‘ONE MOMENT IN TIME’
‘One Moment In Time’ is a nostalgic look back at events and occasions in City’s past that will no doubt resurrect many impassioned memories for most City fans. Written from my personal point of view, I am hoping that reliving these moments, whether they were good or bad, will prove to be an enjoyable read for all. This month...the historic Wembley Play Off Final in 1999.
WINNING THE LOTTERY
Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, because City was off to Wembley! It was the ultimate away day, a trip out to the capital to follow your team and possibly come away with the most valuable souvenir- promotion. First Division status. Oh, and a shiny silver trophy to decorate your team’s cabinet with. It was the 1998/99 Second Division Play-Off Final- Manchester City versus Gillingham.
The hype was incredible. Everybody wanted to be there. This meant very high demand for tickets. City had been allocated 38,000 of them- and I was determined to be at the Twin Towers on that day.
Seeing as the ticket phone line was firmly jammed, my dad and I decided to pay a visit to Maine Road’s ticket office. Big mistake. Last estimate at the queuing time had been approximately six hours, and neither I nor my dad had that kind of time to waste. Simon decided to get on the telephone, and to wait in the queue until he got through. It worked. After four hours, we had success. Simon finally got through- and managed to secure four seats at Wembley.
It was official- Simon, dad, and I would be at Wembley. I was ecstatic. Every football fan knows that getting to watch your team play at Wembley stadium was an honour in itself. It was a big deal, and despite this particular match not being an actual cup final, it certainly felt like one. It was Gillingham’s cup final all right- they were the underdogs with City out as firm promotion favourites. The stage was set for the Match of the Day.
It seemed to take forever, but finally Sunday May 30th was upon us- judgement day. We left the house all kitted up about 9:30am. Simon was driving us in his trusty sky blue fiesta and I even cried in the back I was that excited. All along the way we were seeing more and more fellow blues; tooting their horns, waving their flags and shaking their scarves.
We stopped off at Watford Gap service station. There were huge queues to get in and out and chants of ‘you can shove your fucking treble up your arse’ rang out in reference to the Stretford Red’s ‘historic’ season. It was unorganised chaos, and in the midst of the bedlam we saw Lloyd and Adam Sherratt, our City mates who were both hardcore blues. We chatted to them for a bit then fought our way through the hordes of people. Make no mistake, I wished for a gap at Watford Gap that day!
On arrival in London, we parked at Stanmore tube station and caught the underground to Wembley Park station. By this time I was physically shaking with all the excitement. Wembley Way was just how you would imagine it- a souvenir seller’s paradise. Scarves, foam hands, jester hats, silly wigs, horns- everything emblazoned with City’s colours and the words ‘Wembley 1999’- everything was really expensive. This was the capital city after all, but even I thought that £10 for a hotdog was taking the piss.
The rain had now turned to drizzle as we headed towards the turnstiles. I looked up at the Twin Towers in amazement. I had made it to football heaven, and was hoping my team’s dream would come true too. Suddenly, a huge cheer went up and I realised why. It was the City team coach, pulling inside Wembley. The players all waved and I saw Dickov give us the thumbs up. The irony of seeing him would take on a whole new relevance later on in the day.
We found our seats and waited for the action to begin. I couldn’t believe it- I was sat in one of the most famous sporting venues in the world- and it was half filled with a sea of laser blue. ‘Blue Moon’ was echoing around Wembley. Blue Moon. City’s anthem! It was one of those moments, you know, where you wish you could freeze frame and play back. It was so, so special.
The rain was pouring down as the players took to the hallow turf. Fireworks fizzed and Fatboy Slim’s ‘Right Here Right Now’ blasted over the crackly P.A. system. A Cockney announcer read out the team sheets as the cauldron of atmosphere bubbled more with each name he said. Handshakes were exchanged and it was down to the real business. In 90 minutes we would see whether City could take a huge step on the road to recovery, or be doomed to an imprisonment of Division Two exile.
