1965/66 SEASON REVIEW
In July City named their new management partnership. Former Arsenal and England International Joe Mercer who had previously managed Sheffield United and Aston Villa, and had previously been out of football for some time after suffering a stroke, was the new man in charge and he brought with him as coach Malcolm Allison, who had recently been sacked by Plymouth. Eric Alexander remembers in his book ‘Please May I Have My Football Back’ that Mercer was not City’s first choice, “City received calls during the Summer from the likes of Bill Shankley and Don Revie enquiring about about the job, however Albert Alexander Jr, who was chairman at the time, decided to offer the job to City legend Peter Doherty, however Peter was on holiday and could not be located and so it was eventually agreed to appoint Joe Mercer instead”.
One of the first jobs was to sell Derek Kevan, who Malcolm didn’t fancy at all due to an injury from the season before. Kevan moved to Crystal Palace.
when Joe arrrived he inherited just 21 players, a mixture of seasoned professionals and virtually untried youngsters, this was because the club had released ten players on free transfers in pre-season.
The Blues played there first pre-season friendly at home to Dundee and lost 2-1 then drew 1-1 away at Walsall, the next day Mercer made his first signing, Ralph Brand from Rangers.
City then won a friendly at Tranmere 3-2 and a few days later Mike Summerbee signed from Swindon for £35,000. Mike remembers driving up to Maine Road to sign the deal. “On the way up there I was thinking I’ll get 50 Quid a week here, by the time I got to Sale I was thinking maybe £75. But they had sent a copy of my contract up from Swindon where I was on £35. Joe Mercer said to me”.. “Right son we’re in the 2nd Division and we’re skint, you’re on 35 Quid a week at Swindon, I’ll give you 40″… I said “That’ll Do Me!”
The first game of the season was away to Middlesbrough and the Blues gained a creditable 1-1 draw. And at Maine Road Joe Mercer gained his first win as City beat Wolves 2-1.
The Blues remained unbeaten as they drew 2-2 at home to Bristol City then gained an early season double over Wolves as they beat them 4-2 at Molyneux, and then drew 3-3 with Coventry at Highfield Road.
The next match at Maine Road reached half time against Norwich with the score 1-1, however the players never returned for the second half and as the match was abandoned due to a waterlogged pitched.
Maine Road’s waterlogged pitch was brought up to standard enough to complete the next home game, City won again beating Carlisle 2-1 a game which saw the debut of George Heslop who was a recent £20,000 buy from Everton, The Blues then made it seven games unbeaten drawing 3-3 at Norwich.
Although the Blues scored three goals at Cardiff they ended up losing their first game of the season 4-3 and so with eight games played City were 8th in Division 2, just three points behind leaders Southampton.
In the League Cup 2nd Round City saw off Leicester 3-1. Joe Mercer brought in a further player to boost his promotion hopes, he signed Stan Horne from Aston Villa who would make history as being the first black player to play for City.
The Blues then won twice in the league 1-0, at home to Derby and and against Southampton at the Dell, and with a further unbeaten game, 0-0 at Huddersfield, City were now fourth in the table two points off the summit with a quarter of the season gone.
City were to take no further part in the League Cup as Coventry beat the Blues 3-2 at Maine Road in the 3rd Round, they then lost again to Coventry, 4-2 at Highfield Road in a friendly, however in the league City were flying as they beat Crystal Palace 3-1 at home and then beat Preston 3-0 at Deepdale and after a 0-0 draw against Norwich at Maine Road, Joe Mercer’s side were top of the Division 2 as the end of October approached.
However, the Blues then showed their usual inconcistency as they failed to score again in their next two games, drawing 0-0 at home to Charlton and losing 1-0 at Plymouth.
Although City managed a 3-1 at home to Portsmouth they slipped to third in the league as two more vital promotion points were surrendered at Bolton, when Wanderers emerged winners of a tough derby battle by the only goal of the game. And a spectacular one it was, too, with left half Dave Hatton hitting a 35 yard drive which gave Harry Dowd no chance. That makes the points haul from the last five games only four with just one victory.
Back at home City got back on track with a 2-1 win over Ipswich. but away from home City lost again, 3-1 at Birmingham.
Joe Mercer’s side then tested themselves against one of Europes greats as they played a prestigious friendly at Maine Road against Moscow Dynamo which the Blues won 2-0.
That win certainly boosted the Blues as they went on to beat Orient 5-0 at Maine Road and then Crystal Palace 2-0 at Selhurst Park.
