My son and I share a common annual ritual – we both buy the new season’s home shirt and we both use my money to do it. Where we differ is that he likes to put a name and number on his (again funded from my wallet).
This year the request was for ‘HOOPER 11’, which left me disappointed. Mainly because I suspect by the end of the transfer window, Gary may not be playing in yellow and green, or green and yellow, or yellow, green and orange for that matter. But also because the two-digit number cost me another five quid!
Despite extolling the virtues of all those players with a single-figure squad number he was adamant.
“Because he’s my favourite player” (This was accompanied with a look of sheer indignation as if my question was bordering on the ridiculous).
“Because he’s good – who’s your favourite player then?”
I hadn’t expected the tables to be turned and the question left me with a similar bemused expression to those Aussie batsmen who had their middle stumps yorked in the recent Test match.
I muttered something about liking all the players the same and then duly paid for his shirt.
Reflecting on the conversation later, I realised that of our current squad there is nobody who could lay claim to the mantle of ‘My Favourite Player’, or MFP. But then, unlike the Barry Butler Trophy, it’s only been ‘awarded’ four times in over 30 years.
The World Cup winner played for Norwich between 1975 and 1980, during which time he won player of the year twice and was awarded the MBE. He also holds the accolade of being the inaugural winner of MFP on Saturday 29th September 1979.
It was my first ever football match and I found myself perched upon a milk crate in the terraces of the River End. If the truth be told the only thing I clearly remember of that day was hearing my dad swear for the first time but apparently when asked who my favourite player was, I picked out number 11.
Maybe he was the only player I could see from my milk crate restricted view? Maybe my son and I share some deep-rooted affiliation to the number 11? However I like to think that even at that tender age I had an eye for a player. Looking back at the limited footage available it’s clear that even in his swansong Peters was quality.
He scored the opening goal in my third City match at home to Liverpool. However his reign as MFP came to an end just 74 minutes later thanks to a single moment of brilliance from his successor
The footage is famous and it’s not clear how much of my recollection is based upon actual memories of the day or the countless times I’ve seen it since. Either way, the fact remains that Justin Fashanu produced the first ‘worldy’ I can lay claim to having witnessed.
What I love about the goal is not the touch and turn or even the way the ball loops over Ray Clemence. It’s the celebration, or lack of. Despite the goal bringing the sides level at 3-3, Fash has a swagger and nonchalance that suggests it’s no big deal and that he could pull one that off whenever he wanted.
Justin became my hero. I recently found a scrapbook of pictures I drew at the time, all of which feature Fash belting a red and white ball past helpless keepers. Pride of place in that scrapbook is his autograph which I got at the Lord Mayor’s procession in the days when City had a float.
I was too star-struck to speak but according to my mum. Justin was one of the nicest and politest people you could ever meet.
He was sold to Nottingham Forest in 1981 in a move which made him the first million pound black footballer. He struggled at Forest due in part to a fractious relationship with Brian Clough and his subsequent career meandered across 19 different clubs covering various countries and continents.
Sadly some will associate him with the headlines surrounding his homosexuality and the circumstances behind his untimely death at the age of only 37. For me though he will always be the scorer of a goal that I tried tirelessly (and unsuccessfully) to emulate in my back garden whilst shouting ‘Fashanuuuuuuuu’ as the ball disappeared over the neighbours fence.
The next player who could genuinely lay claim to being MFP was another number 9. However whereas Fash was a supreme athlete, Flecky was basically a stocky little short-arse.
He joined from Rangers in 1987 in an era of blonde highlights and perms and achieved cult status in the years before his transfer to Chelsea in 1992. During that time City finished 4th in the top flight and reached two FA cup semi-finals with Fleck scoring 66 goals. Like Fashanu, Fleck was capable of producing a stunning strike. But for me, it wasn’t so much his goal scoring feats as his demeanour on and off the pitch.
Flecky was a crowd pleaser – unless you were a fan of the opposition. He was the sort of fiery character who could delight City fans and infuriate our opponents in equal measure, which made us love him even more. The sort of player who would take forever to leave the field (normally with an exaggerated limp) if he was being substituted with City holding on to a lead.
His move to Chelsea was typically acrimonious during which he threatened to go on strike to force it through. Despite returning to City for a second spell 3 years later, it wasn’t the same.
Coincidently he now works as a teaching assistant at the school where my wife works and is by all accounts ‘a really nice bloke’.
Fleck’s ability to wind-up the opposition was arguably shared by Hucks. I remember one televised game in which he scored for Man City against us and I recall feeling genuinely incensed by his “stupid styled hair and goatee” (a look that he still rocks).
His signing on an initial loan and subsequent permanent deal was perhaps the biggest coup the club have pulled off – certainly in the years that I’ve been a supporter. He was a player who at the time was arguably too good for us (a sentiment shared by his agent) but who was in fact a perfect fit. We got a mercurial star who would get you on the edge of your seat and he got all the adulation that he needed to make him thrive and perform at his best.
It’s true, he couldn’t head the ball and he didn’t track back but every time Hucks got on the ball you sensed something special was going to happen. For five years Hucks was the definition of the term ‘talisman’ and scored some memorable goals.
Unlike Fleck, the manner of his departure merely cemented his position as MFP. Glenn Roeder perfectly fulfilled the role of pantomime villain; simultaneously choosing not to renew his contract and also denying the fans a chance to voice their appreciation.
Hucks’s response was to reiterate that he could never envisage playing against Norwich and true to his word he joined San Jose in the MLS.
Happily whereas Roeder is a distant memory of darker times, Hucks is back where he belongs and recently took charge of our under-16s side in the Academy and to this day still holds the title of MFP.
Super Grant Holt came very close to taking the throne but his City career coincided with that of Wes and I simply couldn’t choose between them. Of the current squad, the togetherness and team ethic instilled by Alex Neil is perhaps reflective of why I can’t single anyone out.
But rather than worry about that I’ll simply rejoice in the fact that it’s saved me an extra £15 on shirt printing.