We’re on the telly this weekend. Even in the Championship, we can expect this to be a reasonably frequent occurrence, but it took us a long time to achieve basic stuff on the box when other clubs can count their televised achievements as readily as the blades of grass on their pitch. Let us pass some of your time by recounting of a few of City’s “firsts” when a few channel-hoppers were also watching…
1: First game
The Zenith Data Systems Cup. We mentioned it in our previous Famous Five in its original guise of the Full Members Cup, a filler competition for the top two divisions imposed on clubs to fill gaps caused by a sudden lack of European involvement after Heysel. Most clubs never quite took to it, on the perfectly reasonable grounds that only half a dozen teams ever played in Europe each season, yet suddenly extra matches were being added to the schedules of 40 and more.
City were in the Second Division throughout this period, and were even 90 minutes from a Wembley final in 1986. Afterwards, participation in the competition became pretty much a non-event, save for defender Peter Skipper’s appearance as a goalkeeper at Southampton after Tony Norman injured his back on the team coach. All that was left to salvage any interest (in what was regarded as a “distraction” even prior to the word joining football parlance) was a debut on live TV.
BSB, they of the squarials, had the rights to the ZDS in 1990/91 and chose, for reasons best known to their executives, to screen City’s trip to divisional rivals Middlesbrough in the first round on November 20th 1990. Your teenaged author had yet to convince his parents that satellite television was a worthy investment, but fortunately had a close friend in the next village with both the right dish and requisite interest, and so we settled down in his living room for this truly unique, novelty occasion. Not many others saw it, obviously.
The game itself was uncompelling but there was genuine excitement when Paul Waites managed to head home a 92nd minute equaliser to force extra time and give himself a bit of City history within what was one of many totally anonymous playing careers that passed through the symbolic revolving doors of Boothferry Park at the time. Middlesbrough went on to win 3-1, however, prior to exiting in the next round to Manchester City.
City never played in the competition again due to relegation at the end of that season. They also, incidentally, went back to Ayresome Park in the league ten days later, lost 3-0, and never went to Boro’s old ground again. Meanwhile BSB, having just inflicted a fairly rotten City side on a potential audience of millions, punished themselves by disappearing into Rupert Murdoch’s Sky empire within days of the game.
2: First win
This took bloody ages in coming. For a long time, there would be a collective groan whenever fixtures were changed for television coverage because City were “always shit on the telly” (© the Amber Nectar forums) and even a draw was regarded as a lucky escape. City had been promoted twice under Peter Taylor and then settled into the Championship by the time the first win before an armchair audience was secured.
It was September 15th 2006. Taylor had gone and Phil Parkinson had arrived to great fanfare but had suffered a worryingly slow start in the job, though had finally secured his first league win at Leicester just three days before. The visitors to the Circle on a drizzly Friday night were none other than Sheffield Wednesday, themselves still coping with Championship life after a slightly jammy promotion in 2005 at the same time as City, but they settled into the game quickly and won a dodgy penalty in the fourth minute. Replays from Sky showed the hand that touched the ball in mid-air was attached to an arm draped in blue and white, but the referee thought differently and Deon Burton put the kick away.
Jon Parkin scored twice in succession – a flick header and a fine volley on the turn – to get City ahead before 20 minutes were up, and the Tigers held on for the remainder of the game. A first victory on telly also doubled up as a first home win, and with two victories in four days, it felt like the journey to glory under Parkinson had commenced. Alas, this was not the case, and he was fired in December with City in deep trouble, while Parkin also fell sharply from grace, with no more goals in open play, or in the league, for the club as questions regarding his weight and attitude remained unsatisfactorily answered.
Oh, and Danny Mills, one of football’s most irascible and self-loving figures, made his debut for us after joining on loan. Interviewed after the game, he suggested that the referee should apologise in front of the cameras for giving the penalty, a demand you can’t imagine Roland Edge or Alton Thelwell making. Just for 90 minutes we rather liked him, but that affection didn’t last long.
