|All the managerial heavyweights were interested|
manager and staff in place, shiny new kit, exotic new players arriving from far-off locations and a sizeable new challenge staring them square in the chops. The story mirrors the beginnings of Manuel Pellegrini's reign at the Etihad more closely than one might expect with its alluring uncertainties and its feel of the new beginning.
In fact in July 1983, Manchester City were facing a far greater challenge than the task confronting the present-day squad. Relegated on the last day of 1982-83 by a loose and hopeful swing of Raddy Antic's right boot in the most dramatic of circumstances and without a manager since the removal of the lame duck regime of John Benson and his light blue puffer jacket, City had spent the summer sizing up the more than "100 serious applicants", including the then manager of Sydney Olympic, Tommy Docherty and the out of work Harry Gregg. Some readers might at this stage be asking themselves what the less serious applicants could have looked like, if these two were amongst the good ones. One can only say that, 30 years ago, certain reputations had not yet been completely mangled by the unchallenged procession of time and others were still to be properly secured.
After years of promising the earth and delivering small parcels of dust, chairman Peter Swales preferred experience, but it would be experience at a low price, if it were possible to could find this magic combination in the whirling managers' merry go round of close season 1983. This was a little like looking for salmon in a dust cart full of carrots, but nevertheless Swales embarked on his own journey of discovery to see what he could rustle up. It was a journey that took him to all four compass points but that would eventually end up with his Cuban heels pointing north.
|The Daily Mirror turns to poetry|
Quite by accident, it appears, Swales got lucky.
Amongst the hill of names that the press had gleefully attached to the manager's job at Maine Road was Billy McNeill, the manager of Scottish champions Celtic. Most thought this a little far-fetched for a club ever so slightly down on its luck. Why would the manager of Celtic want to move to 2nd division City, for heaven's sake? But then a strange thing happened. Either by coincidence or not, McNeill asked Celtic for a pay rise, to bring him closer to the likes of John Grieg at Rangers and the chipper Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen. He was, after all, manager of the Scottish champions and being paid less than the respective managers of Motherwell and St Mirren to boot. Celtic refused. The Glasgow giants have always held the purse very close to the skirt of their kilt and, on this occasion, the wind had got underneath at just the wrong moment.
They had been caught without their long johns on.
|McNeill wears the "what have I done" smile at his unveiling|
McNeill wasted no time at all in mapping out the players he wanted to ignite the revolution. Pellegrini rightly eyes the Iscos and Negredos of this world as safe well-known territory. These are players that he has seen in the flesh many hundreds of times, from close quarter or from the stands. He has been able to study them and knows what his new club will be getting from a purchase of this nature. So it was with Big Seizure, who returned to his Scottish roots for many of his first signings. In came ex-Rangers striker Derek Parlane, offloaded by struggling Leeds; in came ex-Morton schemer and Tottenham reject Neil McNab from Brighton for the midfield enforcer birth about to be vacated by Asa Hartford; another Morton prodigy, Jim Tolmie, arrived for pennies from Belgian club Lokeren and the side began to take on a distinctly tartan, distinctly costcutter look.
Pre-season would be the first evidence of McNeill's eye for a bargain and Swales's eye for an
opportunity. The programme was a packed one, taking City through the football hotbeds of West Germany, Holland and Blackpool, long before the multi-million yen Premiership tours of the far east became de rigeur. There would be no cameras to record the tour, no squealing foreigners at the airport, but McNeill's hastily arranged cheapskate eleven were about to rack up a veritable hatfull of goals as they scorched the fields of Germany.
Not for City the most prestigious fields of Germany, but nevertheless, a marker would be put down for the season to come.
|Derek Parlane becomes City's only non-Morton pre-season signing|
The tour schedule looked a little like this:
Willem II Tilburg
As the 17-man squad gathered at Ringway to head out across the continent, they were bolstered by experienced ex-Burnley keeper Alan Stevenson and out-of-contract Everton.reserve Alan Ainscow. Derek Parlane's tank-top provided the only minor controversy as the plane was boarded and City flew off into a new, sky blue future under Mr Billy McNeill and his Scottish deputy Jimmy Frizzell, the old general manager of Oldham Athletic.
|A large crowd gathers on the roof at Ringway to check out Derek Parlane's tank-top|