Our new section, Maine Road Daze looks at the life and times of Maine Road through the eyes and memories of Syd Barnes. For this episode, Syd recalls his first ever match at Maine Road, a League Cup tie against Coventry City.
It was nearing midnight on my tropical island, as my sky-blue eyes were glued to my laptop, which was burning brightly in the forests of the night. Manchester City were trailing Spurs by a single goal from Son Heung-Min, and I was hoping for a tigerish fightback, urging my team to quickly equalise before snatching a last-gasp winner.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of City’s finer displays... rather toothless and without bite, which meant the Premier League champions began their 2021/22 campaign with a loss. Our mega-signing Jack Grealish had shown glimpses of his incredible talent, indicating that he has a bright sky-blue future ahead of him.
I turned off the laptop and watched several small brown geckoes greedily gobbling up mosquitoes on the wall of my jungle home. I knew that I’d avoid the sports pages until tomorrow evening at the earliest…. I always do when City lose. Now if we had of been victorious, I would have burnt the midnight oil lapping up reports of our victory and first thing in the morning too. When City win I “Just Can’t Get Enough.”
I sprawled in my wooden chair on the veranda overlooking my now dark and hidden wild tropical garden, and gazed at the stars twinkling in the black velvet sky. A dog’s bark echoed eerily in the far distance and a few frogs croaked near my feet as I mused what a “Lucky Man” I am. I inhaled a massive gulp of pungent jungle air and went into a dream.
I was an eight-year-old toddler sat next to my dad on the top deck of a double decker bus. It was strange, as if I were playing a part in an old black-and-white film that some arty bloke had started to colourise. All the people had faded to grey, but the cigarette ends glowed bright red, and the scarves were vivid sky-blue and white. The dirty clouds of toxic fumes exhaled by the choking smokers made my eyes water. I wiped the tears off my visage and stared out of the window at the dark sky and the dazzling white headlights beaming from the drab slate-coloured cars.
It was about half-six on October 13th, 1965, and I was on my way to watch Manchester City play Coventry City in a League Cup tie. I felt as sick as an unlucky parrot as the crowded bus made progress towards the ground because I hated football. I had initially refused to join my father at the game, but after much persuasion from both my mum and dad, I relented and agreed to go this one time only, but never again.
I was relieved to escape the smoky bus and walk through the grim Moss side streets, surrounded by masses of scarf-clad strangers smoking cigarettes. Even the floodlights “Up in the Sky” couldn’t brighten my glum mood as I pictured myself being bored to death watching a flipping football match on a cold grey night.
My dad paid for me at the children’s turnstile, and I waited inside until he arrived from the grown-up’s entrance a minute later. He bought me a programme for just sixpence, and I glanced in disinterest at the front cover before we walked up the back steps to the stand.
When we reached the top of the steps and entered the stand, the gloomy grey evening magically transformed into a spectacular technicolour dreamscape. It reminded me of the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her dog, Toto, first land in Oz
I stared in open-mouthed astonishment at the incredible scene before my eyes. It was like a supernatural warlock had waved his magic wand, leaving me spellbound. The nondescript grey people suddenly burst into life as the football pitch, illuminated by powerful floodlights, turned a brilliant green. The colourful people were now talking and smiling, and a middle-aged man wearing a black overcoat and a blue and white bobble hat laughed out loud. A clickety-clickety racket split the air, and I spotted a grinning red-haired lad about my age twirling a blue and white football rattle. A group of teenagers behind chanted, “2,4,6,8, who do we appreciate. “C-I-T-Y, CITY”
We were stood in the uncovered Scoreboard End and the prospect of getting soaked to the skin if it started to chuck it down didn’t dampen my new-found enthusiasm. When I looked at the programme, I discovered that it had morphed into a beautiful, precious keepsake. I smelt the aroma of Bovril drifting in the air, but there was something else... an electric atmosphere that vibrated with oneness as the crowd eagerly awaited the start of the game. Then a deafening roar as the sky-blue heroes ran onto the field.
To me, it seemed like there were millions of spectators, but the attendance for this mid-week third round league Cup tie was just 18,113.
I watched the game with intense fascination as Coventry took the lead, but Glynn Pardoe equalised for City, leaving the half-time score at 1-1. Coventry went ahead again in the second half until our captain Johnny Crossan scored to even things up. It was all City as they pushed for a winner, but unfortunately, Alan Oakes scored an own goal in the final minute, knocking City out of the cup.
We walked through the dark night past the rows of terraced houses with a crowd of downcast supporters who were grumbling about being knocked out of the cup by an unlucky last minute own goal. We boarded a red double-decker bus, and I sat on the upper deck reading the programme while my father chain-smoked. As I browsed through the pages, I learnt that City were currently fourth in the second division. My dad explained that the top two teams at the end of the season would be promoted to Division One, and that a win was worth two points, a draw one point, and for a defeat you got sweet F.A.
I studied the league table once more and saw that Huddersfield Town were in first place with 17 points, followed by Southampton, Coventry City, Manchester City, and Crystal Palace, all of whom had 15 points. My dad clarified that goal difference was used to separate teams on equal points. I spotted that City had played one game fewer than the other teams and understood that if we won our game in hand, we would be in second spot and if we remained there, we would be in the promised land of Division One next season.
Sky-blue blood was racing through my veins as I quickly scanned the fixture list, and I was over the blue moon when I found out that our next match was against Norwich City at home.
As the bus made headway towards our council estate, I looked at my dad and pleaded, “Can we go to watch City play Norwich on Saturday?”
He just smiled, before taking a deep drag on his ciggie, and replied, “We’ll have to ask yer mam.”