The takeover rumblings from the previous season would not go away and a board room shake up did occur, two extra directors were appointed, Simon Cussons, the MD of Cusson’s Soap Group and more significantly, Joe Smith took his place on the board, It seemed that Joe Mercer’s days as manager could be numbered.
Prior to the start of the season, City Director, J J H Humphreys, wrote in a programme article “Soccer is now big business, the operating costs of a First Division club like Manchester City amount to something in the region of £8,000 a week and to cover this size of expenditure the club rely almost entirely upon gate receipts”. Oh how have times changed!
Despite the obvious financial pressures City splashed out £52,500 bringing forward Wyn Davies from Newcastle United. However the Blues recouped £25,000 with the sale of Ian Bowyer to Swansea, Bowyer, who had been the victim of City’s boo boys last season later in his career commented “I wasn’t exactly expecting to leave City, it was a surprise to know I did not feature in their plans at the time, but I was advised it was the best thing for me in view of the fan’s attitude. I desperately wanted to throw everything back in the faces of these people before I left, but that chance never came around.”
All City’s English pre-season friendlies were away wins 4-0 at Chester 1-0 at Port Vale and 2-0 at Doncaster. The Blues also had a short tour of West Germany where they lost both games 1-0 against Hertha and Arm Bielefield
With the new North Stand nearing completion Director Eric Alexander outlined his further plans for the Kippax “If we could rebuild part of the stand, incorporating a second tier containing about 8,000 seats, and build into the back of the stand a multi-storey car park spectators could then drive their cars straight into the car park and reach their seats without ever going outside. And private boxes would be incorporated in the back of the stand” Something for the future then. When the season kicked off on 14th August City met their match as Leeds dealt them a 1-0 defeat at Maine Road. Four days later City were back on track treating the Kippax faithful to an emphatic 4-0 win over Crystal Palace, a score they would equal when they beat visitors Tottenham but not before a 2-2 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and a 2-1 defeat by Wolves at Molyneaux. City stood in 14th place when Liverpool were the vistors to Maine Road on 1st September when a solitary goal from Ian Mellor gave the Blues two more points, and they gained a further point with a goalless draw against Leicester at Filbert Street boosting them up to sixth place, five points behind surprise leaders, newly promoted, Sheffield United.
A welcome break from the league saw City beat Wolves 4-3 in a League Cup 2nd Round thriller at Maine Road setting up a 3rd round trip to Bolton in October. Back to the League and City went a further four games unbeaten with two home wins, 2-1 against Newcastle, and 3-0 against Southampton, whilst on their travels they drew 2-2 against Notts Forest and then beat ‘The Albion 2-0 at the Hawthorns. And so in a week when Mike Yarwood was packing them in to his show at the City Social Club, City were making an impression of their own by climbing to fourth position in the league just three points off the summit. City then played a friendly at Maine Road as they drew 1-1 with Hertha
Things weren’t so rosy in the Cups, In the much maligned Texaco Cup City drew their home leg 2-2 against Airdrie and then lost 2-0 at Airdrie to go out in the first Round. Worse to come was that Airdie complained that City did not put out a side that respected the competition, basically City reserves. The Blues were immediately slapped with a £5,000 fine and banned from the Texaco Cup for two years. Joe Mercer, acerbated, stated: “Nobody consulted us. We still maintain we have broken no rules of the competition. At the same time I recognise that our image has been impaired, I apologised to Airdrie and Scottish League officials but we could not have told them about our plans because it would have totally ruined their gate,” then in the League Cup City crashed out of the competition with a 3-0 defeat at Burnden Park against Bolton
With over a quarter of the season gone there had been a major change in the Mercer, Allison partnership. Malcolm had become team manager after becoming slightly disillusioned at being in the shadow of Joe and Joe had taken a somewhat back seat as a type of general manager, as Malcolm described it “It means that I have the last word, as Joe puts it. I shall probably become more ruthless, the job will drive me on to drive the players on and of course I shall have a bigger influence over their future… Now I shall be able to lead the team out at Wembley for the Cup Final.” Joe Mercer commented “Malcolm has always been the man handling the team. I have made no secret of that. Now he gets all the worries and will call me Joe instead of Boss.”
