Anyone who witnessed Nicky Reid running out onto Maine Road’s hallowed turf was very unlikely to forget it.
Not for him the gentle jog onto the pitch with his team mates. He went to the touchline in line with half way, puffed his chest out and powered at full speed for the centre circle like a charging rhino. When he got there he broke off to join the rest of the team.
This one action typified Nicky Reid. He was not an arrogant player but instead he was determined and totally committed to the cause, whether playing in defence or midfield. Famously, when still a youth player, he was pitched in to make his debut in the UEFA Cup Quarter Final home tie against Borussia Mönchengladbach in March 1979. Mönchengladbach were one of the best teams of the seventies, led by their diminutive Danish star Allan Simonsen, and it was Reid’s job to try and mark him out of the game.
Allan Simonsen was only five foot five inches tall (even shorter than Messi) and known as the ‘Sparrow of Vejle’. He was small but lightning fast, good with both feet and a nightmare for defenders, leaving many in his wake. Simonsen had been voted European Player of the Year in 1977 whilst playing for Mönchengladbach, beating Kevin Keegan and Michel Platini to the award, and he led the team to three Bundesliga titles, two UEFA Cups and a German Cup in the seventies and would join Barcelona at the end of that season.
So it was a big call by coach Malcolm Allison to throw Nicky into this huge game against one of the best in Europe; it would not be the last time Malcolm would do this in the coming year. Allison justified the decision by saying Nicky was the fiercest tackler he’d seen since the legendary Dave Mackay, praising how conscientious and courageous he was. Nicky rewarded the faith of the coach during his debut, sticking to his task, and Simonsen didn’t shine.
City went ahead in the 26th minute with a goal from Mick Channon scoring after a rebound off the keeper. However, Mönchengladbach were seasoned European competitors, they kept their discipline and got what they wanted from the away tie by grabbing an away goal in the 66th minute from Ewald Lienen. The game ended 1-1 and it felt like an opportunity lost for City.
Reid kept his place for the second leg, but Mönchengladbach were a different proposition at home, open and fluid in attack they waltzed through the middle of the field to go one up through Christian Kulik in the 26th minute, then added a second goal from Hans-Günter Bruns in the 52nd minute in the second half.
At this point Kazimierz Deyna was brought on to replace Reid as Allison changed tack with nothing left to lose. Karl Del’Haye grabbed a third for Mönchengladbach in the 71st minute; Deyna grabbed a consolation goal in the 78th minute, a sweet volley, but it was too late to mount a comeback and City’s UEFA Cup run, which had included knocking out AC Milan, was at an end. Mönchengladbach would go on to win the UEFA Cup and Simonsen would be the top scorer in the tournament. Sadly, it would be 24 years before City would compete in the competition again.
As for the young debutant, after injury issues in the following season he would eventually find a place for himself in the 1980-81 season partnering Tommy Caton at the centre of the defence. These two young players starred in the John Bond side who went to the semi-final of the League Cup and had a great run to the FA Cup Final in 1981.
In the following season John Bond signed his son Kevin Bond to provide competition at centre half alongside Caton. Some City fans didn’t want what they saw as nepotism getting one of their favourite sons edged out of the side and gave Kevin Bond and father some stick, but Nicky kept his place until injury forced him out. Behind the scenes in early 1982, it was suggested there was a bust-up between the manager and Reid, especially around the suggestion he would only win his place back in midfield. This rumbled on until Reid was loaned to Seattle Sounders in May 1982.
Nicky returned to John Bond’s City side in October 1982, but was dropped for the Manchester derby and replaced by Kevin Bond again. He didn’t reclaim a regular place in the side until after John Bond resigned in January 1983, and then battled sadly in vain to help save City from relegation. Injuries dogged the next season but brought his first goal for City. Sent on as a sub for striker Derek Parlane and with the game poised at 1-1, a long range effort was saved by Portsmouth keeper Alan Knight who fell into the back of the net and the ball fell inches from the line. With one of his trademark runs, Reid burst forward and thrashed the ball into the net to win the game, nearly taking the net off with the goalkeeper still stuck in the back. It was hardly a worldie but the Kippax loved it.
Nicky would partner Mick McCarthy at centre half during the promotion back to the top flight in 1984-85, then helped the team stay in the top flight the following season and appear at Wembley in Full Members Cup Final. He left City to join Blackburn at the end of the 1986-87 season after making over 250 appearances for the Blues.
Most agreed that what Allison saw in Nicky in 1979 when he thrust him into the first team was correct. He had no fear and was an excellent competitor, who never let the club down from first game to last.
Written by Richard Donlan
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