Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Bernard Halford: From the 1970s to the modern day, 'Mr Manchester City' left an indelible mark on the club

Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak and players past and present pay tribute to Manchester City's second ever Life President, who died at the age of 77

Bernard Halford was only Manchester City's second ever Life President. Getty Images
Bernard Halford was only Manchester City's second ever Life President. Getty Images

When Bernard Halford, who died at the age of 77, used to drive to Maine Road, Manchester City’s then club secretary found a way to pass the time when he was stopped at traffic lights. He would count the shirts of the children he passed: how many were City kits and how many were Manchester United’s?

He was not just idling the time away. Halford, only City’s second ever Life President, told The National last year: “I eat, breathe, sleep, Manchester City.” The club ambassador Mike Summerbee echoed Halford’s words on Tuesday. “He lived, breathed and slept Manchester City,” said Summerbee, a player when Halford joined from Oldham as club secretary.

That was 1972 and 47 years of service followed.

“I am a City fanatic,” Halford explained. “I have got to have a business hat on at times as secretary but then you are a fan as well so you are mixing the two. As a City fan, you go through the traumas you go through, now they are actually seeing, the best players in the world. For me, it is like bread from heaven.”

Halford remembered the time when City could not afford £300,000 (Dh1.45m) to sign a 14-year-old Wayne Rooney. He savoured the glory days in his last decade. A man who played a part in re-signing Denis Law in 1973 remembered sending the FA faxes, 10 minutes before the transfer deadline, to seal the flagship buy of Robinho.

“Bernard was incredibly dedicated and loyal," said chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak. That dedication began as a child. Halford used to sit on the terraces to pay 1p for a ticket to try and win the matchball.

Deep into his seventies, Halford was speaking to 10,000 children a year, enthusing about his beloved City, taking trophies into their schools so they could get photographed with the silverware.

“I can talk to you about the history, going back to 1880 when we were formed,” he said. He spoke to those who may still be supporting City in 2080. “His knowledge of this football club was amazing,” said Pep Guardiola.

As a boy, Halford watched Bert Trautmann mind the City goal; as a pensioner, he saw Ederson. David Silva was one of his favourite players, Sergio Aguero another, but he still loved Trautmann.

Halford remained a reference point. Vincent Kompany has a habit of mentioning him in interviews. It was notable how many of City’s long-serving former players posted their own tributes: Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart, Micah Richards, Tommy Doyle, Dennis Tueart, Paul Dickov. The Scot, one of City’s 1999 play-off final heroes, began his remembrance with the nickname Halford acquired: “Mr Manchester City”.

His significance was recognised when he was retained after Sheikh Mansour’s buyout. “That is protecting the structure of what they are taking over,” Halford argued, grateful his experience was valued, and not merely by the owners.

In 2006, Halford was the only non-player elected into the club’s Hall of Fame. It was not the biggest accolade he received. When City ended their 35-year wait for a major trophy in 2011, Halford’s hands were on it first.

“The only person, other than a player or a manager, to lift the FA Cup at Wembley,” he told The National proudly. “I was 69 years old and I lifted the FA Cup with 90,000 people at Wembley. Can you imagine? I remember sitting watching Stanley Matthews in 1953. Fifty-eight years later, it’s Alice In Wonderland.”

Even after battling cancer, he kept a boyish enthusiasm that Al Mubarak called “infectious”. Zabaleta called him “a City legend”. Such descriptions are normally applied to players like the talismanic right-back, but Halford’s longevity and love of City made him an extraordinary exception.

Updated: March 28, 2019 08:30 AM

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