After the recent defeat to Bayern Munich and the loss to Aston Villa there was talk in some sectors of a crisis at Manchester City. Fans of the club who have supported the club for twenty or more years though will certainly recognize a crisis when they see it. Yesterday, 5th October 1973, Peter Swales took over as Chairman of Manchester City Football Club and promised the fans the moon on a stick! Less than five months later that plan was shelved, the moon would stay where it was and sticks had to be wrapped and put away.
On the 2nd May 1996 our, now ex, Chairman died. It was three days before we bowed out of the Premiership, never to return, well not until the year 2000. Say what you want about Peter Swales good or bad, he was still our Chairman for a good twenty years (using the word good in terms length as opposed to success) although in the fine line between good and bad decisions he could have been our saviour in the end he was more the target for our inability to produce success.
In 1973 a share holding became available at Manchester City FC and it was the City board of directors that looked to Swales. Not only did they want someone with money, but also a love for football to come onboard. At the same time Malcolm Allison, then City Manager, was becoming increasingly frustrated at the fact that Joe Mercer was still above him, albeit in a general manager role. He too wanted Swales onboard as the current board were older and he felt more sympathetic to Mercer and they didn’t give him a fair shake to prove what he could do on his own, something Swales would potentially do if he came aboard.
If his time in the job is a measure of success, then the appointment of Swales was a master-stroke. If, however, a rather more demanding criteria is required then it was nothing other than the word ‘calamity’ can be used. The facts are that under Swales Manchester City did win the League Cup once and Runners Up another time and who can forget the FA Cup, losing to Tottenham in the 1981 replay. On the flip side they were also relegated twice, and went 18 years without winning a trophy and became a shadow of the team that promised so much in the 1960′s into the 70′s. In that time Swales went through 11 managers and purchased three £1-million players, which at the time was rare! He even broke the British transfer record for Steve Daley, who cost £1.4 million from Wolverhampton Wanderers. Daley failed so badly that his name is still known at the club along with a select others as really bad buys for the club. However, with the Daley buy he was merely letting his Manager, manage. What other City fan would have questioned the judgement of Malcolm Allison at that point? The guy had bought well before when with Mercer and they had no money, so why not now?
Swales also took the bullet for Ron Saunders who had been successful elsewhere but within five months in the City job all the promises had evaporated and City and Swales went back to the drawing board. Tony Book took over and we went to the League Cup Final only to be beaten by Wolves. Now in Tony Book we had a manager that could do things with the players, runners up in the League in the 1976-77 season and League Cup Winners in the previous season. After that though the League finishes and Cup runs became less impressive and as a result Allison was brought back for a second term.
Straightaway Allison started to get shot of the older players, and bring in youth. It worked under him and Mercer before but was too much too soon this time around, rather than slowly integrating the young signings along with the older pros. Allison lasted a year and some change before his head rolled and another was brought in. The start of an unhealthy trend of Manager rotation began
For such a seemingly savvy businessman Swales seemed very naive when it came to City and merchandising rights. The City Chairman agreed to sell the rights to the badge (which is why we have the newer Eagle badge now) and a flat fee for the sub let of the City shop which was still only worth a small 60k a year. To give you some idea of the short fall in profits the redeveloped merchandise (new badge launch in 1997) netted City an estimated 2Million +.
Despite City being just as bad off the pitch as on it was never likely that Swales would be forced out. The backing of Manchester businessman Stephen Boler and Greenalls Brewery, both major shareholders, meant his position was initally secure. Then in 1993 he made a serious error in the judgement of how much he could push without being pushed back. The sacking of Peter Reid, our most successful spell in the League for some time, and the appointment of a journalist as General Manager along with Francis Lee’s public desire to invest in the club led to supporters finally standing up to reclaim their club.
It was not the most calm and pleasant changes of guard at City but more like a bitterly fought war. Swales eventually relented to the pressure and stepped down but really the whole situation will be forever a stain on the City history. Stories of death threats aimed at Swales and his family were circulated and if they were true were certainly a step too far. Whatever the truth the ex chairman stepped down and in 1994 the new one stepped in. His widow now points to the stress of this time as the turning point in Swales health situation and who can argue with her. Certainly I was only young at the time and not really into much of the politics of the game but I remember the intensity of the crowd and protests before, during and after the game.
The whole ousting of Swales and his fight to stay on at City ultimately led to his death of a heart attack in 1996. The rot at City was too intertwined within the club and matters for Lee were not helped by appointing his friend as Manager. Alan Ball came to City in 1995 and left in 1996 havingsuccessfully taken City into relegation.
Peter Swales died on May 2nd 1996 and a minutes silence was observed respectfully against Liverpool at Maine Road, with the side already facing relegation unless they could get a win. Liverpool went 2-0 up before City clawed it back to 2-2 but that was all she wrote and as Swales was buried and laid to rest so was the club he loved until like a Phoenix it would arise again, bigger and better than before.