Dave Bennett, Roger Palmer and Alex Williams playing for Manchester City Football Club during the 1980’s are three notable names fans of football may remember. But what many won’t remember is the former location of Manchester City F.C. Based in Moss Side, south of the city, the football club was woven into the fabric of Manchester’s largest Afro-Caribbean community. When we hear of Moss Side the usual stereotypes may suffice. Bad Boys, gangs, guns and drugs. Negative stereotypes aside, this community was a “hotbed” for young, black and blessed footballing talent.
Though several High Schools were dotted around the club’s vicinity, one school stood out high above the rest when it came to the beautiful game – Ducie High School (now Manchester Academy). Located on Denmark Road and Lloyd Street North, Ducie had a set of schoolboys notably from 1980-1985 who won consecutive league and cup competitions and hardly lost a game during this period. From the first to fifth year, they were a team of winners. With physical prowess, their football was flamboyant, attacking and cultured. The school was famed for playing ‘the beautiful game’.
On one occasion, a group of six boys were invited around Manchester City F.C as part of the school curriculum. As the tour neared it’s finale, the youths gathered around the Chief Scout Ken Barnes as one boy asked:
“Do you ever come to watch us play? We’ve won everything. Unbeaten for God knows how long. Yet not one member of our school has been scouted.” Ken Barnes replied, “I have seen you all play…” And there was silence.
Prior and past the period aforementioned, not one player from this school was offered schoolboy terms. In fact, as the boys grew fitter and stronger, the opportunity to play professional football decreased. And unfortunately as time went by some of this gifted talent were caught up in the social ills of the day. Manchester United F.C. and their scouting policy seemed to fare much better which was surprising given the pool of talent surrounding Manchester City, untapped and at it’s full disposal.
Astro football club was a team based in the heart of Moss Side and were famed in amateur circles across the North West of England with a certain Mike Mckenzie at the helm. His professionalism and dedication to his players and community saw him build consecutive teams blessed with with several gifted black players who were crowned North West Champions several times. Again, it’s sad to note that not one player was scouted and given an opportunity to play professional football. And as this followed on from the generation of 1980-1985 is an indication that this discriminatory policy towards black players continued into the 1990’s.
Like Brazil, England is blessed with wonderful footballing talent at it’s disposal. But unlike Brazil, England does not produce to the highest level this glut of festering talent. In the 1980’s football was free, creative and untarnished by the problems schoolboys face today.
Walk around any community in Manchester during the 1980’s you could find open green spaces and schoolboys freely playing football, harnessing their skills. This was an age where schoolboys would organize their own matches against rival communities and these games would draw a large crowd of spectators from within and around the surround communities. And as these organized events would proceed, the younger boys present would organize and play their own impromptu games nearby.
Walk around any community now and the open green spaces have drastically reduced. Add to this fact that the scouting policy has changed as Manchester City F.C set up a monolithic multi-million pound system and complex which considers young foreign players from abroad. The excellent facilities and clinical professional set up has replaced the free and flamboyant way of learning football on the streets and in the open green spaces.
Concluding this argument, for Manchester City F.C to become a true powerhouse of European football or for England to win the World Cup once again in the not too distant future, then this festering glut of talent must be harnessed not just in Manchester but across the county as a whole without due reference to colour or creed.