City Blogger: 1977 all over again?
- 24 April 2014 13:11
- Posted by @djwskyblu
Whether bedecked in red and white, sky blue and white or even royal blue and white ribbons, the Premier League trophy will be awarded to the team most deserving of the title ‘Champions of England’ on May 11th.
Tribal allegiances aside, any team that sits aloft the Barclays Premier League table after the last kick of the last ball of the last match, will have earned that right.
With red hot favourites Liverpool controlling their own destiny it looks as if Manchester City are, once again, destined to experience that dreadful feeling of how near and yet so far…just as they did 37 years ago.
The 1976-77 season was the closest City had come to winning English football’s top prize – then the First Division Championship – since winning it under the magical management team of Mercer & Allison, nine years previously.
The skipper of the 1968 title winners from Maine Road, Tony Book – had since been elevated to City’s manager and he’d guided the Sky Blues to League Cup glory in February 1976, with Peter Barnes and Dennis Tueart delivering a 2-1 win over Newcastle United.
City’s cup glory had come at a price with the team’s most outstanding player – Colin Bell – suffering what later transpired to be a career ending injury, in a 4-0 4th Round romp over Manchester United en-route to Wembley.
Arguably Manchester City’s greatest ever player, Bell missed the whole 76-77 campaign, at a time when City were pitched against what many football connoisseurs would maintain was Liverpool’s finest ever team.
Bob Paisley’s side boasted Anfield legends such as Ray Clemence, Emlyn Hughes, Ray Kennedy, Steve Heighway, Kevin Keegan, John Toshack, Ian Callaghan and the game’s first ever ‘Super-Sub’ David Fairclough.
The Scousers were the defending champions from 1975-76 and were destined to retain their title, before going on just days later to win the first of their five European Cups, beating German champions Borussia Moenchengladbach 3-1.
It’s a measure of the quality of Tony Book’s team that they finished runners-up by a single point…a team deprived of ‘King Colin’.
City’s chairman at the time – the ever controversial Peter Swales who so often divided opinion – received universal backing for his assertion that a fully fit Colin Bell would have seen City win the 1977 title at a canter.
How different would City’s history have looked had that been the case?
This season is not totally dissimilar in that Sergio Aguero, City’s prolific striker has missed literally half the season.
His goals to games ratio of 16 scored in just 20 Premier League appearances (three as a substitute whilst easing back in from crippling calf and hamstring injuries) would suggest City would have benefitted from more goals and points had he been available.
There’s another achingly painful comparison between 2013/14 and 1976/77, in that a single mistake by a world class City defender, could be cited as the difference between win or bust.
Just as Vincent Kompany will forever rue the scuffed clearance that cued up Philippe Coutinho’s winner at Anfield, big Dave Watson, City’s indomitable centre half in the mid-70s, curses an 89th minute own goal against Liverpool that denied City a critical 1-0 win.
Of course a league title is won over an entire season – 38 games nowadays – 42 games back in the day, so it is unrealistic and unfair to blame any individual error.
It’s a measure of the man that Watson did blame himself saying: “We missed the title by a point to Liverpool. I scored an own goal against Liverpool that season and that point would have won us the championship.”
What the humble Watson didn’t say was that City wouldn’t have come so close to the title had he not scored one the the most memorable goals ever seen at Maine Road – a bullet like header from eight feet up in the air, to give City a 2-1 win over fellow title challengers Ipswich on April 2nd 1977.
With two games to go City could’ve still snatched the title with a resounding win over Everton. Sadly they could only manage to draw 1-1. How strange would it be if a similar opportunity were to arise at Goodison Park on May 3rd 2014?
It’s one thing drawing parallels between past and present, but it doesn’t help Manuel Pellegrini and his team if, nearly four decades on, it ends with the same outcome.
However, we are City ‘SUPER CITY’ and we will ‘FIGHT ‘TILL THE END’.
My thanks to Gary James, Manchester City historian extraordinaire, whose superb book Manchester The City Years provided background material for this article.