A review of -
by Dave Wallace
When Manchester City played their penultimate game of last season at Anfield, it was against a backdrop of yet more turbulence behind the scenes. Despite achieving the target set by his employers, manager Sven Goran Eriksson was on the verge of being sacked, the fans were in revolt (again) and the Chairman was facing corruption charges in his home country. Just another typical Manchester City scenario and one that had The Liverpool Echo introducing its match report, "When the nation's favourite footballing basket-case rolls into town....". Basket-case directors, basket-case players (Stephen Ireland's dead grandmothers comes immediately to mind) and, of course, basket-case fans....bananas, the lot of them.
The above leads one to question author Dave Wallace's state of mind when he decided to finally get round to writing this, his first book. Not for him, the glories of the late sixties/early seventies under the Mercer-Allison regime, nor a look back at City's last trophy, way back in 1976. He could have retreated to the pre-war era when at least the club was a bigger outfit than their now gargantuan neighbours United, but no, Mr Wallace decides to pick a season when City didn't actually win anything and conceded 100 goals in the process. It is also the season when their neighbours suffered the tragedy of the Munich Air Disaster and as a consequence almost anything City achieved would have understandably been overshadowed by the sadness and enormity of that event. However, what City did achieve that season was to come 5th in the old First Division and, perhaps more amazingly, end with what is now termed a `positive goal difference', by scoring 104 goals.
This was an historic season, but one that may have been ignored, because of the air disaster and because there was no trophy at the end of it, but Dave Wallace's ability to scene-set and to break-up the match reporting in an a variety of entertaining ways ensures that journey from August to the end of April is an absolute joy. Sketches of each ground, programme covers, beautiful caricatures by wife Sue, wonderful extracts from Charles Buchan's Football Monthly, and cigarette card photos are just some of the content that will bring delighted gasps of recognition from those of us of a certain age.
In case you are not `of a certain age,' or because of it, you are having difficulty recollecting, then Dave Wallace does a masterful job at the beginning of the book recalling Manchester in the late 50's. This is further solidified by contributions by City fans who remember the time when players got the bus to the game and the opposition contained players with glorious names like Norman Uprichard and Redfern Froggatt. Recollections of derby matches also emphasise a different era - " Welsh Ewan Jones took me. He had his red and white scarf and rosette on and I sat on his shoulders in the 70,000 crowd wearing my blue and white one, plus my bobble hat and rattle." The fans are only referred to by their first name and their location and as such you can play a game of trying to spot the numerous celebrity contributions. Not everything was so different though (50 years ago, remember!). Match reports include such observations as, " ... the only note of interest then was to show how petty and childish some professional footballers can become", " ..contempt for the referee, followed by open abuse of him".
It is the City fans' recollections which help put the Munich Air Disaster into context. Comments like, "I thought it was dreadful and kept disappearing upstairs, lying on the bed, crying my eyes out. I was devastated." "I shed a few tears that night" "I, a staunch Blue, was in tears" "It was an awful thing to happen and I remember the bodies arriving at Ringway and being driven in hearses to Old Trafford....the whole thing was so real and awful". One is tempted to suggest that these are reflections from an era long gone, but then a quick fast forward to the 50th Anniversary derby game at Old Trafford and the impeccably observed silence reminds us that football fans remain largely a very decent bunch.
I write this piece six weeks from Christmas. As a present for a City fan, I can think of none better. For those of that `certain age', its attraction is obvious, but this was an era just before I followed the Blues and I loved every page of it. Younger fans will enjoy adding to the sum of their knowledge in a totally effortless way and they will smile knowingly as they read about City's fortunes being up one minute and down the next. Even the editor of the Wolves programme comments, "If you want anxiety with your enjoyment, follow Manchester City". The book's appeal should not reach out solely City fans though. The thoroughness with which the author has captured this era should ensure that anyone wishing to enrich their understanding of why football has always been such a durable and addictive pastime, will have the most enjoyable of reads.
I opened this review by questioning Dave Wallace's sanity and in his acknowledgements, Dave thanks his children and grandkids, "..who think I am quite mad". However, this book is not the work of a madman, but rather a labour of love, put together sensitively and in such an original format, that I defy anybody with an ounce of feeling for the game not to enjoy it.