There is no New Years Day game for City this season for the first time since 2012, although they are less common than you may think. The calendar – both the footballing one and the Gregorian one – has much say on this, as does the weather at a more instant level, but generally City haven’t had as many as is assumed. Not that it’s an especially memorable footballing day of course, and in compiling this little list, we’ve tried to look at context and sub-plots in making our choices. That doesn’t explain entry number three, mind – blame laziness for that or, better still, blame City…
1: 1st January 1990
When one considers the prime candidacy of the 1990s to run away with the title of “worst decade in City’s history, ever”, it is gratifying a generation on to see how well City played in their very first game of the new decade. Of course, context is always everything, and at the time the Tigers were trying to burrow their way out of a relegation battle, having begun the season with Colin Appleton’s 16-game spell of uselessness which left us winless and humiliated at the bottom of what was still then known, accurately, as the Second Division.
Stan Ternent then came in and began to rescue the season. City had won three in a row under the brusque, belligerent, bespectacled curmudgeon as 1989 fizzled out, but few performances on his watch were better than the 3-2 win over Sunderland, a yo-yo club over the previous decade but still a mighty presence at this level, and one of the few teams with a fanbase that demanded the hasty checking of the safety certificate for the north east corner of Boothferry Park.
City took the lead on 12 minutes through a piece of opportunism by Andy Payton, then Wayne Jacobs scored in similar circumstances against a Sunderland defence playing as if they’d brought in the new decade a bit too enthusiastically at Finos the night before, though obviously the great and good Tony Norman, a City legend making his first return to his old club after a ludicrous transfer the previous season, had been tucked up in bed by 9.
The second half saw Sunderland’s comeback begin with a free header from sub Thomas Hauser, but within a minute Peter Swan had climbed majestically to power a Billy Askew corner into the top of the net to restore the cushion. Marco Gabbiadini snuck in a deflected shot with 15 minutes left, but City held on for a fourth straight win, and a fifth from eight since Ternent took over.
City ended the season in a comfortable 14th, a bizarre joint-highest position since their first season back in the second tier in 1985/86. Swan’s goal at Roker Park completed a double over Sunderland in April, though the Mackems still went up, rather spawnily, after their play-off conquerors Swindon Town were barred from entering the First Division due to making irregular payments to players.
2: 1st January 1955
It looks an otherwise insignificant game – City at home to Nottingham Forest, both in the bottom half of the Second Division. City were actually in a catastrophic run of form, with no wins in their previous nine games. Forest weren’t faring much better, and had already lost to City at their own place back in August, which had been part of a purple patch for City of four straight wins that now seemed forever ago.
But as the festive period beckoned, City had found themselves all over the newspapers thanks to a notable, controversial signing. Wilf Mannion, now 36, had won 26 England caps and played at the World Cup in 1950. But the distinguished tenure at hometown club Middlesbrough of the man dubbed the “Golden Boy” had been hit by a contract dispute that trailed Jean Marc Bosman by almost 50 years. Wishing to leave Middlesbrough in 1948, he eventually took an office job after they refused to relinquish his registration, eventually returning a year later after the club agreed to sell him for what would have been a world record £25,000. Even then, Mannion fanned the flames further by refusing to join any club that would pay such a sum, citing a creeping commercialisation in football of which he disapproved.
So it was an outspoken figure, popular with fans but not authority, who joined the Tigers at Christmas 1954. He became City’s oldest debutant in a home defeat to Luton, and then along came Forest. He scored one of City’s goals in a 3-2 defeat, which would turn out to be his only goal for the club. He played for the rest of the season, despite the rest of the January programme succumbing to a harsh winter, and was an influential inside forward as City, who never really emerged fully from their rut, stayed up essentially on their August form. Ipswich and Derby both beat City at the end of the season but still went down.
The story ended peculiarly for Mannion, as he revealed in a newspaper article that he had been offered a financial inducement – or, as it’s more commonly known now, a signing-on fee – of a whopping £3,000 to sign for a club he then refused to name. Unable to wheedle the information out of him, the FA suspended him, and he decided to retire and go into non-league football. He eventually returned to Middlesbrough to work on building sites and a statue of him is outside the Riverside Stadium, and he remained City’s oldest debutant until Andy Hessenthaler’s arrival in 2005.
