It wasn’t my intention to pen a piece summarising the City Legends/Inter Forever game. We’ve gone big on nostalgia over the last fortnight and I wasn’t sure if there’s was the collective stomach for more schmaltz.
But I went, and it was great, so you’re going to get it anyway. Sorry.
Am generally not one for friendlies, testimonials and the like – a game without a competitive edge is not a game, it’s an exhibition – but this felt different.
That it was being held to raise funds for Community Sport Foundation’s ‘The Nest’ project, and to mark the upcoming 25th anniversary of City’s UEFA Cup run immediately gave it extra oomph, but then when Francesco Colonnese clattered Darren Eadie with a tackle that had ‘Inter Milan 1993’ written all over it, it was clear this wasn’t going to be too ‘tippy-tappy’.
Colonnese was quick to apologise – but then again, they always did.
With Mike Walker in the dugout, with what looked considerable assistance from Bryan Gunn, it was a nice touch that City kicked off with nine players who were at the club during the 1993-94 season, but with some of those gents being at upper end of the age scale it was no huge surprise that the Italians engineered themselves a 2-0 lead.
Materazzi’s free-kick to put Inter one up was a corker in anyone’s book, even though Gunny may have lacked the spring he did 25 years ago. Angus would have struggled too.
The two non-93ers – Father Phil Mulryne and Adam Drury – were tasked with stemming the Italian midfield tide (yes, you heard, Drury in centre-mid) and did a sterling job, Mulryne, in particular, rolling back the years with some classy touches.
Another for whom the years have not diminished his touch of class is John Polston, but it was he who put Inter 2-0 with a classic downward header into his own net – a sort-of throwback to that goal against Villa in March 1993.
Mark Bowen, Rob Newman and Spencer Prior – mainstays of that UEFA cup squad – were all starters and have all retained that competitive edge, Prior in particular looking impressive all afternoon.
The expected substitutions gave City some added energy, and any double substitution that includes the names Darren Huckerby and Grant Holt is almost guaranteed to have a positive impact. And sure enough…
That Hucks gave Colonnese the run-around for the rest of the afternoon was as predicable as it was brilliant to watch and was due penance for the Italian crunching Eadie.
As the average age came down, City’s grip on the game gathered pace and it was second-half that in truth could have seen a 6-5 or a 5-4. A personal favourite of mine, Youssef Safri, was another to roll back the years with a great display of his fine range of passing; special mention too for a tireless display from Gary Holt whose ‘four lungs’ are still clearly working perfectly.
As it transpired City’s comeback produced just a single goal – Hucks and Iwan Roberts combining to set up ‘we love you’ Paul McVeigh from close range – but it almost didn’t matter as Carrow Road wallowed unashamedly in nostalgia in a way the ol’ place hasn’t seen for many years.
That nearly 18,000 made the effort was brilliant, all of it underpinned by a fine cause, and for young supporters to see legends who previously were just the spoken word was a wonderful thing.
A fine late cameo from Andy Marshall, who took the pantomime booing in the spirit it was (hopefully) intended, was quite something and prevented the Italians – Jurgen Klinsmann et al – doing to City’s legends what they did to Chelsea’s last Friday night (they won 4-1).
Despite’s Hucks best efforts (he could still grace that left wing in the first XI even now), City were unable to conjure up a late leveller, but it was an afternoon that sent those present home with a warm fuzzy glow.
A feelgood afternoon with no losers, and a worthy hat-tip to the fine folk of the CSF. And unashamedly schmaltzy. A nod too to the club who got just about everything right, right down to the musical soundtrack and the 1990s scoreboard font and graphics. Good work people.
I don’t normally do this, but in order that every player gets a deserved name check…
THE SQUAD: Gunn, Sutch, Bowen, Drury, Polston, Newman (C), Mulryne, Eadie, Prior, Power, Ullathorne. Subs: Howie (GK), Marshall (GK), Walton (GK), Kenton, Huckerby, Ekoku, Holt, Roberts, Gary Holt, Grant Holt, Safri, McVeigh, Akinbiyi