As Manchester City return to the muddy waters of European football for the first time since the season 1975 – 76, let us reflect on City’s European exploits from the distant past in less salubrious surroundings, when they plyed their trade at the Maine Road stadium.
Entry into the old UEFA cup in season ’75- ’76 was courtesy of Dennis Tueart’s spectacular bicycle kick winning goal in the 1975 League Cup final at the expense of hapless Newcastle, who incidentally are still searching for the holy grail despite recent near misses in the FA Cup and who can ever forget Kevin Keegan’s rant with his wrath directed towards poor old Fergie, as Cantona’s goal at St James’ Park, set in motion the clawing back of a twelve point deficit. ‘I would love to see them get beat’ was Keegan’s battle cry, but it would all end in tears!
It is a fitting juncture in which to embark on a nostalgic journey down memory lane, as the millionaires of the Ethiad stadium, or should that be billionaires, have the ultimate European pot of gold in their sights somewhere over the rainbow, thanks to the wizardry of Silva and Aguero.
Picture the scene. On an ordinary April evening in Vienna (Wednesday, 29 April 1970), Malcolm Allison rekindled fond memories of his association with this fine city of heritage, during his three year national service stint, between 1945 and 1948. As Allison and his fellow conscripts reported for duty, much of it would be spent in Austria and the most important part of Big Mal’s military education would come at the Prater Stadium in Vienna. Here he admiringly witnessed the training sessions of the dedicated youngsters of the Austrian national team – particularly the elegant midfield supremo Ernst Ocwrik.
Later this enlightening experience would prompt Allison to utter the words «I liked the way they enslaved the ball. They made it do all the hard work. They were neat and controlled. There was nothing haphazard or crude about their work and I thought to myself, ‘Surely this is the wave of the future. This is what we have to do in England.’
In a strange twist of irony, Vienna’s Prater Stadium nearly a quarter of a century later was to provide the backdrop to one of his greatest moments of success, as he led his flamboyant Manchester City side on to the hallowed turf to contest the now sadly defunct European Cup Winners cup, against the Polish side Gornik Zabrze.
Within three years Polish football would be catapulted into the limelight on an anxious September evening for English fans, dreaming about conquering the world again and rubbing West German noses in it, in their own back yard at Munich’s Olympic stadium. However the heroic Polish keeper Jan Tomaszewski referred infamously by the great Brian Clough as «the clown!» and the goal scorer Domarski forgot to read the script, and despite Kevin Hector’s scrambled effort in unison with Brian Moore’s desperate pleas, on what was to be Hector’s only England appearance, England were dumped unceremoniously and evicted from World football’s top table.
Incidentally the Polish clowns proved to be no mugs as they followed their gold medal success at the Munich Olympics in 1972, with a third place spot at the 1974 World Cup in the old West Germany, coming close to embarrassing the hosts West Germany at the latter stages, in a narrow 1-0 defeat on a paddy field like pitch. Names like Lubanski, Deyna and Lato still roll off the tongue.
It is interesting to reflect that the West Germans had already been humiliated at the group stage, when communism was given an almighty shot in the arm when Jurgen Sparvasser fired the winner for their poor neighbours East Germany. World order was restored when the highly entertaining Dutch, thanks to the silky skills of Cruyff, Neeskens and Rep were beaten 2-1 in the final by the mighty West Germans, thanks to the goal scoring machine that was Gerd Muller.
However, let’s return to Big Mal and his European antics. As a result of another fluent performance, Man City reigned supreme thanks to goals from Neil Young and Francis Lee in a 2-1 win. Ironically it was during this month that the talented pop duo Peters and Lee appeared on the scene and just like City when opportunity knocked, they duly obliged. ‘Welcome Home’ was to be their greatest hit and the gladiators from the forgotten part of the city were assured of their own version of welcome home!
Big Mal the coach, even though playing second fiddle to the wily old fox Joe Mercer, had secured his own grand slam to add to his recent success in winning the old First Division League Title, FA Cup and League Cup. It was time for lavish celebrations in the classical surroundings of Vienna, in the true style that was second nature for the main man at Maine Road.
However the publicity that Big Mal craved for with an insatiable appetite, was to be denied in this his greatest hour of glory! In these days of almost daily live coverage thanks to the might of Sky followed by the poor relations at the BBC and ITV, even the first amateur clubs that Monsieur Allison managed, namely Cambridge University and Bath would fall under the glare of the cameras in the event of a semi heroic FA Cup run.
No such luck for the ebullient Mal, as this great European success passed virtually unnoticed! Could it be due to a not to be missed episode of Coronation Street I hear you ask, or a James Bond film?
Ironically it was thanks to their arch enemies from the other side of the Pennines. Don Revie’s footballing aristocrats were in action on the same night, against the city slickers from the King’s Road in the shape of Chelsea, in the 1970 F A Cup reply. Thanks to the hapless Leeds goalkeeper of Welsh origin, Gary Sprake and his fumbling error at Wembley during their first encounter, Chelsea were given a second bite at the cherry and duly obliged with a 2-1 win, thanks to goals by Osgood and Webb.
And while a huge television audience of 29 million witnessed one of Chelsea’s finest hours under the stewardship of Dave Sexton thanks to the BBC and ITV’s simultaneous live coverage, Big Mal’s heroics on the other side of the continent went virtually un-noticed. To rub salt into the wound, not many people saw City’s clash with Gornik Zabrze in person either. Only a meagre 10,000 audience gathered at the stadium designed to accommodate 80,000 people. 3,000 of them being City fans.
By a cruel ironic fate, this was to be the second time that Malcolm Allison and Joe Mercer’s miracles on behalf of the blue side of the city, was to be overshadowed by their illustrious neighbours. As the light blues soaked up the glory of winning the old First Division League Title in their version of the spring uprising of 1968, the red half of the city would get the last laugh thanks to Best, Charlton, Law and Kidd when they pulverised the great Benfica to capture European football’s ultimate club prize.
Finally for all those die hard City fans with nostalgic memories of those glorious days and nights at Maine Road, I will allow you the pleasure of drooling over the Man City line up on that famous evening in Vienna, when Gornik Zabrze were pole axed by Young and Lee:
Corrigan, Book, Pardoe, Doyle, Booth, Oakes, Heslop, Bell, Lee, Young, Towers.
Incidentally the legend Mike Summerbee was condemned to the side lines, due to injury.
So the question remains will it be third time lucky for Mancini’s maestros come next May, when they finally emerge from the shadows and eclipse their illustrious neighbours. How sweet would be the smell of success with Big Mal looking down from heaven, as Vincent Kompany hoists aloft the holy grail of European club football at the Allianz Arena in Munich, joining elite company and being acknowledged accordingly.
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