Great Football League Teams 2: Manchester City 1988-9

Posted by on Nov 20, 2010 in Great Teams | 2 Comments

Great? Probably not in the conventional sense of the term, but Manchester City’s promoted side of 1988-89 deserve the label for their sheer likeability. City trailed Champions Chelsea by 17 points at season end, and were roundly humiliated by the Blues in the run in, a match that saw the Graham Roberts inspired Londoners canter to a 3-0 lead before stepping off the gas at Maine Road. They had also started the season with a defeat at Hull and a 4-1 embarrassment at home to neighbours Oldham, been knocked out of the FA Cup at Brentford and lost 4-0 at Blackburn. So why the acclaim?

Manchester in the summer of 1988 had seen the establishment of the Hacienda nightclub’s Hot night, New Order had returned from Ibiza with the rollicking rave anthem Fine Time and the Stone Roses were to achieve resurrection after their early days as indie runts. “Youth culture” thrived and City’s young side seemed every inch a part of that, as did the mood on the terraces: the Moss side club’s support pioneered the inflatable banana trend of the age.

Paying £3.50 on the day at an inner city stadium located near enough to my student digs to get home afterwards for Sports Report gave me the chance to witness a felicitous flowering of young talent. If one recent City message boarder feels that the side was nothing without Paul Lake, he might have a case worth arguing, and for sure, Lake was in his prime then, oblivious that his career would be destined to end so early. A midfielder whose versatility recalled one of City’s greatest ever players, Colin Bell, the Denton youngster did provide much of the impetus but he certainly wasn’t alone.

Andy Hinchcliffe, a buccaneering left back and David White, a direct whippet-like winger were both destined to go on to play for their country, Steve Redmond’s solidity at centre half belied his years and Ian Brightwell was a bundle of energy in the defensive screening role. Up front, Pauls Simpson and Moulden were young tyros, the latter confirming a season in youth football that had seen him net 340 times for Bolton Lads Club and going some way to making up for the Summer departure to Spurs of Paul Stewart. Manager Mel Machin, took a low key role in nurturing the kids, but was cute enough to know that a wise old dog like Neil McNabb would provide the perfect foil to their eagerness.

After that dreadful beginning, City had easily the best of a 1-1 draw at Leeds and then won 3-1 at the Bridge. This was the second of a run of five successive wins that was to establish them near the top of the table. That autumn was heady, with opponents such as Portsmouth and Watford swept away in front of highly vocal Kippax crowds.

After Chelsea’s revenge mission, the results were icky in the Spring, but the Citizens still had enough in the way of points going into the penultimate afternoon to clinch promotion. Coasting at 3-0 against a talented Bournemouth side, the jitters shook them and the midfield promptings of future Maine Roader Ian Bishop and wily finishing of Luther Blissett, back from Milan, saw the Cherries inexplicably tie the match; the result an anguish I have rarely seen equalled. But, a week later, Trevor Morley, the calmer headed alternative to Moulden and Simpson, was the hero as a 1-1 draw at Bradford was enough to signal a Division One ticket.

If the local roots were the main factor, it was also the vulnerability of this young side that was so toothsome, and if they were to follow it all up with their greatest day of all the following September, thumping those Reds from across the City borders 5-1, the eventual arrival of Howard Kendall announced a new realpolitikand a severe lessening of attacking verve. City would never be so bewitching again.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.

1 Comment

  1. Frank Heaven
    November 22, 2010

    'Typical City'. It was a label used many times for Manchester City, in the years before the Abu Dhabi billions, for their ability to mix thrilling attack with defensive tragicomedy so regularly.

    But no team deserved it like the 1988/89 vintage.

    With more than half the usual starting line-up boasting England U21 caps, the team was bursting with pedigree and promise.

    Yet, they so nearly threw it all away despite having a seemingly impregnable position with three games left. On the final afternoon, with third placed Crystal Palace flogging already-relegated Crystal Palace, and City losing 0-1 at Bradford, there was a real possibility they would miss automatic promotion on goal difference.

    A Trevor Morley equaliser eight minutes from time saved their blushes and kept the bananas waving.

    But as you say, the finest moment of this young team was 23 September 1989. The final goal of the five – with half an hour still left – was a peach of a header from Andy Hinchcliffe, which would get into anybody's Top 5 goals of all time.


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