Allison got off to a winning start as the Blues beat Everton 1-0 at Maine Road, however, Leeds completed the double over City with a 3-0 win at Elland Road. City then met Sheffield United who had just been ousted from the top of the league by the team from Stretford and City saw off the Yorkshire side with a 2-1 win. Malcolm’s drive pushed The Blues to a further five game unbeaten run, A 1-1 draw at Huddersfield, a thrilling 3-3 Maine Road derby against United , two away wins in London, 2-1 at Arsenal and 2-0 at West Ham followed by a 4-0 thrashing of Coventry in Manchester. The Blues also managed to send a strong team to Deepdale for Alan Spavin’s Testimonial, where they beat Preston 3-2.
Changes off the field saw Eric Alexander become City’s new Chairman, taking over from his father Albert, who became Citys President and Joe Smith, leader of the failed takeover group became Vice Chairman.
Despite a 3-1 defeat against Derby at the Baseball ground City were now genuine title contenders on equal points with second place Derby and just three points off the team from Old Trafford who led the table. And it was congratulations to Malcolm in his first month in charge as he was awarded The Bell’s Whiskey Manager of the Month Award for November.
City were now to go on a title chasing nine match unbeaten run which starts with a 4-0 victory against visitors Ipswich , Malcolm took the players away to warmer climbs as City drew 0-0 in a friendly against Maltese giants Floriana , they then returned to England and gained a 1-1 draw against Leicester in the last home game of 1971. The only game over the Christmas period saw Stoke beaten 3-1 at the Victoria Ground the day after Boxing Day. and as we said goodbye to 1971 City were now just second in the league behind United. And after a 2-2 draw with Nottingham Forest at Maine Road and a 1-1 draw against Tottenham at White Hart Lane the gap at the top was reduced to just one point.
City’s dalliance with the FA Cup was short and sweet as they were beaten 1-0 in a replay at Middlesbrough after Middlesbrough drew 1-1 in the third round tie at Maine Road. Back to the league and a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace pushed City to equal points with new leaders Leeds United. Prior to the next home game their were emotional exits for both Neil Young and Dave Connor as they both left (or were pushed) for Preston for a combined fee of around £85,000. Tony Book commented that “…….they are good professionals you know they will be alright. All the lads here wish them well” Neil Young was unhappy with the way he was being treated at the club he said “I wanted to leave Maine Road because I was getting nowhere. I think Malcolm Allison will be very sorry in a couple of months that he has let me go”
It didn’t appear to affect the Blues as they put five goals past Wolves at Maine Road and then three more at Bramall Lane albeit in a 3-3 draw against Sheffield United . And at last they sat at the top of the table two points ahead of Leeds. A further 1-0 win at home to Huddersfield cemented them there and even a 3-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield couldn’t knock them from their perch, although Leeds were just two points behind with a game in hand. With 12 matches left It was in City’s own hands now they just needed to keep on winning which they did, victorious in their next four games beating West Brom 2-1, Arsenal 2-0 and Chelsea 1-0 all at home added to a 2-1 win against Everton at Goodison Park.
It was during this period that Malcolm signed, what he thought would be, the player who could seal the championship for City, the mercurial Rodney Marsh, who arrived from QPR for £200,000. Another moment in history was to be the recording of ‘Boys in Blue’ the team song written by ex 10cc members, Graham Goulden, Kevin Godley and Lol Cream at The Strawberry Studios in Stockport.
After a goalless draw against Newcastle City were three points clear at the top, with Derby and Leeds hot on their heels City had played 35 games, Derby 34 and Leeds 33. City then hit the destruction button losing 2-1 at home to Stoke where Lee scored City’s only goal and equalled Derek Kevan’s club record of 30 league goals in a season. Skipper Tony Book summed up City’s chances of winning the titke “There is no short cut left. We have got to win the lot to make absolutely sure of success”. Typically City were then defeated 2-0 at Southampton.