The match itself was dire. Neither goalkeeper was really tested and, although it was tense, both teams didn’t really look like scoring, Or so I thought.
By the time 80 minutes had passed by, both City and Gills fans could feel the 0-0 stalemate resulting in extra time, possibly even the dreaded penalty shootout. The penalty shootout is even more of a lottery than the play-off final itself. The entire future of a football club can come down to a single kick of a football. It doesn’t seem fair, but it’s the only way of separating the winner from the loser after extra time.
However all those thoughts soon changed. A ball by Paul Smith set up Carl Asaba who then shot the ball low past Nicky Weaver. We saw the net bulge and heard the roar. 1-0 Gills. 1-0 with nine minutes to go. An equaliser wasn’t entirely impossible, but the way City had played nobody would have held their breath for a laser blue goal.
Then the unimaginable. On 88 minutes, Robert Taylor scored past Weaver after being set up by their first goal scorer Carl Asaba. 2-0 Gills. “That’s it, that’s game over!” ex-City manager Brian Horton cried.
It was the lowest of the low, and it most definitely felt like game over. With little over two minutes of normal time to go, and a two goal deficit to overcome, there was no way back. As soon as I heard the noise from the Gill’s fans, I burst into tears. I cried for the shame, the heartache, the misery and the suffering City had put us through. This was my club’s way of rewarding us for our patience- and they couldn’t even do that right.
Now I’ll be truthful- my gut instinct and reaction was to stand up and walk out. I had never given up on City before, but ask any fellow blue how they felt at that moment and they would no doubt answer you the same- gutted. In actual fact I ran out. I was sobbing my heart out (aww!). I was so ashamed of my club, embarrassed to be a blue. All around me was emotion. I am not over-reacting when I say it was similar to that of a funeral. The demise and death of Manchester City F.C. Grown men were crying, dragging their children away from the scene of the crime.
By this time everybody had joined me on the concourse and I actually did walk outside…but then I remembered that I had left my jacket at my seat! So we bolted back inside, much to the complaints of the stewards. Then a cheer. No, an almighty roar. “Horlock has pulled one back!” I overheard a fan say. Nothing more than a petty consolation I thought. My dad had battled his way back to my seat for my coat. My heart was pounding. Just when I thought City was dead and buried, the resurrection happened.
The noise was that of an earthquake. Screams, shouts, cheers, wails, yells. What was going on?! I sprinted to the stairs. Unfortunately, every other person had the same idea and I spent the next five minutes battling to breathe, caught up in a crush of delirious blues. A skinhead, heavily tattooed man was overcome with emotion and his tears of torment turned to tears of joy when he relayed the events. Paul Dickov had scored for City with the last kick of the game. It was unbelievable. It wasn’t sinking in. We hadn’t won, but we certainly hadn’t lost.
‘Blue Moon’ was blasted out as the teams re-grouped for extra time. Everybody was looking around in disbelief. No words will ever describe how I felt. It made me feel guilty for giving up hope and deserting my beloved blues. I had betrayed them. City had been rewarded another chance. Would they take advantage of it or collapse?
Extra time was mostly uneventful, which meant that penalties were now becoming a reality. The Gill’s fans were still in a state of shock, horrified that they didn’t win the match outright. Both teams would have to do it the hard way- sudden death.
I felt sick, I mean physically sick. You could feel the tensions amongst City fans. Apprehension. Talk turned to who would take our penalties and who the hero or villain might be. City had been awarded the kicking end, so with the City fans behind the net, the referee had just given the blues a huge advantage.
I was that nervous that I couldn‘t watch. I sat down amongst the bedlam, closed my eyes and covered my ears. The nerves were tearing me apart, my whole body was shaking. I couldn’t imagine how the players felt. First up to the penalty spot was Kevin Horlock. If it wasn’t for him, City would have stayed in the Second Division. His goal sparked the City comeback- and he duly converted his spot kick into the bottom right corner. 1-0 City.
