Thirty years ago this week I had the flu. Thirteen years of age and on a half-term break from school myself and three friends had gone camping in a nearby field to share our stolen ‘art pamphlets’ and smoke our first cigarettes. Being both stupid and hopelessly pretentious, I had declared at lights out that I would be eschewing the comforts of the tent to sleep outside beneath the canopy of stars. They would be my blanket. (A quick side-note here: I never once got beat up during childhood; an avoidance of which that I equate to a lottery win).
I awoke in the morning covered in dew and twenty-four hours later I was shivering and aching and moaning in my bed. This wasn’t the flu-flu, this was the flu, the kind that elicits sympathy even from that family member who never fails to bring up starving kids in Africa when you push sprouts around the plate at teatime. I was in a bad way.
By the time Friday came around and I still saw a trip to the kitchen and back as an expedition I conceded defeat and reluctantly told my brother that I wouldn’t be attending the game the following day. His mate could use my season ticket instead. I cannot recall how this news was relayed but it’s fair to assume it was accompanied by a great deal of disappointment. That season so far I had only missed one Manchester City game – an away to Hull several weeks earlier – and after this particular weekend I would go on to miss only three more (Blackpool away in the cup, and Middlesbrough and Plymouth away). Watching City defined me and I was as obsessed with my club as only a thirteen year old can be.
At least though there was a consolation to be found in the fixture that I was forced to miss. At least it was only Huddersfield Town at home.
By early November in 1987 the Terriers had only won once and looked doomed for relegation to the third tier. They were already on to their second manager of a miserable campaign with Malcolm Macdonald returning to the dug-out after a three year absence and though the performances had improved the results had not. This then – even for City – was a home banker.
As for the Blues there was optimistic talk of attaining one of them new-fangled play-off spots but in reality this was already looking like a season of consolidation in the old second division. The short-term future though looked bright indeed with £250,000 summer signing Paul Stewart settling in nicely and a batch of home-grown kids coming through showing great promise. The recent appointment of Mel Machin appeared to be shrewd too with his understated, likable nature suggesting stability might be forthcoming for a club that was seemingly allergic to the very notion.
By half-time the contest was over with City four to the good. An early opener from Neil McNab was swiftly followed by a typically drilled effort from Stewart before Tony Adcock and David White added their names to a comprehensive first-half rout. Out on the left Paul Simpson – this summer’s World Cup winning Under 20 coach – was in scintillating form producing the type of wing-play that has onlookers buying sympathy cards on the way home to send to the full-back’s mum and dad. Through the middle McNab controlled everything, a blur of moustache and aged acumen.
By the hour mark Simpson had a further two assists, both deep deliveries that dropped perfectly for Adcock then Stewart, and at this point a pertinent comparison can be made between then and now. Should City – or indeed any side – find themselves six up with half an hour left on the clock in modern times substitutions are usually made with the best players wrapped in cotton wool; their day’s work concluded. In the late eighties, before romance and just plain going-for-it was considered naïve, City scented the possibility of making history.
A Tony Adcock hat-trick presumably had the news agencies preparing a headline rhyming ‘seven’ with ‘heaven’ before Stewart scuppered that cliché by guiding home his own third for the day. It was at this stage that the chant begin to ring out demanding a perfect ten, a chant that increased in volume when David White fired home a late and incredible ninth for the afternoon but now the action switched to the other end of the pitch, focusing on the side that actually had the better chances in the game’s infancy. With minutes remaining Huddersfield grabbed some form of solace from a penalty that was slotted home by ex-Blue Andy May. It was a goal that was celebrated by the home contingent as loudly as any other that had preceded it while in the Platt Lane stand the beleaguered visiting support formed a conga that snaked its way through the seating.
They were still dancing in ironic euphoria when White rounded the keeper in front of them and hammered the final nail into the coffin. Manchester City had won 10-1 with three different hat-trick heroes. It was a score-line that created history and rendered the BBC’s vidiprinter untrustworthy requiring the presenter to read it out in confirmation.
Back home I listened to this relentless carnage on the radio. Or maybe I didn’t and just slept throughout. I don’t know and can’t remember because I was poorly.
All I do know is that many years later I succumbed to the flu again only this time a lesson had been learned and I was not going to be defeated. With Reading as the visitors I hauled myself to the Etihad deathly-white and arctic-cold beneath several layers. City lost 2-0.