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Dennis Tueart: Manchester to Manhattan

By Phil Shaw



It was a Manhattan transfer with a twist. One day Dennis Tueart was the Geordie who had broken Newcastle hearts and shared in Sunderland’s finest hour and a half. The next he traded Manchester City and Maine Road for a lucrative new life with the New York Cosmos and the Giants Stadium.

Tueart drove a sky-blue Cadillac and had a penthouse in an apartment block called The Galaxy overlooking the Hudson River. It was the disco era when celebrities from music, movies and sport boogied down to nearby Studio 54. But his focus was football, not glitterball.

Aged 28 and the first current England player to commit to a full season in the North American Soccer League (which Gianni Rivera had branded an “elephants’ graveyard” for fading stars chasing a fast buck), he had the responsibility of succeeding Pele in the Cosmos attack.

No one who saw the spectacular finish that won the Football League Cup for City against his home-town team would question Tueart’s willingness to launch himself into things. The Atlantic crossing, with hindsight, was typical of his approach.

He chose the Cosmos in preference to Nottingham Forest, where Brian Clough was months away from landing the Football League title, and ahead of Manchester United. Some regarded his decision as brave, others as foolhardy.   

“Life’s a challenge. You’ve got to have a go. I’m not an if-only man. You’ve got to go for it, take a chance on change,” says Tueart, reflecting on his £235,000 move in 1978. It could also be a mission statement for his careers in football and business, not to mention his latest incarnation, as the author of an autobiography*.

Challenge and change. Like a politician on the stump at election time, his conversation is peppered with the two words. Unlike some who employ them in pursuit of votes, the 62-year-old has never been slow to take on one and embrace the other.

Now running a successful conference-production company in the North-west of England, he returned to City from America, later became a director of the club for nearly 10 years and today enjoys watching Roberto Mancini’s side from his firm’s executive box. 

A dyed-in-the-Blue fan, then, yet one of his earliest memories is of being five years old and delighting in City’s loss to Newcastle when he and his father attended the 1955 FA Cup final. Later he idolised Jim Baxter and Denis Law, never dreaming he would witness the twilight of their careers as a colleague.

Newcastle deemed the teenaged Tueart too small, but he had better luck with Sunderland. The 1972-73 season had begun inauspiciously for himself and the team, who were fourth from bottom of the Second Division when Bob Stokoe arrived as manager in November.

Results picked up, but when the fifth-round FA Cup draw sent them to Maine Road, City manager Malcolm Allison patronisingly referred to “little Sunderland”. Even after a 2-2 draw, Franny Lee said he would forfeit a week’s wages if City didn’t progress.

The replay has since been voted the best match ever seen at Roker Park. Sunderland won 3-1 and Tueart remembers team-mate Billy Hughes screaming “We’re gonna win the Cup’ in the bath. “I started to feel we might actually do it,” he admits. “It was the way we beat them that set me thinking. We scored really good goals. We began to believe we were a First Division team who just happened to be in the Second.

“We had seven or eight players who became full internationals or made the England or Scotland squads. Bob was very fortunate to inherit that squad, but he brought in Vic Halom, Ron Guthrie and Dave Young to beef things up because we were short on numbers.

“We were fortunate we didn’t get any injuries. We had a first-team squad of 14 or 15 – the first 11 plus Dave Young, Brian Chambers, Mick McGiven and Joe Bolton -- and that was it. We got on a roll, same team every week, and didn’t have to make any changes to tactics or personnel. We all knew what we were doing. Bob basically just had to make sure we were there.”

After accounting for Luton they were pitted against Arsenal at Hillsborough in the semi-finals. The Gunners were striving to reach a third consecutive final, and with holders Leeds also in the last four, the bookies rated Sunderland no better than 12 to 1 to lift the trophy.

Arsenal were swept aside, but Don Revie’s Leeds -- installed as 3 to 1 on favourites, against Sunderland’s odds of 5 to 2 – stood between them and the fulfilment of Hughes’ prediction. Curiously, though, it was Leeds’ household names who appeared anxious and under pressure during the pre-match strolls around Wembley.

“Brian Clough was on the TV and he said I looked way too cocky. He reckoned it could be all over in 20 minutes if Leeds were on their game. But Revie was very intense and that was reflected in his team. I played under him for England and he tended to be meticulous in training. Sometimes, on a one-off occasion like that, it’s better to be relaxed and trust the players.”                       

Tueart was unaware of the antipathy between Stokoe and Revie, stemming from the Sunderland manager’s allegation that Revie had tried to bribe him during his time in charge of Bury. “He didn’t tell us about that. We didn’t know. But when you watch the DVD now, and you see them in the tunnel, Revie is trying to talk to Bob, who is blanking him. Eventually they chat as they walk out, but Bob is obviously cold towards him.”

