Bored, and with a few minutes to kill, I was surfing youtube the other day when I came across the renowned clip of City’s last-minute equalizer by a heavily-obscured Paul Lake at Blackpool in the 4th round of the FA Cup at 1998 (if you haven’t yet seen it, then I question your life choices) and the MASSIVE crowd celebration that ensued.
I started to think back to occasions like those witnessed that day – the unbridled joy of a crucial goal, the madness of the celebration, the bruises and the stories to tell. So I thought I’d list my favourites.
As a sporadic attender of away games, there are bound to be some historic celebrations omitted here – this is my personal choice after all, from the games available. Some thrashings are not included either – was there really a specific moment in the 5-1, the 1-6 or the 10-1 that made me barrel down three rows of seats? Not really, the joy was in the experience as a whole, one celebration after the other, though I do have a soft spot for the moment in 1987 when City scored their 10th goal against Huddersfield. So with that in mind, here’s what I chose, and feel free to add your favourites in the comments section.
Bradford City (a) – May 13th 1989
Ah, the good old days – but a bit of nostalgia I’m happy to embrace. City were being their typical selves, desperately trying not to get promoted, but in the end even they couldn’t mess it up. They gave it a good try though – the previous week, City were on the cusp of promotion, cruising at half-time against Bournemouth, three goals to the good. Eddie Large, who sat on the bench on those days (don’t ask) popped in to the dressing room to provide some half-time entertainment, City fell to pieces and a Luther Blissett goal deep into injury time snatched Bournemouth the unlikeliest of points. You couldn’t make it up.
And so to the last game at Bradford, where City needed a point to be sure of promotion. Defeat could mean being overtaken by Crystal Palace if they thrashed their opponents. Naturally City made life tough for themselves, going behind to a Mark Ellis goal in the 24th minute. Rumours abounded that Palace were rampant, and city dominated but could not make the breakthrough. But at long last, with just four minutes left on the clock, David White raced clear and crossed for Trevor Morley to slide home the equaliser. Cue pandemonium in the crowd, as City could start celebrating a return to the First Division. In the end it didn’t matter, a 1-0 defeat would have been just enough to secure promotion ahead of Crystal Palace on goal difference, who themselves came up via the Play-Offs.
Wembley – 30th May 1999 – 2nd Division Play-Off Final v Gillingham
As Thom Yorke once said, no surprises. An obvious choice, but a necessary one.
This was of course City’s first season in the third tier of English football, now looked back on by some with dewy-eyed nostalgia, as if the season was actually enjoyable. On the whole, it was nothing of the sort, matters not helped by United’s most successful ever season. From the nadir of the mid-season’s 2-1 defeat at York City though, City rallied and reached the play-offs, squeezing past Wigan Athletic with a Shaun Goater goal that definitely did not brush off his arm.
And so to a gloomy Wembley, as hordes of City fans travelled south, taking the weather with them, to witness a game that did not truly spring to life until Carl Asaba put Gillingham ahead in the 81st minute. You should know what happened thereafter.
Like Dzeko’s goal against QPR, Kevin Horlock’s late goal seemed scant consolation, just adding to the frustration of the day. And then, with 94:08 on the clock, Paul Dickov scored past his best man, followed by the legendary cross-pitch slide, and the joy of the greatest fan celebration I had ever been involved in – until that point at least. A goal too struck from almost the same spot as Sergio Aguero thirteen years later.
Strangely, I never doubted City thereafter despite the rather uneventful extra time and the lottery that is penalties. A year later City were back in the “big time” with promotion to the Premier League, and the importance of that goal truly sunk home. The 4-1 win in front of 250,000 City fans at Blackburn that following season was also special, but without one defining moment, as City, eventually, ran out comfortable winners.
Villa Park – February 19th 2006. FA Cup 5th round.
It might not have been the most important goal in City’s history, but it’s right up there for crowd celebrations. A midweek FA Cup tie, the worst burger I have ever consumed and a game where City dominated but could not get the crucial goal. Then Milan Baros waltzed through with under 15 inutes to go and the rest is history.
