… Ron was as good as his word, and put me on the jeft hand side. My mind was whirling. I looked around the dressing room and saw players of the calibre of Mike Doyle, Mike Summerbee and Colin Bell. Legends of the game. I couldn’t fail to be inspired by that… Mike Doyle was a veteran of games against united and was publicly vocal in his dislike of City’s red neighbours. I remember well his calm, controlled aggression before the match. urging everyone to do their job, and not get carried away.
… As soon as I pulled on my sky blue shirt that night, I knew that I’d made the right choice in joining City. It felt absolutely perfect from the moment I first wore it. Ron Saunders didn’t need to say an awful lot to anybody, just something along the lines of “Up and at em”. As I’d discover, City players never needed much geeing up when it came to derby games. Then we trotted onto the field to an absolute racket. I jogged over to the giant Kippax terrace, which ran the whole length of the pitch. As far back as the eye could see, it was rammed with City fans. the dim lighting on the Kippax gave it an otherworldly atmosphere, and from my first kick in front of them the fans who stood there gave me an electric bolt of energy every game. I couldn’t fail to be inspired by that huge mass of fanatics. they gave their new boy a generous reception, and I gave them a little wave.
Talk about a baptism of fire. There were over 50,000 fans shoe-horned into every corner of Maine Road that night, and the din was unbelievable throughout. But even through the racket, every time I ventured near the United dugout I could hear Tommy Docherty and his assistant Tommy Cavanagh urging United defenders Jim Holton and Alex Forsyth, in fact any United players who got near me, to “break his legs”. They were obviously trying to intimidate me. After all, I was the new boy thrust into the ferment of a local derby. At one point forsyth went straight through me and left me spreadeagled on the deck. But I still loved every minute of the game. It was what I had come to City for.
The match was more of a war of attrition than a game of football. Jim Holton, United’s massive defender, a Scot with a Desperate Dan jaw line, spent the entire first half trading kicks and shoves with our centre forward, Mike Summerbee. There were private battles, in an age when lunging, two footed tackles were deemed fair game, going on all over the pitch.
I felt that I’d played well over on the left and when I did get a few seconds of space, linked up effectively with Mike Summerbee and Colin Bell. I headed narrowly over the bar in the first half, and United goalkeeper Alex Stepney parried another of my efforts away. I could tell that Colin Bell’s touch and vision was, quite literally, in a different league from what I’d come across in the Second Division, and Mike Doyle, as well as being a fearsome physical presence, could play a bit too. But the ferocious unrelenting pace of the game took my breath away, as well as the crash, bang, wallop side of things.
Just before half-time, Lou Macari and Mike Doyle squared up to one another, and the referee Clive ‘the book’ Thomas came over all dictatorial and sent the pair of them off. I didn’t think what they did justified being dismissed, and neither did anyone else. Doyle and Macari refused to leave the pitch insisting that their ‘handbags’ encounter happened all the time in local derbies. The players refused to budge, so Clive in his authoitarian way ordered both teams off. After ten minutes or so, we all trooped back on, without Macari and Doyle, and battle recommenced.
Overall, I felt I acquitted myself well during the match, but it was nigh on impossible to do anything constructive in that war zone. I left the pitch with my ears ringing and my head spinning, glassy eyed from the encounter. The match ended 0-0, with one newspaper headline memorably proclaiming ‘Point Each, Nothing For Soccer’. Ron Saunders and Mike Doyle each said a cursory “well done” and I hopped into my car and drove back the the Brook House Hotel on Wilmslow Road, where City housed all their new signings.