Mens Team

City DNA #102: Four Dunfermlines, one near miss and a funeral

City DNA #102: Four Dunfermlines, one near miss and a funeral
When US tours go wrong...

City’s decision to embark on a mammoth US tour just after being crowned Division One champions was a curious one. Having waited more than 30 years to land the top flight title, the last thing the City players needed was a six-week tour of America with no rest in-between.

And what a strange and unproductive tour it turned out to be.

Of the eight games played, City would win just one of the eight matches, failing to be Dunfermline Athletic – on the tour with City – on all four occasions.

It ended with Joe Mercer saying “Never again…”

The post-season tour would last an exhausting six weeks for a group of players who needed rest and recuperation, not flight after flight against teams determined to take a sizeable scalp.

Dunfermline – ‘The Pars’ had won the Scottish Cup that season but history has proved there was no such thing as a friendly between English and Scottish teams. With four games scheduled in different US cities, the Blues would need to dig deep to stop their opponents from north of the border claiming bragging rights (which they absolutely would!)

So the squad headed out to Canada where the first game would take place against Dunfermline. Played at The Varsity Stadium in Toronto, the game attracted interest from a number of ex-pats and coach loads of fans boosted the gate to more 8,000.

In a niggly encounter, the Pars went ahead through a first-half penalty before Neil Young levelled just after the break with a spectacular 25-yard drive to earn a 1-1 draw. But the game had been bad-tempered and petty – which didn’t bode well with three more games against each other still to fulfil.

Captain Tony Book recalled the tour vividly: “We had paraded the Division One trophy in a friendly against Bury a few days later at a packed Maine Road. A week after that and we were on our way to America for what we all believed was going to be a sunshine break with a few friendly matches thrown in along the way.

“All the players were looking forward to the trip and with the championship under our belts we couldn’t have been happier. It was a wind-down as far as we concerned but what happened over there soon took the shine off what we had achieved. The games were tough and after a long hard season, they were the last things we needed.

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“Our first two games against Dunfermline, who were on tour with us, ended in draws. Then it was off to play Rochester where we won 4-0. A 3-2 defeat followed against Atlanta Chiefs who were managed by Phil Woosnam - whose father Max used to play for the Blues before the War - and then we lost 2-1 to Borussia Dortmund before we faced Dunfermline again in successive games and they had no intention of getting beat by the English champions and they battled hard again to hold us to two 0-0 draws.”

The misery continued Stateside with another couple of defeats with City well beaten by Oakland Clippers and then beaten 2-1 by Atlanta – the second time they’d beaten City on the tour.

For Book and the rest of the team, the break had turned into a hard slog.

“From our point of view, we were gaining nothing and our confidence was taking a bit of a pasting. Our envisaged holiday had turned into a bit of a nightmare and we were all by this time eager to get on the plane back home.

“Off the pitch there were a few things that raised a smile or two, but I nearly lost my life as one piece of devastating news was broken to the American public. There were four of us out having drinks in some bar somewhere and we hired a cab to take us back to our hotel. On the way back, a newsflash announced that John F. Kennedy’s younger brother Bobby had been assassinated.

“The woman driver seemed to go into shock and went straight through a red light and we came within inches of colliding with another car. But for the alertness of the other driver crossing the junction at the same time, we may have been flying home in a wooden box!

“A little shaken, we made it back to the hotel to discover that Joe Mercer had watched the incident on television and then phoned the chairman, Albert Alexander in his room. Joe had said: ‘I’ve got some sad news, Mr Alexander. Bobby Kennedy has been assassinated.’ The chairman replied: ‘Bobby Kennedy? What was he doing out at this time of night?’ Joe had to explain that it wasn’t the Bobby Kennedy that played for City and was on tour with us but the dead President’s brother!

“Everyone was in tears when Joe told us. It wasn’t that we were disrespectful towards what was an American tragedy – it had upset all the players – perhaps more so because we were in the States when it happened - but the innocence of the chairman in getting his wires crossed lightened the mood considerably.

“Finally, after six weeks, we headed home, tired and mentally flat from our trip. There had been too many games without a proper break in-between and in hindsight it was madness to make a long haul trip after what we had achieved.

“We should have been allowed to put our feet up with our families and returned back at Platt Lane batteries fully recharged and ready to defend our title.  The crowds had been small and the games physically demanding. I believe the actual effect it had on our subsequent defence of the championship was substantial and Joe Mercer’s comment ‘Never again’ on our return said all that needed to be said.”

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