Tears, tantrums and titles: Les Chapman on 22 years at Man City

By Mike KeeganBBC Sport
Les Chapman
Les Chapman was originally brought to Manchester City by Peter Reid

From darning holes in socks for Division Two grafters on less than £1,000 a week to ordering dozens of new shirts every match for global superstars picking up more than £200,000, it has been a varied 22 years for Les Chapman.

But the former Manchester City kit man, who cleaned his last pair of boots last season, says one thing summed up the astonishing change at the club more than anything else.

"We got kit skips with wheels on," he says. "That was when we knew."

Much else has changed since "Chappy" walked through the doors for the first time in 1992. Homely Maine Road, tucked among the red-brick terraced houses of inner-city suburb Moss Side, is now a housing estate.

At the side of Etihad Stadium, the club's expanding home, the finishing touches are being put to a £200m training complex which features a media theatre, 16 pitches and its own 7,000-capacity stadium.

In the place of then chairman Peter Swales, the local fishmonger's son who sold televisions, is an Abu Dhabi sheikh who has spent more than £1bn since arriving in 2008.

Gone from the front of the shirts is a sponsor that made sewing machines, replaced by one that flies airplanes.

Les Chapman
Chapman played 749 times for clubs including Oldham, Huddersfield and San Jose Earthquakes

Chapman, 65, has had a front row seat to the transformation. He has had access most could only dream of. One day he could be plotting the now famous "Why Always Me?" T-shirt Mario Balotelli unveiled after scoring in the Manchester derby, the next could find him taking the mickey out of goalkeeper Joe Hart's shampoo advertisments or jetting off to Spain international David Silva's Canary Islands retreat.

Proudly wearing an engraved Rolex watch which City's players bought him as a "leaving present" - he will now interview players, entertain supporters on match days and star in videos for the club's website - Chapman gives a fascinating glimpse into the characters he has encountered inside the City dressing rooms.

Mario and the Father Christmas cash giveaway

Did Balotelli really, as rumours claimed, drive around Moss Side dressed as Father Christmas handing out wads of cash?

Former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli
Chapman printed the famous 'Why Always Me' T-shirt after a training-ground summit with Mario Balotelli

Chapman pauses for thought, presumably wondering what he can and cannot say.

"Whatever you read about Mario is probably true," he explains diplomatically. "He was predictably unpredictable. A brilliant talent, always an individual. A complete one-off and an enigma.

"You could talk about Mario for ever. He did some ridiculous things. He was a bit of a loose cannon but he has a lot of endearing qualities about him."

Peter Schmeichel: from great guy to monster

Mario, however, was not his trickiest customer. That accolade goes to a man who made his name on the other side of the city, winning five Premier League titles and a Champions League final in eight glittering years at United before crossing the divide - after spells with Sporting Lisbon and Aston Villa - for a season with City in 2002-03.

Peter Schmeichel
Peter Schmeichel transformed into a "monster" on match days, according to Les Chapman

"No," he says. "That was Peter Schmeichel. He was a great guy during the week and then on a Saturday he turned into a monster.

"He would arrive in the dressing room and I would have to hide his gloves so nobody could see or touch them and I would have to produce them about 40 seconds before he went out.

"He had a nine-and-a-half boot and a ten-and-a-half boot and then he'd have three new kits. One for warm-up, one for each half and three new vests every week because he said when they were washed they wouldn't fit him.

"I can remember him having 92 shirts one season which was unheard of at the time - now they have two per game. Sergio Aguero has four because all the opposition players want to swap with him."

Th'Arty and th'Aguero

Chapman is the man who hands out nicknames to the players. Hailing from Oldham, many have a Lancastrian edge. Aguero is "th'Aguero," Joe Hart is "th'Arty" - you get the picture.

Les Chapman
Chapman was close to both Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez

The trio of Serbian defender Matija Nastasic, Montenegro striker Stevan Jovetic and Spanish winger Jesus Navas are referred to simply as "Nas", "Jov" and "Nav".

Richard Dunne, the no-nonsense ex-City defender and Republic of Ireland international now at QPR was, strangely enough, known as "Linford", after legendary British sprinter Linford Christie.

Chapman explains: "We were playing a match and Richard came flying out of nowhere to nick the ball off a winger. Nicky Weaver, the keeper at the time, couldn't believe it and shouted out that he was like Linford Christie. From then on he was Linford."

Hart's shampoo advert and not-so-boring Milner

Joe Hart
Joe Hart is one of City's dressing-room leaders, according to Chapman

England's number one starred in a television advert for a brand of shampoo before the country's disappointing World Cup campaign that even prompted former Three Lions boss Glenn Hoddle to poke fun at him.

It did not go unnoticed at the club.

"We gave him grief for three weeks every day about that advert," says Chapman. "But then he started producing cartons of the stuff for everybody so that quietened down."

From one England man to another. Clean-living James Milner is the subject of a Twitter parody account @boringmilner,external-link that pokes fun at his being dull and has 308,000 followers.

So is such ribbing justified?

"No," says Chapman, firmly. "He's a very interesting lad who raises thousands for charity. He's not a mad flamboyant character but he enjoys a laugh."

A close shave for a body-conscious Bulgarian, stylish Samir and Tony Tramp

Chapman has witnessed a variety of quirky characters over the years but says a Bulgarian striker who made only 11 appearances for the club will never be forgotten.

Former Manchester City striker Valeri Bojinov
Former City striker Valeri Bojinov, pictured here playing for Lecce, had an interesting dressing-room habit

"Valeri Bojinov used to shave the whole of his body," he declares. "Everything apart from his head and his eyebrows, in the shower. The water used to wash it all away, thankfully."

While Bojinov clearly paid close attention to his appearance, Chapman names Samir Nasri as the most stylish player and current Blackburn Rovers first-team coach Tony Grant as the scruffiest.

"We used to call him Tony Tramp," he muses.

Pleasant Pellegrini

Manuel Pellegrini
Manuel Pellegrini is said to have lifted the mood at City after the departure of Roberto Mancini

Former manager Roberto Mancini, who won a Premier League and FA Cup but is said to have alienated many of City's staff before his departure last year, is not mentioned. Chapman's description of Manuel Pellegrini, however, seems to suggest he is everything his predecessor was not.

"He's a very polite man," he says. "A very nice man, he shakes your hand, says hello. He doesn't shout and rant and rave. He's an intelligent man who knows what he has to do. He never makes any special requests, there's nothing flash about him and he's really down to earth."

Chapman knows all about being a manager following a caretaker spell in charge of Rochdale in the 1980s ("If you're a senior player with four working brain cells, chances are the board will give you the job"), and stints at Stockport County ("I fell out with the chairman") and Preston North End ("They sacked me but the timing was great because I went to City").

On Monday, Chapman jetted out with the squad for the club's tour of the United States where they will take on some of Europe's superpowers in some of the country's biggest arenas.

Each player will be kitted out in tailor-made equipment from Nike polo shirts to suits provided by Harvey Nichols.

"I saw a video of a match against Liverpool from 1993-94 the other day," says Chapman, reflecting on the changes.

"Every single City player was wearing an 'XL' shirt - it wasn't a style choice - it was all we had."

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