Manchester United
Game Details
 By Simon Curtis

Manchester City on solid footing, but it wasn't always that way

The anniversary passed quietly and unobtrusively last week of an episode in Manchester City's history that still gives supporters of the club the shivers 20 years later.

Freshly relegated to the second tier, it had taken City chairman Francis Lee weeks to find a new manager but only 32 days to lose him again. Steve Coppell, appointed to the job that apparently nobody wanted with the usual brash fanfare and raft of promises, went the way of so many others, slinking out of the back door under rug.

Coppell, an intelligent and sensitive man, looked like a ghost when uttering his barely audible reasons for the swift exit in a hastily arranged news conference at Maine Road.

He left with these words: "I am not ashamed to admit I have suffered for some time from the huge pressure I have imposed on myself.

"Since my appointment, this has completely overwhelmed me to such an extent that I can't function in the job in the way I would like to. As the situation is affecting my well-being, I have asked Francis Lee [the club's chairman] to relieve me of my obligation to manage the club on medical advice. I am therefore resigning solely for personal reasons."

Oddly, Coppell had arrived among a flurry of well-appointed quotes, including one or two, which were, in hindsight, solid gold utterances.

When asked about his immediate past, eight years playing the right wing for Manchester United and a further nine in charge of Crystal Palace, he stated: "I am an animal that tends to roost..."

Asked about how he felt joining a club that had chewed its way through 15 managers in 25 years, Coppell's reply was succinct. "They tell me there have been eight managers in 10 years, but I don't look at myself as a three-week wonder..."

Four weeks, perhaps.

City had indeed been somewhat careless in its use of the carrot, stick and meat cleaver. The previous incumbents, flying in and out of Maine Road's famous entrance as if there had been revolving doors fitted were as follows: From 1972 -- Malcolm Allison, Johnny Hart, Ron Saunders, Tony Book, Allison again, John Bond, John Benson, Billy McNeill, Jimmy Frizzell, Mel Machin, Howard Kendal, Peter Reid, Brian Horton, Alan Ball, Steve Coppell.

Coppell's first act was to talk the side round from a pasting at QPR and salvage a 2-2 draw, coming back from two-down whilst hitting the woodwork three times. Thereafter, the side lost at Reading, beat high-flying Norwich, lost at home to Wolves, won at Southend and lost at Swindon. This last defeat at the County Ground -- "outfought and out-thought," according to Tony Banks reporting for The Sun -- may have told Coppell enough about the impossible job he had taken on. The poisoned chalice, the fifth column, this was a time at City when there were so many spooks flying down Maine Road's narrow old corridors, you could have filmed an entire series of Rent-a-Ghost at the club.

The defeat at Swindon was to be Coppell's sixth and last in charge of the club.

Looking drawn and his voice cracking with emotion, he whispered that it had been the hardest decision he had ever made.

"I am extremely embarrassed by the situation and I would like to apologise first and foremost to Francis Lee and his board, who did everything in their power to help me. Francis has been particularly understanding and I would like to thank him for that," Coppell said.

Francis Lee & Steve Coppell
Steve Coppell, right, was one of 15 managers to have led Man City in a 25-year span, beginning in 1972.

Those in charge were not to know it, but much worse was to come under the stewardship of the next two managers, Phil Neal and Frank Clark, but at the time, this period felt like a hammer blow to Blues fans suffering on the cold terraces. For a proud, intelligent man like Coppell, who had said on arrival that the chance to manage City had rendered him "excited and delighted," it was a terrible day, too. As Lee himself stated shortly afterwards: "There have been too many sad days at Maine Road."

The unfailing solidity the club presents to the public nowadays could not be more different. City are a beacon of good management across the continent. Managers these days stay a little longer than in the good old days and the results have been predictably better. The turbulent days of the late 1990s, although historically speaking not so very far in the past, seem like images from another era altogether.

It has taken City a long time to return to the forefront of English football, but that climb does not look complete yet. With ignominious relegation campaigns and a swathe of short-stay managers apparently a thing of the past, City supporters can return to their memories these days without causing too many sleepless nights.

Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.


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