With Advent now under way and the countdown to Christmas now on, Typical City is looking at an incident, player or match specific to the club that corresponds with each date. In today’s edition, Richard Burns remembers Kevin Horlock…
When one ponders on their favourite ever Manchester City player, the guy you choose probably depends somewhat on your age. If you were alive to see the great Colin Bell, you might well choose him. If you’re one of the younger generation of supporters, you might go for one of the bevy of stars that have represented the Blues since 2008; Sergio Agüero, Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Yaya Toure all spring to mind.
For a fan of my age (27, for the record), the founding years of my City supporting career were spent watching significantly less talented footballers than those that wear the Sky Blue now. It is from that crop that my favourite ever Blue comes from; it’s Kevin Horlock.
The Northern Ireland midfielder moved to Maine Road from Swindon Town in 1997, purchased by then-manager Frank Clark. In one of those weird little plot-twists that football throws up, his first goal for City came against Swindon.
In his first full season, the side were relegated to Division 2, the lowest position the club had ever occupied in the English football pyramid. During that season, Joe Royle replaced Frank Clark in the dugout. Though he was unable to immediately halt the slide, Royle did have a major impact on the club, starting in the 1998/99 season.
Horlock was a mainstay of the midfield that year, earning his reputation as a set-piece specialist; he was no stranger to finding the net with a left-footed free kick. Rumour has it that Aleksander Kolarov honed his technique by studying tapes of the man who came to be known as Super Kev by an adoring fan base.
It was also during that season that Horlock was the victim of a famous incident that clings to him as much as any of the goals he scored for the club. In an away game at Bournemouth, with the side already down to ten men, he received a red card. The official reason given for the dismissal was that he was, “Walking towards the referee in an aggressive manner while asking a question.” It must be one of the most unique red cards in the history of the game.
City reached the play-offs that season and met Gillingham at Wembley in the final. With his side trailing 2-0 and heading into stoppage time, it was Horlock who lashed a low left-foot strike into the Gills net to halve the deficit. Famously, Paul Dickov scored the equaliser but it would not have been possible without Horlock’s contribution. Horlock also stepped up first in the ensuing penalty shootout, calmly scoring to set his fluorescent-clad side on their way to a famous victory.
He was a crucial part of the team that gained promotion to the Premier League just one year on from that famous Wembley day. Sadly, they also suffered relegation the following year.
Kevin Keegan replaced Joe Royle for the 2001/2002 season and Horlock was a key fixture of the new manager’s midfield. The team that year was incredibly entertaining, scoring 108 goals on the way to winning the league. Super Kev was instrumental in the success; he chipped in with the odd goal and a few assists, producing a consistently high level in a team where Shaun Goater, Ali Benarbia and Eyal Berkovic were the headline makers.
What he may have lacked in technical quality was always made up in work rate and it has been acknowledged by anybody who played with him that Horlock was a key member of the dressing room.
Anybody who has followed him on Twitter in recent years will know that he is still a huge City fan. He drank with supporters ahead of the 2014 League Cup final and attended the game as a Blue. His affection for the club is there for all to see. It is very a much a feeling that is reciprocated.
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Written by Richard Burns