by Kevin Henning
This week sees my team Manchester City scheduled to play what I often refer to as a double date; the common occurrence where teams are drawn to play each other in a cup competition within days of a league match. These occasions can bring either a double dose of delight or despair and I’ve experienced both during my time following the blues.
In 1994 I was at an age where my old man allowed me to travel to away games alone but he was appalled when I returned from Maine Road’s ticket office with a pair of briefs for QPR versus City. I hadn’t bought a spare for a mate, we were scheduled to face the Hoops twice in ten days. My Dad argued that I’d be better off saving the money spent on one of the trips and spending it on a visit to a different ground. I saw his logic but couldn’t choose between the games so decided not to. First up was a league match which saw the blues go 2-0 up through a Garry Flitcroft effort and a comical goal that came courtesy of keeper Tony Roberts’ clearance which cannoned of Paul Walsh’s head and rebounded into the empty net. Later in the game, City were reduced to 9 men when both Andy Dibble and Richard Edghill were dismissed. Rangers got one back but City hung on for a memorable win. Surely the League Cup tie ten days later couldn’t be as exciting. I returned to Loftus Road on a Tuesday night knowing that school awaited in the morning. It would take some effort to get to the school gates by nine in the morning after a coach trip back from London and the amount of special herbs I’d burned during my visit to the smoke. A thrilling 4-3 win though made the madness seem worthwhile. A cocky grin showed my Dad that my decision was fully vindicated.
Higgy arrived back at the place where he’d parked, he was met with a clear section of road. His car had been nicked
Two years to the day later, City travelled to Merseyside to face Liverpool in the same round of the same competition. This time we’d only have four days before a second trip to Anfield. I missed this particular double date but a friend of mine made the decision to go to both. City were hammered 4-0 on the Tuesday night and gave no indication that things would be any different in the Premier League on the Saturday. I phoned my pal Higgy the night after the League Cup mauling and advised him to cut his losses and spare himself the second trip. Higgy assured me that it couldn’t be any worse than what he’d witnessed already. It could. City were annihilated 6-0 giving an four day aggregate score of 10-0 to the Reds. To rub salt in the wounds, some Scousers decided to play to the stereotype that Saturday evening and when Higgy arrived back at the place where he’d parked, he was met with a clear section of road. His car had been nicked, he was skint and had to go cap in hand to the Merseyside Police and ask them to allow him to return to Manchester for free on the train.
One double date that I’ll always remember was more of a triple date. In 1991, Manchester United were due to play their last match of the year at Elland Road in a fixture that could have had a big impact on the title race between the rivals from either side of the Pennines. A couple of weekends before the league match saw the draws for the next rounds of both domestic cups and was the beginning of my long standing suspicion that all is not what it seems when football folk play around with their ball-bags. First up was the draw for the League Cup Quarter Final which was to be a feature on Saturday dinner time football show ‘Saint & Greavsie’. There was much excitement from the “comedy-duo” when Leeds were drawn to face the Red Devils at Elland Road in a tie to be played a mere ten days after the league encounter. A day later came the draw for the FA Cup 3rd Round, live on BBC 1. I won’t try to re-create the excitement here but suffice to say, Fergie’s men were pencilled in for a third match at Elland Road in a seventeen day period. The smile that spread across FA Chairman Graham Kelly’s fizzog told me all I needed to know about the impartiality of these cup draws.
Last season saw El Clasico go one better and have four dates in a 17 day festival of football.
The FA had sensed the excitement of the nation looking forward to the top two sides in the country’s double date and wanted a slice of the pie. The only way to achieve this was to pop a couple of balls in the fridge for a few hours before the draw and then pull them out together and bingo, the trilogy was on.
In the event, Leeds held their rivals to a draw in the league match only to suffer defeats in the League Cup and FA Cup, 1-3 and 0-1 respectively.
Last season saw El Clasico go one better and have four dates in a 17 day festival of football. The match has become quite a nasty, spiteful fixture over the past few seasons and this quadruple was no different despite some sublime skills from Messi and his mates. It started sedately, a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu was played out but Europe was aware that the next three matches would have to turn out a winner. Four days after the league fixture, the sides met at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium in the Copa del Rey Final. A controlled performance from Mourinho’s men saw Real Madrid take the trophy home. It was obvious to all that ‘The Special One’ saw this as advantage Madrid, but the biggest two games were still to come. The pair met in a two-legged affair in the Champions League Semi-Final to play for the right to represent Spain at the Wembley Final. The first leg at the Bernabeu saw a cagey affair settled by the magic of Messi and Barca had one foot in the final. It was followed up a week later by another kicking contest at the Nou Camp which ended in a 1-1 draw, the denouement being Barcelona’s progression to a showpiece final in which they took Manchester United to the cleaners.
This week’s double date between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City will see a game at both Molineux and the Etihad Stadium.
After the El Clasico quartet, there was still time for one more domestic double date. It was the cruellest I’ve ever witnessed and again involved my own team Manchester City. By a quirk of fate, both FA Cup finalists had been scheduled to play each other on Cup Final day in the league. After winning their respective Semi Finals, it was decided that the only available slot in the calendar was four days after the Wembley Final. The sky blues ended 35 years of misery on a glorious May afternoon courtesy of a single Yaya Toure goal. Stoke would now have to travel to their Cup Final conquerors at the City of Manchester Stadium less than 75 hours after watching them lift the Cup. Clearly it was going to be a party in Manchester and difficult for the Potteries outfit to raise themselves for the league encounter. In the event, Stoke were comprehensively beaten 3-0 and returned home sick of the sight of sky blue.
This week’s double date between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City will see a game at both Molineux and the Etihad Stadium. It could complete a wonderful week for City or take a heap of pressure off the shoulders of Mick McCarthy. Whatever happens though, you can be sure that it won’t be the last double date of the season.