by Gary James
James Ward, £25
Reviewed by Ian Farrell
From WSC 312 February 2013
Meteoric success in any area, be it sport, show business or politics, is guaranteed to bring a glut of books within six months and sure enough there has been a recent explosion in the number of Manchester City titles on the market. Any new additions to the list are inevitably going to be viewed with ever-increasing cynicism, but Manchester: The City Years can't de derided as a cash-in. Its author has been writing about the club since before Sergio Agüero was born and this is clearly a book several years in the making. From the first stirrings of organised football in Manchester through to the drama of last May, this is as detailed a history as anyone could conceivably want.
Season by season, over the course of 600 pages, City's up and downs are brought to life through a truly staggering level of research. Add in several hundred photographs, press clippings, newspaper cartoons, programme covers and cigarette cards and it's difficult to pinpoint anything more that could have been done to chronicle the club's successes, failures, or even the relatively uneventful bits in between.
There is also plenty of opinion and spin to go with the facts and figures. This is a book written by a hardcore fan rather than an impartial historian and Gary James never misses an opportunity to defend the club, criticise its critics and highlight any occasions where he feels they've been the victim of unfair treatment or media bias. He is particularly sensitive to any negative reaction to the new order of the last five years and any fans nostalgic for the old ways might feel uncomfortable with the blanket praise he has for the current regime.
Readers of more delicate sensibilities might also blanch at the glowing portrayal of former CEO Garry Cook, the ex-Nike executive notorious for conducting interviews with all the dignified humility of Don King. Cook left his position after he accidentally sent a mocking email to Nedum Onuoha's cancer-stricken mother, something he initially denied by claiming his account had been hacked by someone out to frame him. Here, he receives the very lightest admonishment for his actions, with the media subject to considerably greater scrutiny for the manner of its reporting of the story.
But whether you buy into the author's worldview or not, Manchester: The City Years is a hugely impressive piece of work. Whatever your view of Manchester City, whether you've always liked them, always disliked them or have switched your opinion in recent times, it would be difficult to deny that they're one of English football's most interesting institutions and James may well have produced the definitive account of their story.