Bremner3

NOSTALGIA: Billy Bremner signs for City

Bremner2

At the end of September 1976, the notorious but iconic Leeds United captain Billy Bremner was informed, at the age of 33, that his services were no longer required by the club after a gigantic 773 first team games. Before we knew it, he was on his way east to join the Tigers and, on October 2nd, wore the amber and black for the first time. Four decades on, we look back at the move…

So, it’s 40 years since Billy Bremner’s City debut. As signings by City of illustrious players in the twilight of their careers go, this one, you would think, should be up there with the best of them.

Except that, to many, it didn’t feel quite like such a big deal at the time. Granted, his City debut at home to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest attracted over 16,000 punters to the Ark, which was well up on recent attendances, and for a good part of the what remained of the 1976/77 season there remained a “Bremner Bounce” on crowds, albeit one which steadily diminished as the season wore on.

But for all of that, most if not all of the City regulars of the period were, if not necessarily underwhelmed by the signing, decidedly in two minds about it. Those who were the most excited were by and large the ones who supplemented the existing support that season following Bremner’s arrival, and after the initial media splashes it was no big thing. Kevin Keegan going to Newcastle United it most certainly was not by any stretch of the imagination, and one imagines that, if City had not signed Bremner but a player of comparable stature in the game at that time – Francis Lee, say – there would have been a great deal more enthusiasm over it.

So why was this?

In a nutshell, for one simple reason: prior to joining City, Bremner was one of the most notorious and disliked players at the one club that the Tiger Nation hated above all others.

The Leeds United team created by Don Revie were, as far as the quality of the football was concerned, a hugely impressive bunch – a formidable blend of skill, tactical guile, physical toughness and hard graft, all bound together with an irrepressible team spirit and sound organisation, off the field and on it . At their best they were a delight to watch.

But simultaneously, they were about as horrible a football team as you could imagine, possessed of a deeply cynical “win at all costs” mentality that manifested itself in various ways, from referee-haranguing and verbal intimidation of opponents to the more physical sly shirt tugs and elbows of “Sniffer” Clarke and the overt, stud-baring savagery of Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter.

Why Revie chose to order or condone such behaviour goodness only knows: his team were easily good enough to prosper without resorting to it and opponents were if anything spurred on by it.

And if one player was the true embodiment of the schizophrenia of that Leeds side it was their captain, midfielder Billy Bremner, who had followed in the boots of a remarkably similar player, Bobby Collins. Flame-haired, a mere five feet five inches tall but immensely tough, a product of Stirling’s notorious Raploch sink estate, a fiercely aggressive competitor – and a most gifted footballer. One of those stories about Alf Ramsey that might or might not be true is that, at a dinner following an England versus Scotland game, he remarked to Bremner: “You’re a horrible little bastard, aren’t you? But by God you can play football”. Apocryphal or not, it sums Bremner up perfectly.

One famous incident which epitomised him – and indeed the Leeds team of the time – was his foul on Dave Mackay in the Spurs hard man’s first game back after twice breaking his leg. Footage of the challenge, in which Bremner is said to have gone straight for the the leg that Mackay broke, has not been recorded for posterity but Mackay’s less-than-impressed reaction was captured in one of the most celebrated English football photos of the 1960s.

MackayBremner

One of the trademarks of Leeds matches of the era was the angry mass confrontations with opposing players, with much shoving and jostling, usually erupting when Leeds were struggling to take control of a game. If not instigated by Bremner, he could often be seen on TV footage running 30 or 40 yards to join in.

Fair to say, therefore, that Billy Bremner was not a massively popular figure among football folk, for all his ability.

In Hull, along with other places in Yorkshire, the anti-Leeds feeling was especially strong, as fans of local teams had to stomach hordes of their fellow townsfolk, in their search for glory, heading to Leeds on Saturdays or (more likely) “supporting” Leeds United from the comfort of their armchairs, to say nothing of the disproportionate and fawning coverage accorded to Leeds by the BBC, YTV and the Yorkshire Post. Their supporters – many of whom were also out-and-out thugs – generally were an arrogant, sneering bunch with a sense of entitlement that would have outdone even that of the Arsenal fans of today. No change there then, you might say.

Typical of attitudes towards Bremner in Hull at the time were those of my parents. At that time both were City passholders (before, like quite a few City fans of the era, jumping aboard the rugby bandwagon that was starting to gather pace in Hull in the mid 70s) and fairly vocal in their distaste for Leeds and Billy Bremner in particular. My late mother, in particular, used to refer to him as “the thug”, and reduced my dad and I to hysterics one Saturday night when she remarked, while we were watching a classic display of Leeds unpleasantness on Match Of The Day: “You know what, I bet he’s even got bad breath”.

“Ah, but you wouldn’t say that if he played for us”, I replied. That remark was promptly dismissed by my mum on the grounds that the point was academic, since Bremner would not be donning the black and amber at any time in the future, and there was no riposte from me as she was surely right.

And that was another thing about the Bremner signing: nobody saw it coming. There wasn’t the degree of press speculation over signings that exists nowadays, and certainly no suggestion, until it happened or maybe just beforehand, that Bremner would be coming east or that City had the remotest interest in him.

So it was that the Tiger Nation, albeit not as whelmed as it might have been, filed into the Ark on 2nd October 1976 to witness Bremner’s debut.

Bremner1

And yes, we all craned our necks as City took the field to the strains of “Tiger Rag” in order to catch our first glimpse of him in the amber and black. And yes, we all applauded him as he emerged from the tunnel. And yes, we all went completely mental after Bremner stroked a free kick over the Forest wall and, with the entire place – players and fans alike – all seemingly in a state of suspended animation just like in the old kids’ TV programme The Magic Boomerang –  the ball bounced once before nestling languidly just inside John Middleton’s left-hand post. And yes, we all chortled lustily when we thought of how Cloughie would be grinding his teeth because his nemesis from his ill-fated stint as successor to Don Revie had got one over on him again. But that’s just the way of these things.

Of course, this being City, there was to be no fairytale ending. Bremner didn’t pull up any trees for us, but that is to a large extent because he was – unlike at Leeds – surrounded by players who, despite their obvious talent, were basically too idle ever to display the level of consistency that would have made City a force: in many ways City, in the Second Division at the time, embodied the nation’s attitude of indolence, generated by the toxic social and political climate that prevailed in the UK for most of the 1970s (not that they were the only ones: the failure of the national side to qualify for a single World Cup during the 1970s was another symptom of the same malaise).