Everyone from Sunderland of a certain age remembers where they were at 3.31 that May afternoon. The amazing thing about the goal that beat Leeds, laughs Tueart, is that “nothing went to plan”.

He explains: “It started from a mis-hit cross by Bobby Kerr. David Harvey opted to palm it over when he could perhaps have taken it. Billy Hughes took the corner when he’d normally have been in the box. Then the ball hit Vic Halom’s thigh and Ian Porterfield, who’s eight yards out when he usually stood on the edge of the 18-yard area, flicked it up with the left foot, his stronger one, before volleying it in with his next-to-useless right foot!”     

Jimmy Montgomery’s incredible double save ensured he was the man towards whom Stokoe, white mac billowing, dashed at the end. Tueart’s memories remain fond and he relishes the reunions. Nevertheless he was dismayed by Sunderland’s failure to build on the triumph.   “One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Change needs to happen and the custodians of a club, the manager and the board, have to manage it. Teams must evolve. Sunderland didn’t face up to that challenge.

“The squad had been depleted when Brian Chambers joined Arsenal before the final. We brought in Rod Belfitt; nice lad, worked hard but with respect he didn’t have the quality to improve on what we had. Then Richie Pitt and Billy Hughes got injured.

“We’d started getting 35,000 to 40,000 crowds and we needed to invest some of the money they were paying through the turnstiles. There was a feeling of ‘Where’s all the cash gone?’ We needed three First Division-class players to take us forward. We never got them.”

Tueart stayed long enough to play in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, scoring a solo goal with a slalom through the Vasas Budapest defence that Lionel Messi would have been proud to claim. It was, in one sense, typical Tueart. “I was never a winger,” he asserts. “Joe Royle called me a wide striker and I think that summed me up.”   Ten months after the euphoria of Wembley, he joined Manchester City for £275,000. Talk about going in at the deep end: his debut came in the derby in which Lou Macari and Mike Doyle initially refused to leave the pitch after being sent off, and the following month he hit the bar shortly before Law back-heeled City’s winner against relegation-bound United.

“When I came, City still had the nucleus of the great team from the Joe Mercer-Malcolm Allison era. (Manager) Tony Book brought in myself, Dave Watson, Asa Hartford and Joe Royle, which to me showed they had the ambition I felt was so lacking at Sunderland.”

The judgement appeared vindicated in his second full season, 1975-76, when City lifted the League Cup. “We beat United 4-0 on the way. Afterwards we went to a restaurant and everyone stood up to applaud us. It was the first time I realised what City meant to people.”

Back beneath the Twin Towers and facing the club he worshipped as a boy from the east end of Newcastle, Tueart was the only true Geordie on the pitch. “I knew more people in the black-and-white end than in the City end! My dad, uncles, brother – they were all there."

In the first minute of the second half, with the teams tied at 1-1, Willie Donachie’s cross was headed back across the 18-yard box. Tueart had run slightly too far as the ball dropped just behind him. Adjusting his position, he executed a textbook overhead kick. “I never saw it go in. When I hit the floor I looked round to see I’d scored.”

Astonishingly, it would be City’s last trophy-clinching goal until Yaya Toure won the FA Cup against Stoke 35 years later. “After the ’76 final there were rumours that my brother couldn’t go into Newcastle for six months. My mother supposedly had the windows of her council flat put in. None of it was true. There was a terrific spirit between the teams and the fans.”

The following season City finished a point behind champions Liverpool, but Tueart’s hopes that success at Wembley might kick-start a fresh silverware spree were not realised.  He views Colin Bell’s retirement, after an injury sustained against United during the League Cup run, as one factor in their failure to maintain momentum. Another, which led to his falling out with Book and eventual departure, was the purchase of Mick Channon from Southampton.

“We had a very flexible 4-3-3 system, encouraging freedom of movement. By buying Channon, and before him Brian Kidd, Booky wanted to change it completely. Before the (1977-78) season he told me he wanted me to stay wide. I wasn’t happy at all. My whole strength was coming in from unexpected positions. As I said, I wasn’t a winger, but they wanted loads of crosses from me and took away my ability to score goals.” 

His frustration made him open to the change and challenge offered by the Cosmos. “Yes, I'd got six England caps, but we hadn’t qualified for the 1978 World Cup and I’d be 32 by ’82, so I’d got no chance. (City chairman) Peter Swales tried desperately to get me to go just for the summer, like Trevor Francis did with Detroit Express. But the way I am, I can’t do half a job. So when the opportunity came up I went for it whole-heartedly.

