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City DNA #43: Bananas, Frankenstein and Godzilla

VALLEY OF BANANAS: Trevor Morley and Paul Lake are congratulated by City fans after winning promotion at Bradford
When English football was at one of its lowest ebbs, it was City fans who put the smiles back on the faces of fans attending matches.

Disaster at the Heysel Stadium had resulted in English clubs being banned from European football and the glamour and glitz of the Premier League was still a distant dream.

Crowds across the country were falling and the national game was, effectively, on its knees.

What better time was there to bring a bit of fun back into going to the match and remind everyone that football was meant to be enjoyed and going to the match was an occasion?

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It is generally accepted that it all began when one City fan – a gentleman named Frank Newton – decided to take an inflatable banana to a game at Maine Road (as you do).

The story of how this happened and why has been retold many times, but the following is somewhere near the truth.

After Newton visited a toy collector friend, he noticed a five-foot inflatable banana among the many items that had been gathered over the years.

Now, whether all this is the stuff of legend or not, we may never know, but Frank decided to borrow the banana (it’s hard to imagine him trying to smuggle it out surreptitiously) and take it on to the Kippax at the earliest opportunity.

In August 1987, at home to Plymouth Argyle in what is now the Championship, said banana made its City debut and to say it attracted favourable reviews, is an understatement.

In fact, Frank decided to put his shirt in the inflated yellow peril during the game and, when a face and bobble hat were added, there was no going back. It had begun.

The banana would become a permanent fixture from there on, as Frank travelled home and away with the Blues and when a chant for Imre Varadi was amended to Imre Banana, other bananas started to appear as people sought them out from joke shops and retailers.

Before long, astute businesses began stocking inflatable bananas.

By the start of the 1988/89, the banana army had gown to hundreds and away games became a colourful, almost carnival atmosphere.

And of course, it wasn’t only bananas. Anything that could be inflated – and often that did mean anything – was fair game.

Crocodiles, hammers, dinosaurs, Frankenstein… even a paddling pool.  You name it, it was there on a matchday.

There was also the first inflatable heavyweight battle during a dull away trip to West Brom, when Godzilla took on Frankenstein and though City lost the game 1-0, the thousands of travelling supporters at least left smiling.

The pinnacle of the inflatable craze came away to Stoke City on Boxing Day when 12,000 City fans converged on the Victoria Ground in fancy dress, armed with thousands of inflatables – it was an incredible, vibrant sight.

And when the City players ran out carrying inflatable bananas that they threw into the crowd, well, you can imagine the response.

City lost that game 3-1 and it is hard to imagine Pep Guardiola condoning such a stunt – as friendly as it was – when the team was challenging for promotion.

Nonetheless, the craze spread far and wide, with Stoke adopting Pink Panthers, Norwich using inflatable canaries and memorably, Grimsby Town’s Harry the Haddock. It was irreverence at its best and it had been nurtured and promoted by City supporters.

On the final day of the 1988/89 campaign, City got the point needed for promotion at Bradford City’s Valley Parade where Trevor Morley’s last-gasp equaliser was greeted by around 4,000 delirious banana-waving travelling fans.

                        City DNA #43: Bananas, Frankenstein and Godzilla

That was the last notable outing for the inflatable army, though there are still inflatable bananas dotted around the Etihad Stadium some 33 years since that fateful day in ’87.

Happy days, indeed.

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