There cannot be many footballers who have a gin named after them. Head to Ancoats, the trendy part of Manchester, and there are bottles bearing Mike Summerbee’s name — for only a couple of quid less than his £40-a-week wages when signing for the blue half of town six decades ago.
The accompanying blurb says that it is ‘a take on traditional London Dry with added luxury’ and there is something to that sentiment. Time spent in Summerbee’s company is a luxury. Manchester City‘s raconteur, the face of their past but also the present, an enduring link between old and new.
He could talk for days about Colin Bell and George Best, yet with equal familiarity about Pep Guardiola and Kevin De Bruyne. His is a unique life, one celebrated by the club when he reached the grand milestone of 80 last month. He remains one of the most popular men in the area and the guestlist for a secret party, organised by City and his wife Tina inside the Etihad Stadium’s hospitality suites, is testament to that.
Sportsmail spoke exclusively to Manchester City legend and ambassador Mike Summerbee
They were all there, the City dignitaries, for a lunch that was rather long by the end. Guardiola, sporting director Txiki Begiristain, chief executive Ferran Soriano. Former team-mates, including Joe Corrigan and Tommy Booth. Wales rugby union legend Sir Gareth Edwards, whom he became friendly with after meeting on A Question of Sport.
Operations director Danny Wilson gave a heart-warming speech. A video montage played, with messages from across the world and one from his friend Ossie Ardiles.
‘Emotional,’ Summerbee says. ‘Very emotional. For those people to be there in the middle of the football season was quite remarkable. For people to make the effort was amazing.
Summerbee is a regular at City matches, home and away, in his role as a club ambassador
‘I knew nothing about it all. That day I said to Tina, ‘I’m just going to nip to the ground,’ because I had one or two things I had to do. She said, ‘Oh, I’ll come with you’.’ He wears a funny look before adding: ‘And of course she had a party frock on! I didn’t expect anything but this is a special club.’
He still lives and breathes City, still at every game — home and away, domestic and foreign — as an ambassador. His bond with Wilson is particularly strong, the pair often driving to away matches together, while some say that he and Begiristain can be ‘inseparable’ on European trips. Summerbee, part of the renowned 1968 title-winning side, commands deep respect from the club’s executives. ‘Txiki is one of the nicest people you could meet,’ he says. ‘When he came from Barcelona, he couldn’t speak very much English so I gave him a couple of lessons.’
Summerbee twinkles. Bestowed an OBE by the late Queen last year, he will share a glass of red wine with Sir Alex Ferguson inside the Old Trafford directors’ lounge following tomorrow’s derby.
Summerbee, who was bestowed an OBE last year, was a hugely successful player with City
Summerbee and wife Tina at their wedding with best man and United legend George Best (R)
It is, of course, the scene of Summerbee’s furious outburst at the apparent bias shown by Sky Sports towards United when a pundit for this fixture in 2011, the day of Wayne Rooney’s extra- ordinary bicycle kick. He vowed that City would be back to ‘tear United apart’ — comments which provoked wild responses, not least by the broadcaster — and he was right. Roberto Mancini’s team won 6-1 there eight months later. Summerbee never went on Sky again.
He will fiercely defend City yet in his youth, would often visit Old Trafford as a supporter — not of United, but Best. The Northern Irishman ended up being Summerbee’s best man — ‘top notch that day, perfect’ — after the pair struck up a friendship in a coffee shop, with their oft-repeated tales of raucous nights the stuff of legend.
‘With George, I’d say in our flat in Crumpsall the night before a derby, ‘Listen, tomorrow, don’t start taking the p***, sticking it through my legs and making me look stupid’. He said not to worry! When they talk about players… he was something else.
‘It’s not like, ‘Oh I’m not going to see him because he’s got a red shirt on’. Friendship is a priceless gift. That’s what it was all about. We had a great time.
‘I saw him win the European Cup at Wembley in 1968. I was with the England team, Sir Alf Ramsey took us all to the game. But if I hadn’t been with that squad then I still would have been there, no problem. If we weren’t playing and United were at Liverpool I’d go over there and watch. If I was playing, it was the same for George.’
Best, who died in 2005, is immortalised in bronze by United outside their home, alongside Denis Law and Sir Bobby Charlton. City will have their own display at the Etihad Stadium: a statue depicting Summerbee, Colin Bell and Franny Lee together should be unveiled by the end of the year.
He remains one of the most popular City figures after all of his many career achievements
Summerbee (centre) still lives and breathes City — he is at every home and away game
‘I’ve not seen it,’ Summerbee says. ‘They have shown me a few things about it. This Lee-Bell-Summerbee thing is easy to say for supporters but for me, you could go through everybody. Tony Book was one of the best captains you’ll ever see. We were part of a team, us three. Forwards always stick out — Francis a goalscorer, Colin linked everything, I don’t know what I did but I was around.’
Summerbee, a winger or centre forward, does self-deprecation wonderfully with a light touch. He does rightly point to scoring at Old Trafford during a League Cup semi-final win in 1969 as one of his treasured moments.
‘I used to love playing on the wing when the crowd were close to you,’ he says. ‘Loved talking to them when the ball was on the other side. We had some good times. They were always great games. So many good players.
‘I signed for City because Joe Mercer was manager. When he was appointed, I was on the deckchairs at Torquay having a bit of fun. It came over on the radio that he was manager and I phoned him up.
‘He’d tried to sign me for Aston Villa. I said, ‘Hi boss, it’s Summerbee,’ and he responded, ‘Get yourself up here immediately’. I got in my car, drove straight up. Best move I ever made.’
Not just for his career — City went on to lift all three domestic trophies and the Cup-winners’ Cup in their most successful era until Guardiola turned up — but his life. Summerbee is Mr City and owes much of that to Mercer and assistant Malcolm Allison. Mercer’s wife, Norah, also acted as a motherly figure for Summerbee, whose own had passed away.
The 80-year-old is close with City boss Pep Guardiola and is allowed to watch his side train
‘Joe and Malcolm were perfect together. We won everything, didn’t we? They probably had their little arguments, misunderstandings, about the team sometimes but it was the right combination. They got on very well.
‘Malcolm was one of the best coaches this country has seen. He changed the game in training. On a Monday morning, we trained at Wythenshawe Park with Derek Ibbotson, who set a world record in the mile, Joe Lancaster — a marathon runner — and Danny Herman, who ran the 100metres.
‘We used to have a warm-up around the whole park with training and interval running. Then to the running track and go round that. It was difficult. When we started, we just complained. We were footballers, not athletes. But after a couple of sessions, you could see what it did for us.’
Briefly interrupted by a City employee desperate to say hello, Summerbee recounts the story that the astonishingly fit midfielder Bell would occasionally run backwards, chatting as his team-mates panted and wheezed. He performed Bell’s eulogy at a private funeral when the King of the Kippax died two years ago.
‘We weren’t footballers on a Monday — we were athletes,’ he says. ‘We did abdominals in the gym. It was great. No other team was doing any of this.’
Are there similarities between Allison and Guardiola, in the way they innovated across different eras? ‘That is a difficult question. Both of them are very similar — the way they train is what made them into famous coaches, famous managers. The main thing about it is if you are manager, your team needs to be exceptionally fit but the way they do that has to be enjoyable. Pep’s training sessions are and Malcolm’s were.
‘This era now is exciting. The football we play, the way he has changed the game so much. I’m allowed to go to training, which is brilliant.
‘I admire Pep: a great coach, an amazing person. I just enjoy being there. I don’t say anything, I just watch. I listen. It’s like a drug, isn’t it?’
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