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Shattered Dreams: Manchester City F.C.’s Lost Generation

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Old Manchester City FC Stadium: Maine Road, Moss Side, Manchester, UK

How Manchester City F.C. lost a whole generation of gifted Black players to Discrimination

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’.

Ducie High Lower School, Moss Side, Manchester.

Ducie High Lower School, Moss Side, Manchester.

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.

Ken Barnes, Manchester City F.C

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.

Former manager of Astro amateur football club, Moss Side, Manchester.

Former manager of Astro amateur football club, Moss Side, Manchester.

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.

Manchester City Football Club.

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 country as a whole without due reference to colour or creed.

Dave Bennett, Manchester City Football Club.

Dave Bennett,
Manchester City Football Club.

In Context: The Football Association has apologised to black former players for the racism they suffered in the 1970s and 1980s

Unity Radio: The Remedy Sessions talk Mental Health, Racism, Discrimination & lack of representation in sport!

Join the discussion 21 Comments

  • welshbizuk says:

    Reblogged this on Northern Biz WordPress Blog.

  • Karen Barnes says:

    It is absolute nonsense that Ken Barnes was a racist. As his daughter I find it abhorrent that my father could be accused of such a thing. Anyone who knew him well, knew he believed more than most,in equality. Manchester City’s club policies during this era cannot be blamed on Ken Barnes. He was a football purest & I can assure you that if he saw a great player he would have done his utmost to bring them to City regardless of colour or creed. Any opposing view is completely offensive.

  • Denzil liburd says:

    Never a truer word has been spoken

  • Mark Burgess says:

    Where is the evidence to back this story up? Sounds like a piece of anti MCFC crap to me.

  • marktreth says:

    Complete claptrap. City had many black players in that era. Just the ones I remember: Wilson, Bennett, Palmer, Williams, Beckford, Barrett, Gayle, Curle, Phelan, Simpson.

  • Denise Southworth says:

    Not forgetting Tony Whelan a local lad . He was at City around 72/73 .This article is malicious and shocking and must hurt the Barnes family tremendously.

  • I don’t know enough about football to comment on Ken Barnes or the specifics of this article. But I heard a documentary on the radio about the racism that black football players had to face in the UK in the 1970s and 80s and it was really shocking. I just don’t know how they put up with it. And it seems to be creeping back into the game again which is worrying. Thanks for following my blog.

  • Karen Barnes says:

    It is very hurtful to read untruths about my father. He is not here to defend himself either. I am married to a non white foreigner who my Dad thought the world of. Dad would have given anyone the best of opportunities in football if they merited it. Having said that if a boy wasn’t good enough then he wasn’t good enough, that was how it was but had nothing to do with colour.

  • Denise Southworth says:

    I think most if not all people on here Karen know your Dad wasn’t a racist .Don’t let it bother you -his record with black players speaks for itself

  • Karen Barnes says:

    Thank you so much Denise for your reassuring words. Means a lot

  • I was looking for something about Astro on the web and found this. Good read. I remember being invited to a week’s trial at Manchester City (eventually I was told on the Wednesday night by my Sunday League team manager after missing the first three days) I turned up on the Thursday and despite supporting Man U I will always remember loving being invited to train with the first team (which included Alex Williams) for thirty minutes or so before playing in a trial game. I got injured early on during the game on the Friday and after the session finished, I went into Tony Books office and remember him saying something like, we just did not see enough of you. Yes not many black and brown faces players were not probably seen, enough, in the right way.

    I remember the many many great players of my era who played for Astro…

  • Tony P says:

    Stan Horne was the first black player to play for City in 1965 and remained the only one until Tony Whelan joined in 1973. From there onwards, more began to arrive at the club, mostly from the youth ranks. Based in the heart of Moss Side, it was inevitable that City would look to catch the cream of what was now the second generation of West Indian immigrants, living in the area. Some never made it past the youth team but by the late 70’s, Dave Bennett and Roger Palmer made their City first team debuts. In the 80’s we had Clive Wilson, Alex Williams, Darren Beckford, Jason Beckford, Brian Gayle, Earl Barrett, John Fashanu and Tony Cunningham. By the 90’s, black players were becoming a regular sight in football and we welcomed many more, some bought and some through the youth set up. Since the turn of the century, black players have begun to dominate most squads and many of the world’s best players are black, but it wasn’t that long ago when the sight of a black player in the first division was a rarity. I still remember the stir players such as Clyde Best and Keith Coker made at West Ham, in 1971. Viv Anderson became the first black player to play for England in 1978 and although I’m not claiming that City had the monopoly on black players, I think we produced more than most clubs. It wasn’t until Ron Atkinson bought Remi Moses in 1981, that United had their first black player and it was 1977 before Howard Gayle made his Liverpool debut.