Or so we thought.
Typical City, going out despite all the pressure, but then deep into injury time. 17-year-old Micah Richards leapt like a salmon on heat to bullet a header home from a Joey Barton corner won by Lee Croft, in front of the City fans, most of whom were subsequently propelled in numerous directions in the celebrations as Micah jumped into the crowd. There’s something quite special about a last minute cup equalizer, it’s hard to beat.
Richards capped off the night by swearing in the post-match interview and City won the replay, but it was all in vain ultimately as West Ham beat us at The City of Manchester stadium in the next round, the quarter finals, just as some of us dared to dream our name was finally on the cup. I’ve hated Dean Ashton ever since.
FA Cup Semi Final, Wembley, 16th April 2011.
To be something of a killjoy, as I often am, this does not rank right up there as one of the greatest celebrations, as it was not a definitive moment in a match, more a case of “advantage Manchester City”.
Still, a momentous moment, and the start of the period when United were finally knocked off their perch, a defining moment if nothing else. As Yaya turbo charged into the area, the outcome seemed inevitable. As the ball hit the back of the net, the relief was palpable, the joy unconfined. A Paul Scholes red card just made the day even sweeter, and a minority of United fans took defeat with the grace you’d expect and attacked families on Wembley Way. Allegedly.
The Etihad 2012 – you know the rest.
Which game could I possibly be referring to? Obvious choice number two, and the greatest of them all? Yes, because of what was at stake, which doesn’t even bear thinking about. Even when I watch a replay now, I feel anguish in the pit of my stomach, contemplating the consequences of Aguero firing the ball over the bar. This was the most important goal of my life, because City could survive a 2nd season in the 2nd division, but to have thrown away our first title in 44 years would have been too much to contemplate – I still remember that feeling in my whole body in the time between QPR’s 2nd goal and injury time – I never want to experience it again, and without that goal, the summer of 2012 would have involved disconnecting my internet connection and slowly rocking back and forth in a dimly-lit box room whilst gently sobbing. The mental scars would have remained with the club for a long, long time.
The celebration? Well it’s unique to each and every one of you, whether at the ground, walking down the spiral in despair, or sat at home, your whole life on hold, the rest of the year seemingly defined by what happened in the subsequent two minutes. Up in the south stand 2nd tier corner, I hugged every man, woman and child I could find, celebrated like I’ve never celebrated before, and was bruised for weeks.
Oh to relive that experience again. Just once, in order to drink it all in all over again. It’s sobering to think I’ll never celebrate like that again, but then how could it ever be topped? I guess I should be thankful I experienced something that magical at least once.
And finally… The one I wished I had been at…… (apart from that Blackpool match)
Tottenham Hotspur 3 Manchester City 4 – White Hart Lane, 4th February 2004, FA Cup 4th Round
You can’t beat a good comeback, especially with ten men, in the FA Cup. Joey Barton red cards seem to figure heavily in City’s history, though this time it did us few favours. Or maybe somehow, bizarrely, it did.
Three down and a man down as the second half commenced, it was surely game over for City after a dismal first 45 minutes that was all too easy for the home side. “We’re 3-0 down and a man down,” Keegan said to his coach Derek Fazackerley as they came back out for the second half. “Where’s the nearest job centre?”
No need for google maps Kevin, as Sylvin Distin scored a good header from a Michael Tarnat free kick, and when Paul Bosvelt’s shot was deflected in, Spurs really began to wobble. A marginally offside Shaun Wright-Phillips scored a delightful equalizer, then in the 90th minute up popped Jon Macken to curl a header in for the mother of all comebacks.
A special mention too for goalkeeper Arni Arason, whose spectacular double save at 3-1 turned out to be crucial, and Sun Jihai’s shocked face after Macken’s winner, a player struggling to fathom the ridiculousness of what had just happened.
The comeback was so special the BBC even cleared the schedules for a special Match of the Day. It was another ultimately fruitless comeback though, as City went out to United in the next round, but what a night.