“I didn’t realise until after I’d signed (for £235,000) and I was watching the video of highlights from the previous year, that they had effectively bought me to replace Pele. The other front men were Giorgio Chinaglia, the great Italian centre-forward, and Steve Hunt, who’d gone to the States from Aston Villa and came back to Coventry and became an England player.”

In his two seasons in New York his team-mates included Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Johann Neeskens. The NASL did have its share of veterans taking a last pay-day and giving too little back, but Tueart is adamant that the professional ethos at the Cosmos was strong.

“Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Chinaglia would kick their granny to win. It was  a natural thing to them, because of where they had come from. Young players today hit the financial comfort zone too early, before their characters are formed. That’s why they lose their edge. If you lose the edge of aggression, determination and desire, you’ll never get it back. And you’ll fail.”  

Chinaglia’s leadership qualities made a lasting impression. “He had an ego the size of the Big Apple. He just wanted to score goals and win games. I could accept that. I don’t have to be your best pal. It was like City in ’76: I never socialised with Mike Doyle, but on the pitch he was my captain, my leader.”

The Cosmos “had to win - our owners were Warner Communications and second-best was nowhere to them”. They obliged in his first season, beating Tampa Bay Rowdies 3-1 to win the Soccer Bowl, Tueart scoring twice and picking up the trophy as the Offensive Player of the Game to add to the giant replica of the Cutty Sark he won as Most Valuable Player in the play-offs.               

The second year was less productive. A change of coach, from Eddie Firmani and his European style to Julio Mazzei drawing on the “soccer” of his native Brazil, saw him marginalised for a time. After an injury-blighted end to the campaign, the arduous annual global tour which the Cosmos undertook (“we were like footballing Harlem Globetrotters”) and his wife Joan’s pregnancy meant he was pleased when he was put up for sale, if not with the “shabby” way it was handled.

“In New York we could live for six months on a month’s salary. We enjoyed ourselves – we went to great restaurants and a nightclub called Zenon, though not to Studio 54 – but we didn’t over-indulge. That’s because we’re canny Geordies! But we’d bought a place in the Manchester area. Happily, City wanted to buy me back when we came home.

“When I left, the club was full of internationals. When I returned there were so many kids in the side it was like a crèche. That’s one of the reasons we struggled with Malcolm (Allison), who’d also come back.”

Twelve games without a victory at the start of 1980-81 led to John Bond displacing Allison. “Bondy was good for City. He identified where we were short and brought in Gerry Gow, Tommy Hutchison and Bobby McDonald. All of a sudden we were flying and reached the FA Cup final. Then in September (1981) he bought Trevor Francis. But the quality we had in my first spell wasn’t there, or rather it was developing.”

Tueart’s time as a City player ended ignominiously. On the final day of the 1982-83 season City would avoid relegation if they drew at home to Luton, who needed to win to survive and send their hosts down. Raddy Antic scored a late winner for the visitors, David Pleat reprised Stokoe’s jubilant charge of a decade earlier, and Tueart lashed out at Brian Horton as Luton headed for the dressing-room.

“I’d agreed a one-year deal with Peter Swales if we stayed up. So I knew my City career was over. I was angry, frustrated and what I did was horrible. I had no argument with Brian. It was just a reaction. It could’ve been anyone. It could’ve been Micky Mouse. I was just so down.”

He went on to play for Burnley, Stoke and Derry City before devoting himself to business projects – and to Manchester City once more. “Manchester is my town. Me and Joan enjoy going back to the North-east to see everyone, but we love coming back to Manchester. As far as I’m concerned it has only one rival in the world when it comes to a big financial base, big commercial base and two top teams in one city, and that’s Milan.”

As a City director he liaised between boardroom and dressing-room, dealing with the manager and reporting back to the board. He came up against “one or two outsized egos” shortly before the takeover by Thaksin Shinawatra, and says wryly: “I received my resignation by email.”

The love affair with City never waned, however. “Fortunately the people I fell out with have gone now. I know the club root and branch. I've met a lot of supporters while promoting my book, and when people get nostalgic for the old days, before we could buy anyone we want, I remind them of the dark days, not long ago, when City played at York, Lincoln and Macclesfield. I tell them to manage the change, enjoy the ride and see how far it takes us.

"My Red mates often go on about ‘the noisy neighbours’. After we won 6-1 at Old Trafford I texted them back to say ‘The noisy neighbours are getting noisier’.”

* From BACKPASS magazine. For subscriptions: http://www.backpassmagazine.co.uk/