Johnny Crossan



Johnny Crossan’s career at Maine Road was comparatively short but nonetheless eventful, And it was significant, too, because the Ulsterman helped to spark off the greatest period in the club’s post-war history. He was signed from Sunderland in the wake of one of City’s blackest days, when only 8,015 turned up at Maine Road for the Second Division fixture against Swindon Town on January 16th 1965. That remains the lowest recorded home league gate in City‘s history since they moved here from Hyde Road in 1928.
In an exclusive article in the Sunday Express, the following day, my colleague james Mossop wrote: “crisis club Manchester City are to bid this week for Sunderland’s inside left Johnny Crossan, It will be a dire, urgent move, for City lurched deeper into trouble yesterday with another home defeat, and their lowest ever attendance”.
…A few days later, the Crossan deal was sealed, me fee variably reported as anything between £38,000-£45,000. Derek Hodgson wrote a letter of welcome to Crossan in the Daily Express. He suggested: “John, you have it in you to be City’s greatest player since Denis Law, commanding an adulation, almost an idolatry, that you will never have known before. Half a great footballing city is seeking a hero and you can end the search”.
Success wasn’t immediate and manager George Poyser had to be sacrificed before City turned the corner. Then Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison arrived, not to mention the likes of Mike Summeibee, Colin Bell and George Heslop. And in May 1966, City won the Second Division championship by a five point margin and Johnny Crossan was carried shoulder high off the Maine Road pitch. The great revival had begun.
What was special about Crossan? Born in Londonderry, in 1938 he had begun his career in the Irish League, first with Derry City and then with Coleraine. Suddenly, his whole future in the game was threatened. He was banned for life from playing in England because of alleged irregularities in his proposed move to Bristol City. He went abroad to the Dutch club Sparta Rotterdam. Then he joined Standard Liege of Belgium and played for them in the European Cup.
When the Football League ban was lifted, in 1963, Sunderland paid the Belgians £28,000 for Crossan and the North East giants were the first to reap the benefit of skills honed and polished on the continent. Inconsistency was his only drawback. And when that cost him a regular place in Sunderland’s First Division line- up, he accepted the challenge of a lower level of competition,
In ]ohnny’s own words: “Success is a fantasy and you rise to it”. More often than not, in his two and a hall years with City, encompassing 110 League and Cup games he did.
A fellow joumalist wrote; “Crossan can do it all . , . the deadly accurate pass . . . the centre that hangs, spot on . . . the precise collection and distribution . . , the eye for a scoring chance, But he must never allow himself to slip into the unhappy ways that lost him his popularity at Sunderland”
In his first half season ai City, Crossan and the Maine Road crowd were in unison. They both felt, perhaps, it had been a mistake for him to leave Suriderland. But the 1965/66 season changed all that Attendanoes rocketed, City stormed back to the First Division and picked up some useful revenue from the FA. Cup, playing eight ties though they went out to Everton in the quartertinals (after two replays!)
Crossan played in 40 League games and scored 13 goals. He remained as club captain for City’s first season back in the top grade and missed only four league games, but one of them was the ‘derby’ against United at Maine Road And Crossan slapped in a transfer request when he was dropped!
The transformation of Neil Young, from winger to inside forward, and the storming development of Colin Bell, increased the pressure on Crossan to sustain peak form. Even then, it was argued in some quarters that he didnt fit in with City’s hard, fast new style. Throughout that season he had been handicapped by the after-effects of a summer car-crash, ironically just a few hundred yards from Sunderland’s Roker Park where he had first made an impact on English soccer.
He h tried to disguise an injured knee and been subjected to fierce barracking during one game, when he looked a shadow of his former self As Crossan declared ruefully: “I heard the jeers but that‘s football. You are a king one day, a peasant the next!”
A grumbling appendix also affected him during his time at City, so there were mitigating circumstances when his form slumped. tAnd no great loss of revenue for City when they transferred the Irishman to Middlesbrough in August 1967, for £32,000. During his time at Maine Road, he won 10 of his 24 Northern Ireland caps, scored 28 goals, led City to the Second Division championship . . . and when he left, his money went towards the purchase of Francis Lee!

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