Football: Fan's Eye View: Facing the pain at Maine

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THINK of 1976. Brings a lump to the throat, doesn't it? That's when we last won one of those big shiny things with handles on . . . Never mind, I could suffer brain degeneration thinking about that. Yes, 1976; Peter Barnes, Mike Doyle, a blood- spattered brick out-house called Dave Watson and the ultimate Blue Hero, the 'King Of All Geordies', Dennis Tueart. Of course, we fielded more than four players, you understand.

I think it was called the League Cup: next time we win it the thing will probably be called the Kentucky Fried Chicken Challenge Cup. Things went a bit awry after 1976 and despite a brief flurry in 1981, we were up and down more times than Mickey Rourke's buttocks. There's been no desertion in the ranks, though; there remains a hardcore 20,000 who refuse to be discouraged by City's lack of success.

Moss Side Masochists? No, there's just a swelling belief that this particular underdog will eventually have its day, and we all want to be there when it happens. Please. Nobody at the Maine Road Academy Of Footballing Excellence is holding their breath - whether the partnership of Peter Reid and Sam Ellis can revive the glory days remains to be seen.

Many Blues supporters believe the glory days will not return while the man at the top is in charge, the much-maligned chairman Peter Swales. Love him or loathe him, he's got blue blood bubbling along his veins and I'd rather have that than a Robert Maxwell or a Michael Knighton.

Besides, Swales isn't on the pitch. You see, every City team has a tendency, as the late Python, Graham Chapman, once put it, to be 'silly'. We could have Bergomi, Beckenbauer, Brehme and Blanc at the back, but once they pull on that sky-blue number, Billy Smart's Circus reigns supreme.

In fact, the only occasion this was eradicated from our performance was during the ill-fated leadership of one Howard Kendall. His name actually goes back to Roman days where it is recorded that a Julius Howardus Kendali duped leading toga impresario Claudio Bontempi into having his name advertised on the cod-piece of each contestant in that year's Great Chariot Grand Prix. Not surprisingly he was thrown to the lions. Savage dismemberment.

City then began grinding out results in a consistent if tedious manner. Well, he had to go, didn't he? Results? I ask you] The supporters wanted variety ranging from the very good and extraordinarily indifferent, through to the indefensibly abysmal, and all squeezed into 90 tremulous minutes of frantic play. Take a bow Mel Machin, his magnificent young charges gave us the lot with a smattering of pure theatre and god-like performances to boot.

Nice to see today's Blue stars keeping up the traditions of inconsistency, storming from two behind one week and failing to bump your average Old Trafford outfit the next.

But we've got some good lads, Keith Curle ought to be an England centre-half; his form this season has been immaculate. He's got a tough sidekick in Michel 'Wonky Vonky' Vonk, instant cult hero and injured at present. Then there is the deceptive left-winger Ricky Holden, so deceiving that many City fans think he's rubbish. He's not; 'Tricky' will come through the flak. On the other side we've got David White who just goes out and plays to his strengths. Well, strength: running very fast. Last line of defence is Tony Coton, unbelievable shot-stopper and up front is Niall Quinn, not so much a target man as a coconut at a Fun Fair.

Perhaps the current line-up should be forced to recall Machin's team, they then might understand the depth of feeling a derby generates. Death or Glory, tactics go out the window, we expect the Blues to win or die trying. On Sunday 6 December, we didn't try and we didn't die.

What hurts more than losing is being second best. Our reward for that shambolic display was week-long torment from the opposition support. For some, a derby means booking the following week off work or phoning in sick on Monday rather than face relentless hounding from people previously thought of as friends.

In truth, there's only one team I hate: Manchester City. I love 'em too, it's a healthy relationship. The stingy Independent allowed me 750 words to sum up City, I can do it in two. Quite good.