The latest book from David Mooney – host of the Blue Moon Podcast and writer for Typical City among some other smaller sites – chronicles one of City’s finest hours: the 1999 Division 2 Play Off Final against Gillingham. Promotion out of lower league purgatory was confirmed and City set out on a path which led directly to the Abu Dhabi buyout. The rest is history.
Every player and the manager, Joe Royle, is interviewed about the events leading up to that day, the game itself, and how it affected their lives. The story of a season which started disastrously and ended in euphoria is told much like HBO’s Band of Brothers; Each old soldier recounting snippets of the action and half remembered anecdotes about their team mates.
Due respect is given to each individual story. Each person’s memories are recounted sequentially before moving onto the next interviewee. Consequently there is no chopping and changing between viewpoints which might leave unique stories lost among the masses. By the end you feel like you were there on that day. Each retelling is an intensely private reflection on a season unlike any other, but by the end, after hearing the story from every side, you feel like it was your story too. In a way, as fans, I suppose it was.
And what a story that turned out to be.
It becomes very clear that the City team of that 1998/99 season were something like the romantic ideal of an old fashioned dream we’re all meant to hold. They weren’t the best players in the world and they knew it. They weren’t the strongest, fastest or deadliest in front of goal, but they had a determination to win for each other and for the fans. As Gerard Wiekens puts it:
“I wasn’t the best footballer. I don’t have the technique to go round two people, to cross, to score […] but the thing I had was attitude and mentality: That’s more important. You can do tricks or something like that, but if you don’t have the right mentality you’ve got nothing.
If you have a good mentality and can play a little bit, you can get further”
And so it proved.
The word ‘family’ is used over and over again as the players recount tales of bonding by standing out in the rain and helping each other through dark, often very dark, moments. The ‘dressing room spirit’ is spoken of in reverent terms with more than a few players stating they’d never felt anything like it before or since. This mindset flowed down from the management, infusing, and enthusing, the team.
Nearly every member of the team makes a special point of mentioning that they are still City fans and that their kids are too, but also how different things are now from how they were in the old days. Shaun Goater even phrases the differences in terms of class war!
This though is where the real themes of the players’ accounts come in: sadness and change.
An elegiac sadness runs through the book. The players fought together and won, the last gang in town, but it was the end of an era. Not a fall from grace, but the inevitability of change. None of them have had it as good since to hear them tell it.
Through Moonley’s astute questioning we hear the heart breaking stories of Andy Morrison’s and Jeff Whitley’s long struggles with addiction. We hear barely buried bitterness towards Joe Royle’s successor, Kevin Keegan, who treated these beloved veterans with a lack of respect which eventually led to the final breakup of this astonishing team.
They fought together and won, for each other and for us, but never had it so good again. The 1998/99 season was a unique moment in City’s history, a moment in time. They weren’t the best players. They weren’t the fastest, the strongest, the deadliest in front of goal, but for that one year, they were perfect, the team was whole, and the club was beautiful.
Mooney shows us the first, barest breaths of a club transformation which continues unabated today. A club unrecognisable from our 1999 Play Off Final heroes in almost every way. The players are, quite rightly, the stars in this account as they should be. City are now double Premier League Champions and European silverware is a realistic expectation, but the 1998/99 team will forever be one of the greatest in our history. Buy this book and meet the players who gave us so much joy, not to mention saving us trips to Scunny forevermore.
There are 3 copies of the book available to WIN FOR FREE by answering the following question:
Which City player scored the winning goal against Wigan in the home leg of the play off semi final?
Please submit your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the week to win!
Alternatively ‘Looks Like Scunny Next Season’ by David Mooney can be bought for £10 (RRP £12.99) from his website.
Written by Alex Timperley who is on Twitter