Published on April 15th, 2015 | by Ian Cheeseman0
“There’s plenty to look forward to” | Ian Cheeseman
When most football fans are asked for their “best games attended”, the usual answer would be a victorious Derby, a winning Cup Final, a title triumph, a European success, and that’s usually what I’d go for too. When I think about it a bit more deeply, there have been other games that have meant just as much, but tend to sit slightly further back in the mind, for some reason.
I was a student when I attended my first FA Youth Cup Final, a 0-0 draw at Maine Road against Millwall. It was the era of Nicky Reid (a particular favourite of mine), Tommy Caton, the silky skilled Clive Wilson and Alex Williams MBE. That generation weren’t much different in age to me and always had a special place – and still do – in my affections. City lost at the Den so didn’t lift the trophy.
A year later I looked at the Aston Villa team, who had defender Noel Blake involved, who seemed so much bigger and stronger than the other boys that it seemed unfair, but City had Steve Mackenzie (another favourite of mine) and Andy May. Winning at Villa Park in the second leg, and as I remember it a great travelling support and atmosphere, wasn’t enough to miss out on aggregate, but I loved those games that year and those players.
1986 was a great Youth Team – the great Youth Team – Lakey, Whitey, Hinchy, Bob Brightwell, Mouldy, Reddo and Ian Scott – all great players. I remember walking along Maine Road to the game with thousands and thousands of others. Inside the ground they kept opening more and more stands, such was the demand to get in. I think the official attendance was around 20,000, but it felt like more. City deservedly beat United 2-0 on the night to lift the trophy, but more important than the win was the feeling of togetherness between the players and the supporters. It was a bond that remains intact with that team to this very day.
My memory of the next final (in 1989) isn’t as clear, but I do remember Neil Lennon and Martyn Margetson, Mike Sheron and the hugely talented boy-wonder Michael Hughes, and I remember walking around Vicarage Road (for some reason).
Just nine years ago it was Daniel Sturridge, Micah Richards, and the fantastic Michael Johnson. That team was a joy to watch, just as all the u18 games are. There’s rarely a bad game at that level. The youngsters play with a freedom that isn’t as often seen in first team football, because of the need to win every game. At that level it’s about aspiration, hope, adventure, ambition and the simple pleasure of playing the greatest game on earth.
At that stage of his life and career Michael Johnson hadn’t got the weight of expectation on his shoulders that affected him so badly later in his career. The irony was that his joyous, stylish performances back then led to the comparisons with Colin Bell, which unfortunately, contributed to his difficulties in life. It was great to see an interview with him this week suggesting he’s making a recovery and getting his life back on track. He’s still only 27 and would now be at his playing peak. I remember him telling me once that he’d play for City for free. I was – and am – a big fan of Michael, an Urmston lad of great ability.
Most recently I’ll never forget the emotion I felt in 2008 as I commentated on City’s win against Chelsea. Jim Cassell and Alex Gibson were the men in charge, Steve Eyre one of the coaches who’d nurtured this generation and, what a group! Dedryk Boyata, Ben Mee, Keiran Trippier, Andrew Tutte and David Ball – to name just a few. I had Fred Eyre (Steve’s Dad) sharing the commentary, and we were both pretty emotional at the end, I almost burst into tears (embarrassingly) as Trippier, who’d gone off injured, limped out to celebrate with his team mates, after the victory. A crowd of 20,000 were inside the Etihad Stadium to enjoy that day.
I’ve kept the recording I played out on the radio of that day, it still gives me shivers. Alex Gibson asked me to play it at their annual dinner in front of all the lads, and he then presented me with the match ball, signed by the team from that day, and as you’d expect, that’s one of my most prized possessions.
Next Monday, and the following Monday, City face Chelsea again. The route to this year’s final has been a delight to watch, with the win against Oxford United being the first ever game in the CFA Stadium. This new talented group has potential stars aplenty. Brandon Barker and Angelino are the names that fans have started to notice. Tosin Adarabioyo has caught my eye in defence, Manu Garcia in midfield and Bersant Celina up front, but there are others too, and at this stage it’s hard (for me at least) to predict with certainty which will ultimately break through.
I can’t wait for next Monday’s game at the CFA Stadium, it could well be a sellout, and frankly should be, and if you’ve not yet had the pleasure of watching this team, get down there and watch for yourself. With such a lot of scrutiny on the first team lately, this is football at it’s best, and although winning would be great, win, draw or lose, if you’re anything like me you’ll leave with a smile on your face.
If you fancy going to the game on Monday 20th April, click here for the ticket details.