It was 1986 – 10 years had elapsed since Manchester City had last landed any significant silverware.
Little did the Sky Blue faithful know that their beloved City – having endured a trophy-less decade- still had another quarter-of-a-century of their 35-year sentence to serve, before their heroes were once again to sit down and feast at English football’s top table.
When a Roberto Mancini led galaxy of stars, drawn from a global league of nations, lifted the FA Cup on May 14th 2011, it was in stark contrast to the success of a City youth team – 25 years earlier – where the only hint of an international ingredient beyond these shores, came courtesy of the Emerald Isle.
The achievements of Manchester City’s 1986 FA Youth Cup winning team were to illuminate the Maine Road outfit, just 12 months before the lights went out when they dropped from the top flight into the old Division Two.
But amid the despair, the wattage produced by City’s swashbuckling youngsters, was enough to shine a way forward as the raw recruits graduated through the ranks to become familiar names on the Kippax.
Paul Lake, David White, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, Ian Brightwell and Paul Moulden all progressed to make their mark to varying degrees in City’s first XI.
Authors Phill Gatenby and Andrew Waldon lovingly and painstakingly guide the reader on the pre-amble to the exhilarating Youth Cup-winning odyssey, the aftermath and ultimately,the wildly fluctuating fortunes of the Class of ’86 as their careers progressed, simply petered out or, in one instance, led to the tragic death of what was once judged to have been a prodigious talent.
The immoveable constant at Manchester City – since the late 1960s – is one Tony Book. This remarkable man – affectionately known as ‘Skip’ – captained the club to a glorious era as a player, managed the 1976 League Cup winners and 10 years later, led the youth team to their cup triumph.
Even now he is a familiar figure on match days at the Etihad as an Honorary President, but 27 years ago he was shaping a cup-winning side with the brilliant but understated, Glyn Pardoe as his assistant.
With a foreword from ex-Blues skipper Paul Power, who recently departed the club, ‘Teenage Kicks’ is an engrossing, meticulously researched and somewhat affectionate journey back to a time when City were straw-clutching at any modicum of success.
Amid the craving for something – anything – that resembled recognition, under the Good Cop Bad Cop routine of Book and Pardoe, City finally chalked up a first, when 14 teenagers made a lasting and indelible print on the prestigious FA Youth competition.
The cup win was the forerunner to the acclaimed Manchester City Academy and its prime architect, Jim Cassells. Under the father-like figure of Cassells, City emulated the 1986 win in April, 2008, sweeping Chelsea aside in front of nearly 20,000 fans.
Only this week City severed their ties with Cassells, begging the question why-oh-why-oh-why?
Teenage Kicks is a highly recommended read for any Manchester City fan – no – make that for any football fan who cares to revisit the realities of a bygone era. The book deals with young men who dared to dream the dream of wearing the Sky Blue of City, of becoming revered icons of the thousands who swelled the strangely charismatic Kippax – a stand with all the aesthetic allure of an oversized cowshed!
In essence it’s a ‘proper’ football book, one with which thousands of supporters, particularly City fans, will empathise.
Any self-respecting City supporter will be more than aware of the footballing ‘tragedy’ that befell Paul Lake – a man who skippered City at a young age, compared favourably with the legendary Colin Bell and was clearly destined to be captain of England for years to come.
Lakey was the most prodigious talent of his generation but was denied all that he richly deserved by injury. His story is out there for all to read in his wonderful biography ‘I’m Not Really Here’.
But for me, the most moving and compelling prose is found in Chapter 14 – devoted to one of the lesser known, but abundantly talented young players – John Bookbinder.
John’s story had not even begun to be told – until Phill undertook the ‘Teenage Kicks’ project – due to a quirky miscarriage of photo-captioning. The mercurial left winger’s name was somehow missed off the original caption of the Youth Cup winning picture 27 years ago and nobody was ever savvy enough to correct the oversight. John could justifiably lay claim to being City’s fabled ‘Invisible Man’.
If Paul Lake’s tale is a footballing tragedy, then John Bookbinder’s story is a life tragedy. His elder sister, Susan Bookbinder, a successful journalist and broadcaster and lifelong City fan, was asked by Phill, to help give John the recognition denied to him for so long.
She did so with such love and passion that Chapter 14 will move many a reader to tears. I won’t give the game away totally but, suffice to say John Bookbinder passed from this world on January 9th, 2006 at just 37 years young. I never had the privilege of meeting this remarkable man and I can only consider myself the poorer for being denied the opportunity.
But we must end on a high – Manchester City actually won a cup in the 1980’s for God’s sake!
Teenage Kicks is £10.95 extremely well spent. It gives perspective when viewing the pampered prima donnas of the contemporary football scene and it gets into the ribs of a time when on field glory meant so much more than off the field advertising endorsements.
A genuinely pure insight into a world of football dreams – some fulfilled, while others are shattered, to varying degrees.
Two words…READ IT!
Teenage Kicks (Empire Publications www.empire-uk.com) written by Phill Gatenby & Andrew Waldon