Weight of wait proving to be a heavy burden for Mancini's City
SOCCER ANGLES:Roberto Mancini will know by now that the last time City won the title it was at Newcastle
‘TO KNOW how to wait is the secret of success” – Tommy Hepburn, Close the Coalhouse Door.
If Roberto Mancini is quick on his feet, he can get to hear this line, and not just once. It comes in a play by Alan Plater, which is currently on at the Northern Stage in Newcastle, a long throw-in from St James’ Park. It ends tonight.
Close the Coalhouse Door concerns coalmining, trade unions, the north-east, love and life. Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Eric Burdon all get a mention. There’s football, too: the principal family are called Milburn and two responsive miners have the surnames Charlton and Robson. Hughie Gallacher gets a shout. It’s local and social. Mancini be warned: it’s no hymn to 21st century Abu Dhabi.
Tommy Hepburn, who has a school named after him in Gateshead, was the first miners’ leader in the region. In the coal-black humour of the play, it is said that Hepburn led the miners’ to victory in the 1832 strike – in 1872. “It was a long time to wait,” says someone, “forty years.” To know how to wait is the secret of success.
Close the Coalhouse Door was first performed in April 1968, just a few weeks before the Manchester City team of Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee arrived up the road for a match that became historic. The play is set in 1968.
Roberto Mancini will know by now that was a year of some significance to Manchester City. It was the last time that City were crowned the best team in England. They won the old First Division title, as it was, and their triumph was clinched at St James’ Park.
That’s one coincidence, the other of course being that City seized the title ahead of Manchester United. It went to the wire – tomorrow’s Premier League games are the penultimate fixtures of the season. In 1968 it was last-day stuff.
City won at St James’, 4-3. Joe Mercer was the manager. It was the club’s first title since 1937.
Manchester City being Manchester City, they were relegated in 1938. Even so, few could have believed that it would be the late 60s before they were dominant again. A former City player, Matt Busby, helped see to that.
But, similarly, in 1968 at Maine Road they would not have thought it would be another 44 years before the title was potentially theirs. But that is the reality.
Waiting was followed by more waiting. The shadows in which City have stood have mainly been red, from Liverpool to Arsenal to United, and somewhere along the line it became possible to part company with Tommy Hepburn’s analysis of waiting as a secret of success. Because there was no success. Somewhere along the line, the wait in itself becomes a weight.
For City there were any number of downward forks in the road. But some of the burden should have been lightened last season, when City beat United in the FA Cup semi-final, then Stoke City in the final. Men like Yaya Toure know how to win.
But if Mancini’s City are seeking a discussion on the subject of the weight of the wait, they are in the right town tomorrow.
Newcastle United know all about it. St James’ Park was once described as the biggest waiting-room in England.
Newcastle’s last title was in 1927. Their last trophy of note was the 1969 Fairs’ Cup, forerunner of the Uefa Cup, now Europa League.
Newcastle’s wait is epic. Set aside 1927, even from 1969 there have been spells of such bleak mediocrity that people have walked away bored or angry or both. But even those who traipsed away from the Gallowgate End in underwhelming seasons such as 1986-87, when Newcastle finished 17th and had an average attendance below 25,000, still retained a feeling that might be called pessimistic optimism.
It is fairly common. But it bites hard in the north-east in particular because there has always been that sense that, if only, there was a decent XI on the pitch, the latent interest would mean the place could take off.
Kevin Keegan understood that as much as anyone. Papiss Cisse may be the man of the moment – and the player Mancini will try to bolt Vincent Kompany onto tomorrow – but Keegan, the son of a Geordie miner, is the Tommy Hepburn in the modern Newcastle United story. It is 30 years since Keegan joined Newcastle as a player.
Belatedly, Newcastle’s owner Mike Ashley has understood it. Ashley has come round to the idea that a strong XI generates crowds and that generates cash. It doesn’t half motivate a businessman.
Ashley has also noted that, while some locals protest at charmless decisions such as the removal of Keegan and the rebranding of the stadium and training ground to publicise his Sports Direct business, they still come.
Success, albeit relative, means they will wait some more.
For Manchester City, this season’s wait will soon be over and, 44 years on, it could be glorious.
Alternatively, and the fear within City, is that it could be historically bad. Because City know who lie in wait in Manchester. It is United, kicking off 2½ hours later tomorrow. Premier League success is in the balance.
Given United’s victories at the death under Alex Ferguson, maybe Tommy Hepburn was half-right.
Feet-first Wigan continue to dream
IN 1968 Wigan Athletic were helping form the Northern Premier League. They had never reached the Football League, and only considered the First Division in dreams.
But in 2012, Wigan Athletic have been in the Premier League for six seasons and that may well become seven by next week.
Some dislike Wigan for what they don’t bring to the party – fans. But even those with reservations must be impressed by the form of the last six weeks, when Liverpool, Stoke, Manchester United, Arsenal and Newcastle have all been beaten by Roberto Martinez’s side.
The run of victories, all earned with Wigan playing feet-first, patient football, has lifted the Latics out of the relegation zone. On Monday night safety could be ensured by winning at neighbours Blackburn.
As recently as March, Rovers, in 16th place, held a six-point lead over second-bottom Wigan.
Now those positions and that gap have been reversed.
Blackburn manager Steve Kean has received a lot of sympathy for his situation at Ewood Park and will be given bucket-loads of praise should Blackburn stay up.
But what about if they go down? Is he the author of failure as well as success?
Was there a whiff of told-you-so complacency at Blackburn six weeks ago? What we know is that there was none at Wigan.