As far as I recall, though, he took his 68 games in the amber and black seriously. There were – partly because of a reputation for which he largely had only himself to blame, and partly because, for the reasons explained above, many City fans never really warmed to him – rumours that he was an agitator in the dressing room, constantly trying to undermine managers (he played under three: Kaye, Collins and Houghton), but none of this was ever publicly substantiated, his evident eagerness to make the transition into management notwithstanding. Equally, though, rumours also abounded, and remain similarly unsubstantiated, that he had been promised a managerial role at City after he retired.

Bremner4

In the end he turned out for City for the last time on 15th April 1978, a 0-1 reverse at home to Fulham, and then he was gone, off to manage Doncaster Rovers, with the City fans agog with indifference and their overall dislike and mistrust of him not really dented.

There were to be no glorious homecomings on the occasions when his subsequent career brought him back to City. He could probably never have been one of us, because his position as one of them was too entrenched.

Ian Thomson

FEATfamous5s

FAMOUS FIVE: City’s shortest-serving managers

Sam Allardyce. 67 days, one competitive game. That’s almost something to admire, in a way, even though he’s clearly a bloody idiot. So, we decided to look at the shortest spells in charge in City’s history. We’ve not included caretaker managers or temporary football management consultants because those people were, by definition, not more than stopgap appointments to the job. And we’ve done it only on the number of competitive games in charge, as we have insignificant off-periods to consider, like summertimes and global conflict…

1: James Ramster (No games, 1904/05)

RamsterJIt looks ridiculous to have a full-time manager who didn’t actually get a team on to a pitch for a competitive game, although the just-departed England boss came mighty close, but Ramster (fourth from left on top row, above, next to the Lord Mayor) was City’s first gaffer, appointed after the club was formed in 1904. He was there for a year but City weren’t able to gain immediate election to the league, so he picked teams for friendlies until a place in the Second Division was confirmed, at which point he was replaced by Ambrose Langley, a player-manager with a strong reputation.

Some City tomes refuse to acknowledge Ramster was a proper manager at all, but this feels a bit cruel. He was permanent in the role – City’s (lack of) league status was incidental and not his fault, and he’s worth his place here.

2: Colin Appleton (16 games, 1989)

AppletonCWe try to colour another grey area with this one, as Appleton managed City for more than 100 competitive matches in total and gained a fine promotion from the Fourth Division with a small, tight-knit and talented squad in 1983, made all the more admirable because the club had been about to fold the previous year. However, his return for a second spell for the start of 1989/90, five years after he had left, was one of the dumber decisions taken by any City chairman, not least because Don Robinson’s judgment was evidently clouded by sentiment.

Appleton won only one of the 16 games (a League Cup tie against Grimsby which City still lost on aggregate), signed just one player (Steve Doyle), sold prolific scorer Keith Edwards and was fired when Robinson’s ill-health prompted a reshuffle of the seating in the boardroom, and Richard Chetham wasted no time in getting rid. His replacement, Stan Ternent, promptly won his first game in charge and City, a national laughing stock to this point, stayed up.

There remains masses of goodwill for the eccentric Appleton because of his achievements first time round, though at least some of it must also be down to the fact that the season that started so catastrophically under his tenure when he came back didn’t end in relegation. In some ways, he is a fortunate man.

3: Jan Mølby (17 games, 2002)

MolbyJCity’s only non-British manager, a cosmopolitan appointment by Adam Pearson after the slightly controversial sacking of Brian Little, with the hope that his vast experience as a player would rub off on a team of fourth tier triers who’d had a momentary taste of the play-offs.

Alas, Mølby was a disaster, largely due to his frosty relationship with the players and some odd training methods and tactical decisions. Long term, City did benefit from the Dane’s reign because he acquired Ian Ashbee, Stuart Elliott and Stuart Green, players who would be crucial to the long-awaited renaissance of the club over the next few years, but nobody was anything but relieved when he packed his bags six months after his appointment.

4: Bobby Collins (19 games, 1977/78)
CollinsBThe three-manager season, ending in a hurtful relegation after 12 years in the second tier, and during football’s simpler days it’s hard to imagine City being in more turmoil at any other time.

The campaign began with John Kaye in charge, where he had been for three years, but he had been given an “improve or else” ultimatum by the board which he couldn’t act upon. His sacking led to first team coach Collins receiving an unexpected elevation to the job.

Fans were surprised, as Billy Bremner, skipper of City and with an unwritten agreement when he signed from Leeds that he’d get a crack at the manager’s gig when the chance came, was overlooked in favour of the chap who had been once his own captain at Leeds. Collins, despite starting with a win over Spurs, was staggeringly out of his depth and in February, after a boardroom change, new chairman Bob Chapman gave him his cards. Ken Houghton took over but couldn’t prevent the drop.

5=: David Menzies (24 games, 1936) and Phil Parkinson (24 games, 2006)
Menzies was a proto-Appleton, a Scotsman whose short tenure as gaffer was actually his second, and in the end he took charge of 114 games. He first became manager during World War I after two years on the medical staff, waited three years for a competitive match, and stayed until 1921 before, like Appleton, choosing to quit for a new job.

A whole 15 years passed before he returned, after six years at Bradford and a successful eight-year stint at Doncaster, which included lifting the Division Three (North) title in 1935. He started the 1936/37 season with a nine-match unbeaten run before his sudden death from a heart attack, the only City manager to die in his post. At least his inclusion in a semi-dubious list like this isn’t due to any incompetence on his part…

Parkinson, meanwhile, was the bright young manager whom everyone connected to City wanted upon Peter Taylor’s exit in the summer of 2006, having just guided the deeply unfashionable Colchester United into the Championship with football that was both decisive and incisive. It took a lot of negotiation – and a lot of cash – to prise him away from Layer Road as, unsurprisingly, his chairman wasn’t keen on letting him go, but he was a massively welcome and popular appointment. Soon, however, it was clear he had taken too big a step too early.

His reputation is partially saved, similarly to that of Mølby, thanks to the initial signings he made, with Michael Turner and Sam Ricketts among his recruits, but he struggled to gain the confidence of his players, was tactically very naïve, alienated very influential figures in the dressing room and was responsible for some shocking defeats, including a 5-1 reversal at his gleeful old club that we suspect still gives him cold sweats to this day.

