Think back, if you will, to another weekend in May. The time is 4.42pm on Sunday May 30th 1999 and Robert Taylor has just put Gillingham, managed by Tony Pulis, 2-0 ahead against Manchester City in the Football League Second Division play-off final. If I told you right there, right then, that 12 years later City would win the FA Cup, against another Tony Pulis side, would qualify for the Champions League and be the richest club in the world? Well... I think I'd have been locked up!
This is the one I wanted. Not the League Cup, not even the Premier League and certainly not the Champions League qualification. You see as a kid everyone knew who had won the FA Cup. Winning the league was important, certainly, however the FA Cup - now that was a little bit special.
Who won the league in 1973, I couldn't tell you, but the FA Cup is easy. That was the Sunderland of Bob Stokoe, Jimmy Montgomery, Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes, Ian Porterfield and Dennis Tueart. Or 1974 when Keegan and Liverpool won; 1975 a Bobby Moore led Fulham lost to West Ham; 1976 and Southampton's upset over Man United. I could go on, the 1977 final I missed because we were at a camp in Hexham in Northumberland, but I still know United beat Liverpool to prevent the Treble and 1978 where Bobby Robson's Ipswich, who had beaten my home town Hartlepool earlier in the competition, knocked off Arsenal 1-0.
Of all of those the only League Champion I know, without looking it up, is Liverpool in 1977 and that's specifically because they lost the Treble when they lost in the Cup Final to United. Cup Final day was different too. It was an all day affair with wall-to-wall coverage by both the BBC and ITV, the latter featuring the late great Brian Moore. You didn't go anywhere, you didn't do anything else. Everyone watched the Cup Final.
There was none of this abomination that sees the Premier League play games prior to the start of the final. Screw the lawyers, come the revolution the first ones up against the wall are the prats that came up with that.
The FA Cup mattered... over everything else in football.
I've received some comments asking why I didn't write a column about beating Spurs and qualifying for the Champions League and the honest truth is that I really don't care. We came fourth, in the league. Yawn! I know it's important for the long term of the success of the club and there will be some great nights ahead for the club. And I'll enjoy them, but it's not winning. It's just qualifying for a UEFA cheapened competition that bastardizes what was a truly great institution, the European Cup. Frankly I think United should be in a champions competition in Europe, because they are, you know, the champions and City, Chelsea, Arsenal shouldn't be there.
But the FA Cup. City didn't get fourth in the FA Cup and then qualify for something. Manchester City are the WINNERS of the FA Cup. They beat the best, literally in this case having ousted United in the semi-final, in the best domestic club competition in the world. It's been a long time coming, no not 35 years since the League Cup victory as the club is so often reminded by our neighbours, rather the 42 years since Francis Lee, Mike Summerbee, Colin Bell, Tony Booth, Tony Book, Alan Oakes and the late Neil Young beat Leicester 1-0 in 1969.
City will, I suspect, build on this. The ability to offer Champions League football will attract even better players and nothing beats the confidence derived from winning - there's a reason why the statement is made that winning the first is the hardest. And yet even if City go on to challenge for and even win the Premier League and Champions League this will remain the stake in the ground.
May 14th 2011. FA Cup Winners - Manchester City
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