Having made his debut for Manchester City at just 17 before going on to make over 500 appearances for the club, Joe Corrigan remains a legend in the blue half of the city. Capped nine times for his country in a period when English goalkeepers where the best in the world, STEVE MITCHELL sat down for a chat with the big custodian to look back on a fabulous career not only as a player, but as a highly regarded coach and what it was like to have the best seat in the house for one of Wembley’s most iconic moments.
SM: So, before we look back at your career, what’s Joe Corrigan up to these days?
JC: I’m currently a match-day club ambassador for Manchester City. This involves going around the corporate boxes and hospitality lounges in a kind of meet and greet capacity. I’ve been doing the job since 2012.
SM: Let’s go right back to the beginning; as a Manchester lad, were you always a City fan?
JC: Since I can remember I always wanted to be a goalkeeper and being brought up in Sale, most of my family were actually United fans so I used to end up going to Old Trafford. Then one day, my dad said to me if you want to be a goalkeeper, you should go down to Maine Road and take a look at Bert Trautmann. After this I started going to watch City on a regular basis.
SM: How did a move to Maine Road come about?
JC: I was playing in a competition at Trafford Park when a guy came up to me and asked if I’d fancy a trial at one of the Manchester clubs. I thought there would be no chance of getting in but then a little while later I was given a card from Harry Godwin who was City’s chief scout asking if I’d come to Maine Road. A week later I played in the trial game and afterwards, Harry took me upstairs and I signed for City that night at 17.
SM: Tell me who your early influences were, Joe.
JC: Bert Trautmann of course and Harry Gregg, who was United’s goalkeeper when I was a kid. All my mates wanted to be like George Best and Bobby Charlton, whereas I wanted to be a keeper.
SM: Can you remember your debut for City?
JC: For sure; it was October 11th, 1967 against Blackpool at Maine Road
SM: Just three years later you were playing in two cup finals…
JC: That’s right, we got to the League Cup Final against West Brom and won 2-1 and the Cup Winners Cup Final where we played Gornik Zabrze in Austria and beat them by the same score. 1970 was also the year I got called up to the England Under 23 squad so it was a memorable time in my career. I was used mainly in the cup competitions by (manager) Joe Mercer so I was proud of my achievements.
SM: 1976 was also a proud year for the Corrigan family I believe?
JC: Certainly was, I got my full England international call-up. We played Newcastle United in the League Cup Final and beat them 2-1 then at the end of the season, Peter Shilton, for some unknown reason, decided to pull out of the England squad for the Bi-Centennial tour to America. Don Revie selected me in his place. I’d had a couple of bad years with injuries so I couldn’t believe it when Revie called me into his squad.
SM: And to think football could have lost Joe Corrigan to Rugby Union…
JC: Not really, I went to a grammar school and I was a fairly decent player. I did get a trial for England schools but injured my arm so couldn’t go. Football has always been my life however.
SM: Was it a source of frustration for you to always be behind Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence in the England pecking order?
JC: Not really, I always considered myself to be as good as any of them but it’s a game of opinions and if the manager doesn’t think you’re the best for the job then you don’t play – simple as that. Looking at it from another point of view, I was privileged to play in what I consider to be the golden age for England goalkeepers. It wasn’t all about Shilton and Clemence because there was the likes of Jimmy Rimmer and Phil Parkes too. Most top-flight sides had good English goalkeepers around that time.
SM: Did you feel when Ron Greenwood replaced Revie that there was a chance you could become a regular first-choice for your country?
JC: Not really, you knew straight away that he was going to stick with Peter and Ray. All’s I would say in my defence is that I’d never played in a relegation side and I’d spent my entire career up to then in the top-flight. But the current post holder(s) always holds all the cards and it’s their place to lose. To be fair, in those days we didn’t play too many friendly matches so it was difficult for the national team boss to try out different options.
SM: Let’s take a look at the 78-79 campaign and City were strongly fancied to make a title challenge. Unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way. In your opinion, what went wrong?
JC: It was a culmination of things really, we tried to compete with (Manchester) United and we couldn’t as they are an institution. I also don’t think the money we spent on new players was spent wisely. We’d come close to winning the league in ‘76 and we should have pushed on but we didn’t and it’s a time at the club that I don’t remember with much fondness to be honest. It was just another forgettable chapter in the City saga.
SM: OK let’s talk about the 1981 FA Cup Final against Spurs. Is it true you got the Man-of-the-Match award in both games?