A relegation battle was already in full swing by the time he was removed just before Christmas, with Phil Brown moving up from first team coach to take over and salvage things.

And, as you’re asking: 1 – Cliff Britton (406 games, 1961-69); 2 – Billy McCracken (375, 1923-31); 3 – Terry Dolan (322, 1991-97); 4 – Ambrose Langley (318, 1905-13); 5 – Bob Brocklebank (302, 1955-61). We’ll leave this here, as let’s face it, it isn’t going to come up as a topic in its own right any time soon…

FEATfamous5s

FAMOUS FIVE: Players for City and Liverpool

We’re off to Anfield this weekend. There aren’t many players who have worn the colours of both clubs – so narrowing it down to five was easy. And no, we haven’t included Nick Barmby, because nothing tops this piece on him here

1: Emlyn Hughes

HughesEmlynThe most successful Liverpool captain ever (three League titles, two European Cups, a UEFA Cup and an FA Cup during his time with the armband) who combined marauding runs with madcap tackling, all while berating referees when annoying and sporting one of the most famous shiteating grins when happy.

Four years after leaving Anfield, he joined City for the end of the victorious 1982/83 season, when City were clambering their way out of the Fourth Division, thanks to a long-time friendship with chairman Don Robinson, who had played rugby with Hughes’ dad. Nobody outside of Hull remembers the future star of A Question Of Sport playing in black and amber, though more remember his split loyalty in 1989 when, as a board member at Boothferry Park, he was asked who he’d be supporting when Liverpool were paired with City in the FA Cup.

2: Jon Otsemobor

OtsemoborJonShortlived loanee who played for Peter Taylor in defence on eight occasions at the end of 2002/03, scoring three times. He left Liverpool, his boyhood club, in 2005 after failing to become a first team regular, and lived a nomadic existence afterwards, playing for six clubs without ever commanding a fee or achieving anything major, though he was popular at MK Dons. He retired, disillusioned, at the age of just 31.

However, even a long, spectacular, decorated and blameless football career would likely not have stopped him being most memorable for the time he was shot up the arse by a gunman during an attack in a Liverpool nightspot at the end of 2003. It’s with this everyone outside of Milton Keynes associates him.

3: Gary Ablett

AblettGElegant left-sided defender who spent a short time on loan at City in 1986/87 before breaking into the Liverpool team the following season, aided by the sudden retirement of Mark Lawrenson, and having the gall to stay there, initially as a left back and then in the centre of defence.

He was evidently too good for the second tier when he came to City for a spot of experience, and his later form at Liverpool, which earned him two title medals and an FA Cup, proved this conclusively.

During this time he made a further appearance at Boothferry Park in the famous FA Cup tie of 1989, making an error that led to Billy Whitehurst’s equaliser.

Graeme Souness sold him to Everton, where he won the FA Cup again (he remains the only player to win the competition with both Merseyside clubs) before a lower profile swansong to his career and a delve into management. He died of cancer in 2012, aged just 46.

4: Péter Gulácsi

GulacsiPPrematurely balding Hungarian goalkeeper of dubious actual goalkeeping ability, signed on loan by Nigel Pearson in 2011 and sent back, 15 games and a knee injury later, to Anfield with nobody really benefitting at all from the move. Difficult to conclude he was any good, and it’s notable he never once played for Liverpool in five years there, sitting on the bench more than 50 times.

The knee injury was real although the way he suffered it, reacting long after the event in conceding a goal at Burnley in December 2011, led to accusations of feigning from livid City fans, and his reputation never recovered. City at the time had an aversion to signing permanent goalkeepers for the long term and Gulácsi was one such bit of short-termism that never worked. He is still only 26 (!) and now plays for Leipzig, sometimes…

5: John Welsh

WelshJohnHistory ought to be kind to Welsh, a battle-hardened England Under 21 midfielder who was superb when he first joined City on loan from Liverpool in 2005/06 under Peter Taylor, having been cast as the next Steven Gerrard, whatever that meant. He scored a fantastic brace at Coventry early on and then made his move permanent mid-season thanks to Liverpool, for whom he’d played ten times, having eyes on City youth product Paul Anderson.

The swap deal worked better for City, as Anderson didn’t make it at Anfield, and Welsh was a regular in a comfortable first season back in the second tier for City after 15 years away, but his luck changed when Taylor quit in the summer. Phil Parkinson disliked Welsh, tried to find numerous ways to avoid playing him, and would always make him a scapegoat in the event of a poor performance, which under Parkinson was a regular occurrence.

Phil Brown, on succeeding Parkinson, tried harder with Welsh but questioned his attitude, and given that Welsh wasn’t as tough as Ian Ashbee, he decided not unreasonably that there wasn’t room for two “hundred percenters” in the midfield, especially as only one of them always gave that one hundred percent. Welsh then went in for a stupid two-footer on his ex-Liverpool team-mate Neil Mellor in a game against Preston in March 2007 and broke his leg in two places, ending his season and leaving him unable to contribute to a fine escape from relegation under Brown who then wouldn’t give him the time of day for the remaining two years of his contract.

Welsh made the bench a couple of times when injury crises left Brown with no choice, but he didn’t play again for City, going on loans to Chester, Carlisle and Bury prior to his release in 2009. Ironically, he is now a fixture in the midfield at Preston.

There is little doubt he was a fine footballer, skilled and industrious, and with a bit more fortune and a lot more focus he could have been one of City’s enduring presences during a time of transition and progress. There are those of us, however, who’ll forgive him all his shortcomings just because he still looks like the grandson of CJ from The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin – and because we remember how insanely we celebrated when he scored his wonderful second goal at Coventry.

FEATfamous5s

FAMOUS FIVE: Great City free kicks

Robert Snodgrass curled in a beauty last weekend, and that it was a) at “bloody” Burnley, and b) in the 95th minute made it even sweeter. Any excuse to recall some previous sweet, timely or just memorable goals from a dead ball…

1: Garry Parker v Plymouth Argyle, 1987/88

ParkerFKProbably the most individually gifted player in City colours during the 1980s, and certainly one of the most successful in his post-City life, Parker’s parting shot was just that, a belter of a free kick that showcased his tremendous talent irrespective of whether the ball is in transit or not. City were a goal down against a middling Plymouth side courtesy of an early bit of typical close-range plundering from Stewart Evans and the locals were getting restless.

