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The Worst of Friends by Colin Shindler

Release date: 20th March, 2009
Publisher: Mainstream Publishing

List Price: £17.99
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Manchester City have long attracted opprobrium and sympathy in equal measure. For years, a considerable number of neutral fans, as well as their own supporters have desperately wanted to see them overhaul their celebrated near-neighbours, the self-styled 'biggest club in the world', yet sadly, one false dawn has simply given way to another. It's Manchester City's way: they rarely make things easy for themselves and every new beginning invariably ends in tears.

This season, City have become the latest 'richest club in the world', no doubt attracting wavering Chelsea arrivistes in the process, but have yet to show that a hastily-assembled collection of highly-paid Brazilians can cut the mustard at the highest level. Meanwhile, neutral fans snigger under their breath: can City ever get the balance right?

In the late sixties and early seventies, they certainly did. At the start of the 1965/66 season, City's board asked the amiable Joe Mercer to take the managerial reins from George Poyser as the team appeared destined for a long stay in English football's second tier. Mercer recruited a youthful Malcolm Allison, who had just been sacked as manager of Plymouth for sleeping with a director's wife, as his coach.

The pair met at Maine Road and agreed to form a partnership that would eventually lift City from relative obscurity to European glory within just five years. What made their success even sweeter was the corresponding decline of their celebrated neighbours who in the early seventies were careering towards the Second Division.

Few joint management teams have ever worked as successfully as the Mercer-Allison duet. Winning promotion in their first season together, within a year, they had arrived at English football's summit, becoming champions for only the second time in 1967/68. An FA Cup success arrived the following season, after which the League Cup was added to their silverware collection and, incredibly, the European Cup Winners Cup, also in 1970.

It was at this point that Allison expected to take over from Mercer after he had been promised the manager's job within two years of City's league success.

The tragedy was that Mercer refused to step aside, prompting an increasingly bitter Allison to engineer a boardroom coup which would see him installed at the Maine Road helm. Even when they were at their most successful, having won five trophies in five seasons, City were intent on pulling themselves apart.

Colin Shindler, who wrote the extremely funny Manchester United Ruined My Life deals with this remarkable clash of personalities, which was to set City back years, with great aplomb. He understands football and appreciates that only Manchester City could have the world at their collective feet and let potential greatness slip away. Moreover, what was one of the greatest partnerships in English football history deteriorated into bickering and back-biting as the two men who had hauled City to the very top arrived at a point where they couldn't stand the sight of each other and became the very worst of friends. It's a compelling story.



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