Mens Team

Steve Howey: Playing for City was special

From the despair of relegation out of the Premier League through to the joy of achieving Championship title glory, not to mention experiencing life as a player under both Joe Royle and Kevin Keegan.

Add into the mix scoring a vital late equaliser away at Old Trafford in one of the noughties' most eventful Manchester derbies and it’s fair to say that former England defender Steve Howey packed an awful lot into three eventful years with Manchester City.

Now a respected pundit and passionate advocate for mental well-being, the affable Geordie – who was part of England’s Euro 96 squad – recalls his time at City between 2000 and 2003, which saw him notch up almost 100 appearances, with nothing but affection and pride.

That said, Howey does admit that his very first impressions after arriving in Manchester made him wonder quite what he had let himself in for.

CITY+ | Sign up to access exclusive content

“I absolutely loved my time at City and was so proud to have played for the Club,” Howey recalls.

“I signed under Joe Royle after the Club returned to the Premier League and I have to be honest the Carrington training ground when I walked in on the first day wasn’t quite what I expected.

“I know the Newcastle training ground wasn’t state of the art, but Carrington back then was an eye opener!

NO QUARTER: Steve Howey takes on Emile Heskey of Liverpool back in 2001
NO QUARTER: Steve Howey takes on Emile Heskey of Liverpool back in 2001

“The only player I knew of was Paul Dickov and that was from playing against him.

“I thought Paul was a pain to be up against when I played against him but, as it worked out, Paul, along with all the other lads that were there at City and those who subsequently came in, were absolutely superb.

“Looking back, I think I was lucky to play under Joe and Kevin as they both have amazing qualities.

“First under Joe, we had Willie Donachie and Asa Hartford there on the coaching staff who were brilliant.

DONATE NOW | Cityzens Giving for Recovery

“Then when Kevin came in, he brought in Faz (Derrek Fazackerley) and Arthur Cox and a sports scientist Juan Carlos Osorio, who went on to become Mexico head coach, and who I had a lot of time for.

“I really enjoyed my first season with Joe, but sadly we got relegated.”

Howey’s first season at the Club proved a tough baptism as a largely inexperienced City squad battled in vain to retain our Premier League status after winning successive promotions under Royle.

DERBY DELIGHT: Steve Howey celebrates his dramatic equaliser at Old Trafford for City in 2001
DERBY DELIGHT: Steve Howey celebrates his dramatic equaliser at Old Trafford for City in 2001

One of the few high spots in a demanding and ultimately unsuccessful season came in April 2001, when Howey’s late leveller helped secure a dramatic 1-1 draw away at Manchester United.

Though the point was ultimately not enough to prevent relegation, it was a richly satisfying result against a United side shortly to secure a third consecutive league title.

More than 20 years on, it’s a memory that still brings Howey an enormous amount of professional pride.

SHOP | Our fantastic range of retro City shirts

“To score that goal was great though, in all fairness, Man United could have won by a few that day,” Howey recalled.

“I think they missed a penalty too and it was the game that saw Roy Keane sent off after his challenge on Alf-Inge Haaland so it was, shall we say, an eventful afternoon but you didn’t want your nearest and biggest rivals to relegate you.

“To be able to nick that goal and keep us alive in the Premier League was really important.

“I wasn’t the biggest fan of Man United anyway from my time at Newcastle so to score against them at any time was good …but especially for City and at Old Trafford.”

HEAD BOY: Howey is on target for City in a Championship clash against Portsmouth
HEAD BOY: Howey is on target for City in a Championship clash against Portsmouth

With our top-flight stay over after only a year, a change was made at the top in the summer of 2001 with Kevin Keegan appointed as manager in succession to Royle.

Howey knew all about the charismatic Keegan, having played under him at St James’s Park – and he says the new manager’s swashbuckling approach during first year in charge, which saw City storm to the Division One title, came as little surprise.

And it was a precursor to what was one of his most enjoyable seasons as a player.

“It was so sad to see Joe leave but when Kevin came in, I knew immediately what he was going to be about which was similar to what he did at Newcastle,” Howey adds.

SHOP | Our 2020/21 PUMA home shirt

“I think Kevin was slightly hurt because of what had happened when he was in charge with England prior to coming to City but he identified players that he knew would give City fans pleasure in watching the team play.

“Kevin brought in one of the best players I ever played with in Ali Benarbia.

“Then there were guys like Darren Huckerby, Nicolas Anelka, Paulo Wanchope, Richard Dunne, Sylvain Distain, the emergence of Shaun Wright-Phillips… you could go on and on. I was lucky enough to play alongside some great players.

ROAR POWER: Howey celebrates after scoring for City against Preston North End
ROAR POWER: Howey celebrates after scoring for City against Preston North End

“It was an amazing group of lads who played some superb football and there were a lot of unsung heroes at the Club too – great lads like Kevin Horlock, Danny Tiatto and Nicky Weaver.

“We had a fantastic all-round team that year in the Championship when we just blew teams away and it did kind of remind of me of what it was like playing at Newcastle under Kevin.”

Nowadays alongside his work in the media, Howey is also a passionate and articulate advocate for the importance of positive mental wellbeing.

To that end, along with a number of other former top professionals including Mark Crossley, Dean Windass and Nigel Jemson, the group have come together under the umbrella WATCH (Walking and Talking Charity Hikes) and are preparing to embark on a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro next summer in aid of the NHS and mental health charities.

A website and hashtag #walkingsbrilliant have been established to help publicise their efforts with City boss Pep Guardiola amongst those already lending his support to the project.

And when Howey does embark upon the mission to make it to the roof of Africa, it’s a fair bet he will reminisce and reflect en-route on what he says were some of the most professionally rewarding years of his illustrious career whilst at City.

“Looking back, City were a great club to play for and I’d like to think I got along with the fans quite well. I really did enjoy my time there,” Howey asserts.

“I loved playing at Maine Road. It was a proper old school ground, what with the Kippax and it was always such a thrill to play there.

“Even when I was at the Club I knew they were going in the right direction but what City have achieved in the past 10 years since the owners came in is amazing.

“I always look out for City results and I still get to go to the Etihad a fair bit with my job.

“Playing for City was a very happy time in my career.”