This wasn’t surprising, as City’s record from the early part of 1988 onwards wasn’t exactly stellar; no wins since giving Leeds a seeing-to three days into the new year. Parker, with his streaked mullet and laconic style on the ball, was very much the player through whom City tried everything in the centre of the park, and when a free kick was won on the edge of the visitors’ box, there were no other candidate to have a pop at goal.

Now Parker was known for his deliciously accurate flighting of the ball. His trajectories were special, his ability to curl the leather with either inside or outside of the foot with precision bordering on legendary, but power hadn’t been his great strength in two and a half years at Boothferry Park. So it was with surprise as well absolute delight that the shot he crashed past wall and keeper (the bewildered Steve Cherry) and into the top corner of the net was, as anyone in the South Stand seats that day will attest, one of the straightest, fastest and most devastating he had ever hit.

It was also the last. The game settled for a 1-1 draw and Parker, who was being watched by Nottingham Forest assistant manager Ronnie Fenton, signed for them three days later, transfer deadline day, for a club record £260,000. The deal provided an extra stick with which to beat the under-fire Horton, even though the manager brought in Keith Edwards and Wayne Jacobs on the same day, and he was out of a job within a month.

2: Geovanni v Tottenham Hotspur, 2008/09

GeoFKThe Brazilian was brought in to sprinkle some stardust over City’s newly-promoted, history-making but limited bunch of players, and did so with real style. After blootering in the greatest goal of any City player in the Premier League era, he followed it up with this (1’06” in, below).

Early though the goal was, it knocked the stuffing out of Tottenham a meagre week after he – and we – had done the same further along the Seven Sisters Road at Arsenal.

3. Andy Dawson v Middlesbrough, 2006/07

DawsonAFKMost of the elder Dawson’s goals for City in ten distinguished years were free kicks, and you could name any of them as special. We’ve gone for this one because it was not an obvious free kick for a left-footer, making it all the more impressive; it formed one half of his only brace of goals in City colours (he’d already scored with a header) and because it satisfyingly clattered the crossbar on the way in. Oh, and it brought the score back to just 4-3 behind against a Boro side who had been 3-0 up in a pulsating FA Cup third round replay.

We have no way of backing this up, but we reckon Dawson scored more free kicks for City than anyone else, and if Stan McEwan’s official historian is reading this and would like to state anything to the contrary, we’d be delighted to hear from you. And, on that very note…

4. Stan McEwan v Orient, 1984/85

McEwanFKTalk of the devil. McEwan was the uncompromising centre back who, unusually for a man of his position on the field of play, was also City’s mid-80s go-to player for set-pieces and penalties. However, the subtlety levels he showed when introducing a centre forward’s buttocks to the toe of his right boot were replicated when it came to his delivery of these dead balls, reliant as he was on sheer brute force.

As good an example as any came against Orient in the spring of 1985, with City on the way to promotion from Division Three. He took a run-up that would have made Seb Coe do a series of precautionary stretching exercises, prior to wellying the ball into the net from 30 yards with keeper Rhys Wilmot barely able to blink. Had Billy Whitehurst not had the temerity to score a hat-trick in a game which City won 5-1, more attention would have gone McEwan’s way. Free kicks like this, not to mention the penalties, became as much of a trademark as his uncompromising defending and meant that extra strong twill was on order each season to hang between the posts at Boothferry Park.

5. Billy Bremner v Nottingham Forest, 1976/77

billy-bremnerIt was 40 years ago this weekend that Bremner played his final game for Leeds United. Two weeks later he was making his Hull City debut, and as a result a bunch of glory-hunters made the Boothferry Park railings groan somewhat, with Brian Clough’s future European champions providing the opposition. The free kick wasn’t amazing – it bounced once before crossing the line and John Middleton, in the Forest goal, should have had it, but it was the perfect way for a genuine icon of the game – albeit one with a controversial, divisive career behind him – to mark his new territory, 70 miles away from his old one.

Bremner peaked on his debut, all told. He lasted two years, missed out on the manager’s job during his second season after John Kaye got the boot, and walked away in a huff after relegation in 1978. He isn’t remembered fondly in East Yorkshire, but we suspect he’d have rather been remembered negatively than forgotten completely.

FEATfamous5s

FAMOUS FIVE: Ian Ashbee

The greatest captain in Hull City’s history celebrated his 40th birthday on Tuesday. We barely need an excuse to wax lyrical about his phenomenal career with the Tigers between 2002 and 2011, but hey, we’ve got one. So, we’ve selected five things that epitomise the colossus that is Ian Ashbee…

1: That goal at Yeovil

ash-lead04
Ashbee wasn’t ever a prolific scorer from midfield but was also not expected to be, with his tenure as City captain coinciding with the hiring of some fine natural strikers and decent goalsniffing midfielders. Yet when he did score, it was often memorable. His header at Barnsley in the 2007/8 promotion season, the similar one that won a tight game against Crystal Palace shortly afterwards, his strike on the opening day of 2010/11 against Swansea after a year out with injury. But when we think of Ashbee and goals, we can only think of his curling shot at Yeovil, 2003/4.

It would have still been a brilliant, brilliant goal even if City had been mid-table nonentities and 4-0 down in the game, let alone chasing a first promotion since 1985. But it was a goal that iced a particularly delicious cake, as City finally dragged themselves out of English football’s putrid lowest division after eight unforgiving and, at times, embarrassing years.

What made it all even better was that Ashbee’s goal directly took City up. It was the winner in a 2-1 victory in Somerset. And it’s a goal nobody will ever tire of watching again and again.

2: That spat with Danny Mills

Ash12
You imagine a character as abrasive and self-satisfied as Mills could start an argument in an empty room, so crossing Ashbee would have been very simple for him indeed. Mills was, of course, an effective loan signing when he turned up early in the 2006/7 season but whatever talent he showed on the pitch didn’t equate with his popularity in the dressing room, the domain of Ashbee and Ashbee alone.

The disagreement between two of football’s stronger personalities continued in a game at the Circle against Charlton the following season when, after an 18-man brawl, Ashbee got his marching orders after Mills opened his sizeable gob to implicate the skipper to the referee. Ashbee continued the row with Charlton assistant manager Phil Parkinson – the man who brought Mills to East Yorkshire when manager of City – as he headed down the tunnel and, presumably, plotted his revenge.

