EXCLUSIVE: Former Manchester City boss Brian Horton opens up on his prostate battle and fascinating football life: ‘I’ve never felt better… if they hadn’t told me I had cancer, I would never have known’
- Brian Horton is battling prostate cancer but his passion for football burns bright
- The ex-Manchester City boss discusses his fight and an eventful life in the game
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Coming Up!’
Ilkay Gundogan was scoring the goals to win the FA Cup and Pep Guardiola was securing part two of the Treble, while high in Wembley’s corporate lounges one of his predecessors was deep in conversation about prostate cancer with the son of a club legend.
Brian Horton was still coming to terms with the diagnosis. ‘I had no symptoms and had never felt better,’ says the 74-year-old. ‘If they hadn’t told me, I would never have known.’
His friend Steve Parkin, assistant manager at Wrexham, had convinced him to sign up for the routine health check offered by the League Managers Association at a hospital in Cheshire where doctor Sally Harris was concerned by the test results and sent him for a scan.
‘Cancer is a big word,’ says Horton. ‘It’s a word everybody dreads. My daughter was expecting a baby and I didn’t want to tell her. I didn’t tell her until later, because I didn’t want her worrying.
‘But they told me luckily they had caught it early, it was small and treatable. I feel very positive about it, really. Most footballers are generally positive. Go and get tested, that’s the message.’
Brian Horton has opened up on his battle with prostate cancer and urged: ‘Go and get tested’
The 74-year-old took a routine health check, was sent for a scan and diagnosed with cancer
Horton’s good fortune extended to a seat near Jon Bell on Cup final day. Not only is Bell a son of Colin, the former City and England maestro who was brought back to Maine Road to work as an ambassador to the youth players when Horton became manager in 1993, he is also a senior consultant at the Christie, the world-leading cancer treatment centre in Manchester.
‘I told my wife I was going over to have a word,’ recalls Horton. ‘I knew Jon was one of the top people at the Christie and had looked after Bernard Halford, the former secretary at City, when he was ill so I went over and said, “Jon, I’ve been diagnosed”.
‘I told him what I’d been told. I had literally just found out. I hadn’t told anybody except my wife. He was very calm, listened and said, “OK, these are your options”. He explained what they were but that he couldn’t influence me. He’s been very supportive.’
Even the serious nature of the discussion could not distract from the thrill of beating Manchester United and winning the Cup. ‘Oh yeah,’ says Horton. ‘With City scoring in the first minute and winning, I was definitely able to enjoy it.’
On the opening day of this Premier League season, Horton was at the Amex Stadium to see Brighton against Luton when he ran into Mick Harford, an old pal and chief recruitment officer for the Hatters.
Harford, aged 64, received a prostate cancer diagnosis in 2020 and made a decision to tackle it in the open, keen to get men talking and raise awareness of a disease that is curable if detected quickly but can show no symptoms in its early stages. It is the most common cancer in men and research shows those most at risk are black men, the over 50s and those with prostate cancer in the family.
Harford’s outlook convinced Horton to do the same. Neither of them were ever backwards in stepping forward as players and their approach to cancer has proved equally forthright.
Horton has started the medication ahead of a course of brachytherapy, treatment with tiny radioactive seeds placed inside the prostate to target the cancer, which will begin at the Christie before the end of the year.
He stills attends games regularly but has not been involved in day-to-day football for nearly five years. Eight months at Swindon Town as assistant manager to Phil Brown closed a career of more than 2,000 games.
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Mick Harford (pictured in January 2022) encouraged Horton to tackle his diagnosis in the open
Horton still attends games regularly but has not been involved in day-to-day football for nearly five years, after a career spanning more than 2,000 games at over half a dozen English clubs
As a player, he represented five clubs at senior level from West Midlands amateur football at Hednesford to a professional breakthrough at Port Vale and top-flight football with Brighton and Luton Town.
Gordon Lee, the Vale boss who plucked him from non-League, liked to joke he signed Horton for the price of a pint of shandy.
His career took him to nine different clubs as a player and manager – and his ex-Port Vale boss joked that he plucked Horton from non-league for the price of a pint of shandy
‘He came to watch us at Brierley Hill and Granville Palin was player-manager and he couldn’t very well speak to him during the game so Gordon bought the secretary a shandy and they started talking. We went back and played them in a pre-season game so they took the receipts as a fee.’
Either way it looked a bargain when ambitious Brighton paid £30,000 to sign him six years later. Peter Taylor, renowned for his eye for talent, was manager but soon left for Nottingham Forest where he reunited with Brian Clough.
Alan Mullery took over and the Seagulls soared from the third tier to the first. Horton scored on the day they clinched promotion to the top flight for the first time, a 3-1 win at Newcastle in 1979.
‘People said, “Why are you going to Brighton, it’s not a football town?”, but the night we got promoted from the Third Division there were 34,000 packed into the Goldstone Ground and that carried on. It’s always been a football town. Now thanks to Tony Bloom and his family they’re back at the top, playing wonderful football with a scouting system, a stadium and a training ground that are as good as anywhere.’
Horton moved into coaching at 35 as player-manager of Hull City and spent five years at Oxford United before the call from Manchester City in the Premier League to replace Peter Reid.
Horton saw a lot in football. He even said he saw Robbie Williams smoking in the shower!
He finds the football that Pep Guardiola creates ‘amazing’ and would ‘love to see City train’
‘It lasted only 20 months but it was great,’ he recalls. ‘I set out to play the most attacking football I could. Two things stand out: beating Blackburn away in the year they won the league and beating Tottenham 5-2 at Maine Road. John Motson told me it was one of the best games he’d commentated on, and a lot of people remember it because the football was incredible.’
Although, Horton would admit, nothing like the mesmeric football conjured by Guardiola. ‘The first half of the Real Madrid game last season was the best I’ve ever witnessed,’ he says. ‘The football Pep is playing is just amazing. I’d love to see them train to find out what he does because he must do something different.’
Horton’s managerial path took him back to Brighton, when they were homeless and broke, and Port Vale, where he caught pop star Robbie Williams smoking in the showers before a testimonial. ‘He’d performed in front of thousands. I didn’t realise how nervous he was until the smoke came drifting into the dressing room.’
His former clubs have promised to support his quest to raise awareness for prostate cancer, including Manchester City and Brighton who meet tomorrow. Horton will be in the stands, doing his best to stay on the fence.
You can check your risk in 30 seconds at prostatecanceruk.org/riskcheck
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