Twenty years after Tony Coton switched from Blue to Red I would like to ask the question 'Does this guy still divide the City fans?' Some still believe he switched from blue to red for a payday but I'm not so sure.
Tony Coton was there between the sticks for City when Joe Hart was just three years old and spent five seasons with the blues before eventually moving on. His first two seasons as City's regular number one saw Manchester City finish in fifth place both times, the best finish since the 1977-78 season. In fact in his first season City would finish above neighbors United for the first time over the same period.
He won the City Player of the Year award twice and kept fourteen clean sheets in his second season at the club. All of this should, in itself, be a reason to cheer the name of Tony Coton as a City hero. However, his move in 1996 to Manchester United is reason for much of the bad feeling felt, by some, toward the keeper.
When he moved to City it was from Watford, now in the Premier League and doing quite well, the side then were in the second tier of English football. Howard Kendall, the Manchester City manager of the time, paid out $1.8million, which made him one of the most expensive goalkeepers of the time. A few fans were skeptical of the purchase at first but soon came round to welcoming him as their own and, as mentioned before, voted him player of the year in his second season.
The season in which he received the first Player of the Season award from City fans also is notable for other reasons. Off the pitch there was a groundswell support to oust the long time Chairman, Peter Swales, and install the boy hero from City's past glory days, Francis Lee. In 1995, after seeing the back of first Kendall, Peter Reid and the Brian Horton as managers of the club, came the appointment of Lee's longtime friend, Alan Ball.
City fans have their own ideas about this particular management appointment and it can be summed up with the Paul Walsh transfer. In the previous season Paul Walsh had scored 15 goals in all competitions for City. Ball decided to offer him and cash to Portsmouth in an exchange for Gerry Creaney. Gerry who? Exactly, Creaney scored four goals in that first season and would only make 21 appearances before being released in 1999, after numerous loan spells.
With Coton, coming back from injury, the scenario is believably similar to that of Walsh's. Initially City fans were told Coton had taken the option to be a bench warmer for United rather than stay at City where he was their number one. So six months after his transfer to United, where he had made no starts for United and only made the bench once, he moved on again, this time to Sunderland, and a sense of justice for Blues fans.
So I guess, twenty years after the transfer of our prized number one from blue to red in our hour of need, and considering our path in those years immediately after his departure, the question is do we still hold that grudge and, more importantly, was the reason for his move the reasons we were told at the time?
I would like to argue no. They weren't a case of sacrificing first team football for a move to United's bench but a little more involved than that. Remember that at the time he was City's number one keeper, player of the season with no one questioning his ability between the sticks. Then in his early thirties, despite the undeniable skill, he only has one England Cap, and that's at ‘B' level. Years after his move Coton did reveal that Alan Ball had told him that he would no longer be City's number one choice goalkeeper. With Euro's and World Cup opportunities dwindling there was no way he could stay at City if that was the situation and the fact he moved away from United only six months after leaving City I think strengthens the case that the stopper was seeking regular first team football and a potential England call up. I have no doubt that he would still have been City's number one for a long time to come had he been given that option.