To get in the festive spirit, Typical City will be hosting an advent calendar in the run up to Christmas. Every day in December up until Christmas Day, one of the Typical City team will be sharing their memories of Manchester City throughout the years. You can expect to see recollections of special games, beautiful goals, memorable players and managers, and moments that define what it means to support City.
In this edition, David Mooney fondly looks back at Joe Royle’s time at the club as manager.
For a lot of City fans their first manager will always be the one they remember fondly. Unless that first manager was Alan Ball. Or Stuart Pearce. Or Mark Hughes. Or Frank Clark. Ok, so maybe it’s only a once in a generation thing, but a lot of people remember their first City boss with some degree of rose tinted specs about how good those times were.
My first manager is also my favourite of all time. He was the man who was able to put the brakes on the slide (read: plummet) down the table(s) and he transformed the club from disaster zone to relative normality. On top of that, he’s a wonderful gentlemen and is someone who I’ve worked with in doing a book that you should all drop everything immediately for and buy for low, low prices. I’m, of course, talking about Joe Royle.
The former manager never remembered this, but this was something that was as clear as day in my head from his first game in charge. The fans unveiled a banner ahead of kick off, displaying the words ‘Dear Mr. Royle, please, please save our club’. When you stop and think about that for a moment, you can see just how bad things were – the fans were pleading with a former player to come in and right all of the wrongs that had been put in place by a series of mismanagements over the last five or so years. Possibly further.
I can’t help but like the man. He earned back-to-back promotions to get the club back into the Premier League two seasons after suffering relegation to the third tier – and board members looked at him funny when, after the Gilligham win, he said to them “don’t rule us out of the playoffs” in Division One. By the sounds of it they did, and he proved them wrong by winning automatic promotion.
Financially, Royle wasn’t give huge sums to spend. Indeed, his first transfer deadline day was spent trying to get those on high wages and with short futures at the club out of the door to reduce expenditure. By the time Blackburn away in 2000 came along, he’d added just a few new names – the likes of Mark Kennedy, Danny Granville or Spencer Prior – and the team that was back in the Premier League was pretty similar to that that had won against Gillingham.
He wasn’t perfect. In fact, when it came to Premier League management, he fell a little short. Combined with the club’s lack of proper spending in the top flight – the freebie George Weah and the high profile Paulo Wanchope did little to help and City struggled for goals. Those that are relegated ultimately didn’t score enough.
There was bad luck too – the disallowed goal against Tottenham for no reason at Maine Road, before Spurs won the game in the last minute. The Danny Tiatto wonder goal at Middlesbrough that was ruled out for an incorrect offside decision on Darren Huckerby. Towards the end of that season, the luck just ran out.
And Royle was sacked, with the two years previous – the two years that had reinstalled hope into the eyes of the fans, after season after season of rubbish and despair – discarded as nothing more than a memory. Few will decry the entertaining football Kevin Keegan brought, of course, but it felt a somewhat callous way to end things even if the old adage of ‘no sentiment in football’ is true.
(And it’s not true – see how Frank Lampard displayed apologetic hands when he scored against Chelsea. There is SOME sentiment.)
That I’ve written extensively about the 1998-99 season (when Royle reportedly came close to the sack ahead of a surge in form after Christmas) means I probably have a huge bias towards this time. That I’ve still got an answerphone message from Joe Royle that I can’t bear to delete does too. That he called my book a “good toilet read” fills me with pride. And all of that probably does affect my judgement.
But, even though he had a lot of help along the way, Mr. Royle did save this club. He got everybody rowing in the same direction. Hell, he got them all rowing the same boat, first.
Written by David Mooney