CITY BLOW CHANCE OF TOP FLIGHT PROMOTION, 1910
Depths of despair
Oldham Athletic. When they’re not stealing Jobbo for half his true worth, or poaching our best schoolboy players of the late 80s and early 90s, or gaining an unfair advantage on a plastic pitch, or persuading us to overpay for Andy Holt, then they are pipping us to promotion to the top-flight of English football 100 years ago. Bastards.
1910 was when we managed to mess up the best chance we’d had of promotion to what was then known as Division One, and were to get for another 98 years. City’s team back then doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like the great post-war teams but that’s more to do with the length of time that has passed than it is the quality of the players. You’ve all probably heard of EDG ‘Gordon’ Wright. Some of you may even believe that he was our first and only England international (he wasn’t; official FA records have him down as a Cambridge University player, unfortunately). But there was more to this team than the Hymers College schoolmaster. Manager Ambrose Langley seemed to want to field teams with as few surnames as possible, meaning the defence and midfield was based around the Browell brothers, George and Albert, while up front the goals were largely supplied and scored by ‘the three Smiths’, Joe (five goals), Jack (32 in 35 games) and Wallace (17). Davy and Dan Gordon were also crucial members of the squad. And in addition to Gordon Wright’s impeccable wing play, City’s forward line was usually completed by Arthur Temple – who contributed 16 goals that season – or occasionally the highly rated Alf Toward, who Langley deemed surplus to requirements and sold to Oldham for £350 mid-season.
City didn’t seem to miss Toward – who had contributed little that season anyway. Going into the final game of the season in second place, City needed to win at Oldham, who were two points behind but with a better goal average, which was how teams on level points were separated, or draw and hope that third-placed Derby didn’t win. As City went into the game unbeaten in 12 games, 11 of which were wins, top-flight football was City’s to lose. And lose it they did.
Derby did their bit, only managing to draw against West Brom, but City were blown away by Oldham. Missing the influential Jack McQuillan, City had no answer to the Latics attacking football. The home side went ahead on 18 minutes, and were two up on 25 minutes when – you guessed it – Alf Toward scored from what looked like an offside position. The third in the 80th minute compounded the agony. Oldham – who had spent much of the early part of the season propping up the Second Division – were promoted. City were left vowing to make amends the following season. And the season after, and the season after, and the season after…
And that was it. Of course we finished sixth in Division Two in 1986 – the year before the play-offs came into being –but until 2008 this was the nearest City had come to experiencing the upper chamber of the football league. It can only be speculated what might have happened had we won that day. Would we have gone on to greater things, build on the success and flirt with greatness in the way in which teams from similar-sized cities and towns with similar resources to City managed? Or would we have come straight back down and endured a very similar path to the one we were to tread anyway?
One thing we can be sure of, however, is that we wouldn’t have got to witness the too-good-to-be-described-in-words events of May 2008. Sure, promotion would have been incredible even if it hadn’t been our first time in the top flight, but knowing that we were prising a 104-year-old monkey off our back made the celebrations all the more elating and tear-inducing. So while our great-great grandfathers missed out on the opportunity to sup celebratory halves of milk stout down Canal Street, them being denied their bit of history made the bottles of over-priced piss that we got hammered on on the streets of Camden and Soho taste all the sweeter.