3: 1st January 1972, 1974, 1977
The only three New Years Day games of the 1970s (Portsmouth away, Bolton at home, Blackpool away respectively) yielded three goalless draws within three featureless seasons culminating in three mid-table finishes, embodying the dullness of City in the 70s as a whole. All we can say by way of consolation to the players involved is that at least nobody took part in all three matches.
4: 1st January 2008
Indulge your author for a moment, because he has always marked this date down as the one which sparked up his belief that City could actually win promotion to the Premier League for the first time. Yes it was a 1-1 draw (albeit an entertaining one), yes City were still no better off than upper mid-table, and yes we had still to play West Bromwich Albion, who had already marked themselves out as the team to catch for the campaign. But it’s true, and there is audio from that season (somewhere) to back it up. That we’d taken a point off Stoke at theirs, again, was also quite satisfying.
They had taken the lead in the first half with as typically a Stoke goal as it was possible to get, when ex-City defender Leon Cort managed to glance in a Rory Delap long throw, which he wisely chose not to celebrate in front of the City fans this time (though at least part of this may have been because nobody, including him, seemed to realise he’d touched the ball, though Stoke players cleverly congratulated him to persuade the referee, as direct throw-ins into the net are not allowed). But City clawed back into it with a gritty and dynamic second half display, and Caleb Folan, our shiny new £1m signing, got above the tortured Cort to nod in a Dean Windass cross on the hour.
No further goals but we genuinely didn’t look back after this game, despite West Brom doing the expected job on us in front of the TV cameras at the Circle the following week. Meanwhile, New Years Day 2008 also brought a last moment of magnitude with ten minutes left of the game when Stuart Elliott was thrown on as a sub to find a winner. He couldn’t. It was his 193rd and final league appearance for City.
5: 1st January 1966
The great goalscoring achievements of the 1965/66 team should never cease to amaze. In winning the Third Division title – lest we forget, the only non-regional title we’ve ever managed – City scored 106 goals, 100 of which came from just five men. The two wingers – Ray Henderson and Ian Butler – got 13 each, the centre forward – Chris Chilton – got 25, and the two inside forwards – Ken Wagstaff and Ken Houghton – got 27 and 22 respectively. Three of these men each only missed one game in all competitions all season and a fourth was ever-present.
Yet because the defence still leaked like a sieve, it seemed nothing was going to be easy, or predictable, or straightforward. City’s main challengers all season were Millwall, and the two played each other on consecutive days just after Christmas 1965, taking a win each. Then along came Swansea Town to Boothferry Park on New Years Day, and the Tigers went to, er, town on them, stung by the shoeing Millwall had given them by three goals, without reply, three days before, which had swapped the sides round at the top of the table and was to be only the second of three occasions all season that City would draw a blank.
A whopping 17,531 fewer people attended the Swansea game than did the previous home match against Millwall, but it didn’t affect anyone’s celebrations. Wagstaff scored first, then Henderson, then Chilton, then Wagstaff again. Swansea, who had beaten City in south Wales back in October, did pull one back, immaterially. Typically, City followed it up with a defeat to an otherwise characterless Swindon side the following week, but then went on a 14-game unbeaten run which produced a preposterous 41 goals (39 from the front five) and made City strong favourites for the title, while simultaneously getting as far as the quarter finals of the FA Cup.
When one looks at those scoring stats again, it remains something of a surprise that no more than three of those five magnificent attacking forces ever scored in the same league game during 1965/66 (though four, with Chilton the exception, managed a goal each in the FA Cup second round tie at Gateshead). It is more of a surprise to learn that four did manage to score in the same match the following season in two consecutive games (and two different foursomes at that), even though the division was far tougher and City as a whole scored 29 fewer goals. Henderson left in 1968 but the others stayed in attack together until 1971 and yet never managed it again. Funny game, football…
On New Years Day 1987, City lost a phenomenal seven-goal thriller against Barnsley at Boothferry Park. But we’ve already written about that. Happy new year to you…