Saturday, 18 August 2018

1981: City documentary

There is a strong possibility that the All or Nothing documentary covering Manchester City’s record-breaking season will make interesting viewing. Catching a glimpse of Pep Guardiola’s training methods and philosophies will no doubt be revealing. But as an outsider, I’m not all that bothered about watching something that charts the success of another club.

Give me a documentary on a turbulent football club, then you are in business. An insightful view into a football team struggling in the top flight, with uncharted access to the dressing room and Boardroom; now you are talking. I don’t want All or Nothing; I want City!

The 1981 City documentary produced by Granada is a thing of beauty. Following the trials and tribulations of Manchester City for a few months in the 1980/81 season, the programme was originally aired at 10.30pm on Monday February 9, 1981. Do yourself a favour; if you haven’t already watched this, and you have a spare 52 minutes, then go to YouTube immediately (maybe after you have read this, though).

Timing is everything, and in this regard, Granada were extremely fortunate. Filming behind the scenes at a football club would have been fascinating regardless. But the programme makers struck gold in choosing City, especially as the events that unfolded during the period of the filming made compelling viewing.

The initial part of the documentary covers the struggles of City boss Malcolm Allison. Often portrayed as a flamboyant figure in the media, the pressures of football management are clear for all to see, as a beleaguered Allison tries unsuccessfully to turn the tide. You cannot help but feel sympathy for him.

Covering losses against Liverpool and Leeds, you can see the weight of the world crushing down on Allison, as he anxiously smokes on the bench, barking instructions. His words in the dressing room have no affect – maybe he should have put his top on – and despite fighting his corner with the press, it is apparent that a sense of helplessness is enveloping the manager.

Chairman Peter Swales is a central figure throughout, and there is an amusing clip when he suggests to Allison that he should re-sign Asa Hartford; check out the disillusioned look from the manager. Soon Swales is forced to act, though, dismissing Allison and his assistant Tony Book, thus beginning a hunt for a new boss at Maine Road.

Again, we get to witness a scene of something that is often talked about but rarely seen; the goodbyes on the training ground. Here Allison shakes the hands of his men/boys, ruffling the hair of a few, and wishing them luck. It really is an emotional moment, as Allison, a father-like figure to many of City’s young players, sadly slopes off.

Enter, stage left, John Bond. It becomes evident that the Norwich City manager is the prime candidate for Allison’s old job, and being a fly on the wall for the interview is another coup. Bond emphasises discipline throughout as the key to good management, and impresses enough of the Board to be offered the post.

Another key section is when Bond meets his new players for the first time, and his softly-spoken country accent fills the room as the new incumbent lays own a few ground rules; “Call me boss,” is his first point, followed by a detailing of a fines system and the dress code on match days.

Whatever Bond does behind closed doors is not fully revealed. But it obviously works, as the fortunes of the club are reversed. And then the final piece of luck lands on the laps of Granada; the FA Cup third round draw pairs Bond against Allison, as the latter brings his new club Crystal Palace to Maine Road.

The relationship of Bond and Allison has history. Having played together at West Ham during the 1950s, Allison was very much the dominant man in the friendship, with Bond frank about this. Expressing his opinions that Allison viewed Bond as a country bumpkin, who was unlikely to succeed, Bond pours a lot off his chest. The producers must have been licking their lips.

We do not get to hear the views of Allison on Bond, but it is clear that he would love nothing more than to knock his old club out of the FA Cup. Running on to the pitch before the match, Allison receives a warm reception, before a chant of “Johnny Bond” is heard. Time stands still for no man.

City hammer Palace 4-0, and the aftermath makes tough viewing. Allison looks every inch the broken man, evidently crushed by the experience, as he sits, head bowed, speechless in the away dressing room. The silence is deafening, and seems to hang around forever in the awkward atmosphere of the room.

This gloomy moment finally ends when Allison gets to his feet and makes his way to wish Bond and his former players well. As he leaves the City dressing room, Allison turns for one final time, almost in a David Brent style, before the door closes. It’s entertaining, but also slightly heart-tugging.

There is one more treat that the documentary provides, when Bond, Allison and Swales share a room and chew the fat. Bond is refreshingly honest towards his mentor, claiming that Allison has the ability to make players better but maybe not teams, and that no one can control him. “I can control me,” Allison responds. A few weeks later, Allison is fired by Palace.

The documentary received rave reviews at the time, the Mirror’s Frank McGhee describing it as “...arguably the most accurate, telling and compelling picture of professional soccer I've ever seen...” Miles Kington in the Times called City “…a superb drama, which just happened to be drawn from real life.”

It may not be as slick and shiny as All or Nothing, but that is part of the appeal of City. A time when football was a lot less polished than it is today – those were the days, my friend – and an era when City spent relatively big, but with little success. A valuable case study in the highs and lows of football management, and the impact it has on the people involved.

Do yourself a favour; go and watch it on YouTube.


1 comment:

  1. Excellent watch. The John Bond introduction as well is marvellous stuff. I never knew where Bostock's Cup got its inspiration from for the Bertie Masson character but I do now.