“The fact is I didn’t want to leave, Man City wanted me out of the club”


He was loved at Manchester City but hated for his move across the City
to United. In an exclusive interview, former goal-keeper Tony Coton speaks
candidly about what really went on behind the scenes at Maine Road and how
football has influenced his life.

Interviewing Tony Coton is something that Footy Pundette is
relishing. It’s not very often that a footballer, or a goal-keeper in this
case, has the balls to move between rivals clubs, but that is exactly what Tony
did. The aftermath of such a move is that Tony is still despised by a large
majority of City fans that saw his move as being motivated by greed. Just what
is the truth? We headed to Tony’s new office, near City’s training ground in
Carrington, Manchester, to find out.

As soon as we arrive, we are greeted by a cheerful and friendly Tony; he
is much taller than anticipated and speaks with a strong Black Country accent.
He invites us into his office; the front room of the Victorian house is
littered with sporting memorabilia. Behind his huge desk is an even bigger
picture of Manchester United from the 1999 European Cup Final. Signed shirts
from Ronaldinho and Pat Jennings also feature and opposite his desk is a large
plasma television blasting out the familiar Sky Sports News theme tune. Before
we get started I read through the questions, expecting Tony to refuse to answer
some of the more probing ones. But he accepts every single one on the list and
gets comfy for what will be a grilling for the Tamworth-born goal-keeper…

BTF: Given that, in 1991-92 and 1993-94 seasons you won City’s player of
the year awards, did you understand what effect moving to the other side of the
city would have on City fans that held you in such high regard?

TC: No. I remember when I first came to the club having a bad time with the
fans. It took me a while to settle in and I got a bit of stick replacing Andy
Dibble. At that time I didn’t think I would ever win them over.

But it’s amazing how things change and only performances on the pitch
can determine that. So after winning those awards and winning the fans over, in
1996 when I eventually moved over the city I thought there would be a bit of
response from the City fans. But not to the certain extent of the faxes and
things that got sent to City. But I’ve often said that City wanted me out of
the club. I didn’t want to leave the club. Francis Lee and Alan Ball wanted me
to leave. Consequently, along with Keith Curle, Niall Quinn, Garry Flitcroft,
who all seemed to follow in succession. I didn’t think I’d get the reaction
that I got, especially if City fans would have known the facts. The fact was I
didn’t want to leave. City wanted me out of the club.

BTF: Which manager did you enjoy playing under the most at City?

TC: Two really, Peter Reid and Brian Horton. Brian Horton was a fantastic
man and what I call a friend now. He was very good with the players and I think
he was harshly treated by the regime then. Obviously Francis Lee wanted his own
man in Alan Ball, and I just don’t think that he gave Brian credit for what he
was trying to do there. Then Peter Reid, who took over from Howard Kendall, I
got on well with him on a professional basis. That’s why I signed for him at
Sunderland later.

BTF: When you left City you were allegedly quoted as saying that you
would have a better chance of first team football at United. Is that true,
considering that Eike Immel was City’s goalkeeper and Peter Schmeichel was
United’s?

TC: No it’s not true at all. I never ever made that comment. I knew exactly
what I was moving to. I met with Alex Ferguson and he told me exactly what my
role would be; to be number two to Peter Schmeichel. I’d join in the January,
and one thing he said, although I signed a three-year contract, one thing he
said is that if I still had ambitions of playing in the first team like every
professional has, then he would listen to offers in the summer. That’s exactly
what happened. I went in the January.

I thought, let’s see in the short-term, let’s have a look at see what
Man United are all about. Is it any different to any other club? That’s the
reason I went, and I knew I’d be leaving again in the summer. I was going for a
short period of time. If I’m being perfectly honest, I went for the money. I
went for the pay day. City wanted me out, United were going to pay me well,
going to give me a signing-on fee. I’d still get the experience of being at
United and having a ball. I knew I’d be going in the summer anyway, I was
either going to join Sunderland (which I did), Wolves or Derby.

BTF: During the so-called ‘dark days’ at City, how bad did it actually
get?

TC: The dark days for me, and I don’t like to speak ill of anyone who has
passed away, but for the dark days for me happened when Francis Lee took over
as chairman and Alan Ball came into the club as manager. I still feel that Alan
Ball was brought in to be a puppet for Francis Lee, as proven on more than one
occasion. So from the day that Francis Lee and Alan Ball came in, I didn’t know
at the time but my days were well and truly numbered. It’s very difficult when
you have been a regular in the time, and you are fit. Also they brought in a
German goalkeeper, and this is no disrespect to Eike Immel, but he suddenly
came in overnight. Nobody knew about it and everybodys suddenly looking at me
saying ‘you’re not going to be in the team’. Nobody had the decency to tell me
that they were bringing in another ‘keeper. I didn’t think I deserved that.

I went in to see the manager; he was sat there reading the Racing Post
with his feet up on the desk.

I said: ‘Look, you have bought a new ‘keeper here, you have been quoted as
saying that he’s the number one. Does that mean I’m going to be transferred?’

He said: ‘Oh I’ve been meaning to speak to you about that. Yes. We’re going to
keep the fee down as a goodwill gesture and we’re listening to offers. I might
do a swap deal with the left-back at Sunderland’.

I said: ‘I don’t want to go to Sunderland’.

As it turned out I did end up going to Sunderland in the summer, but not
in a swap deal for him. So for me, the dark days were when those two came into
the club. It was bad.

BTF: Do you agree with Robinho that the mentality of the club has got to
change if the club is to be successful?

TC: If you play sports at whatever level, whenever you do anything you
should always strive to be the best at whatever you do. Whenever you play in
any competition you should always want to win. I’m often chastised at home
because I won’t let anybody win at anything and it’s just the mentality you
have. I think if you are a professional and getting paid for it, you should
automatically have that mentality anyway. Maybe it’s Robinho being a bit
temperamental and trying to get the lads at it. He’s obviously trying to get a
reaction from his team-mates, but sometimes when you say the things you say it
can have a reverse effect. It can have a negative effect. But every time you
play you should have a winning mentality. I don’t know what he’s trying to get
at.

BTF: Do you think United, and Alex Ferguson, will ever regard City as a
real threat?

TC: I know that they try and class the derby game as just another game, but
I know what it means to them. How badly they hurt when City beat them and I
know how pleased they are when they beat City. As a threat, whether the threat
is in Alex Ferguson’s reign as manager of United, I don’t think so. I think he
will be retired by the time the real threat comes. I think he has been quoted
as saying he will be there for another 18 months, I don’t think the threat will
be in that time period.

In the concluding part of the interview next week, Tony speaks about his
heroes, his motivations, his career in general, City’s history and future and
reveals more truths about his time at City.