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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Alex Brotherton

Dog muck, Manchester weather and a lucky kit - when Man City won their only European trophy

As Manchester City's players hoisted the European Cup Winners' Cup trophy into the dark, wet Austrian sky, they likely thought it was going to be the first of many triumphs on the continent.

The year was 1970, and Joe Mercer's City had avenged their demons to win a first European trophy in the club's history. Their run to the final in Vienna had seen a star-studded squad summon every ounce of strength, quality and determination, and victory was the least they deserved.

The City team of the late 1960s remains one of the greatest sides in the club's history. The likes of Colin Bell, Francis Lee, Tony Book, and Mike Summerbee are not just City legends, but English footballing legends too.

READ MORE: Cult hero Kinkladze is the Man City superstar Guardiola would have adored

Pep Guardiola's four-time Premier League winners can probably claim to be the greatest incarnation of City, but to this day, the class of 70 remain the only City side to win a European trophy. This is how they did it.

Fuel for the fire

Like all good tales of triumph and glory, this one begins with bitter disappointment and a yearning for redemption.

After winning the Division One title in 1968, the following season City entered the European Cup - now known as the Champions League - for the first time. The Blues were expected to go far, a feeling that only grew stronger when they were drawn against Turkish side Fenerbahce in the first round.

Mercer's assistant Malcolm Allison had predicted that City would 'go on and terrify Europe,' but, somewhat embarrassingly, that turned out not to be the case. After a goalless draw in the first leg at Maine Road, City crumbled in the intense and hostile atmosphere of Istanbul’s BJK Inonu Stadium. City fell at the first hurdle as the hosts won 2-1; the Blues would not appear in the competition again until 2011.

But, as the saying goes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. City bounced back from that bitter disappointment and at the end of the season lifted the FA Cup, defeating Leicester City 1-0 at Wembley. That triumph earned City a place in the now-defunct European Cup Winners' Cup and a shot at redemption. They duly took it.

Road to Vienna

"Going out to Fenerbahce definitely did give us all that extra bit of incentive," City's captain of the time Tony Book recalled.

"It was a big disappointment going out as we did. We were always a team that was looking to go a bit further than we could and it did really serve to make us more determined."

City embarked on an epic European tour that saw them play in Belgium, Portugal and Germany, before travelling to Austria for the final. Their journey began in the north of Spain at Bilbao's famous San Mames stadium, the home of Athletic Club.

A year earlier Mercer's side had been unable to cope with the frenzied atmosphere in Istanbul, and it Bilbao it looked like they would once bow under the pressure. Spurred on by 40,000 raucous fans, Athletic Club raced into a 2-0 lead. Neil Young pulled one back, but the hosts restored their two-goal advantage and City looked done for.

City lacked experience in Europe, and as Mike Summerbee later recalled, they lacked the gamesmanship and streetwise-ness of their rivals.

"I remember that game very well as Ronnie Allen was the manager of Bilbao back then and the night before when we went to train, Ronnie had arranged to put us on a field covered in all sorts of dog muck and what have you," Summerbee recalled.

"Bilbao was a wild scene and wild place. They were tough guys up there in the Basque country and it was a very hard physical match," Francis Lee remembered.

Yet against the odds, City dug deep and rescued the tie. Tommy Booth pulled one back before a late own-goal secured a draw. City were at their brilliant best in the return leg at Maine Road, a 3-0 win easing them into the second round and a meeting with Belgian side Lierse.

City breezed past the part-timers 8-0 on aggregate, setting up what proved to be a bruising encounter with Academica de Coimbra of Portugal. The performance of the black-shirted side matched their intimidating appearance, with City glad to return home with a draw and no serious injuries.

The return match at Maine Road was much the same, as City defender Tommy Booth later recalled: "At Maine Road, there was a corner that we were defending, the ball came across and I thought: ‘That’s mine’ and five minutes later, I actually woke up!"

Even more impressive was City's felling of tournament favourites Schalke 04 in the semi-final. City actually lost the first leg 1-0 in Germany, but with a packed Maine Road behind them in the second leg they pulled off a famous comeback.

Mike Doyle levelled the aggregate score after just a few minutes, before a quick-fire brace from Young put City in control. Lee and Bell completed the 5-1 rout, a performance Lee rates as one of City's best ever.

"We played fantastically well in that second leg, it was an unbelievable display," he said. Helmut Schon, Germany manager at the time, later said that that City side was the best team he'd ever seen from the UK.

The final

All that was left was for City to perform in the final, but they would have to do so without Summerbee. The winger, one of City's key players, broke his leg just weeks before the final.

But if Mercer's side couldn't take their tricky winger with them, they could take two other things: typical Manchester weather and a lucky kit. It absolutely bucketed it down as City took on Polish side Gornik Zabrze on 29th April 1970 in Vienna, with City taking to the field in their black and red away strip.

Manchester City and England footballer Francis Lee. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images) (Evening Standard/Getty Images)

It was Allison's idea for City adopt the colours of AC Milan as they changed strip in the hope of emulating the success of the Italian giants. Two months earlier City wore it when they lifted the League Cup, and in the Praterstadion its link with glory was cemented.

Lee's trickery out wide set up Young's opener after 12 minutes, the latter tucking in the rebound after the former - playing on his 26th birthday - had a curling effort saved. Lee then converted a penalty just before half-time, before the Polish side pulled a goal back with 20 minutes to go.

City held on though, and for the first time could truly count themselves among Europe's elite. Before the match, Allison made clear the importance of City avenging their European demons.

"You’ve proved yourself in England – but if you want to be classed as a top team, you’ve now got to win in Europe," the coach told the players.

Today, some insist the same is true of Guardiola's superstars. City fell at the final hurdle in 2021 of course, and last season were eliminated at the semi-final stage in the most gut-wrenching circumstances imaginable.

It feels a matter of when, not if, the current incarnation of City get across the line. The great side of Mercer couldn't do it either, but they did the next best thing; winning the first and only European trophy in City's history.


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