Tuesday 20 March 2018

Legends of City bid farewell to genius 'Big Mal'

James Lawton

James Lawton

dawn, the eldest of Malcolm Allison's three daughters of six children from three marriages, said that the lesson of her father's life was that you should never waste a minute of it -- and never feel it was getting the better of you.

Certainly, the style of the great football coach's departure on a warm, autumn afternoon in Manchester kept at bay any excess of grief.

He would have thoroughly approved of his daughter's eulogy -- and the fact that they placed a bottle of Moet Chandon in an ice bucket beside the mahogany coffin.

Francis Lee, one of his most brilliant and pugnacious Manchester City players, also added to the mood of celebration of a most extrovert and sometimes reckless journey of 83 years when a police siren sounded in the distance. "They're too late," he murmured.

A picture of the young Allison, reminiscent of the time he could pass himself off in a not so darkened bar as Paul Newman, stared down on the service at the Crematorium Chapel at Southern Cemetery, where his great rival Matt Busby used to sometimes sit and puff his pipe at the graveside of his late wife.

There was a gathering of family and friends and old players back at the City of Manchester Stadium, but it was at the modest chapel where you had the best sense of how this extraordinary football character from the south, who for two years was a professional gambler and was once asked to be a character witness by the Kray Twins, had captured so much of the heart -- and the imagination -- of his adopted city.

Several mourners sang along with the final anthem to Allison's career, which brought City an unprecedented haul of four trophies: the League title, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup in a brilliant rush between 1968 and 1970. It was a recording of Frank Sinatra's 'Fly Me To The Moon'.

The chapel was filled with the players Allison so emboldened; the football they produced still lingers thrillingly in the mind.

There was the great triumvirate, Lee, Mike Summerbee and Colin Bell, who cost Allison and his manager Joe Mercer a mere £45,000 from Bury -- a deal that exhilarated 'Big Mal' so deeply he declared that he got a better runner than the Derby winner Nijinsky for mere "pennies".

There was the skipper Tony Book, the West Country bricklayer who Allison brought to Maine Road when he was close to 30, who led his side so well and with such force that he was voted a joint Footballer of the Year with the iconic Scottish powerhouse Dave Mackay.


There was the giant goalkeeper Joe Corrigan, so raw when he came into Allison's care that the late City chief scout Harry Godwin said that if the brawny lad could be made into a first-class goalkeeper, it would be one of the greatest coaching achievements he would ever see. He saw it all right, and Corrigan was so convincing he would have played more than nine times for England if a certain Gordon Banks and then Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence hadn't been around at the time.

Alan Oakes was in the chapel. When Allison arrived at Maine Road the player used to sweat before games out of sheer anxiety. Allison calmed him -- and turned him into a cornerstone of the team.

Wyn 'The Leap' Davies came later, and stayed briefly, but long enough to feel the impact of the greatest coach he would ever know. He was among the mourners and he said, "Mal's genius was so simple. He knew how to make you play."

He also taught his players how to live, not always prudently, but with a wonderful relish for the business.

Yesterday, as always, the moon hardly seemed an over-ambitious destination.

Irish Independent

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