Up stepped Nicky Weaver between the posts. He orchestrated the crowd to reach a crescendo of boos, a complete wall of sound to deter Gillingham’s first penalty taker, Paul Smith. It worked- Weaver saved it with his legs. Simon grabbed me and started screaming. Still 1-0, advantage City.
Next in line was Paul Dickov. His equaliser was one of the most important goals ever scored in a City shirt. We all crossed our fingers and toes that he would convert. But Gillingham’s goalkeeper was Dickov’s best mate- Vince Bartram. They had been best man at each other’s weddings, and perhaps this played a part as Dickov’s effort hit the right post, rolled across the line to the left post and bounced out. A collective groan echoed out. Still 1-0 City.
Gillingham’s second taker, Adrian Pennock, stepped forward. We all booed and hissed as much as we could and Pennock blasted the ball well wide of the target. 1-0. City needed to convert again.
Up stepped Terry Cooke. Signed in the latter stages of the season from our Stretford neighbours, Cooke had been an influential figure in our promotion campaign. His penalty was immaculate, hitting the inside of the side netting. 2-0 City. I didn’t want to celebrate. My head was still in my hands. Yet I felt the need to take a peek and at least watch one penalty.
I shouldn’t have looked. John Hodge’s penalty for Gillingham was well placed into the top right corner. The Kent side were still in the game- 2-1 City.
I sat back down as Richard Edghill placed the ball on the spot. Gasps around the laser blue contingency arose- Edghill had never scored for City and he was our longest-serving player at the time. But on this day anything was possible. His shot clipped the underside of the crossbar and went in. Oh. My. God. I was crying my eyes out. The victory was finally upon us. If Gillingham missed their next penalty, City would be promoted.
Gillingham defender Guy Butters approached the spot. I didn’t watch. Simon was shaking me, shouting things I couldn’t hear. To say that the boos were deafening would be an understatement. For a split second- silence. That must have been when he took his run up. Silence. Then screams. Screams of sheer ecstasy. Amazement. I stood up.
“Weaver saved it!!” Simon yelled at me. I completely lost it. I clambered onto my seat and proceeded to bounce up and down screaming and bawling my eyes out. I must have looked well and truly insane. I watched my heroes celebrating on the pitch while I danced to Status Quo’s ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’ and M People’s ‘Movin’ On Up’.
City collected their trophy and as Andy Morrison held it aloft we all cheered. The celebrations continued- all of the City players bowed down to us and we returned the favour. One by one, our heroes disappeared down the tunnel. The dream had come true. I sung ‘Blue Moon’ with my hands aloft, my eyes still stinging from crying and still stood on my chair. City was back on track.
The majority of fans stood around in disbelief, emotionally drained. So many feelings: despair, horror, shame, hope, shock, amazement, joy, anxiety, ecstasy. Every blue had been through it all that day- and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. That’s just typical City. Wembley 1999 stood as a prime example of what it’s really like to be a blue, you have to put up with the shit before you can experience the good.
We exited Wembley and made our way back to the tube station. Once on the tube, I reflected on the day. I was stood up, holding on to a pole, as the train was full. I didn’t really know where I was, I was like a zombie. Fellow City fans that surrounded me were mostly silent, trying to believe how our team came back from the dead. Then a huge ear-piercing screech. I went flying down the train. Everybody did! Somebody had pulled the emergency cord and the tube came to an immediate halt. We all looked around and laughed. Typical blues, making us laugh and making us cry.
Nicky Weaver and Paul Dickov were made out as the heroes of that day, but for me the whole team were heroes. Their never-say-die attitude and endless spirit made me forever proud to be a blue. If Dickov’s goal hadn’t have gone in, where would City be now? I shudder to think.
If somebody asked me what I had learned from that day, my answer would be simple. After that game, I have always stayed at a match until the referee has blown his whistle. The full 90 minutes plus injury time. City had definitely taught me to expect the unexpected- it was game on, not game over.
Emily Brobyn xx