Club News

City DNA #58: Manchester City Reserves

KAZIU DEYNA: Top scored for the reserves in 1980/81
Not so long ago, there was no Elite Development Squad team or age restricted youth league.

City’s ‘second’ team as such, was Manchester City Reserves.

As former skipper Mike Doyle once famously said, “There are only two teams in Manchester – Manchester City and Manchester City Reserves.”

It was obviously a dig at United, but it underlined the reserve team’s prominence, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.

City’s second string was made up of first team players who weren’t getting regular games at senior level, emerging youngsters and players nearing a first-team comeback after injury.

It’s also fair to say there were one or two players who were in some kind of limbo, with no prospects of being called into the senior side and the Club keen to move them on to pastures new.

It was a heady mix of enthusiastic youngsters and gnarly old professionals and it took place in the Central League – a nationwide second strong division that was a genuinely coveted title.

It was also a tough and, at times, unforgiving playing field where lessons were freely handed out by those who spent much of their careers playing there.

You can imagine some fresh-faced striker with a burgeoning reputation at the start of their career coming up against a tough-as-boots veteran centre-half at the wrong end of theirs.

The well-worn phrase of whether they could do it on a wet, windy night in Stoke took on special meaning for a youth team graduate looking to prove their worth.

They would invariably know they'd 'been in a game'.

The Central League made more careers than it broke – but it was a tough learning curve and almost a rite of passage that many managers wanted to see their proteges pass before giving them their first team debut.

It’s probably fair to say that there were two ends of the spectrum with the reserve team that applied to all clubs.

For youngsters, it was the next step on the ladder – for those who hadn’t quite made it after a spell in the seniors or a honeymoon period after signing, it was the start of a move towards the exit.

Some players spent the majority of their careers in the second team through no fault of their own – take goalkeeper Steve Fleet (who will be the subject of a future City DNA) – he spent an entire decade as Bert Trautmann’s No.2.

Fleet, who made just five first team starts in 10 years, must have clocked up more than 300 reserve team appearances from 1953 to 1963, with Trautmann rarely injured.

That’s just how it was.

Even former World Cup skipper Kaziu Deyna found himself in the second string as his form dipped with City.

The Polish legend would end up the top scorer in 1980/81 campaign - all a far cry from his much-heralded arrival a few years earlier.

A handful of players, such as the prolific teenager Paul Moulden, were jettisoned pretty much from the youth team to the first team, before having a foot in both camps.

He began the 1984/85 season as a 16-year-old and ended up City’s top reserve scorer in his first Central League campaign and was top scorer for three out of four seasons between 1984 and 1987

During Malcolm Allison’s second spell as manager at Maine Road, 16-year-old Tommy Caton was promoted from the youth side and from 1979 to 1983, the teenager made just shy of 200 appearances.

Triallists, free transfers and bargain buys were generally consigned to what some ex-pros labelled ‘the stiffs’ and there seemed little prestige in being a reserve team player.

City played their reserve team games at Maine Road, with an average of maybe 1,500 for some games, and upwards of 4,000 for the higher profile matches, with the crowd housed in the Main Stand.

If the reserves had any advantage, it was that they could play on the hallowed turf of the top teams around the country, even if it was in front of a handful of supporters - until groundsmen and economics demanded it should be  first team only on their pristine playing surfaces.

The Central League was first formed in 1911 and became the format that would be recognised for the next 80 years or more in 1921.

It would be some 57 years later before City actually won the reserve team league – interrupting Liverpool’s incredible domination that saw them win 14 title in 17 years at that level between 1969 and 1985.

That team included players such as Ged Keegan, Keith MacRae, Tony Henry and the goal-machine that was Roger Palmer.

City’s prized FA Youth Cup-winning side formed the backbone of the 1986/97 side that won the Central League for a second time and there were further successes in 1999-2000 and 2007/08.

When City moved stadiums in 2003, the reserve team played at a mixture of the Regional Athletics Stadium and Hyde United's Ewen Fields.

The accent on ensuring younger players met more their own age groups was introduced in 2012 and the Central League and Manchester City Reserve side became a thing of the past.

City’s EDS team regularly takes part in the UEFA Youth League and there is much to be celebrated in the ethos behind the new set-up.

But the second team - or reserves – and the Central League had their purpose and plenty of history behind it.

It was just a different time.

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