He didn’t have to wait long. Ashbee’s clinical, professional and delightful baiting of Mills in the return fixture at the Valley was a joy to witness as Mills trudged off the pitch, dismissed for abusing a ref when booked for simulation. One cannot imagine Ashbee and Mills meeting for ale and reminiscences much to this day.

3: That exclusive scoring record

ASHBLACKBURN
We’ve already said Ashbee shouldn’t be remembered for his goalscoring activities – he only got 12 throughout his time with us. But he is unique among City players as the only one to score in all four divisions for the club – something he completed innocuously against Blackburn in 2009 when volleying in a close-range consolation in a 2-1 loss.

But of the three outfield players to feature in all four divisions for City, Andy Dawson somehow failed to score in the League One promotion season and Ryan France hardly had a shot during the Premier League era, so once again it was down to the captain. It turned out to be the only Premier League goal he would ever score.

4: That ability to bounce back
Ashbee missed all bar the first six games of the 2005/6 Championship season after the degenerative bone condition he had previously endured was re-diagnosed, threatening his future mobility, not just his footballing career. City had to make do with Keith Andrews anchoring the midfield and to say it wasn’t the same was something of an understatement.

Back he came early the following season, picked still impossibly early for a game at Birmingham, but City were struggling under Phil Parkinson and drastic measures were needed. With Phil Brown taking over as manager and Ashbee leading again on the field, City avoided relegation, got promoted to the Premier League and, finally, stayed up.

Ashbee missed the finale of the Premier League season, however, when a cruciate ligament injury at Aston Villa ruled him out for initially six months, which eventually became a year. A whole 15 months passed before he played again, thereby missing the entirety of the 2009/10 season, at the end of which City were relegated back to the Championship.

ash-injured

It isn’t beyond the wit of many to surmise that City might have had a better chance of staying up if Ashbee had been even partially fit.

5: That sense of belief

Ash5
Whenever a new manager was appointed – Ashbee was acquired by Jan Mølby, and subsequently played for Peter Taylor, Phil Parkinson, Phil Brown and Nigel Pearson – they bought immediately into the Ashbee legend. Only as Ashbee began to age and his form dipped did a manager dare consider the skipper’s future, and Pearson was aided by a bid from Brown, now at Preston, to take his former batman across to Lancashire.

Ashbee didn’t get along with Parkinson but it was obvious the manager needed him desperately as things nosedived during his five months at the helm. Meanwhile, either side of the Parkinson debacle, Taylor and Brown could not praise him highly enough and the very idea of dropping him was a non-starter.

Finally, that sense of belief applies to Ashbee in himself. It’s a strong man who battles back from two injuries that would scupper many a lesser career, and Ashbee’s strength was his, well, strength. His belief also extended to his ability, as well as his fortitude – every time City got promoted, questions were raised about whether Ashbee was up to the task of competing in a higher division. Every time, he proved comprehensively he was.

Ashbee wasn’t perfect, and our definitive account of his City career details a handful of downs to accompany the many ups his eight and a half years in black and amber experienced. But as a midfielder, a captain, a leader and just as a man, we have never had, and will never have, anybody better. The achievements and standing of Ian Ashbee will be forever without parallel.

FEATfamous5s

FAMOUS FIVE: City losing in injury time

There doesn’t seem to be anything quite so Typical City as injury time defeat, does there? After the weekend’s heroic but fruitless attempt to cling on against Manchester United, we feel it is our solemn duty to remind you of some (quite painful) last-ditch losses of the recent past…

1: Arsenal (h), 2009/10

BentArseThe last game of Phil Brown’s eventful reign at Hull City actually came as a surprise when it was declared so by Adam Pearson, as it involved a spirited, energetic and downright dogged display that resulted in heartbreaking – and preventable – defeat.

City had conceded early to Andrei Arshavin but then Jimmy Bullard equalised from the spot after Sol Campbell fouled (a clearly offside) Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. All seemed peachy enough at the break, despite general concerns about City’s chronic decline since the turn of the year, and anything that irritated Arsenal was always welcome following some spicy encounters in both Premier League and FA Cup in the previous 18 months.

The second half was a masterly exercise in determination and bravery, as City spent all of it with ten men after George Boateng’s shocking tackle on Bacary Sagna earned him a second yellow. Brown threw on teenage defender Liam Cooper, apparently not at all spooked by the occasion despite previously making a Premier League debut at Liverpool which City lost 6-1. He played a total blinder as City’s rearguard held out to injury time.

Then Denilson hit a speculative shot which, for reasons we still cannot fathom, Boaz Myhill couldn’t hold. His weak palming of the ball landed at the feet of Nicklas Bendtner, who drove in the rebound.

Arsenal celebrated in their usual classless manner while City cursed their luck and Myhill looked for a convenient hole in the ground to engulf him. While hindsight suggests Brown should have gone a lot earlier in the season, one still wonders whether a 1-1 draw against title contenders while playing with ten men would have made it impossible for Pearson to put him on gardening leave 48 hours later. Decision-making at the very top wasn’t at its strongest that season, really, and City went down without a whimper, or a penny to their name, or a permanent manager picking the team.

2: Leeds United (a), 1989/90

Leeds80sA phenomenal game of football, all told, and the last that City would play at Elland Road in the days when it was a seething, spit-flecking, white-hot cauldron of hatred and atmosphere, and therefore, enormous fun. But City still lost, and should have won.

Two Andy Payton penalties, as neat and tidy as they came and both for fouls on new signing Dave Bamber, had twice restored parity after a looping header from John Hendrie and then a sumptuous volley from an oddly Platini-like Vinnie Jones had given the unhygienic hosts the lead. Then Steve Doyle blootered in a volley of his own that touched the stanchion on the way in, and with 13 minutes to go, City were ahead.

Typical City has, of course, existed for as long as philosophers have identified a concept of seeking out failure as a preference to holding on to success, and an equaliser from Imre Varadi made it 3-3. Then the ageless (brilliant, actually) Gordon Strachan clattered an angled drive past Iain Hesford a whole one minute and 49 seconds into injury time. Leeds went up; City would wait almost 16 years to go to Elland Road again, and more than 22 years before they’d eventually get another win there.

