Lows, Highs and Balti Pies

In the second of a new series, BoltFromTheBlue brings reviews of books available for fans of Manchester City FC. The website has recently helped to raise awareness of David White’s new book Shades of Blue and this prompted the question: What are the best books out there on our team?

The first thing to note is that most are one of five types: former player or manager autobiographies, books on club history, fanzines, quizbooks and books written by fans. Personally I have, like many City supporters, read dozens of the first type with great enjoyment and just a few of the other types. For this first piece I have decided to plunge into the world of books written by fans.

A scan down the list of such books on the Amazon Kindle page reveals many to choose from. I was slightly sceptical at first because of course, fans are not necessarily great writers and I was hesitant to pay for something that might turn out to be a rather routine series of game summaries along the lines of We beat West Brom 2-0 at home. I was over the moon! Next we went to Leicester etc…

I always imagined that these types would not be that interesting: a little bit like reading a match report when you’ve already seen the game live.

However holding to the maxim of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, I dived in and bought Steve Mingle’s Lows, Highs and Balti Pies: Manchester City Ruined My Diet (2011): The History Press) – the story of City’s journey from Mercer through to Keegan.

This is the first of a pair of books by Steve Mingle. The second is From Balti Pies to the Biggest Prize: The Transformation of Manchester City (July 2013: The History Press) – the story of City’s journey from Keegan through to Mancini. I reviewed it here.

Steve Mingle is an outstanding writer, gifted with a stunning wit and that precious ability to have his readers purring with pleasure and nodding in enthusiastic agreement. As in my review of the second volume, it really is much better to let Steve’s own words help you make your mind up on whether you need to add this book to your collection:

On Deciding to support City rather than United:

There was a sense of astonishment that a referee could be allowed to dismiss one of United’s star players – my first taste of the ‘divine right’ mentality endemic among those connected to United, such a factor in the widespread antipathy they so deservedly attract.

I don’t think I’m on my own. The current generation of Red glory-hunters often accuse people like me of being an ABU (Anyone But United), as though it’s born of jealousy of their recent success. It’s nothing to do with that. It’s everything to do with their attitude, their arrogance, their ignorance and their delusions of superiority. My antipathy towards them peaked at a time when they were at their least successful, fuelled by the persistence of the media hype and the inability of their supporters or anyone connected to the club to accept their true status.

On Neil Young:

Young – tall, slim and elegant – had a physique very similar to Glenn Hoddle’s and moved with the same almost feminine grace, a characteristic which, it must be said, extended to sharing Hoddle’s approach to tackling. Still, that wasn’t what he was in the team for. When everything clicked, he was wonderful to watch, his languid movement and ferocious shooting providing a real treat for the eyes.

Following a Colin Bell wonder-goal v Chelsea:

… the real point of interest about the goal was Bell’s own reaction to it. As usual, there wasn’t one. He simply turned and jogged gently back to the centre circle, reluctantly accepting his teammates’ congratulations, as though he’d just scored a two-yard tap-in a training session. For me, this was an important part of Bell’s appeal – he was just so cool. For all the other fabulous players in City’s team at that time, he’d already established himself as my favourite by far. He was a magnificent footballer, whose most eye-catching asset – phenomenal stamina – has far too often resulted in his being damned with faint praise, as if his athletic prowess outweighed his footballing attributes. This was grossly unfair, since he was a master of all aspects of the game – superb technique, genuine vision for the ‘killer’ pass, tremendous in the air, a wonderful finisher and the finest exponent of the sliding tackle I’ve ever seen. Ally this lot to extraordinary stamina and sprinting speed and you have a player who would have been absolutely outstanding in any era of the game.

On Francis Lee:

Franny was an incredibly confident player, full of power, skill and aggression, never afraid to strike for goal. He’d been outstanding for City ever since he was signed in 1967, but this was the season which saw him at his absolute peak. Thirty-three League goals, a post-war First Division record, including thirteen penalties (from thirteen attempts), were a just reward for his ability, relentless enthusiasm and determination. So often he was the catalyst who sparked City to life, and the fans, naturally, loved him not just for what he did for the team but also for his heart-on-the-sleeve approach to the game. Fast, direct and forever running at and committing defenders, Franny inevitably provoked a lot of fouls. He received plenty of flak in this season for the number of penalties he won – acquiring the nickname ‘Lee Won Pen’ along the way – and it’s true that he did tend to hit the ground with a thump. In reality, however, less than half this season’s record haul of spot kicks were awarded for fouls on Lee, and his reputation surely denied him lots of legitimate ones.