JC: That’s exactly right. After the first match, Bob Wilson, who is a good mate of mine, was working pitch side for BBC and he came over and told me I’d won the award but they were not going to present it to me as the game had gone to a replay. After the Thursday replay I won the award for that match too so I ended up getting both trophies.
Can you believe that in their infinite wisdom, the FA decided to make the replay the following Thursday, the night after England had played against Brazil. I was in the squad but had to withdraw because of the replay. It was a laughable scenario as this was the first time they’d decided to have the replay at Wembley.
Also, the FA put the replay tickets on sale on the Sunday after the first match and only made them available from the Wembley box office so City fans were heavily outnumbered by Spurs fans for the second game.
SM: So, I have to ask you about Ricky Villa and THAT goal. Does it still haunt you to this day?
JC: I’ve seen it so many times that I’m still waiting for the day that I actually save it! Seriously though, looking back I was certain that game was going to go to penalties and in hindsight, I really wish somebody would have taken one for the team. In the end, I saw the ball poke out from under his foot and that was that. There was nothing I could have done about it.
The worst memory for me was on the way home; Tommy Hutchinson, who if you remember scored in the first game then was unfortunate with the deflection for their equaliser, said to me that he didn’t want to ever see those twin towers again in his life. I’ve always believed the FA Cup Final should be settled on the day.
SM: Let’s move on to 1983. You bid farewell to City and move stateside…
JC: I went to play for Seattle Sounders and I really enjoyed myself. The football wasn’t as intense as in Europe even though the team was going through a rough time. Bob Wilson and I had been over to Seattle before to help out with some goalkeeping camps so I knew the place really well and had a great affection for it. Unfortunately, two years later the franchise had folded after the NASL had gone bust.
I could have stayed out in the US but I had young children and was anxious to get them settled back in the UK. Don’t get me wrong, they had an excellent education in Seattle but when I knew the franchise was going to fold, I wanted to get back home.
SM: So you returned home to play for Brighton…
JC: They were a Second Division club at the time, but I had a fabulous time there. Unfortunately, after losing in the FA Cup Final in ‘83 and going down they fell on hard times and as I was one of the big earners at the club, I was one of the players they decided to offload. In fact, it was while I was playing with Brighton that I picked up the injury that eventually finished my career. I tried to carry on at Norwich and Stoke but time had caught up with me so I called it a day at 35.
SM: So you never wanted to become a manager?
JC: Absolutely not, having seen what it did to the likes of Tony Book I thought there’s no way I’m letting that happen to me. I swear by the time he left City in ‘79 he looked like a different person due to the stress.
SM: But you went into coaching right?
JC: Yes. Bob Wilson had been coaching for a while and I always said I’d like to put something back into the game that had been so good to me. At that time goalkeeping coaches were quite a new thing but in 1994 I joined Liverpool on a full-time basis.
SM: I was going to ask about your time at Anfield…
JC: I had ten really good years there. When I joined, Bruce Grobbelaar was still at the club then I took David James under my wing and I was the one who recommended the club bring Brad Friedel to England. He’s one of the best keepers I’ve ever worked with.
After that there was Sander Westerveld, Jerzy Dudek and Chris Kirkland so I was fortunate to work with some top class players.
SM: So, what made you leave the club?
JC: Basically, it was when Rafael Benitez came in and brought his own backroom staff. We had been told by the chairman and chief executive that if we finished in the top four the previous season our jobs would be safe, so after we achieved this I went out to see my sister in Australia. While I was out there Phil Thompson rang me to say that he and Sammy Lee had been sacked and when I got back I got a call from Rick Parry. When I picked up the phone I said to him that you’re ringing me to tell me I’ve been sacked aren’t you?
SM: Finally Joe, what’s the one moment that stands out from such a distinguished career?
JC: There are two actually. The first one was when Harry Godwin took me out to the centre circle at Maine Road having just signed for City and said to me “Joe, take a look around, listen to your coaches and one day this could be yours”.
The second one is getting the call to play for England at full international level. Having played football putting two coats down on the road for goals to playing for your country made me so, so proud. I may have only played nine times for England but nobody can take that away from me.
FOLLOW THE WHOLE 1978-79 SEASON IN THE ENGLISH FIRST DIVISION WITH STEVE MITCHELL HERE ON THE FOOTBALL PINK. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @barafundler