Manchester: The City Years

Malcolm Allison

Malcolm Allison

Born: Dartford, 5th September 1927

7th October 1971 - 30th March 1973
& January 1979 (as ‘coaching overlord, manager from July 1979) - 8th October 1980

Although Malcolm Allison's two spells as City manager only saw the Blues receive one trophy - the 1972 Charity Shield – it has to be stressed that his contribution during the glory years of 1965 to 1970 was equal to that of manager Joe Mercer.

Allison arrived at Maine Road in July 1965 as assistant manager to Mercer, and by the time he left City had won almost every trophy possible. During those seven years Allison worked closely with the players and it's worth noting that the close relationship he developed with the players fostered a great team spirit which helped the Blues succeed. His influence was felt throughout the club and his approach was refreshing. His charisma and style brought excitement to Sixties Manchester. His 'fortune favours the brave' swashbuckling approach helped sweep aside all opposition. In fact as the Sixties progressed Allison typified a new found Mancunian spirit, and he became a man idolised by Blues and many neutrals.

Few, if any, leading footballing figures possessed the style and charisma that oozed from him, and his dynamism was infectious. If Allison said City was going to win everybody believed him; when following City’s League success in 1968 he said City would terrify Europe no one doubted him. Of course, the terrify Europe comment came to haunt him when the Blues were defeated by Fenerbahce in their first European tie, however Allison had the last laugh when City won the European Cup Winners' Cup the following season. He later laughed: "I said we'd terrify Europe, but I didn't say when!"

During his time at Maine Road Allison was responsible for a number of the key transfers which transformed the club’s fortunes. Colin Bell and Francis Lee were two signings he claimed personal credit for: "When I signed Bell I had to pretend he was no good to put the other clubs off because we didn't have enough money and couldn't afford to get into a bidding war. With Francis Lee I told him I'd make him a great player, and when I left the room he told everyone I was an arrogant so and so! But he did join us and he was a great player, perhaps the key to the Championship success."

Allison was also responsible for the arrival of captain Tony Book. Book brought a steadying influence to City both in defence and across the pitch, and flourished at Maine Road as a player and later as a manager.

Another great aspect of Allison's time at City was his ability to grab the headlines for the club. Prior to his arrival, City struggled to get positive coverage in the local press but, together with Joe Mercer, Allison knew how to bring attention to the club. Mercer was the all-smiling public establishment type figure who would provide a serious story in a light-hearted way, while Allison was more boastful and always likely to make the bold statements many supporters demanded. Allison would often taunt the opposition. In December 1970 he walked up to the Stretford End prior to a League derby match and held up four fingers to indicate how many goals he expected City to score against the Reds. Understandably, the United fans hurled abuse at him, but by the end of the match the confident Allison was laughing as City won 4-1. That's why he was such an important figure. He understood what made City fans tick.

Sadly, the early seventies rift between Mercer and Allison - they supported different groups during the takeover battle – caused the partnership to fall apart. Allison became Manager in his own right in October 1971 and after his first game a journalist asked him what kind of a leader he would be. He responded: “Probably the best that ever was. And I’ll tell you something else, it will be nice to walk out at Wembley ahead of the Cup Final team.” The Blues didn’t reach Wembley, but Allison’s side did finish fourth, missing the title by a point. They won the Charity Shield the following year, but Allison felt he was no longer able to motivate himself in the right way. In 1993 he admitted: "Kenny Dalglish wanted a sabbatical at Liverpool to ease the pressure the other year, and I think if I'd been offered something similar I'd have come back stronger but in those days you either managed or left. There was no choice."

He resigned in March 1973 and on 30th he became Crystal Palace’s new manager. Allison then started a journey which would see him return to Maine Road in 1979 as a ‘coaching overlord’, as well as have spells at Lisbon, Istanbul, Middlesbrough, Kuwait, and a whole host of other locations. Some locations like his image were exotic, others were not. He achieved some real success - most notably in Portugal - and some abject failure but he always remained the 'Big Mal' every City fan loved. His last public managerial role saw him help Bristol Rovers face Ron Atkinson's Aston Villa in the Cup during the 1992-3 season. The media had described it as 'Big Mal V Big Ron' but Allison insisted on telling the BBC that he was the only 'Big' in football and that his opponent was 'Fat Ron'. It didn't alter the result of the game, but it gained the headlines.

Of course, despite Allison's enormous role in Manchester football it has to be stressed that his second spell at Maine Road was not a successful period. With hindsight Allison should never have returned, but when the announcement had initially been made there wasn't a single supporter who complained. Everybody wanted him back. Almost immediately he began replacing some of the club's most popular players with young hopefuls, and to many the emphasis appeared wrong. He seemed intent on building a new youthful side and it appeared as if he didn't really care about the strengths of the more experienced men. Although he'd already transferred Brian Kidd, it was during the summer of 1979 he really started his purge. Out went fans' favourites Dave Watson, Gary Owen, Peter Barnes, Kenny Clements, and Asa Hartford. The supporters were shocked, especially as the players arriving seemed to be of lesser quality. The replacements also proved to be very expensive, and ultimately caused City a number of serious financial problems over the course of the following decade.

Despite the problems of his second spell, Allison remains one of the most important figures in the history of the club and in European football. In September 1997 Allison celebrated his 70th birthday yet during the 1996-7 season, as City struggled to appoint a manager, some supporters actually suggested he should be given the role of General Manager at Maine Road. Since then Allison hit the headlines again as a result of problems in his private life. Francis Lee, Mike Summerbee, and other former colleagues helped him resettle in the Manchester area, and he became a regular visitor to Maine Road and then the City of Manchester Stadium.

In 2005 he stunned supporters when he visited the Club’s museum with his son and took part in a stadium tour with ordinary fans. Although many former greats would have sought special treatment, Allison wanted to experience the day as all City fans would. He remains a true hero.

All history and statistical material has been produced based on the research and writing of Manchester football historian Gary James ( It is maintained by Ric Turner & Gary James. All text remains the copyright of the original contributors.

Gary's book, Manchester - the City Years: Tracing the Story of Manchester City from the 1860s to the Modern Day, is available to order on Amazon.