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Happy birthday Mr Manchester City!

Happy birthday Mr Manchester City!
Tony Book, former player, manager, coach and now Honorary President, is 86 today.

There are few greater servants of this football club and for many, Book is Mr Manchester City.

Only Mike Summerbee and Colin Bell can claim to have had similar high profile associations with City, with all three into their sixth decade of service with the Club.

Book, however, has served almost every major football role with City.

Player, captain, player-coach, manager, caretaker manager, assistant manager, coach and youth team coach, youth team boss... the list is endless.

And no man could have done it greater dignity.

When people talk of Club legends, ‘Skip’ – as he is still known by one and all – is among the most deserving.

But it is not merely length of service, loyalty and popularity that makes this gentle man's story fascinating – there is an almost fairy-tale aura to his football journey that is both unique and inspiring.

Skip must have thought the chance of playing league football had passed him by when he began yet another season with his hometown club Bath City in the Southern Premier League.

Despite interest from a number of clubs during his time at Twerton Park, nothing ever materialised and he was now past his 30th birthday.

Bricklayer by day, part-time footballer by night (or weekend), he kept his head down and accepted his lot and that, for whatever reason, destiny was taking him down a different path.

However, during Malcolm Allison’s time as Bath City manager, he had been impressed with Book’s reliability and leadership and when he was invited to take control of Toronto All-Stars for the summer, he promised Book he would arrange for him to join him in Canada once he had settled in.

As good as his word, a few weeks passed before Book received a call from Big Mal and a few days later he was on a flight bound for Toronto and a short-term loan deal was agreed.

Book hugely enjoyed his time there but Allison soon had to fly back to England after being offered the manager’s job at Plymouth Argyle. Again he didn’t forget about Book and now back in the West Country, he returned to Bath City to make him his first signing for Argyle, though he told the Home Park board the defender was 28, not 30 in order to get the deal over the line!

It had taken an age - a false age at that (!) - to achieve his ambition of league football and though it was a time when most players were starting to contemplate the end of their career, Skip’s was starting to think about a future he'd previously only dreamed about.

Playing league football was just reward for his dedication and commitment at non-League level and proof for all that it is never too late to realise a dream.

Allison again moved on, becoming Joe Mercer’s No.2 at City and two seasons later, Book again received a call from Big Mal.

A young City side needed a leader, and Allison couldn't think of anyone better than Skip.

Despite by then being 32-years-old, he was snapped up for just £17,000.

Initially reluctant to sign the ageing defender, Joe Mercer finally conceded that he himself hadn’t signed for Arsenal until he’d turned 31, so he was living proof of what could be achieved at what was considered an advanced age for a footballer.

Book made his City debut away to Southampton in August 1966, just a few weeks after England had lifted the World Cup as things just got better and better for the quietly-spoken Bathonian who liked nothing more than a cigarette and a bottle of stout in his local.

In fact, if his story ended there, it would still be quite a tale. But of course there was more to come – much, much more.

After just one full season with City, Book became captain following his good friend Johnny Crossan’s move to Middlesbrough. In his first campaign as skipper, City were crowned Division One champions with a remarkable 4-3 win at Newcastle on the final day of the season.

It was just the beginning of the Club’s most glorious period yet.

City added the FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup under Book's captaincy - all within the space of three seasons.

Mercer and Allison eventually moved on and by 1973, coach Johnny Hart had taken over but had been forced to step aside through ill health. Book was the logical choice to step in until a new man was found – which he did admirably - and when Ron Saunders became the new manager, he asked Book to be his assistant and hang up his boots.

The 39 year-old Book agreed, but later admitted he regretted not playing on a little longer.

Saunders’ reign was largely disastrous and he was sacked before the end of the campaign. This time, thanks to the direct intervention and insistence of several senior City players, chairman Peter Swales gave Book the job for keeps and one of his first tasks was to oversee the 1-0 win at Old Trafford that condemned Manchester United to the Second Division.

His credit rating with the City fans soared!

But in truth, while Book was never a Marsh, Summerbee or Lee character, he was still a crowd idol in his own way. He had the total respect of the supporters, players and board and his fellow professionals thought he was a bit special, too. George Best once declared Book was his most difficult opponent – quite an accolade.

He went on to turn an ageing City side headed in the wrong direction to a genuine force again – no mean feat for a rookie manager - and his judgement in the transfer market was  both excellent and shrewd.

City won the 1976 League Cup as well as finishing just a point behind Liverpool in the 1976/77 campaign.

The return of Big Mal towards the end of the seventies saw Book’s reign end, but he returned as a youth coach to oversee a wonderful crop of youngsters who went on to lift the FA Youth Cup in 1986 and was later a coach under Peter Reid.

Hi association with City never really ended.

In later years, he became an Honorary President and today, even at the age of 86, the evergreen Tony Book is still an active and popular member of the matchday legends for Etihad home games

It’s doubtful there will ever be another story quite like  Skip's...

Happy birthday from everyone at Manchester City!

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