3: Doncaster Rovers (a), 1997/8
The “thank God for Doncaster” season didn’t stop the worst league side in living memory still beating City when the two met at Belle Vue. The home side were doomed from the start thanks to a chairman in Ken Richardson who, after being denied the chance to build a new stadium, ordered three blokes to torch the old one. We can be but grateful that he didn’t choose to do so while people were in it.

City were having their own woeful time under the lousy Mark Hateley, and in most other seasons would have been relegated to non-league. Come the game at Doncaster, it was already confirmed who would be going down – in the days of just one down, one up, mercifully – and it was a bitter occasion in which both sets of fans invaded the pitch to protest at the shoddy ways their clubs were being run.

When football was played, it was of unsurprisingly low quality, emphasised by the dreadful communication between Mark Greaves and Steve Wilson in injury time that allowed former England schoolboys striker Adie Mike to score a winner that gained Doncaster only a fourth win of the season. Mike was one of only two senior professionals – the other was former City midfielder Lee Warren – in a Doncaster side that had been deliberately asset-stripped through the campaign. From City’s point of view, it was arguably the lowest point on a football field the club had ever had. We could simply be grateful that another club was concurrently going even lower.

4: Port Vale (a), 2004/5

PortVale03One of those last-ditch defeats that few could complain about, just because the hosts had been the dominant force in the game, and yet also that many could moan like mad about, because City had equalised right on 90 minutes. City, with a swathe of new players, had been forced into something of a retreat, even when added time was being played.

It was an important game, however, because one Nicholas Barmby scored his first goal for the Tigers, and it came against the early run of play. The great man would score much more sophisticated efforts than this, but to open his account it didn’t matter that it was from Stuart Elliott flicking on a massive Boaz Myhill punt upfield. City were ahead and the local hero with the global name had made his first mark in black and amber.

Port Vale equalised through future City meathead Sam Collins, who stabbed in a rebound after Myhill failed to hold a free kick. They maintained momentum after the break and took the lead with a shot from Steve Brooker. City only began to exercise some influence in the last 15 minutes as they hunted down an equaliser, but had to wait until the 90th minute to get it, with Elliott steering in from close range.

That was that, it seemed. But, if Typical City can include losing with ten men against one of the world’s greatest clubs, losing to hated rivals on their own patch when winning with ten to go, and losing to the worst football team in Christendom, then losing after getting an injury time equaliser can be right up there. Brooker made sure of it in the 94th minute after City only half-cleared a corner and couldn’t regroup for the returning ball.

5: Scunthorpe United (h), 2001/2

Scunts0102We had no manager, and we lost to an injury time free kick, taken quickly when nobody in the City defence was concentrating. And it was Scunthorpe. At home. And then we thought Jan Mølby would be the answer.

FEATfamous5s

FAMOUS FIVE: Goalscoring City subs

Shaun Maloney scored a crucial goal for City after coming on as a sub at the weekend. Obviously, loads of City subs have scored goals, but some were more memorable than others – indeed, we’ve had to leave a couple of truly heroic ones out (we’re offering apologies to you Stuart Elliott). Anyway, have these five on us…

1: Ray Henderson, 1965

Henderson
Substitutes were introduced for the start of the 1965/66 season, though only in league football, and were strictly limited to injuries only. Henderson was an established inside forward for City for much of the early 60s but by the time the 1965/66 season started, he was only on the bench. It took three games for him to be introduced, as a replacement for injured left back Dennis Butler, and he scored in a 2-1 win at Brighton.

So City’s two substitution firsts happened in the same game. It initially didn’t help Henderson, who still didn’t feature in the next four matches but after a 4-1 defeat at York, he was put on the right wing and never looked back, completing the front five of unprecedented repute that scored exactly 100 of City’s 109 goals that ended in the Third Division title.

2: Dean Windass, 2008

DeanoBarnsley
Nothing makes a manager look good quite like an instant goal from a substitute, and when Phil Brown brought on Dean Windass to replace Caleb Folan at Barnsley in April 2008, City were comfortably 2-0 up with eight minutes left. Within seconds, the 39 year old icon had steered in a low left foot shot in front of a delirious Tiger Nation happily getting soaked in a packed away end.

Picking Windass in this context feels a tad harsh, as Folan scored priceless goals from the bench against Coventry, Blackpool, Leicester and Watford (twice – here and here) in that promotion season alone, and then did likewise against Fulham in the opening Premier League game the following August. But, well, he’s Deano, and his goal capped a really wonderful night for the team.

3: Stephen Quinn, 2014

QuinnSF
Three minutes after coming on as a sub at Wembley against his former club Sheffield United, the flame-haired midfielder got on the end of a cross to nod home City’s fourth of the FA Cup semi-final of 2014 and just about confirm City’s place in the final.

Quinn didn’t celebrate the goal, but it didn’t matter, as plenty did. That his former club still got back to 4-3 and took it to past the 90th minute before finally giving up the ghost probably made him feel a bit easier about it, along with his manager deciding, belatedly, he was better for being in the team and giving him a free role in the final, in which he excelled.

4: Frankie Bunn, 1985

BunnFrank86
It took a tad more than 20 years since the 12th man was introduced to league football for a City sub to score twice in a game. The occasion couldn’t have been any lower in profile, however – City’s first ever match in the Full Members Cup, introduced for the 1985/6 season to fill gaps in the footballing calendar for teams in the top two divisions following the post-Heysel ban from European competition.

City were in the inaugural competition following promotion under Brian Horton the previous season, and Bunn was a close-season signing from Horton’s old club Luton. He settled in quickly, scoring on his debut and putting away six goals by the first day of October. He managed a brace after replacing Andy Flounders in the second half as City comfortably overcame Bradford 4-1 in the new competition, following it up with goals in the next two rounds, though City went out in the process after losing the northern final on aggregate to Manchester City.

Bunn ended the campaign with 20 goals in all competitions but only got five the next season, so in 1987/88 he became an undeserving boo-boy target (despite five goals in the first 11 games) and Horton impetuously sold him to Oldham, where his goalscoring feats took him into the record books.

5: Andy Payton and Ian McParland, 1989

From 1-0 up to 2-1 down, and then your two substitutions pay off handsomely…

This was Stan Ternent’s first game in charge. He was, after just 90 minutes of football, clearly a genius.