City dropped to third on the same points as Liverpool and a point behind leaders Derby, each team having just five games to play. The Blues got back on track with two 3-1 wins at home to West Ham and in the Old Trafford derby against United, but could only draw 1-1 at Highfield Road against Coventry . So with just two games to go City, Derby, Liverpool and Leeds were all in with a chance of winning the league, however a 2-1 defeat at Portman Road against Ipswich in City’s penultimate game meant that even a last day 2-0 win against Derby at Maine Road wasn’t enough to give City the title as a fixture pile up gave their three rivals games in hand and the title was settled 12 days later when Derby were declared Champions by a point from Leeds and Liverpool with City finishing fourth on 57 points guaranteeing European football for next season.
The £200,000 signing of Marsh in March, with City four points clear at the top of the table, has been blamed for affecting the rhythm of the side. Joe Corrigan writes in his biography “We would have won the league, but for one decision, the signing of Rodney Marsh. …The line-up had hardly changed since October so to bring in a new player for the last lap was utter madness, especially such a maverick talent as Rodney… It wasn’t his fault, the decision to bring him in was down to Malcolm, who’d convinced Joe that he was the man to ensure we won the league. …The plain truth was that the team didn’t need Rodney Marsh at that time… there was also a discernible effect on morale: some players suspected he was being paid more than anyone else, and this when allied to doubts about his work rate was undoubtedly a problem for some players.” Mike Doyle had similar views, he wrote in his biography “Frankly I think there was a large measure of divided opinion about signing Rodney from QPR… but Malcolm was adamant that he was just the player City needed, I came to the conclusion that Joe (Mercer) was against bringing Rodney to Maine Road. We were playing Chelsea and that was the game in which Rodney made his debut. Tony Towers lost his place that day… we achieved victory by the skin of our teeth… Marsh was a stone overweight and I told Malcolm exactly what I thought about his decision to leave Tony Towers out… In Franny Lee, Mike Summerbee and Colin Bell we had three of the best attackers in the business, but suddenly they were getting into positions – and the ball never arrived.”
In his book ‘Priceless’ Rodney says; “No beating about the bush, I have to hold my hands up, I cost Manchester City the title.
… For City, I played the same way as I had at Rangers, as a free spirit if you like, and that’s what the team wasn’t used to. It wasn’t that I was playing badly. It was just that the other lads weren’t used to my style and I confused them”.
On Mike Doyle, Marsh commented “Sadly he and I were not to get on. and the word ‘Prat’ doesn’t begin to describe my feelings about Mike Doyle. If I never see him again it will be too soon.”
Of the remaining 9 games City lost 3 and drew 2, although Marsh did contribute 4 goals in 8 games.
Francis Lee set a record during the season when he scored 13 penalties, a record which stands to this day. Alan Oakes enjoyed a testimonial in May against long time rivals Manchester United and Mike Summerbee was named City’s player of the year.
City also played an end of season friendly drawing 0-0 away at Olympiakos. And Arthur Mann, after being on loan at Blackpool, moved to Notts County for £15,000.
As the season finished it was clear Joe’s position had become untenable, he had come out in the press critcising Malcolm for throwing away the Championship by buying Rodney Marsh, and inevitably he left the club in June 1972 to take a position as manager of Coventry City to leave Malcolm in sole charge at Maine Road for the 1972/73 season. Joe saw Malcolm’s ‘promotion’ as inevitable, his concerns were with City not Malcolm, he told the press “I always wanted him to have the job, but at the same time I wanted to retain some control, although that can only be done on a mutual understanding. I did not want to be shorn of all authority, but unfortunately it was not to be. I am the sort of person who has got to be involved in the footballing side of football, helping to create and build teams, making and taking decisions and formulating policy”.