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50 Years of Big Mal and Manchester City

One of the most colorful coaches in English football history was appointed by the Blues fifty years ago today.

Phil Cole/Getty Images

A week ago I had written a piece about the hiring of Joe Mercer as Manchester City manager. As was pointed out then, it was the start of something special for Manchester City. It wouldn't be right though to put all the success at City solely at his feet. With Mercer's health being the issue at his previous club Villa it was decided to get a younger, enthusiastic guy to be his assistant. 50 years ago today that duo was complete as City hired Malcolm Allison.
It is almost five years since the world of football lost the great as Malcolm Allison, aged 83. Mention ‘Big Mal ‘ to any older City fan and they remember, as mentioned, his partnership with Joe Mercer during the clubs glory days when the likes of Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee and Francis Lee stepping onto the field in a sky blue shirt was enough to frighten most opposition. But to remember him as 'just a partnership' would be to rob the man of his true worth to the game we all love

It is true that his playing career was cut short after a bout of tuberculosis as he fell ill after turning out for West Ham. In hospital he had one lung removed, it was the 16th September 1957, and his 238th game for West Ham and the last time he'd play professionally.

But as with anything in life what football lost in a player they gained back ten fold as a manager and coach. Mentoring a young player, who was later quoted as saying ‘I'd been a pro for two and a half months and Malcolm taught me everything I know.....I looked up to the man. It's not too strong to say I loved him'. That young man went by the name of Bobby Moore, he would go onto Captain England in the countries only World Cup victory

Allison's first managerial job though would come at non league Bath City. One of the first things he did was double the training sessions and his first season was a moderate success. As the season ended he went overseas to coach Toronto City but after a matter of weeks he was back in England. Plymouth now became his team but did return to Bath to sign a full back by the name of Tony Book.

Then came his role as assistant to Joe Mercer at Manchester City. His on-field antics and successes, everyone knows but Allison pretty much invented ‘Sports science' in football. Some methods and techniques he started are common place in today's game. Mike Summerbee recalls "We were doing things in 1965 on running machines at Salford University with massage based fitness, we trained in Wythenshawe Park with Derek Ibbotson and some of the Salford rugby league lads - that's how hard it was and how good it was".

After taking the reigns at City (twice) he would also manage Bristol Rovers, Middlesbrough, Yeovil and Crystal Palace in England and SC Farense, Kuwait, Vitoria de Setubal and Sporting abroad.

He was appointed Palace boss in march 1973 but could do nothing to save them from relegation. He then started a changing Palace both on and off the field, re-branding the clubs nickname from 'The Glaziers' to 'The Eagles' and ending the clubs 68 year association with their Claret and Blue strip. The red and blue stripes were introduced but after a second relegation the team reached the semi finals of the FA Cup where they lost out to eventual winners Southampton. Next up (after a short spell at Yeovil) Allison moved abroad to Sporting. There he would guide them to victory in the Supertaca Candido de oliveira, Cup of Portugal and the league title all in the same 1981-82 season, the very first ‘Special One?'

In 2001 it was revealed by his son that Allison was suffering from alcoholism. In 2009 it was reported that Allison was suffering from dementia

In January 2007 Crystal Palace fans organized a tribute to Allison, which they named 'Fedora Day' (because of his iconic lucky hat). Fans set up a campaign on, an unofficial forum dedicated to the club, to mark the 31st anniversary of the famous FA Cup run which Allison masterminded. The date chosen was that of the game against Preston North End in the 4th Round of the FA Cup on 27 January 2007. Fans sporting Allison's favored Fedoras smoked cigars and drank champagne while cheering on their side.

This generated major national press coverage. However, Crystal Palace - managed by Peter Taylor, a star of the 1976 side - were unable to match their predecessors and were knocked out of the cup 2-0.
Allison died in a Sale nursing home on Thursday 14 October 2010 at the age of 83