FEATfamous5s

FAMOUS FIVE: City players out of position

Following the successful redeployment of Jake Livermore as a centre back on Saturday, we remember five other occasions where City players were forced into unfamiliar roles, with some more successful than others…

1: Andy Dawson – right back

DawsonAndyIt is pretty much footballing law that left-footed players, and especially left backs, should look unbalanced and foolish would they ever find themselves in the position of having to manoeuvre the ball with their right foot. Peter Taylor was famously so obsessed with specialist left backs that he had at least two, sometimes three, at his disposal during his time in charge at City.

Dawson, almost definitely the best left back in the club’s history, was nothing less than hugely comfortable in his natural position. Whether he was delivering set pieces, nutmegging lower division wingers of limited ability or clean tackling Theo Walcott, his left foot was as versatile as a digestive biscuit and never let down him, or us, or any of his six managers. His right foot, however, was not exactly extensive in its usefulness, as we all found out during an injury crisis at the start of the 2007/08 promotion season when all senior right backs were unavailable.

Phil Brown took a mighty risk in switching Dawson’s flank, presumably deciding that a right-sided Dawson was less of a liability-in-waiting than a right-sided Damien Delaney, but it spectacularly didn’t work, with Dawson horribly ill-at-ease, unbalanced, frightened even, in all three games, although City only lost one of them. The return after suspension and injury of Sam Ricketts restored the status quo and Dawson never had to concern himself with such tricky tactics again, and nobody would have been more relieved than him.

2: Ken Houghton – defensive midfielder

138622-2Houghton was such a great footballer that he really could have played anywhere, as long as he had possession of the ball. He was an outstanding, consistent inside forward, scheming around and behind Messrs Chilton and Wagstaff, feeding them both gilt-edged chances, serving the wingers and scoring plenty of goals of his own. But a new role was thrust upon him with some urgency in February 1966 as Nottingham Forest, of the First Division, travelled to Boothferry Park for an FA Cup tie.

On the morning of the game, midfield lynchpin Chris Simpkin pulled a muscle, and so manager Cliff Britton began ringing round the reserves, seeking a like-for-like replacement. He phoned Les Collinson and Len Sharpe, only to learn that one was in bed with ‘flu and the other already driving to the stiffs’ match against Scunthorpe in his car. Britton considered a debut for bright teenage midfielder Malcolm Lord, part of the junior side that had won the Northern Intermediate League the previous season, but then instead chose to disrupt his usually unimpeachable forward line, and shift Houghton back into midfield.

It couldn’t have worked better. In fact, it worked twice over – Houghton totally ran the game from his deeper-lying position, controlling the flow and pace and receiving more touches than anyone else, while his replacement higher up the pitch, the unheralded Terry Heath, scored both goals in City’s 2-0 win. It was a one-off tactic for a one-off occasion caused by a one-off injury, and became one of the definitive games of Britton’s tenure as manager and City’s brilliant season, which saw them crowned Third Division champions while reaching the FA Cup quarter finals.

3: Junior Lewis – centre forward

LewisJunior

Only happened once, which most would think was enough. This squarest of pegs failed to convince an awful lot of City fans wherever he played, and disbelieving laughter could be heard in the pubs around the Circle when he was named as a striker for a home game against Chesterfield in October 2004.

Peter Taylor’s belief in Lewis was unshakeable, however, and it was repaid by a stout, disciplined, hard-working performance up top in which the gangly twerp held the ball up well and set up the game’s only goal for Stuart Green. At the time, City had centre forwards who were either injured or chronically off-form, and spent the entire season – which still ended in promotion – relying on Stuart Elliott to blooter them in from the wing. So putting Lewis up front was far from stupid.

He played there again a couple of further times as a sub, but that one occasion against the Spireites will live very long in the memory and is as good a reminder as any that managers are managers for a reason, and fans aren’t.

4: Peter Skipper – goalkeeper
The prospect of any outfield player going in goal these days is bordering on ludicrous. It would take two incidents of injury or dismissal, or both, to force any side to look to someone else to act as custodian. But the idea of an outfield player actually starting a match in that position at professional level could be close to unique, certainly within any modern era of the game. But that’s what happened back in November 1986.

For away games that weren’t in the league, City didn’t often take a reserve keeper along, which sounds crazy today, not least because such games are actively used as tryouts for reserve keepers as a matter of course. In the 1980s, however, Tony Norman’s place was non-negotiable, and the man himself seemingly uninjurable. Tiny knocks, twisted fingers, head wounds, bruised elbows – all were sorted out between matches and he had been literally irreplaceable for four years. The most brutal of lower division centre forwards couldn’t get him off the park, so it was left to a coach to do it instead.

Not a human coach, mind. Dennis Booth or Tom Wilson are innocent here; they had no part to play in Norman injuring his back prior to a midweek Full Members Cup second round tie at Southampton. The coach responsible was of the motorised variety; City’s incomparable Welsh keeper had finally been crocked by a hardened seat that had, after a long, inactive trip to Hampshire, tweaked a back muscle. Had it been a league game, one of reserve keeper John Davies (who himself was about to quit through injury) or youth prospect Gavin Kelly (who had yet to play a first team game) would probably have travelled, but it wasn’t, and they hadn’t. So centre back Peter Skipper, who’d messed about in goal during training sessions and in his schooldays, was given the green jersey.

This wasn’t the only thing that made the game significant – Garry Parker scored his first City goal in the 2-1 defeat, Leigh Jenkinson made his first team debut and the Tigers would never visit the Dell again – but it really was all about a defender playing in goal from the start. Peter Shilton, probably the best keeper in the world at the time, was at the other end. You can barely begin to imagine what the two of them smalltalked about as they tapped gloves on the halfway line.

Four days later Skipper was back in defence and Norman was back in goal. It was the only first team game he would miss in five years and eight months, although as it was in a long-forgotten and now defunct competition, a lot of people think it doesn’t actually count. Well it does.

5: Alan Fettis – centre forward
If you think a defender playing as a goalkeeper is nutty, try a goalkeeper coming on as a substitute striker. And intentionally so, with tactics and everything.

And then scoring.

And then, six months later, starting a game as a striker.

And scoring again.

FEATfamous5s

FAMOUS FIVE: City facing reigning champions

The visit of Leicester City this weekend will be only the 11th occasion in their history that City have competitively faced defending champions, with eight of those coming since parity with the elite was first established in 2008. These ten matches have come against just four different clubs, so prepare for a mild bit of repetition as we look back at occasions when City have faced teams who are – literally – the best.