3: First at Boothferry Park
Not just the first, but the only, too. On September 14th 1999, the old place squeezed in tonnes of Sky hardware as well as more than 10,000 fans for the visit of Liverpool in the League Cup second round, whereupon the growing City side, fresh from the Great Escape, were given something of a footballing lesson, really.
The lessons weren’t always good; Liverpool’s five goal masterclass was overshadowed entirely by a vile challenge from Michael Owen on Neil Mann which ended his season and pretty much his career too, but the infiltrators in red were 2-0 up within half an hour thanks to a Danny Murphy brace, then Erik Meijer (who he?) also got two in the second half, either side of a close range consolation from David Brown in front of Bunkers which gave the Tiger Nation something to cheer.
Steve Staunton made it five right at the end, and Liverpool won the second leg 4-2. Sky should have chosen that one as well, really, as City were down to ten men thanks to one of Lee Bracey’s standard red cards but came from two down to level up. We’re not sure Colin Alcide ever assumed he’d one day score at Anfield when he was playing for Emley in the mid-90s on pitches covered in glass and turds.
4: First game on the BBC
It was a mere four seasons ago, you know, that the BBC had the rights to screen live Championship football. This was between Premier League stints for City, and so we were on the radar, yet our only games beamed to the world that year were on Sky. The Beeb were seemingly obsessed with West Ham that season, as most of the media is anyway, irrespective of how good they are or which division they are in.
So we have still to see a City game in the league live on the Beeb, which given that the corporation very rarely screens any league matches in English football, and is continuing to haemorrhage its sporting contracts to the satellite broadcasters at an alarming rate, is unlikely to alter soon. Our only commercial-free games were in the FA Cup, and even then there have only been two.
We head back, therefore, to January 7th 2006, and City’s developing side under Peter Taylor, back in the second tier after 15 years’ exile, were drawn at home to Aston Villa, at the time a decent but watertreading Premier League side managed by David O’Leary. The game was a lunchtime affair in the third round of the competition, one which City habitually and historically had little interest in winning, and so it proved when Villa, themselves seemingly uncommitted to doing any more than the basics, won with a deflected goal on the hour scored by the right foot of Gareth Barry, at the time the best left-sided Englishman in the game but being resolutely ignored by his country.
So before an audience that could actually watch them without trying, City fluffed their lines. In the studio, pundit Garth Crooks marked Kevin Ellison out as a dangerous player, one to watch. Misplaced though it was, it was the sort of praise for which poor Kev, a player of serious endeavour but very limited ability, would have killed from his own supporters.
It took nine years for the BBC to pick us again, and that was the exit to Arsenal at the same stage last season. Still, at least the nation got to see The Deep.
5: First Premier League game
It was either this or the play-off final, really. But as life-enhancing and definitive as our first Wembley occasion was, we have to mention that our first game on the box in top tier football was the 2-1 win at Arsenal on September 27th 2008. It was a teatime job, on Setanta (ha!), and City won it with goals from Geovanni and Daniel Cousin after we’d even scored Arsenal’s goal for them in going behind.
The perfection of that day is made by the fact that it was so bloody unexpected. Even at 2-1 there was half an hour to go and it was obvious to everyone that Arsenal would somehow fashion an equaliser, and probably a winner too, either by being ridiculously good or fantastically jammy or savagely dishonest. But they never got near. That it was on Setanta is disappointing in hindsight, as not enough people would have settled down to watch it in the way they would – and, to this day, do – on Sky, but that’s just us being picky.
Geovanni never gets mentioned in the pantheon of scorers of the greatest Premier League goals, but City have never scored a better one at that level in any of our four precious seasons of top flight football, and we doubt Arsenal fans have seen a better one slapped into their net from 30 yards by a Brazilian playing for a club that was locked out of its own ground less than ten years before.
City self-destructed later in the season, of course, and didn’t win on telly again for the whole campaign (and very nearly went six months without winning off the telly, too) but once relegation had been avoided, that didn’t matter. That game at Arsenal, and the fact that the world could see it (if they subscribed to Setanta), was always going to be ours.