Corrigan on City, the States and his Albion chance

If you were in central Brighton just before Christmas 1984 and thought you saw a 6’ 4”, 15-stone fairy godmother in a ballet-dancer’s tutu, it can now be revealed that you had not overdone the festive spirits after all. That giant figure was Joe Corrigan, the Albion and former Manchester City and England goalkeeper, out and about in town after the players’ fancy-dress Christmas party.

By Nick Szczepanik • 28 August 2019

By Rex/Shutterstock
Joe Corrigan

Joe made an impression whatever he wore, including the green jersey that he donned on 42 occasions for Albion, all in the 1983/84 season. He is now an ambassador for City, Albion’s next opponents, the club he served with distinction between 1967 and 1983, and where he made the vast majority of his 686 career league and cup appearances.

He remembers one previous meeting between the clubs very well - an FA Cup fourth round tie on 29th January 1983 that effectively ended his 16 years at Maine Road. Albion put four past City at the Goldstone for the third time in four seasons, with Jimmy Case, Neil Smillie and Michael Robinson (2) the scorers, and Joe knew that the writing was on the wall for him, although not because of his performance for City that day.

“My understudy at City, Alex Williams, had come down with the team and as I came off the field I said to him, ‘The jersey’s yours now.’ The chairman had been pinning his hopes on an FA Cup run to get some money into the club. I was maybe the highest-paid player at the club at the time with one or two like Trevor Francis having already left. He wanted me to go because the club couldn’t afford my wages.”

By Manchester City
Joe Corrigan in action for Manchester City

After 16 years at City, during which he played 602 games and won nine England caps, Joe left the North West of England for the Pacific North West of the United States to join the Seattle Sounders. However, he found that the North American Soccer League [NASL] was not the glamorous competition it had been when Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and George Best had filled ballparks and NFL stadiums.

“The NASL was going through a bad time,” he says. “A rule had been introduced to include four American players in each team and the spectators weren’t willing to pay their hard-earned dollars to see sub-standard players. They stayed away in droves. At one time they had had 50,000 people watching the Sounders but crowds were down below 10,000.”

In September 1983, Albion offered him a way back into the British game and a chance to play in front of five-figure crowds again. “The Seattle manager, Laurie Calloway, was a very good friend of Jimmy Melia, who was then the Brighton manager, and they did the deal between them. Mike Bamber, the Brighton chairman, came over on a Wednesday and I signed on the Thursday.”

His new teammates at The Goldstone included Case, Smillie, Terry Connor, Steve Foster, Steve Gatting, Tony Grealish, Gerry Ryan, Gordon Smith, Danny Wilson and Eric Young. “They were fantastic players and a great bunch of lads to work with and to play with as well,” Joe says.

“They had gone down from the old first division the season before as well as going on after beating City to reach the Cup Final, and on another day could have won it. They were still not far off the team that got to the final, although one or two had possibly passed their absolute peak. It was a lovely club to play for and a fabulous place to live.”

Case recalled that season’s Christmas party in his autobiography and described Corrigan as ‘a star performer on the pitch and a clown off it.’ “Oh, and he wasn’t?” Joe laughs. “Jimmy dressed up as a frogman in goggles and flippers and I dressed as a fairy godmother with a little ballet tutu, a blonde wig and a pair of wellingtons. It was my first season at Brighton and I didn’t know what they usually did, but all I’ll say is that Jimmy taught me the wrong things about fancy dress.”

Among the on-field highlights was a 2-0 FA Cup victory over Liverpool at the Goldstone, Ryan and Connor scoring the goals while Joe kept the mighty Reds out at the other end. “It was like the Battle of the Alamo at one stage but that was what you were there for. The lads had also beaten Liverpool in the cup the season before, so they knew what to expect and everybody battled well.

“The unfortunate thing about it was that Jimmy Melia got the sack not long after I joined and from then on it lost something. It was a bad period because there was off-field wrangling going on among the directors. They were talking even then about selling The Goldstone and there was a lot of uncertainty among the playing staff.