1: Manchester United (2008-09)

BRITAIN SOCCER

The first time we ever played a reigning champion as an equal, and it remains arguably the most enjoyable defeat, odd occurrence though that may be, in City’s modern history. Fresh from the Championship and still blithely undervalued by every big shot on the glittering Premier League walk of fame, City’s feast at the top table involved spitting out pips at quite a few such sides.

It was November, and City had jointly been in first place, done over Arsenal, Tottenham and Newcastle on their own grounds, swatted aside various others and only really been outfoxed by Wigan (yes) and Chelsea. The trip to Old Trafford was hugely intriguing; the victory at the Emirates, especially, meant there was genuine logic behind what would otherwise have been utterly wild belief in victory.

Manchester United scored first and early. Everyone instantly thought it would be a whitewash, obviously. Cristiano Ronaldo’s turn and shot edge its way in via a post, but City settled down, showing the total trust in one another that team spirit, fitness and self-belief can create. Daniel Cousin headed an equaliser in from Andy Dawson’s free kick and the travelling support went a bit daft, to say the least.

In truth, this was the nearest City ever came to winning the game, but it didn’t matter. Michael Carrick scuffed the champions back in front before half time, then Ronaldo headed his second from a corner just before the break. It didn’t take long upon resumption for the fourth to go in either, courtesy of another set-piece which City didn’t defend well, allowing Nemanja Vidić to steer in from close range.

But then the fun started.

Phil Brown slung on Bernard Mendy, resplendent in City gloves from the club shop, and he latched on to a crossfield pass from George Boateng, got away from Patrice Evra and lobbed the onrushing Edwin Van Der Sar, the ball dropping just over the line prior to Vidić hoiking it clear. Goal given, rightly; the same Frenchman, ridiculous at times but crazily talented at others, then ran from his own half at, then past, Rio Ferdinand and got as far as the box before falling under the desperate England defender’s nudge. Penalty. Geovanni. 4-3.

There were still eight minutes left and although City didn’t really look like scoring again, the sight of Ronaldo booting the ball away in a panic to waste time was one of the most hilarious things the seasoned City fan, drizzled in cynicism, had ever seen. When the final whistle went, the acclaim went to City even though the points went to Manchester United, while Alex Ferguson charmlessly berated the officials all the way to the tunnel in the corner over their temerity to give a (correct) penalty to opponents at Old Trafford. The bulbously-nosed boss was still in a strop with the BBC at the time, so it was his assistant – a certain Mike Phelan – who was assigned to talk to Match Of The Day that evening, and they only broadcast the part of the interview when he praised what City had done.

2: Everton (1963-64)

McSeveney, John

The moniker ‘School of Science’ was attributed to Everton in the early 60s after their 1963 title win, and it was a strong Toffees side that ventured across the Pennines in January 1964 for an FA Cup third round tie. They still felt beatable to an ambitious Third Division City side due to the absence of first choice keeper Gordon West, skipper Brian Labone and midfielder Tony Kay.

City, still a few months from completing their famous forward line, took the lead through a Billy Wilkinson header but Everton equalised shortly after half time courtesy of Alex Scott. A draw – to this day the only time City have not lost a game against champions – was fair and a mini-triumph for City, although it felt like the chance to dump the title-holders out of the FA Cup had gone.

Yet the replay at Goodison Park was a ripsnorter of a game, missed by Everton manager Harry Catterick (taken ill on the journey home from East Yorkshire). Everton did have Labone back, however, and this was crucial as Chris Chilton got little change from him.

Nonetheless, Everton’s 2-1 win was achieved the hard way, as John McSeveney gave the Tigers the lead early in the second half before Scott and then Brian Harris prevented what would have been quite a shock result. City chairman Harold Needler’s praise for the players was thickly laid in the press, and the game went some way to convincing him that the right investment in the team would take City towards Everton’s level. Before the year was out, Wagstaff, Houghton and Butler had arrived.

3: Manchester City (2014-15)

Much of this niche fixture’s history is very recent, and City’s previous Premier League season brought them into contact, twice, with the grossly common Manchester Hunter. It was an expensive occasion, with home tickets costing £50 in areas. It was also an eventful and, as with all of these games, ultimately fruitless occasion.

Six goal thrillers against the title holders during which the underdog recovers from two goals down don’t happen all the time, but it’s worth qualifying that an own goal from the comical Eliaquim Mangala and a penalty from Abel Hernández were all it took to get City back on terms after early strikes from Sergio Aguero and Edin Džeko had given the champions the early advantage.

HullManC

City couldn’t do much more, however, and the hosts went through the gears in the second half with two goals in as many minutes from Frank Lampard and Džeko.

4: Liverpool (1988-89)

As eagerly anticipated an FA Cup tie as any until 2014, the visit of Kenny Dalglish’s champions in the fifth round of the competition was a marvellous, remarkable event which, at half time, City were on course to win. Liverpool had been runaway champions the year before, swatting aside decent teams with devastating ease (they remain this author’s most impressive title-winners of his lifetime) but the following season it hadn’t quite been so plain sailing.

89LPOOL

City were going well in Division Two under the dour Eddie Gray and got Liverpool at home out of the hat after beating Bradford City in round four. Boothferry Park managed to squeeze a capacity 18,000 and a bit within its walls as goals from Billy Whitehurst and Keith Edwards gave the Tigers an eye-rubbingly impossible 2-1 lead at the break.

John Aldridge scored twice in the opening ten minutes after the break and Liverpool never looked like relinquishing the lead again, but for a long time it was the most talked about game at the old place for many a year.

5: Manchester United (2013-14)

BruceGiggs

Ryan Giggs played 963 competitive games for Manchester United, and the very last of them was against City at Old Trafford in a static, end of season affair.

City were awaiting the FA Cup final and were desperate not to pick up injuries, something which illustrated the whole final month or so of the season. The game was notable for young Manchester United striker James Wilson’s brace, Matt Fryatt’s superb 25-yard strike that brought City back into the game at 2-1 and Eldin Jakupović apologising for saving caretaker manager Giggs’ late free kick. It finished 3-1.

FEATfamous5s

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

Myhillrain
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

MutrieL
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

QuinnGol
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

ElliottStu
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.