  • Steve Kennedy says:

    I played for Kraft fc I the early 80s and was part of a team that managed to take a point off them they were not very happy great game though

  • Mike McKenzie says:

    Hi, interesting to read this. Firstly may I say that I find it hurtful and disturbing that Ken Barnes (RIP) should be ever thought of as a racist. I found him to be a kind and warm man, who always took time out to speak to me giving me advice that helped me along the way. I have read some hysterical responses earlier, some are just stupid, however I do ask you this question, in those days how many of the players mentioned went on to have real careers at the club? They were all moved on very early on, look at the names that have been put forward as good example, really!! Undoubtedly there was fantastic talent in the local community that was easily overlooked and that’s a fact, ASK yourself why so many black players thay now make up the football league. Trust me it was a massive struggle back then. The team Astro F.C was a phenomenon a multi cultural team that represented the local Community losing only four games in ten years and should have had more players playing in the football league. So please let me reiterate my opening lines. I Mike McKenzie found Mr Ken Barnes a fair and beautiful human being plus his sons Peter, Keith and Mike great people and consider them friends especially Peter from School and his brief time in none league. No body likes to hear these accusations and people very quickly say not me, not mine, normally without honest thought. Ken Barnes worked for Manchester City F.C. he was not the policy maker, Ken enjoyed a great relationship with local people and was himself and his family considered locals. I am particularly strong on this subject and want to strongly place on record that in my opinion Mr Ken Barnes was never racist. As for the hysterical responses please look at the facts when the then Chairman was in site. The chap from Kraft F.C, do you know how many people claim to have been in some team that either took a point or beat Astro F.C, stop dining out on it. My final point is please, please don’t dismiss it because you are a fan of that club or person. Ken Barnes R.I.P. Kindest thoughts. Mike McKenzie.

  • Skendong says:

    Thank you for your valued comment. It’s much appreciated. I must reiterate that nowhere in this article does it call out any individual as racist. It merely recounts an encounter a group of young footballers had with the chief scout. I agree with you that it was a massive struggle back then and this was the experience for many growing up in the shadows of Manchester City FC. Many were overlooked. Why?

  • Denise Southworth says:

    You could ask the same question about ANY Football club at that time .Clubs like Villa, Spurs, Palace, Arsenal, etc were situated in mainly black areas yet how many local lads made the cut ? I think City were better than most at that time – whilst not claiming we were perfect .And lets not forget that circa 1977 Gordon Lee then the Newcastle boss openley told his Chairman that he didnt want any “coloured players at the club -the player in question being Laurie Cunningham then at Orient Look whats just come out about Chelsea’s black youth players as late as the 80s ? Even if they were taken on , they faced horrific bullying .

  • Denise Southworth says:

    Tony Whelan was at United way before Remi . Whelan joined in 68 He joined City later when he got a free from the reds .
    A mixed race man Dennis Walker played once for United in the early 60s and scored one goal.

  • Denise Southworth says:

    Sorry he didnt score a goal -He just played for them once

  • Hilton Alexander says:

    I am shocked that Mr Ken Barns is being considered a racist. I was at school with his sons and Ken on many occasions and he was always generous with his time. Our group was multi cultural and never ever did we get the impression that he minded his children socialising with us. I think the author of the article has the wrong impression of Ken

  • Jamie Irvine says:

    Hi Mike, nice to see your comments on here. I had the privilege of playing for a season at Astro and can genuinely say that as a group, these guys were some of the best I ever played with. As a goalkeeper, my problem was that in most games I was simply a spectator, but revelled in the quality of the football that I saw in front of me. Games were regularly won by a large number of goals for…but there was always one against!! And those goals were typically ‘worldies’…didn’t have a chance with them…and often the only chance that opposition teams worked up against us, so didn’t have many opportunities to redeem myself. Great times and some great memories…and I think if I’m not mistaken, Mike, but you have still not passed on my League Champions trophy from that season!!
    All the best, Jamie

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