3 January 1980 – FA Cup Third Round
Malcolm Allison’s second spell at City proved to be a largely miserable experience for the maverick coach whose innovative methods had dulled with the passage of time. At least the FA Cup offered a glimmer of hope in a campaign that had seen the Blues at their unpredictable best…
City needed a cup run. The Division One (Premier League equivalent of the day) form was patchy at best, though not terrible. It was just impossible to tell which Manchester City side were going to turn up and the first 22 games had been a fair representation of unpredictability – nine wins, four draws, nine losses with just 25 goals scored and 35 conceded. It was the form of a listless ship, maybe headed for mid-table safety but just a few bad results from being embroiled in a relegation battle.
Allison had discarded seasoned internationals over the summer, selling Gary Owen, Dave Watson, Mike Channon, Peter Barnes and Asa Hartford, while Colin Bell’s long battle with injury had finally forced his retirement.
Youngsters such as Ray Ranson, Nicky Reid, Tommy Caton, Tony Henry and Dave Bennett were promoted to the senior team as replacements, along with expensive signings such as Mike Robinson, Steve Mackenzie and a British transfer record had been paid to secure the services of Steve Daley.
Big Mal had dreamed of creating a vibrant, young side sprinkled with one or two older heads, but it was too much too quickly. A 4-1 thrashing away to Brighton had ended what had been a fine decade for the Blues with a whimper, but City had the chance to start the 1980s in style with a classic FA Cup Third Round tie away to Fourth Division Halifax Town.
It was billed as the aristocrats versus the paupers and though not live on TV, the game was given an unusual 2pm Saturday afternoon kick-off. But the press had picked up on another unusual twist to the tie.
It was alleged that Allison had once hired the services of hypnotist Ronald Markham to boost the confidence of his Crystal Palace side in 1975/76. His stage name was ‘Romark’ and after visiting the Palace players, he submitted a bill for his services but claimed that the debt was never settled.
Romark wanted revenge and decided to use all his powers to ensure Allison’s career suffered. Indeed, though third tier Palace had reached the FA Cup semi-final that season, Romark offered his service to opponents Southampton to ensure the Eagles’ run ended.
It was not entirely a shock that the Saints triumphed or that Palace eventually missed out on promotion – but it made for a decent headline or two and Romark wasn’t finished yet.
His curse on Big Mal was the main talking point ahead of City’s tie at The Shay with Romark visiting the Halifax Town players on the eve of the game and taking a particular interest in Paul Hendrie who he tried to convince was the best midfielder in English football.
Romark’s curse was big news, but surely it couldn’t affect the outcome of the tie?
City fans travelled across the Pennines in their thousands and a crowd of 12,599 was the biggest The Shay had seen for years. The pitch resembled a cattle enclosure and the grey skies and rain made Halifax’s home ground a dismal destination for the Blues. In essence, the scene was set to perfection for the match that followed.
A week of heavy snow and a gradual thaw meant the surface was just about passed as playable, but it was a million miles from the lush green turf of Maine Road and there was no doubt that this was going to be an incredibly tricky 90 minutes for the Blues.
Allison was without an entire back four of experienced stars and was forced to field three teenagers and as the game kicked-off, it quickly became evident that Halifax were well up for the challenge. Joe Corrigan tipped one effort onto the post to ensure City went in at the break with the score at 0-0. The grim conditions and the hosts’ energy and belief meant that forcing a replay was starting look very appealing to the 5,000 or so travelling Blues.
City dug deep (literally at some points) and battled admirably in the mud-bath and as the game edged into the final third, Bennett’s cross found Bobby Shinton, but the home keeper made a fine save to keep the score goalless.
Then, on 75 minutes, the inevitable happened. Stafford’s cross was laid off by Smith and the ball fell invitingly to – who else – Paul Hendrie who confidently drove a low shot past Corrigan.
Though there was 15 minutes to find a face-saving equaliser, City never really came close to finding it and at the final whistle, the Blues found themselves on the end of one of the biggest FA Cup shocks of all-time.
And as for Romark? It is believed he lifted the curse after this game – whether because Big Mal paid his debt or not will never be known, but the maverick City coach never really enjoyed a great deal of success thereafter and within nine months, he had been sacked as manager of the Blues.
Goal-scorer Paul Hendrie’s son Lee went on to enjoy a successful career with Aston Villa. Also, The Shay’s main stand roof was once the Main Stand roof of City’s former home Hyde Road.