Clive Allen was signed by Mel Machin for £1,000,000 in the summer of 1989 to add some experience and punch to the City front line following a last-minute promotion the previous season. Allen’s pedigree was impressive, having scored prolifically for Q.P.R. in Division 2 and bagging 49 goals in all competitions for Spurs in 1986-87 before signing for Bordeaux.
His first City goal was ironically the only goal of the game against Q.P.R. in August 1989 and he then missed a few games through injury. Upon his return he added a stunning volley from outside the penalty area to earn a last-minute point at Chelsea and ended up as top scorer for City in his first season, a campaign in which Machin was sacked in November as City struggled against relegation. New manager Howard Kendall persevered with Allen as City’s main striker for a while, but signed Arsenal forward Niall Quinn in the early spring to boost the Blues’ firepower as the relegation battle reached an exciting climax.
City survived but Kendall made various changes in the close season dropping Allen and skipper Steve Redmond to the substitutes’ bench, employing Paul Lake as a sweeper and making the young midfielder his captain. Allen bided his time and made a few substitute appearances but even after Kendall left for Everton in the November he was still overlooked by new manager Peter Reid in favour of the boss’s former Goodison teammate Adrian Heath.
There was an interesting incident during a fourth round F.A. Cup tie at Port Vale however, as the Blues struggled to contain the home side after surrendering an early lead. City won a corner on the right with the score at 1-1 about mid-way through the second half. Allen nudged Reid on the bench and said, “Put me on right now Boss, I’ll get us a goal from this”. Reid, for want of a better plan to avoid a replay or even an embarrassing defeat to lower league opposition, gave the ex-England man his chance. Allen ran into the penalty area, still tying the lace of his shorts as the corner came across. The ball eluded everyone until it came to him at about shoulder height and he crashed a thumping header into the net for the winner. Reid described the incident during his post-match interview, “Clive said he’d get me a goal and he was as good as his word. I’ll never doubt him again.”
Allen still found it difficult to start games for City but scored twice in a 3-3 home draw against Southampton at Easter. By this time Heath was still an automatic first choice although he hadn’t scored since notching the only goal in a home win over Everton in the second match of the season. The Blues’ support was now baying for Allen to be given his chance by the manger who’d said he would never doubt him again, but Reid persisted. City eventually finished fifth with Quinn finishing as top scorer and Heath still with only one solitary goal. During the close-season Reid set up a deal to sell Allen to Luton Town for £350,000 but the player refused to agree terms preferring to stay at Maine Road and battle for a first team place. Reid needed the money to fund further recruitment and was to have his revenge in the coming season.
City made a promising start to the 1991-92 season but despite injuries to Niall Quinn and Adrian Heath, Allen still couldn’t get a start. In fact, by now he was being completely ignored by Reid who made him train with the youth team. However, when City travelled to Notts County for a league fixture on a Sunday in early October, the manager was so short of strikers he had no option but to recall Allen to the bench. The Blues served up a dismal showing against the relegation favourites and fell behind early in the second half before Mike Sheron missed a penalty. The travelling support bellowed for Allen to be introduced against poor opposition and Reid was left with no alternative but to bring the Londoner in from the cold. Within minutes he’d equalised with a penalty and dragged City back into the game. Sheron added a second before Allen swooped acrobatically to add a low-level third. As he turned away after scoring, player-boss Reid was the first to meet him and both men were seen to exchange harsh words and snarls. Allen duly pushed his manager away to take the acclaim of the crowd, kissing the badge of his shirt in the process (this was before it became de rigeur for players to do so). Two nights later Allen scored twice again as City disposed of Chester City 3-1 in the League Cup, but the die had been cast: barely a month later Quinn and Heath were restored as the strike force and Allen had been sold to Chelsea for £200,000.
Allen struggled to make any impact at Stamford Bridge and within two months was on the move again, this time to West Ham United. He was not in the Hammers’ side which was relegated in a 2-0 defeat at Maine Road though and never really got the chance to say goodbye to the City supporters, who had backed him since the day he signed for the club. His career continued on a downward spiral with each subsequent transfer taking him to a lesser club until he hung up his boots. Allen had a short stint as a specialist goal-kicker for the London Monarchs gridiron team but later moved on to working for ITV and Sky Sports as a pundit. City fans - me included, obviously – still argue that Clive Allen was poorly treated by Peter Reid despite proving his value to the club on several occasions, and have never really forgiven Reid for his error of judgment.