On his 78th birthday, we look back at the career of a true Manchester City legend....
Joe Mercer’s decision to make Mike Summerbee his first signing as Manchester City manager prior to the 1965/66 season was arguably also one of his best. The Cheltenham-born winger arrived for just £31,000 from Swindon Town, upping his wage from £35 to £40!
The Swindon board had been reluctant to let their rising star leave The County Ground, but economics demanded they cashed in and ultimately sold to the highest bidder and fortunately for City, that was Mercer, who had played football with Mike’s dad George during the War.
Summerbee proved an instant hit with the City fans and fitted perfectly into a side destined for promotion from the Second Division during his first campaign at Maine Road.
He played in all 52 games in league and cup competitions, scoring 10 goals as the Blues returned to the top-flight after a three-year hiatus. He added a new dimension to the team with his trickery and ability to get to the bye-line and whip over wonderful crosses. He was also one of the first wingers to actively go looking for a physical battle, tackling back and offering fifty-fifty balls in order to give the full-back an early taste of what was to come. Franny Lee said some years later it was a form of “retaliating first”!
For many defenders, having a winger with attitude was something entirely new and by the time the game was over, they knew they’d been in a battle. When Francis Lee arrived to supplement the attack, City were a formidable opposition for anyone and the style the championship was won in 1968 with Summerbee’s contribution substantial. He played 50 games in all competitions, scoring 19 goals – a fantastic return.
"I recall the United fans were giving me the usual stick as I went to take a corner in front of the Stretford End so I pretended to blow my nose on the corner flag..."
But it wasn’t just about the football. The fans loved ‘Buzzer’ because he was a real character who played the game in the right spirit and was 'a man’s man'. He was always prepared to enjoy himself – often with a deadpan look on his face – and would play to the crowd on occasion, throwing snowballs, sitting on the ball, blowing his nose on the corner flag – there were dozens of memorable moments.
Then there was the time at Burnley when he placed a plastic cup on the ball before taking a corner. He loved winding-up the opposition fans but took the return stick in good humour.
He was no clown, though, and he was totally professional in his attitude, flourishing in the bright lights of Manchester and ending up big pals with George Best. The pair even opened a fashion boutique together at one point and George was best man on Buzzer’s wedding day.
Summerbee thoroughly enjoyed the life of a footballer and was a regular member of the first team for eight seasons, though he played more as an out-and-out winger as time went on and, subsequently, his goal scoring record began to suffer accordingly. His highlights were undoubtedly the League championship in 1968 –Buzzer scored the opening goal on the final day away to Newcastle to help secure the title and he laid on a perfect cross for Neil Young to hammer home the only goal of the 1969 FA Cup final.
He was also instrumental in the 2-1 League Cup final win over West Brom. a year later but sustained a hairline fracture of the leg during the game which meant he missed the European Cup Winners’ Cup final just seven weeks later.
Like many City stars of the era and since, his haul of eight England caps was scant reward for his consistency and performances at club level that merited many more appearances for his country.
Buzzer continued to give excellent service for many years at Maine Road, becoming skipper for the 1973/74 season and leading his team out at Wembley for the 1974 League Cup final against Wolves, though he had to settle for a runners-up medal on the day.
When Tony Book became manager in 1974, he had the difficult job of dismantling an ageing side full of former team-mates, Summerbee included, and when Burnley lodged a bid of £25,000, Book allowed one of the most distinguished No.7s in the club’s history to leave.
He stayed for one year at Turf Moor and then left on a free transfer to Blackpool. A year later he moved to Stockport County and a year after that he became player-manager of the Edgeley Park outfit, resigning on October 1979.
Outside of the game he was able to concentrate on his successful shirt-making business that could boast Sylvester Stallone and David Bowie among the customers. There was, however, one other diversion - Hollywood. In 1980, the late Bobby Moore rang Summerbee and asked him if he fancied being a movie star. Never one to turn down a challenge, Summerbee signed up to be Syd Harmer in the film `Escape to Victory' that starred amongst others Pele, Stallone and Michael Caine.
That was Buzzer, always playing to an audience whether it was 10,000 or several million, and he was, of course, always entertaining to watch. He never strayed too far from Maine Road and after retiring from the game in 1981, he remained close to the club and up to 2006 was still involved with the Commercial Department and matchday programme but when a role more befitting his status was offered - that of Club Ambassador - he accepted readily and has fulfilled the position superbly for the past decade or so.
It’s not hard to understand why Mike Summerbee was so popular – he had everything you would want in a winger plus much more. He was also a born winner.
Happy birthday, Buzzer!