The Christmas fixtures were decimated by the weather and therefore no games were played over the festive period with both games against Rotherham being postponed.
On New Years day 1966 a crowd of over 47,000 cheered the team to a 2-0 victory over over Division 2 leaders Huddersfield, City then drew 2-2 at Portsmouth and then made it four wins in five games as they beat Rotherham 3-1 at Maine Road in the re-arranged game that had been postponed at Christmas. The Blues now moved up to second on the same points as leaders Huddersfield.
City took a point at home to Preston in a 0-0 draw and it was enough to send them back to the top of the league.
In the FA Cup the Blues faced 1st Division opponents in Blackpool and after a 1-1 draw at Bloomfield Road, City put up a great performance in front of a Monday night Maine Road crowd of over 50,000 to beat Blackpool 3-1.
Back in the league and City continued their promotion push with a 3-1 home win over Middlesbrough followed by a 1-1 draw at Bristol City.
City’s league form was mirrored in the FA Cup as they disposed of Grimsby 2-0 at Maine Road.
The Blues hadn’t lost since 4th December and the way they were playing it seemed they might not lose again. They beat Coventry 1-0 at Maine Road and and 2-1 at Carlisle as we entered March and a 5th Round FA Cup tie at home to Leicester which ended 2-2 and was played in front of a crowd of over 56,000
In the replay at Filbert Street four days later City booked a place in the 6th Round with a 1-0 win over Leicester.
In the league they then drew 2-2 at home to Cardiff. City then signed Colin Bell from Bury for £45,000, Colin signed a three year deal on £35 a week £10 more than he’d been on at Bury. Malcolm Allison was convinced that Colin was an important part of the jigsaw that City needed. He recounted on many occasions how the transfer came about; “I told Joe about this player, I think Joe had seen him just once, we didn’t have enough money at the time, so I used to sit in the stands at Gigg Lane and watch the games and there’d be five or six scouts this side and 3 or 4 managers on the other.
I’d say he’s useless on his left foot! He’s not too good in the air! Look at his bad positional play! I used to criticise him all the time and I can imagine some of their reports, ‘He’s not so good on his left side etc..’And I kept on calling and insulting him until we had enough money and then went and bought him.” Bell scored on his debut as City beat Derby 2-1 at the Baseball Ground to stay top of the table after thirty two games.
Colin Bell was cup tied for the 6th Round FA cup tie at Maine Road where nearly 64,000 fans watched a 0-0 draw against Everton, and three days later at Everton the teams still couldn’t be separated as they drew 0-0 again in the replay. Back in the league City drew 1-1 at home to Plymouth before they went out of the FA Cup losing 2-0 in the second repaly against Everton at Goodison.
The improvement of Maine Road was high on the agenda for Chairman Albert Alexander and so it was with great pride that he he over-saw the Lord Mayor openning City’s new luxurious Social Club, built at a cost of £65,000.
The Blues now just had promotion to think about with a double header against Bury, The Blues beat them 1-0 at Maine Road but Bury got revenge in the return at Gigg Lane beating City 2-1.
Just seven games left to play now and it was looking good for Mercer’s men as they beat Bolton 4-1 at Maine Road, drew 1-1 at Ipswich and beat Birmingham 3-1 also at Maine Road. It was Rotherham away next and as City travelled to Millmoor they knew a win would clinch promotion back to the top flight and a Colin Bell goal saw them beat Rotherham 1-0 and the Blues travelling fans and players celebrated the return to Division One. As soon as the players entered the dressing room after the game Allison handed them champagne. Colin Bell remembers “Malcolm had been carrying the champagne around for ages ready for the promotion celebration. The changing rooms at Rotherham were very small, just a wooden hut, but we still managed to drink it. I’d never seen champagne before. I didn’t know what it was!”
The Blues then drew 2-2 at Orient but with promotion to the first division guaranteed, City travelled to Charlton knowing that victory would assure them of the Second Division title. With the Blues leading 3-0, it all looked done and dusted but, in typically inconsistent style, they let Charlton get back to 3-2 before the final whistle. No matter. Mercer and Allison had won their first silverware with City.
The last game of the season was a 0-0 draw at home to Southampton, who would also be promoted with City.
It had been a great season for the Blues and Don Evan’s from the News of The World summed it up ‘Blow those horns, bang those drums and let the rattles rotate, Manchester City, a club with majesty in it’s name and glory in it’s past are back in the First Division. England’s soccer situation is once more approaching normality’.