“And then at the start of my second season Chris Cattlin, who had succeeded Jimmy Melia as manager, called me in and said: ‘You’re no longer in my plans.’ I was 35 and had had a great career, so fair enough, but I thought I had been a good pro and trained hard and it was still a bitter blow, the first time anyone had said that.

“So then I went on loan to Ipswich and then Stoke and my last game in the old first division was a 2-1 win over Manchester United at the Victoria Ground on Boxing Day 1984. But I had to finish after having a serious injury after coming back from Stoke, playing for Brighton reserves against QPR at Loftus Road on that artificial pitch.

“I ended up with a burst disc in my neck. I needed a bone graft and that ended my playing career so I went into coaching. I not only loved goalkeeping but I loved coaching the position too and thought I would like to give something back to goalkeepers. Because I had never had any full-time specialist coaching, we were just left to our own devices.

By Rex/Shutterstock
Joe Corrigan working alongside Roy Evans as a goalkeeping coach at Liverpool.

“I became a sort of freelance goalkeeping coach. I worked at Aberdeen, Celtic, Middlesbrough, Leeds United, Chester City –it was fantastic but driving around was very tiring. I was approached by Liverpool to join them on a part-time basis and then Bryan Robson asked me if I wanted to work full-time at Middlesbrough.

“So I went to see Liverpool manager Roy Evans to tell him and he said: ‘You’re not going anywhere, we want you to be our full-time goalkeeping coach’. And I had ten great years with Liverpool. After that I went to West Bromwich Albion until 2009, then had a year at Hull City, did a bit of coaching for England and became a full-time England scout, looking at goalkeepers in all age groups.”

But even a decade at Anfield left Joe no doubts where his loyalty lay during last season’s race for the title. “No, no, I’m blue through and through,” he says. “But I count myself fortunate to have worked for a club that I have always regarded as my second team. That goes back to my early days in goal for City and my first game at Anfield.

“Normally Liverpool like to attack the Kop goal in the second half but on this occasion they decided to change ends to put this novice keeper under early pressure. So I had to run up to The Kop straight away and as I got near, someone threw a pork pie onto the pitch. I picked it up, took a bite out of it and threw it back. In today’s game I’d have been arrested for throwing a projectile into the crowd but that day The Kop cheered and cheered and cheered. And we had an affinity until I left as a coach in 2004.”

Albion are another club close to his heart of course, and he gives them an outside chance at the Etihad Stadium. “Early in the season, and I’ve seen it so many times, can be the worst time to play a team like Brighton, because they are fresh and up for it, with a newish coach to impress. City have had a lot of players away in summer, so pre-season training isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. They are truly great players, but it will be interesting. City have already dropped points against Tottenham, although they played phenomenally well.”

By Rex/Shutterstock
Manchester City's players celebrate.

As he watches this weekend’s game between teams led by coaches who expect goalkeepers to be comfortable with the ball at their feet and to start attacks with a pass rather than a drop kick, will he wish he was playing in Pep Guardiola’s side?

“The first thing to say is that goalkeepers in my day were all mad as hatters and of course we were always the best outfield players at five-a-side. We always wanted to play out because we were sick and tired of the work we had to do in goal!

“The goalkeeper has changed so much. He is now a defender who happens to wear a pair of gloves. We were shot-stoppers who also came out for crosses. But of course conditions are so different now.

“We could never have played out from the back on the muddy, bumpy goalmouths we had to deal with. Today they are superb with their feet, but I don’t know if even the best of them could have adapted to the surfaces we had to cope with.

“The goalkeepers of my era are amazed at the quality of the pitches they play on nowadays. Some of us would still have been playing if the grass had been like it is now, so it does make you wonder.

“But I wouldn’t have changed one second of the career I had and a lot of the lads have said the same to me. With today’s social media you couldn’t have wandered around Brighton in a blonde wig and tutu standing next to a frogman at a bus stop and got away with it.”

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