FAMOUS FIVE: Bargain buys

It’s something called Black Friday, apparently. Apropos of this, here are five black and amber clad equivalents of a sixty-inch Samsung telly from Sainsbury’s at 70% off…

1: Boaz Myhill

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Nicked from under Stockport’s noses after a successful loan spell there, the 21 year old Aston Villa keeper signed for City as a long-term replacement for Paul Musselwhite at the end of 2003 for a meagre £50,000 and was almost entirely undisputed as City’s custodian during six and a half years, three glorious promotions and two seasons in the top division.

His sale for a million to West Brom in the summer of 2010 was wretched because a) he was worth a lot more; b) he didn’t want to go; c) City were to blame for committing fiscal suicide; and d) it took us years to replace him properly. That he is now first choice keeper at the Hawthorns and looks set for a trip to a major international tournament is fair reward for a cracking career that still has a long way to run and, well, sentimental this author may be, but we’d have him back at City tomorrow.

2: Les Mutrie

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City played non-league Blyth Spartans in the second round of the 1980/81 FA Cup and, after disposing of them at the third attempt, manager Mike Smith decided to spend £30,000 on the inelegant but effective 28 year old centre forward who had caused all sorts of problems in the marathon tie and scored three goals. The risk was obvious; he had only made five league appearances previously and there was a natural sense of doubt, especially as Smith’s record in the transfer market hadn’t exactly been exemplary.

Though City were relegated to the Fourth Division for the first time ever the same season, Mutrie became a revelation the next year, especially after Keith Edwards was sold. He banged in 28 goals including 14 within a club record of nine consecutive scoring games. Nobody has matched or broken that.

Alongside either Billy Whitehurst or Andy Flounders, the Geordie hitman was never short of confidence or form even if the team was, and in the 1982/83 rebirth season, when City won a thrilling promotion back to the third tier not long after the paymasters were prepared to leave them for dead, he clobbered in 12 goals while adding his share of assists for the 35 collectively scored by Whitehurst, Flounders and Brian Marwood alongside him.

Colin Appleton decided to sell Mutrie after a tactical disagreement the following season – indeed, he was the only major departure in 1983/4 as City nearly went up again, and although his career quickly petered out afterwards, his status as both a bargain buy and a cult figure was secured for life.

3: Stephen Quinn

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The Irish midfielder signed in 2012 for one of these newfangled “undisclosed” fees, though it was soon set down as a bargain when Quinn found instant form in Steve Bruce’s promotion-bound side while details of the terms leaked out. It was two grand to Sheffield United per appearance, capped at 50 appearances, so City were never going to pay more than £100,000 to the Blades for a player who had spent seven distinguished years in their team. That must have smarted a bit.

Quinn was peripheral for much of City’s two seasons in the Premier League under Bruce but the manager occasionally noticed him when the going got tough, and it was most infrequent that Quinn didn’t play well. He also wangled himself a free role in the FA Cup final of 2014, playing a part in both of City’s goals, having previously scored against his old club in the semi-final after coming on as a sub.

Few begrudged him his right to a free transfer last summer after he – and many others – felt he had been misused or underrated by Bruce during the relegation season, but it’s unlikely the City boss has ever spent a better hundred grand in his career.

4: Ken Houghton
HoughtonKForty grand was a lot of money in 1965 – though to most people, it’s a lot of money now, of course. City had been under pressure through the mid 1960s to get some decent attacking forces in alongside Chris Chilton and, after a couple of false starts, they arrived.

Ken Wagstaff came first, then on the same day in 1965, Ian Butler and Ken Houghton joined up. Houghton, the eldest of the three newbies at 25, was the man who cost the £40,000 but the money was deemed incidental very quickly indeed.

He was the missing link in many ways; a magnificent foil for Chilton and Wagstaff, a creator and decoy runner, a visionary player on the ball and a smart maker of space off it. He could feed Butler on the wing or Chilton down the middle with equal aplomb while making opponents think he was doing something entirely different. He could track back and help the defence. And even though it wasn’t his principal job, he could score too.

In the 1966 title winning season, Wagstaff got 27 and Chilton 25 – yet Houghton, with the huge number of assists alongside his 22 goals, was arguably the most important player within an impossibly good, exciting team.

In the second tier, he scored less regularly but still provided the brains and the footballing instinct that made him such a beloved figure among the more earnest football watchers going to Boothferry Park at the time.

He dropped further back into midfield as his legs aged, and his departure in the summer of 1973 at 33 was met with real sorrow and great thanks. He, of course, would later return as manager and despite proving unsuccessful, his copybook remains forever unblotted with those who saw a real master playing the game.

5: Stuart Elliott

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Eyebrows were raised when £230,000 was exchanged between Motherwell and City to bring a largely unheralded Ulsterman to Boothferry Park in 2002. Five and a half years later, the City faithful were bidding farewell to probably the most exciting player to grace both sets of turf used by the club.

Ostensibly a winger, Elliott was nevertheless more finisher than provider, with a killer left foot, a nature-defying ability in the air that mocked his lack of inches and a supreme confidence in his ability and belief in himself, no doubt aided (and we don’t say this flippantly) by his deep Christian faith. He had off-form periods but he was never one to mope or look around for scapegoats, and usually his fallow spells were brief, coming to an end with something either spectacular, or crucial, or both.

He scored 65 league goals in three different divisions, top scored in the second tier in 2005 with a ludicrous 27 strikes despite hardly ever being a centre forward and missing six weeks with a ruined cheekbone, and gave City fans some of their greatest moments of the modern era. That £230,000 was repaid many, many times over.

3 replies
  1. Brid Tiger
    Brid Tiger says:

    Another great list!
    One of my favourites who would surely be no6 if it were allowed, would be Ryan France.
    We paid peanuts for him and he, like Myhill, followed us all the way to the top!

  2. Bill Baxter
    Bill Baxter says:

    Keith Edwards?
    More than 10 years after Houghton signed, Edwards signed for not much more.
    Without him City could have quite easily ended up playing non league football.

  3. gjhdurham
    gjhdurham says:

    Good article…remember this lot. Boaz not a favourite of mine. Too many near post flaps and pushes straight out to the opposition…but from bits I’ve seen seems to be doing well. Maturity or better coaching?
    Bit rude to call Mutrie inelegant. Had a shuffling way of running but excellent ball control. Couldn’t believe a league club hadn’t got him. Didn’t he play wide left a lot? Don’t remember the falling out bit,when he left. Was he a bit outspoken like Deano, which was why he’d been overlooked?
    Quinn right to feel underused IMO.
    Seem to recall that a few near me took a dislike to Elliot…much like Elmo at the moment. Didn’t like the cart wheels personally, but he certainly knew where the net was! Technically didn’t he go through all divisions with us, as he got asthma or something and was farmed out somewhere when we last went up…but still under contract?
    KH…one of my all time favourites. Cup goal v Soton!! Saw him play v Newcastle just before we signed him. Ran the show and hit the post. Couldn’t believe it when my mate rang up and told me! Great days…thanks boys!

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