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Man City v Spurs: Forward thinkers

CITY AND SPURS: Gerry Gow and Osvaldo Ardiles chase the ball during a game between the two clubs

CITY AND SPURS: Gerry Gow and Osvaldo Ardiles chase the ball during a game between the two clubs

Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur both played a vital role in the changing face of English football. Simon Curtis takes a detailed look.

12th January 1980 dawned a cold and unappetising day in Manchester. City supporters could have been forgiven for giving the home game with Tottenham a miss. Then as now, the fixture arrived shortly after the culmination of the FA Cup 3rd round games and, while Tottenham had disposed of Manchester United and would get as far as the 6th round that season, City had hit an unexpected snag in the mud at 4th division Halifax Town and had made a swift and ignominious exit from the cup.

In those days, both sides were better known for their habit of harbouring maverick players and their misplaced emphasis on entertainment ahead of points. City and Tottenham were what were politely termed “cup sides”, teams erratic enough to make headway in knock-out tournaments, but lacking the consistency to challenge the all-powerful Liverpool of Bob Paisley for league honours.

Indeed, so well-tuned to the vagaries of the cup were the two clubs, that they would meet each other at Wembley a year and a half later, in the Centenary Cup Final of 1981.

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Although not as painful as Halifax, that match also holds bittersweet memories for Blues fans. To find one of the main reasons for this, we have to travel back a year to the fixture mentioned at the beginning of this article. For, it was the late seventies that brought to light another interesting parallel between the two clubs.

The World Cup in Argentina had opened many eyes to the drama and passion of football overseas. Television coverage was beginning to flood our living rooms with colour images of exotic stars from faraway places.

The First Division, the forerunner to the Premier League we have today, was a parochial affair with champions Liverpool fielding a team made up almost entirely of England and Scotland internationals. The Argentina World Cup, however, played out to a backdrop of ticker tape and noisy support, opened eyes to new and exciting horizons.

By the time City and Spurs met at Maine Road, both clubs had been in the vanguard of a new and invigorating development in domestic football. They had, between them, swooped to purchase three of the stars of the tournament. Osvaldo Ardiles, Ricardo Villa, both of Argentina, and the Polish captain Kazimierz Deyna were among the first foreign players to arrive on Britain’s shores to begin the brave new world which today sees Premier League sides frequently turn out with nine, ten or even eleven overseas players in their starting line-ups.

While the two South Americans arrived in London to a huge fanfare, City were attempting to lure Deyna away from Communist Bloc Poland at a time when he was not only the national captain but also a captain in the Polish Army. Strict Polish FA regulations meant that chairman Peter Swales and secretary Bernard Halford had to do some sweet-talking to get the deal to go through. A consignment of electrical goods was famously shipped out in the opposite direction to City’s transfer target, to oil the wheels of the transfer.

Deyna, a precocious midfield talent with an eye for goal, would make only patchy progress in Manchester, flitting in and out of a team that was in serious transition under Malcolm Allison’s studious gaze. Ardiles and Villa, however, went from strength to strength, playing in the January 1980 Maine Road fixture and starring in Tottenham’s cup final victory over City the following season. Villa’s slalom winner to make the replay 3-2 is still deeply scorched on the memories of an entire generation of City supporters.

All three individuals had played their part in launching a bright new phase in English football, which today sees every club in the league fielding exotic talent from around the world. Thanks to the foresight of City and Spurs, Ardiles, Deyna and Villa will be remembered among the pioneer foreign players in English football.

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