On Mike Summerbee:

He’d long since reverted from a central role to that of an ‘orthodox’ right winger. However, the stereotypical image of a winger – slightly built, prone to flit in and out of matches, erratic and not over-keen on the physical side of the game – could hardly be more inappropriate for Summerbee. He positively revelled in matches where the going got tough, and seemed particularly to enjoy taking on the game’s supposed hardmen.

The other memorable aspect of Mike’s game was his humour, a true character even in an era when they were rather more plentiful. (Having said this, I remember reading magazine articles in the 1970s and even the late ’60s, along the lines of, ‘where have all the characters gone?’ Nostalgia has always been with us.) So many incidents stick in the mind – in the match between the two sides the previous Boxing Day, Buzzer sashayed towards Pejic, dropping his shoulder as if to go one way then the other, trying to wrongfoot his opponent. Would’ve been impressive if he’d had the ball… against Palace, he’d been fouled a good ten yards outside the box, just about managed to stay on his feet and staggered into the area before collapsing to the deck and beseeching the referee to award a penalty… and, most famously, responding to the Everton fans’ taunts about the size of his hooter (‘I’d walk a million miles to the end of your nose, my Summerbee’) by emerging from the Goodison tunnel with a giant false nose.

On Rodney Marsh & Malcolm Allison:

Marsh was to Allison as Roy Keane is to Ferguson, the onfield embodiment of their manager. Marsh, like Allison, flamboyant, controversial, larger than life, craving adulation and too often more style than substance.

No player has demonstrated the dichotomy in fans’ minds between winning things and being entertained more starkly than Rodney. Arriving with the 1971/72 championship almost in the bag, he’d shown some glorious flashes of skill but we’d thrown the title away. Despite lots of subsequent artistry, not a sniff of silverware until he departed the scene. Then, the League Cup was won, just four months after his departure. Coincidence? I think not. Nevertheless, when someone provides as many varied, glorious and inextinguishable individual memories as Rodney did, it does make you wonder about the real reason people go to watch football matches.

On Denis Law’s famous backheel goal against United:

The immutable law of the ex – players always score against their old clubs – guarantees football a healthy supply of tales of revenge, regret and irony. Seldom can there have been a goal so rich in irony as this one. Not just that the goal to send United down should have been scored by one of their greatest idols, but also that its manner should exemplify everything about him which they’d loved. Quicksilver reflexes, impudence, improvisation  and pure instinct. All there in a single flick of the heel. Further irony came after the goal.

As Law walked solemnly back towards the centre circle, the man agitatedly slapping his face in a bid to elicit some emotion was none other than Colin Bell, the arch non-celebrator himself. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I’d never have believed it. Denis was substituted almost immediately. As he came off the pitch, a few United fans ran on to speak to him, entirely non-aggressively. They were followed by tens, then hundreds and ultimately thousands of others, most of whom had a rather more sinister objective: to get the game abandoned. We were witnessing the genesis of Hillsborough. The players left the field in haste, never to return; the fans refused to budge and the game was indeed abandoned, still with some seven or eight minutes to go.

Initially, I was mortified – no doubt the red-eyed authorities would decree a replay to be necessary, doing everything they could to salvage United’s First Division status. But, of course, if Birmingham and West Ham had got the requisite results, they’d be down anyway. A stranger with a radio gave me the news I was desperate to hear. YEEESSS! I skipped back gleefully to the coach, wholly oblivious to self-preservation. Such happiness is truly, dangerously, all-consuming.

On Gary Owen:

A midfielder of spindly build and with a distinctive hunched gait, he combined tenacity and stamina with wonderful vision and technique, spraying superb, often penetrating, passes about with what was generally referred to as his ‘educated’ left foot. His right foot must have played truant a lot, but he still looked a tremendous prospect.

Conclusion

This is just a miniscule selection of the dry and witty observations and beautiful pen portraits by the author.

Prepare to stitch and restitch your sides together as Steve Mingle takes you on a very special journey of the transformation of Man City from European thoroughbreds to slapstick comedy club before the green shoots of recovery begin to grow.

You truly will not regret splashing out the modest fee for this diamond!

The Kindle edition is available for just 2.79 here on Amazon!

Go get it!!