy Frizzell to lead them through the basement trapdoor back into the murky depths of Division Two.
What the club needed was stability and Swales, clearly with the clubs best interests at heart, felt the best way to go about it was to give managers little time to establish their methods and thus, City was a side capable of delighting (a 10-1 victory against Huddersfield Town in 1987) and despairing (relegation the same season) in equal measure. Mel Machin lasted a shade over two years and struggled to meet the expectancy of the fans and then it was the turn of tough tackling ex-England midfielder Peter Reid, who guided City to two fifth-placed finished in the top flight and, at long last, the club appeared to be set up perfectly for an assault on the inaugural Premier League in 1992-93.
Premier to paupers
Reid lasted just one season into the new FA Premier League, the two fifth-placed finishes had been but a temporary respite yet his departure did not improve fortunes on the pitch. Brian Horton took charge to much amazement from the City faithful, who had been hoping for a much bigger name appointment. Something to cheer the fans though was the return of Francis Lee, this time in the capacity of chairman, who promised that City supporters would be the happiest in the land. Needless to say, they were not and as rivals United notched up success after success, City had to watch on with ashen faces as, first Horton, then Francis Lee’s old pal Alan Ball failed to halt City’s decline.
In 1996 Ball got City relegated with an almost unbelievable error. Drawing 2-2 with Liverpool, Ball mistakenly thought that a draw would be enough to keep the club in the top flight so ordered his players to keep the ball in the corners to preserve the one point they would gain. By the time he realised his dreadful blunder, it was too late and City once again plummeted to the second tier of English football. Ball was removed from his position and Steve Coppell, an old Man United favourite was installed as the new manager in October of the following season with City struggling to keep pace with the early promotion hopefuls. Coppell lasted just six games. Things surely could not get any bleaker for the boys in blue but yet again they did as moustachioed Frank Clark failed to stop the slide towards the unthinkable – the third tier of English football.
With things looking desperate in 1998, Clark was given directions to the job centre and Joe Royle was immediately installed. He did a fine job at attempting to stop the rot but the once well-oiled Manchester City machine of Lee, Bell and Summerbee was now an old banger in need of a complete overhaul. Despite a 5-2 win on the final day, City were down again (the first team to have won a European trophy and sunk so low) and Royle had plenty to do.
Surprisingly there was plenty of optimism at Maine Road in the summer of 1998; after all, the club had an accomplished manager, the best squad in the division and a loyal fan base ready to strike fear into the hearts of any opposition team, more used to visiting Macclesfield than the mighty Manchester City. In fact the opposite happened and far too often City froze under the weight of the expectation of their own fans and stuttered alarmingly to mid-table mediocrity.
The opposing teams viewed City as their cup final and seemed to be putting their all into defeating one of the big boys. Royle thought long and hard about what to do as another season in the division was unthinkable for the chairman and fans. By the skin of their teeth and the goals of canny Bermudan signing Shaun Goater, City scraped into the play-off places where victory in the semi-final was greeted with ecstatic scenes, City were on their way to Wembley, surely even they could not fail to overcome unfancied Gillingham?.
After a nervous first-half performance, the game sprang to life in the second but goals from Carl Asaba and Robert Taylor, who would later play for City, put Gillingham on the brink of a famous win. What came next would go down in City folklore. Kevin Horlock pulled one back with just minutes remaining and then deep into injury time Paul Dickov struck to bring them level. City won on penalties and an exhausted Joe Royle could prepare for an attempt on getting back into the promised land of the Premiership.
Up and down and up again
Royle worked his motivational magic and transfer market nous to bolster the squad in the close season and get the best out of his players during it. City won a second successive promotion, this time automatically, and were back where their fans knew they belonged, for one season at least. Royle failed to consolidate their place in the Premiership and was replaced by ex-England manager Kevin Keegan. After a dour season under Royle, Keegan sought to bring back attractive football to the Maine Road masses by blending flair players such as Eyal Berkovic, Ali Benarbia and Darren Huckerby into his side. 98 points and 108 goals in his first season was an astonishing return to form and Keegan went one step further in his bid to bring the glory days back to City by smashing the clubs transfer record with the £13 million purchase of Nicolas Anelka and securing 9th spot in their first season back in the Premiership. More importantly for the City fans he got one over on Man United by masterminding a 3-1 trouncing of them at home and drawing 1-1 away. As if to prove he had the all important midas touch, Keegan also got City into Europe for the first time in over twenty years, albeit through the UEFA Fair Play League!
The Citizens were flying high and started the 2003-04 season at their new stadium simply named The City of Manchester Stadium in scintillating form. A 3-2 victory away to Blackburn took them briefly to the top of the table but then a remarkable run of poor form saw them go the majority of the rest of the season without a win and plummet out of the UEFA, FA and League Cups and within a whisker of relegation. Keegan resigned in March 2005 to be replaced by Stuart Pearce who immediately went about galvanising the same playing staff with a more pronounced and passionate touchline presence.
It certainly worked as they went on an eight match unbeaten run that took them to the brink of European qualification; only a penalty miss from Robbie Fowler on the final day against Middlesbrough saw them miss out, but nevertheless, Pearce was deservedly offered the job on a full-time basis. City started brightly and were well placed with a third of the season to go and still in the FA Cup. A home defeat to West Ham United in the quarter finals saw their season fall apart and they barely registered another win finally finishing fifteenth. Pearce was sacked at the end of 2006-07 after City played a bland style of football designed to prevent defeat rather than win matches. In fact they scored the lowest amount of goals at home ever by a top-flight club achieving a pitiful ten all season.
Thaksin and Sven
It was no secret that Pearce was likely to go or that the Club was seeking investors, and in the summer of 2007 both occurred with Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted former prime minister of Thailand buying the club. The move divided supporters with some unhappy about his alleged human rights misdemeanour’s and some simply unhappy that the Club had fallen into the hands of a foreign investor. Even more were unhappy with the appointment of ex-England manager Sven Goran Eriksson as the man to spend Thaksin’s millions. But a flying start to the 2007-08 season, including a derby victory over rivals United has won over the majority of fans who were sceptical. New signings Elano, Martin Petrov and Vedran Corluka have impressed and alongside home-grown talents such as Micah Richards and Michael Johnson, the future certainly looks bright for a team used to living in the shadows of their more illustrious neighbours.
- First Division (old format
Champions 1937, 1968
Runners-up 1904, 1921, 1977
- Second Division (old format), First Division/Championship
Champions 1899, 1903, 1910, 1928, 1947, 1966, 2002 (7 times, record holders)
Runners-up 1896, 1951, 1989, 2000
- Second Division (new format)
Play-off winners 1999
- FA Cup
Winners 1904, 1934, 1956, 1969
Finalists 1926, 1933, 1955, 1981
- League Cup
Winners 1970, 1976
- European Cup Winners’ Cup
- Charity Shield
Winners 1937, 1968, 1972
Runners-up 1934, 1956, 1969, 1973
- Full Members Cup